A Year in the Life of Grim

I was thinking back this evening on how much 2015 has been a difficult year.  I decided it would be good to go back through my photographs from the year to find some things to be grateful for.  It has been a difficult year in several respects, but it turns out that it I had a great year that somehow ran concurrently with the difficult one.  I'm glad I looked back.  Here's hoping 2016 is a good year, too. 

Islam and "America"

An interesting simile:
Can the celebration of wine drinking be Islamic? To Ahmed, the answer is: obviously, yes. It is Islamic insofar as this celebration is expressed, for example, in the terms of such classical Sufi metaphors for “the experience of intoxication with the Divine,” as well as the more mundane recognition of wine’s virtues as a social lubricant. The extensive medical literature of the premodern Islamic world attests openly to the latter fact. As the 10th-century physician and philosopher Abu Zayd al-Balkhi put it, “It is wine that provides excellence to society and conversation…and there is nothing that makes possible relations of intimacy and confidence between friends so tastefully and pleasantly and effectively as does drinking wine together.”

To say that wine drinking is un-Islamic may be akin to saying that the refusal to serve in the military during a period of wartime conscription is un-American. In the view of some citizens, such a refusal may well violate the essence of Americanness, in addition to violating American law; to others, however, this act may rather fulfill and epitomize the requirements of citizenship. By Ahmed’s logic, the refusal to serve in the military is not just American in spite of its opposition to other, contradictory values associated with Americanness, but precisely because of it.
The whole article is worth reading, actually. But I'm struck by this particularly. "What is Islam?" then becomes a question like "What is America?" It's a surprisingly all-encompassing question without any easy answers. John Wayne, in describing his love for America, dwelt on her physical beauty. Clearly, from his movies, that wasn't all he loved about America. Trying to figure out what America was and what it ought to be is a major theme of many of his movies, especially the Ford productions like The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

What is America? What does it mean to be an American? It seems as if there are at least some wrong answers, so the question isn't meaningless. It seems as if it might overlap with many of the answers one might give to the question "What is Islam?" That's not a meaningless question either, again because there are at least some wrong answers. A problem is that some of the right answers to the second question are wrong answers to the first, and vice-versa.

Now They're Just "The Islands"

Chuck Norris' role in bringing down Communism.

Bill Cosby Charged

I don't mean to imply by this post that he is not innocent until proven guilty, but I am encouraged to see such a celebrity brought before the courts given the serious and not incredible charges against him. I hope the process will be thorough and fair, the truth arrived at, and justice done.

May power and political connections also prove to be impotent as a bar to justice.

Fool Me Once, Shame on You

Richard J. Davis thinks Hillary Clinton should set some ethical standards for herself.
This then may be the ideal time for Clinton proactively to take steps to minimize the potential damage to her candidacy from other sources of controversy: the Clinton Foundation and speaking fees earned by former President Clinton. Such steps need to include significant restrictions on who the foundation will accept donations from as well as on where the former president will speak for money.

Taking these steps now is particularly important for Hillary Clinton because one area where her poll numbers remain problematic is whether she is viewed as honest and trustworthy....

It is important to understand that the issue regarding the Clinton Foundation is not whether the foundation is (or was) a conduit for illegal bribes and it certainly is not about whether the foundation does truly humanitarian work. I am not aware of serious evidence that the former is the case.
The thing is, Clinton did set an ethical standard for herself when taking the job of Secretary of State. It was a written agreement she signed with the incoming Obama administration.

She broke it.


Why would we be convinced that she was going to keep an agreement with herself, when she didn't keep a written and allegedly binding agreement with the President of the United States?

The reason that nearly sixty percent of Americans say that Clinton is dishonest is because she is dishonest.

How dishonest? "In a league of her own."

Nobody should be fooled by any statements about ethics coming from the former Secretary of State. They're no more trustworthy than any of her other statements -- or her signature on a legal document.

No Reason the President Shouldn't Spy on Congress, Right?

I mean, many of them are members of the political opposition -- and talking with foreigners, no less. Obviously the President needs to know what they're saying.

To-may-to, To-mah-to

From an amusing list of 'best (or worst) media corrections of 2015.'
“Norma Adams-Wade’s June 15 column incorrectly called Mary Ann Thompson Frenk a socialist. She is a socialite.” --- The Dallas Morning News.
I also like this line from one of the corrections: "There is nothing to be gained in trying to explain how the error occurred." I'll have to save that one to use on my wife.

Waco Update: Defense Lawyer Barred Access to Evidence

...unless he agrees to sign a release form that forbids him to discuss the evidence with the press.
Callahan’s motion states he has not been able to receive the information, after numerous requests, because he won’t sign a condition of release regarding talking to the media....

The motion states District Attorney Abel Reyna should not be allowed to limit the release of evidence based on an agreement regarding media after he gave an extensive TV interview explicitly designed to erode the defendants’ presumption of innocence.
So it's not that we don't want to taint the jury pool by having the matter discussed before the trial. It's that we want to make sure our tainting of the jury pool goes unchallenged.

Magical Thinking Is Good For You!

A satire, sort of.
I’m not just talking about vaccines, but we can start there. A lot of people have judged us harshly in recent days for not vaccinating our nine young children. That’s fine. I myself was held down and vaccinated when I was young. I understand that vaccines bolster vulnerable immune systems by stimulating your body’s natural defenses... And if you want to live and die by the wholly effective, risk-free, and affordable breakthroughs that Western medicine has produced, that’s fine. That’s your right.

But don’t expect me to come along on that joyride of lies.

...

Whenever a friend gets cancer, I make sure to tell her about the power of vitamin C and a can-do attitude. I’ve lost so many friends to the acidic nightmare of chemotherapy. They’re still alive; we just don’t talk anymore. Thanks a lot, Big Pharma.

Don’t get me started about sugar. Don’t get me started about gluten. Don’t get me started about mercury or fluoride. Because I will literally never stop talking about it.

Health insurance reform

Just about everything in this article seems like a good idea.

The Rule of Law

Not a good in itself.
Fatwa 64, which effectively justifies the systematic rape of women and girls, says it is necessary to set out rules because "one of the inevitable consequences of the jihad of establishment is that women and children of infidels will become captives of Muslims".

Among the disturbing list of rules are that 'owners' of mother and daughter captives, or sister captives cannot have intercourse with both and that owners and their sons cannot have intercourse with the same woman captive.

They also state that owners should not cause the captive women to abort if they are pregnant, should not sell her to an owner they know will treat her badly and should treat her with "compassion"....

In order to deal with the women captured by fighters, IS has established a department of "war spoils" to manage slavery.
The confusion is easy to fall into. Aristotle himself says that justice is lawfulness plus fairness, to paraphrase very loosely, and it can thus kind of sound like obedience to the law is a good in and of itself. But that isn't really what he means: on a closer reading, he means to say that it is good to obey the law if the law is properly structured.
Now the laws in their enactments on all subjects aim at the common advantage either of all or of the best or of those who hold power, or something of the sort; so that in one sense we call those acts just that tend to produce and preserve happiness and its components for the political society. And the law bids us do both the acts of a brave man (e.g. not to desert our post nor take to flight nor throw away our arms), and those of a temperate man (e.g. not to commit adultery nor to gratify one's lust), and those of a good-tempered man (e.g. not to strike another nor to speak evil), and similarly with regard to the other virtues and forms of wickedness, commanding some acts and forbidding others; and the rightly-framed law does this rightly, and the hastily conceived one less well. This form of justice, then, is complete virtue, but not absolutely, but in relation to our neighbour. And therefore justice is often thought to be the greatest of virtues, and 'neither evening nor morning star' is so wonderful; and proverbially 'in justice is every virtue comprehended'. And it is complete virtue in its fullest sense, because it is the actual exercise of complete virtue. It is complete because he who possesses it can exercise his virtue not only in himself but towards his neighbour also; for many men can exercise virtue in their own affairs, but not in their relations to their neighbour.
Emphasis added. Law is justice insofar as it commands the behavior that virtue itself would command. In that way, obeying the law is complete virtue from the perspective of your neighbors: though it does not insist on your virtue in private matters, where neighbors are concerned, a rightly-formed law mandates that you act rightly toward them.

ISIS clearly thinks it is doing something moral here by regulating away the worst practices of its fighters, and thus mandating that they treat the women they take as slaves with 'compassion,' both while raping them and at other times. In fact, they have codified the worst abuses into the law: the slavery and the rape themselves. Now the law will permit them to feel good about themselves for avoiding a few bad practices in the performance of their monstrosities.

Mutiny?

So you might think, from reading Reuters' report on Gitmo.
Since Obama took office in 2009, these people said, Pentagon officials have been throwing up bureaucratic obstacles to thwart the president's plan to close Guantanamo.

Negotiating prisoner releases with the Pentagon was like "punching a pillow," said James Dobbins, the State Department special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan from 2013 to 2014. Defense Department officials "would come to a meeting, they would not make a counter-argument," he said. "And then nothing would happen."...

When the State Department added the four Afghans to a list of detainees prioritized for transfer in the summer of 2013, Defense Department officials resisted. At a meeting at the Pentagon, a mid-level Defense Department official said transferring the four "might be the president's priority, but it's not the Pentagon's priority or the priority of the people in this building," according to current and former administration officials present at the meeting.
The problem is, the actual things the report cites sound like genuine legal concerns. A big part of this may be the President's penchant for ignoring inconvenient laws running up against the military's penchant for running everything by the SJA as an ordinary part of the staffing process. It's hard to get the Pentagon to do things that are legal but only questionably so, or debatably so. Even at lower levels of organization a lot of cover needs to be available before people take risky actions. The closer you get to the guy on the field of battle, the more freedom there is. The higher you go, the more the legal structure ossifies and the decision-making process becomes averse to running legal risks.

In general, that's not a bad thing. It's good if the military is restrained by the law. Places where it has not been have not always turned out well. Willingness to obey 'the leader's orders' instead of the law is not healthy.

Besides, there's this:
Afterwards, State Department officials began referring to them as the "JV four" or "Junior Varsity four," for their seeming lack of importance to Taliban fighters.
Hmm, there's that "JV" again. I understand that none of these people apparently have military experience, so that college or high-school metaphors are all that work for their thought process. But don't you understand that the Junior Varsity often becomes the Varsity later in their career? That's why schools bother with a JV team: as a training ground and feeder for future star players on the big field.

With judgment like this, it would not be surprising if a few feet got drug in the Pentagon.

Against the Royal Presidency

Charles C. W. Cooke:
As I write, the president of the United States is openly promising to finish off his second term with a flurry of extraconstitutional activity. By the power invested in his “pen and phone,” Barack Obama intends to wield his “executive authority” in order to institute a set of environmental rules that the people’s representatives have declined to grant him; to close the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay in direct defiance of Congress’s will; and to further circumvent a series of immigration laws that have been on the books for decades.
It's a good point. Everyone has been mocking Mrs. Clinton's claim that "I wouldn't keep any school open that wasn't doing a better-than-average job" on the grounds of its innumeracy. What strikes me about it is her assumption that, as President, she would of course have the power to close a local school if it failed to perform.

Tamir Rice Killing: No Charges For Police

I find this decision surprising given that Ohio, where the shooting occurred, is an open carry state. Now, children are not allowed to open carry in Ohio: an unaccompanied child carrying a pistol would be cause for concern. However, in order to realize that it was a child and not an adult carrying the pistol, you would first have to take note of the fact that you were dealing with an unaccompanied child.

So if it were an adult carrying a gun in the park, given the open carry law there is no reason to presume criminal intent. If it is a child carrying the gun, there is no reason to treat the case as being threatening in the way that an adult with a gun would be. The officers' defense is that they thought the child was an adult, and that the child appeared to draw the firearm. That may well be true.

However, that's odd: normally the defense is not presented to the grand jury. Normally the grand jury would hear: the child wasn't breaking any laws, even if the child looked like an adult the pistol they were carrying might well have been legal under the law, and yet the child was shot dead so immediately that the shooter's judgment is unlikely to meet the rational-man test. That would get you charges, and you'd work out at trial whether the defense was sufficient to find that the accused were not guilty of those charges.

It's going to be hard to convince people that this isn't a rigged game when the standards are so different. You can say that it's about the law enforcement system protecting its members and not about race, maybe, by pointing at the Waco shootout as evidence that being white doesn't always help you much: there the police shot at least four of the nine dead with rifles, but the only people facing indictment are bikers whom the DA apparently can't tie to any specific act of violence at all. The system just doesn't work when the police are behind the trigger.

Still, this was a child.

UPDATE: Allahpundit reminds me of why this seemed familiar to me:
But that’s half the story. The other half is the fact that the county prosecutor, Timothy McGinty, extended these two cops the same exceptional courtesy that Darren Wilson received in the shooting of Michael Brown — namely, he presented all the facts to the grand jury instead of only those facts most beneficial to the prosecution’s side. That’s good procedure, as it means someone who’s likely to be found not guilty at trial can go free sooner due to lack of probable cause. Wilson, who was cleared by Obama’s DOJ in the Brown shooting, is a perfect example. But only a very few lucky souls, usually police officers facing high-profile charges of excessive force, seem to benefit from that sort of prosecutorial diligence.
At the time, I remember saying that this is what we should always do -- and that the shame was that we so rarely do it. How many of those Waco indictments would have been thrown out if the prosecutor presented the full facts (such as, for example, the fact that they apparently have no idea precisely who shot anyone)?

It's hard to endorse the standard if it is not anything like evenly applied.

Motörhead Mourns

Let us pause to note the passing of Motörhead's Lemmy Kilmister, who has died at the age of 70.



UPDATE: Just to archive this photo, as a reason to like the old rocker.

Four Views of the Good Life

Brief summaries only, but not bad introductions. Here is Aristotle's, which is of course the best one:



The others are Plato, Kant, and Nietzsche, the most recent being the least decent.

Monstrous Heroes

This focuses on the Icelandic sagas, but it's a feature of Northern European literature more generally. Culhwch and Olwen, which appears in both the Red Book of Hergest and the White Book of Rydderch, has a long list of Arthurian heroes many of whom have monstrous qualities.

The Feast of Holy Innocents

I wrote about this last year. It is a somber moment in the Twelve Days of Christmas.

Great news in medicine

H/t to Maggie's Farm for this link, which was inside an interesting article on medical advances in 2015.

I'm late, as usual

I wanted to post this on St. Stephen's Day, but I got caught up with doing nothing all weekend.  So enjoy:


St. Stephen's Day

The day after Christmas is St. Stephen's Day, who has the honor of the appointment because he was the first Christian martyr (unless one counts Christ himself). Thanks to the Clancy Brothers, however, I always think of it as Wren Day.

Hey ho! for the day after!

Home again and glad of it: up and back in one day is a long haul.  Our neighbor was kind enough to let the dogs out twice and feed them, though one was on strike and nearly refused to go out till we got back.  They sure don't like it when we leave.

All kinds of food gifts have to go straight to my church or maybe one of the local nursing homes.  "You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here!"  Not that I didn't appreciate the food gifts enormously, but in the real world I can fit a couple of bites of each into any fathomable food budget, and the rest need to do their excellent work under another roof.  

At Christmas dinner, two of my young male relatives admitted to weeping during the screening of the new Star Wars epic. So OK, OK, I'll go see it. Here is how Ken Burns would tell the story of "Star Wars."

Hey! For Christmas!

We were late to midnight Mass, because I had relied on my memory about when it started instead of checking. It was a pleasant Christmas Eve, though, filled with Christmas tradition. This morning the family all gathered for joy and company, which lasted through a late lunch feast.

My sister declined to drink any of the gallon of Christmas mead I made for her, because she announced that she was with child. The mead will be even better next Christmas. She has had grave difficulty in the past, so I hope she will this time both mother and child shall come through whole and hale. If so, we can toast the birth with the mead we would have drunk this year.



I hope you have all had a fine Christmas Day, and will have the opportunity to pursue the Christmas joy throughout at least some of each of the traditional twelve days of the feast.

Merry Christmas!




Translation of "Agni Parthene" ("O Virgin Pure") at Wikipedia

Christmas Eve

I hope you are all having a Merry Christmas.

The Hall Christmas Party Is Completely Voluntary

No kidding.
"Hey listen gentlemen, it’s totally up to you to attend,” said CSM Marc A. Scott during the course of an hour-long briefing. “We want people there that actually want to be there and have fun.... That being said, we’ll be having a quick accountability formation in front of Vapiano at 1925,” he said. “Yes, I know this might be a bit of inconvenience for an accountability formation being at the venue and not on post, but it’s still expected.”

...

“Also, don’t forget, there’s a mandatory recall for clean up detail at 2130. You might want to show up ten minutes early for that. Sober. Sergeant Major doesn’t want any DUIs now. You all know the Polizei doesn’t play. The MPs and Sergeant Major don’t either. FYI, those attending will be given a four-day. Those not attending will have a room inspection with full field lay out."
Nobody needs to bring me a bottle of my favorite beer or whiskey who attends, either. That's completely left to your discretion.

Join the Virginia Citizens Defense League

I don't know if any readers live in Virginia, but their anti-gun governor just announced an end to reciprocity with 25 states on firearms carry permits. Virginia is an interesting state on gun rights issues. It's the home of the NRA, but it actually has more restrictive laws than most American states on firearms carry. The large population of Washington, D.C. government employees drives politics in the northeastern part of the state much farther to the left, and to affection for government as a solution to problems, than is common elsewhere in the state. The southern and western parts of the state thus end up living under laws that are quite different from the ones they would choose for themselves.

For those of you who may live there, though, the best organization pointed at the state-level gun laws is not the NRA, but the Virginia Citizens' Defense League (VCDL). I used to be a member when I lived up there, and I find them to be deeply engaged with the state legislature and local politics in a helpful way. It will be difficult for anyone to undo the governor's executive decision until the next gubernatorial elections, just as it is hard to undo the President's series of executive orders via a Congress that has to get past his veto. Nevertheless, if anyone is going to be successful in restoring your rights, VCDL is the organization.

Their website seems to be having some issues this morning due to heavy traffic, which is a good sign. Check back through the day or tomorrow as necessary.

In the meantime, residents of Virginia who may lose the right to carry in other states if those states retaliate may pursue a permit in Florida, which is widely accepted nationwide. Residents of other states who have to travel to Virginia may obtain a nonresident permit that is specific to Virginia. So there are workarounds to this executive order, which are attainable at the cost of a few extra tax dollars payable to another state.

My Inner Language Curmudgeon Comes Out

Recently, I read Michael Walsh's The Devil's Pleasure Palace, and in a few spots he uses the biblical metaphor of "new wine in old bottles." Grrr.

Although. Some translations do have it this way, with a footnote that the bottles are actually wineskins. Still, the metaphor isn't clear in these terms. If you didn't already know, it would be natural to ask "What's wrong with new wine in old bottles, as long as they've been properly washed?"

It's like the world has a vendetta against clarity.

Then, today, Sarah Hoyt at Instapundit posts:

NEW WINE IN OLD CASKS: Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million donation to Newark public schools failed miserably — here’s where it went wrong.

This, however, is going too far. Much too far. And Sarah hails from Europe, and all Europeans are wine experts, so there's no excuse for this!

Here's Matthew 9:17:

"... Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”
What does it mean? Different commentaries have different explanations, but I like the explanation that it is a reminder to keep an open mind. It's amusing to think of the brains of the close-minded bursting and dribbling out when confronted with new ideas.

Anyway, you probably knew this, but I had to get it out of my system. Blame Grim; he gave me posting privileges.

PC Christmas dinner

Thanksgiving, too, but the sentiment is the same.

 

Algebraic Christmas


H/t David Rousset

Feliz Navidad

Well, That's Encouraging

The Obama administration insists that it is safe to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees because we have “very extensive screening procedures” in place. “It involves our intelligence community, our national counterterrorism center, extensive interviews, vetting them against all the available information,” deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes recently declared.

He left out one fact: Those screening procedures are so broken that, State Department records show, they let in more than four times as many suspected terrorists as they keep out.

Fairbairn-Sykes V. KA-BAR

An article on the different philosophies behind the two classic designs. It's from the HROARR site for Historical European Martial Arts. It turns out that there's a Marine Corps connection to nearly all of these blades, even the famous British one -- Fairbairn and Sykes worked with a USMC Lieutenant on the design in Shanghai, one Sylvester Yeaton.

Here's an old commando telling stories about the Fairbairn-Sykes blade.

Former Marine Tells DMV His USMC Cap Is Religious Headdress

DMV buys it.

Snopes looked into it, and doesn't seem to find anything to dispute about the facts. The author of the piece doesn't sound too happy about it, though.

"In Hopes That St. Marx Would Never Be There"

A Marxist Christmas from Existential Comics.

UPDATE: Read alongside this story for a pleasant, ironic twist.

Alright, I'll Sweep The *&%$ Stairwell...

In memoriam.

Losing Faith in Democracy

I am this morning reading two very different sources claiming that Americans and our European allies are losing faith in democracy. One is the left-wing Vox, which might be dismissed if it were alone, but the other is Defense One considering the fight against Islamic extremism. That's a different enough source and context that it makes the claim worth considering.

Vox gives as its evidence five propositions. The first is that Americans trust our political institutions less. This is true. We talk about the "Confidence in Institutions" poll every year, and it's been a disastrous couple of decades for American institutions for the most part. However, it isn't just the political institutions that Americans trust less. Only three institutions garner majority trust: the military, small business, and the police. Two of those are government institutions, but not democratic ones -- coercive ones. The Federal institutions garner less than a third of voters for the Executive/Judicial branches, with Congress only getting 8% trust.

The general trend in that poll, though, has been for Americans to trust institutions in general less. Banks are down from the upper 50s to the 20s; organized religion from the 60s to the 40s. Public schools are down from the upper 50s to the upper 20s. Newspapers are down from around forty percent to the 25 percent range.

The police and the military are mostly unchanged, which is the real mark of their success. The military's historic low came after Vietnam, but with the odd high attached to momentary military victories, it's been right around where it is. The police are 52% in the beginning, 52% now. Faith in the criminal justice system is very low, but it's improved over the years: Americans expressing confidence in that institution rose from the teens into the twenties.

So it seems as if the issue isn't democracy, here, it's a collapsing faith in institutions generally. That could indicate a rising tide of individualism, which has certainly been observed during the same period (the mid-1970s to the present).

Next up is "young Americans giving up on politics." Eh, youngsters have always been bad about showing up to vote. That's generally good for democracy, as they don't yet understand the world they live in. This is proven by the third argument, which has to do with whether young people perceive it as "essential" to live in a democracy. Far fewer do than their elders -- but that's how they've been educated. They've also been taught to believe a lot of other nonsense they'll sort out in the real world. The other propositions they offer about America are for increasing support for fringe positions ("I hope the military takes over" garners support from 1 in 6 -- but it's a proposition I'll bet is disproportionately disfavored by actual veterans of the military).

What about the Defense One argument?
You can’t beat a surging ideology with no ideology or higher sense of purpose. In the face of the persistent challenge of violent Islamist extremism and the global recession of freedom, what the world has needed is a powerful reaffirmation of the universal relevance of liberal values. Instead, the democratic West has been retreating into moral relativism and illiberal impulses.

The assault on liberal values has been a defining feature of the democratic recession. During the past decade, democracy has typically ended not with tanks rolling in the streets or the president shutting down parliament, but rather in suffocating increments: with a regime steadily rigging elections, limiting opposition rights, taming independent media, and criminalizing the work of independent organizations.
Hm, now that does sound familiar. Even here in America, we've seen some evidence if "moral relativism" and "illiberal impulses" from the ruling party. Rigged votes are the order of the day in Congress -- the Iran deal, for example, was an exercise in pretending from start to finish. The Clinton campaign's weekend ploy with the DNC is another example, but the Clinton strategy is fundamentally anti-democratic: the real strength of her campaign is in having used a political machine to round up the superdelegates of the party, making it nearly impossible for actual voters to choose another candidate than her. The DNC has structured itself in such a way as to insulate itself from democracy.

My sense is that the real fear isn't that democracy may be losing strength, but that the people may be electing the wrong kind of candidates. Both authors suggest that the rise of right-wing nativist parties represents an enemy of democracy or at least of 'the universal values of liberalism.' That's not clear to me. It may be that one of the universal values is love of home, love of country, love of the way of life that is one's own. That's not incompatible with liberalism. It is incompatible with overarching super-governments that force everyone to live by all and only the same rules and not enforce border controls.

That's the common flaw of the US Federal government and the EU right now. The reaction against both is, I think, fundamentally democratic. It's the people who are furious about it, and who are going to the polls to try and stop it. They are doing so by electing political parties that organize for the purpose of running in democratic elections.

Someone is losing faith in democracy, but it isn't these people.

The Last Days of Advent



Prepare yourselves.

Apparently Astronomers Don't Read History

I am a white woman about to start a faculty position in astronomy at the University of Washington, Seattle. Justice John Roberts wants to know why I would care who was in my class. Although I find it baffling that a man who leads the court of a country built in an attempt to honor and value those disparate experiences and backgrounds doesn’t understand the strength of that diversity, I will do him the service I do for all of my students.
That's... an interesting reading of the American project. The country was founded in order to honor and value disparate experiences. E pluribus, pluribus.
John Roberts doesn’t want us to ask these questions because the underlying reason is ugly and exposes the systemic racism that is institutionalized at the deepest levels of our society. The laws that John Roberts and his colleagues nominally clarify and protect are created to keep Justices Roberts, Scalia, and their ilk of mediocre white men at the helm of our country.
Actually, making people astronomers or physicists is just as effective a way of keeping Justices Roberts, Scalia et al at the helm of the country. To be good at those fields, you needed to study the most advanced math you could from an early age. Focusing on that means not focusing on other things -- for example, as you yourself clearly demonstrate, the focus on math means less understanding of law, history, or political philosophy.

Cruuuuuuuz

The Senator That Saved Christmas.

John Wayne Does Not Smile

"Yes, I apologize," [Bernie Sanders] said when asked whether Clinton was owed an apology. "Not only do I apologize, I want to apologize to my supporters. This is not the kind of campaign that we run. If I find anybody else involved in this, they will be fired."

You buy into Clinton, you're buying four years of this. It'll be nothing but corruption hiding behind corruption, with the decent told they need to apologize for coming anywhere near it. I've said a lot against Trump, who deserves it, but Clinton is the worst candidate in the race.

Crazy TEA Party Types...

Jazz Shaw remembers.
I seem to recognize this argument from somewhere, but where was it? Oh, that’s right… it was me. I was making the same case in 2012 after watching the wreckage of a handful of totally winnable races two years earlier which slipped away. But a few years of observing the antics of Congress after we supposedly took control of both chambers has cured me of much of that.
At some point, if you're going to play, you're going to have to play.

'Today You Did A Great Jihad -- You Took The Train in the Rain'

A moment in a meditation on the fracturing of Europe.
[Legion of Honour recipient Khalil] Merroun leaned forward in his chair. Terrorism is ‘‘not jihad,’’ he said. The jihad of one’s self is about personal betterment and seeking greater understanding.

‘‘Today, you did a great jihad by coming to see me,’’ he said. ‘‘You called yesterday, you took the Metro, it was raining and you came here for a noble cause, to inform people. And I also made an effort, a jihad: I listened to you, I welcomed you and tried to transmit a message to better inform people, to try and dispel misconceptions and spread our true message, thousands of kilometers away, in the United States.’’

Merroun didn’t discount the venom directed at Muslims or refugees — this explained his security detail — but he thought the sour public mood was rooted in broader frustrations, like the lack of jobs. ‘‘So far, things have managed to remain relatively stable,’’ he said.

Our interview finished up shortly after 2 o’clock. I took the train back into Paris with a colleague. That night, less than eight hours later, three teams of suicide bombers and other heavily armed radical Islamists attacked Paris, killing 130 people.

What?

French to be the world's most commonly-spoken language by 2050, thanks to growth in sub-Saharan Africa.

I wouldn't have guessed French was due for such a rebirth.

A Heroic Youth

In Knoxville, TN, a young football player gave his life to protect teenage girls from a gang-related shooting. He is remembered as befits a youth who dies nobly.

Ha-Ha-Ha! Good Joke, Oberlin!

At least, I assume this must be intended as a joke. You should have tried the Army's grits, before you complain about the college not getting your food 'culturally accurate.'

Even funnier is the demand that the college pay them to protest it, and above minimum wage!

The Pot Calls The Linen Tablecloth Black

In a shift of strategy hours before the third Democratic debate, Hillary Clinton’s campaign went for Bernie Sanders’ jugular, accusing his team of stealing valuable campaign data, misrepresenting what happened and inflicting “damage here that cannot be undone.”... And Clinton’s team was angry that Sanders tried to fundraise off the incident by acting like he was a victim of the Democratic National Committee. “Stop politicizing and work to ensure that what took place is remedied,” Mook said, even dropping that Sanders campaign may have broken the law.
Heaven knows how much it scandalizes Clinton to ponder a breach of the law.

UPDATE: DNC violated its own laws in punishing Sanders campaign.

Who Voted for Omnibus

Presidential candidates in the Senate were mostly smart enough to vote against this monster, with the exception of Rubio who contrived to be absent. Both of my Senators sadly were in the 'yea' column, which is predictable. Anything the Chamber of Commerce wants, these guys are there to provide.

Fire Wasserman Schultz

A petition on MoveOn.org has garnered over forty thousand signatures. Feel free to add yours.

Looks like Sanders has won for the moment. Still, removing a corrupt tool like DWS is worth doing on its own merits.

No, really


Please Don't Bomb Anywhere Without Some Reason

Thirty percent of Republicans responding to a recent poll approved of bombing a fictional country from the movie Aladdin.

Conceivably Possibly P=NP

...and that's a big deal.

Maryam Rajavi on Iran and ISIS

I have tremendous respect for this woman and her organization, which is headquartered in Paris because they would be put to death at home. Maryam Rajavi is the head of the National Council of Resistance - Iran, and keeps the focus on Iran's brutal human rights abuses and anti-democratic quality.

Here she advances a theory that I haven't heard before to explain why ISIS and Iran have such similar views on the execution of law. It's a little surprising that they should -- the Sunni/Shi'a split was more than a thousand years ago, and their schools of law have developed along different lines since then, with the Sunni schools 'closing' the law to reform after the 10th century, and the Shi'a schools remaining 'open' to new interpretations. They are different enough that in Afghanistan, whose constitution says that nothing shall counter sha'riah law, the Shi'a Muslims had to have constitutional provisions protecting their right to practices that Sunni schools of sha'riah do not permit.

Her suggestion is that the reason that ISIS's brutality looks so much like Iran's brutality is that Iran is the real model for ISIS:
Ever since Ruhollah Khomeini came to power in 1979, Tehran championed itself as a successful model, which fundamentalists could follow in order to gain stature, power, and sovereign legitimacy. This presents a tantalizing message to Sunni extremists like the Islamic State– why can they not create their own “Islamic” State when Shiite fundamentalists have already done so?

While the conceptual origins of this extremist ideology took shape in the early years of Islam, it only turned into a formidable global force when fundamentalism gripped Iran in the aftermath of the 1979 revolution.

The regime that replaced the Shah—who was also detestable and undemocratic—began exporting Islamic fundamentalism on an unprecedented scale almost overnight. High-profile hostage-takings, bombings, suicide attacks, and assassinations became the norm as the mullahs in Tehran began building their own version of a theocratic state.

In these early stages, Shiite terrorist factions, including militias in Iraq, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, and others were directly formed by the Iranian regime. Without such state sponsorship from Tehran, their clout and influence would have quickly evaporated and they would have vanished. The vicious ideology and proliferative model grew increasingly lethal as its proponents gained access to veritable troves of military, diplomatic, political, and propaganda resources within the sovereign state borders of Iran.

So began the first modern-day “caliphate”—years before al-Qaida’s first attack burned in Yemen, and a full three decades prior to the rise of the Islamic State.

Many assume that Sunni fundamentalism is a unique phenomenon, entirely separate from the dogmas espoused by the Shiite mullahs in Tehran, but the differences are ancillary. In fact, Sunni fundamentalists have found tremendous strength under the political and spiritual umbrella of the Iranian theocracy. Both share the same ideological building blocks: the establishment of a religious state, which implements Sharia by force.

There is considerable evidence that the regime in Tehran has armed and financed Sunni extremists at various times and locations. Not only is Iran a long-standing sponsor of Hamas, but also as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said recently, “ISIS was created by Assad releasing 1,500 prisoners from jail, and Maliki releasing 1,000 people in Iraq who were put together as a force of terror.” Tehran is the known puppet-master of both.

Medieval Christmas Traditions

Renaissance-era, also. From Medievalists.net.

DNC Moves to Sabotage Sanders Campaign

In addition to scheduling the Democratic debate on the Saturday night before Christmas during the exact same time as NFL football, Debbie Wasserman Schultz has used a minor scandal to cripple Sanders' access to voter data. It looks like some lower-level staffers managed to exploit a bug in the DNC's software to look at Clinton's own data, but the Sanders campaign both fired the chief staffer involved and itself reported the violation to the DNC. Meanwhile, as the Sanders' campaign points out, its data was just as available -- and there's no way to know that Clinton's campaign didn't look at their stuff too. In fact, as a betting man, I'd wager heavily that Clinton's campaign absolutely exploited the regular flaws in this software and simply hasn't reported itself for cheating.

All the stops are out on the Clinton Express, though. The DNC is wholly in the tank for her.

Parallels in France

The American Interest considers the National Front:
[T]he National Front represents a deeper challenge for a French right, which now occupies an awkward centrist position.... The possibility of alliance is taboo for Republican leaders, who fear that the mere mention of it would break down the last barrier for voters; even mentioning the possibility publicly has led to the expulsion of party members (including an MP). But if alliance is out, what are the other options? Confronting the FN head on? Co-opt its message to attract its voters (thus running the risk of letting the FN shape the conversation)? Much as U.S. Republicans with Donald Trump, French strategists are at loss.
The National Front is somewhat like UKIP in Britain. Both are nationalist parties in the old sense. They're proud of who they are, and they want to protect their nation and advance its interests, but more than that: they both want to protect their nation's character. They are proud of being French, or they are proud of being English. They want a country that takes that character seriously, protecting or restoring it as necessary.

Their focus on protecting or restoring this national character is what opens them to charges of racism or of xenophobia, but what is going on is less xenophobia than oikophilia, that is, love of home and the things of one's own. Love of home is such a deep, natural part of human beings that of course it is difficult to strategize against. Europe hoped it would be able to transfer the love of home to itself considered broadly, as France had earlier managed to become the emotional center of love-of-home for Gascons as well as Parisians. Great Britain once managed to become the emotional center of home-love for Englishmen as well as many Welshmen or Scots.

What's going on instead is that Europe's demands upon France, or Britain's on England, have begun to work against the interests of home too much for the collective to be thought of as the real home of the heart. In that way, the Scottish National Party is like these parties too in spite of its very different agenda. Because its leftist agenda is more acceptable to the media, it isn't demonized the way that UKIP and the FN are, and because of that it swept the Scottish elections recently. People are willing to associate with it without fear of being called racists or xenophobes.

That fear doesn't last forever, though, and the more because the charge isn't fully fair. There are racists and xenophobes among these nationalists, but there are also among the centralizing parties. The charge is that UKIP or FN are driven by hate, though, whereas racism is accidental when you find it in the Labour party.

In truth, that charge is 180 degrees off of reality. They are driven by love. It is an intense love of home, and the things associated with home, that is driving all these movements. To say that love is hate is not just slander. It becomes an incapacity to see things clearly. Sun Tzu warns that you can never be sure of defeating an enemy you don't understand.

A Price in Blood

I haven't said anything about the Defense Department's decision to open all jobs to women because, as Ranger Up's Nick Palmisciano says, our opinions no longer matter. This is no longer a political question. The decision has been made, and we're going to pay the price in blood for it however high it happens to be. The best thing to do is to support those who have to undertake this mission as well as we can.

Still, we should probably warn young people considering a military career that it just got more dangerous -- especially if they are women.
Army women not only suffer more injuries than men during combat training, but the active-duty female soldiers also are stricken with significantly higher rates of mental health disorders.

The statistics come from a study conducted by the Army surgeon general last summer in conjunction with a bevy of analyses and experiments to judge women’s suitability for direct ground combat roles. It found, for example, that female soldiers suffer depression at more than double the rate of men and that one of the triggers is exposure to combat....

“This is a major scandal in the making,” Mrs. Donnelly said. “Here you have United States Army, with its own medical study pointing to the injury rates at least double compared to men. This is a consistent finding across the board. And they are proceeding anyway. And there is no indication that young women considering military service will be informed of the additional risk they will face over and above what men do. Once you sign up, they are going to be assigned to jobs beyond their strength anywhere the Army wants to send you.”
That it is dangerous isn't a reason not to do it -- the honor comes in large part from the danger. Best of luck.

Two More Problems With the No-Fly List

Problem one: it's almost completely useless for any other purpose, according to Homeland Security. There are only like fifty guys on it who would be affected.

That's not a huge problem, though, because if the President gets the authority he wants, he'll just add everyone's name to it. Hope you didn't like flying very much.

Problem two: If you're a gentle, Santa-like veterinarian from Tennessee whose name is on there wrongfully, the process for clearing your name is both murky and ineffective.
Hackett has never been arrested and never traveled to the Middle East or other centers of terrorist activity, but he found out more than a decade ago he's on the federal watch list because he shares the same name as notorious Irish Republican Army terrorist Patrick Joseph Hackett, who was jailed in the 1970s for planting bombs in Britain.

The difference should be easy to spot. The terrorist is missing an arm and a leg — blown off when a bomb exploded prematurely — while the Knoxville veterinarian has all his limbs intact.

"I don't know how I got on the list, and I don't know how to get off the list," Hackett said.

Since learning he was on the list, Hackett has been denied boarding on planes and even spent time in a foreign jail.
That's not a problem either, though, since protecting your rights and liberty was the old purpose of the American government. The new purpose is progress!

Shame on "Liberals" Who Rationalize Terror

StandPoint magazine, out of the UK, writes:
John Kerry’s liberalism, and the liberalism of millions like him, ignores Chesterton’s warning not to be so open-minded that your brains fall out.

...

Perhaps I am being too kind to Kerry.
It's always a possibility.

The Death of the Arab Spring

What went wrong?
Imagine a Battle of Lexington leading to a War of Independence that went horribly, horribly wrong. That wouldn't be hard if you could conceive of a leadership that decided to "lead from behind". Sohrab Ahmari, writing in the Wall Street Journal, says that when the old order collapsed an Islamism waiting in the wings came out to fill the vacuum left by a distant Barack Obama. "Good Guys" who were without guns found themselves abandoned by Western governments to bloodthirsty Mustache Petes in the cynical belief that it was easier to make a deal with political Islam or dictators than build a region on new democratic principles.

This was for some reason regarded as smart.
Another perspective comes to a similar conclusion:
The Arab Spring, to the extent that the term is not now entirely a misnomer, was understood in its early days as a reiteration of the Prague Spring of 1968. That flowering of Soviet-era constitutional and democratic reform ended up crushed by Kremlin-directed Warsaw Pact tanks, troops and intrigues after a few months. It has taken only a little while longer for the hopes of most of the long-oppressed Arab masses to be broken between the grindstones of authoritarian police-state reaction and Islamist counter-revolutionary terror....

It was perhaps the Arab democrats’ greatest misfortune that their big moment came at a time when it was Obama holding the title that used to be called “the leader of the free world.” Obama’s strategic response to all the revolutionary tumult across the region has been distinguished by colossal hubris, capitulation to the expansionist Khomeinist regime in Tehran, hollow threats and a strange disregard for the growing sense of hopelessness that has descended across the political spectrum in Israel, traditionally the key American ally in the region.

America's 'Masculinity Problem' Is A Lack Of It

Stand tall, cupcake.

Howard Dean's PAC Is For Bernie

"Democracy For America" decided, in line with their name, to hold a vote on which candidate they'd endorse. According to an emailed press release I just got:
Bernie Sanders has earned Democracy for America's endorsement in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary with an astonishing, record-breaking 87.9% of the vote (including 77.8% of voters who were already members of DFA prior to the poll being launched on December 7).
That's interesting. In 2008 the Dean PAC didn't take a stand on Clinton v. Obama either way, perhaps out of a fear that the split was too divisive for them to survive taking a side. Even if we restrict the field to those who were longstanding members of DFA, though, better than two thirds favor Sanders over Clinton.

It's very far from the whole Democratic party, and Clinton has locked up the superdelegates. Still, it's a fascinating display of support for the insurgent.

UPDATE: Communications Workers of America, a major union, has also endorsed Sanders based on a survey of members. Doubly interesting.

Ignoring The Voters Works Wonders

Specifically, the wonder of Donald Trump, who is going to win just because of things like this.
In the wake of this month’s terrorist attack in San Bernardino, in which one of the perpetrators managed to enter the country on a K-1 “fiancée” visa without being detected, the least popular policy at the moment is increasing access to the US. Numerous polls now show confidence in the federal government plummeting when it comes to securing the nation. The big debate at the moment isn’t on whether to increase visa access, but whether it needs to get shut down for a while until we can improve scrutiny on applicants.

So what did elected representatives Congress do when it came time to pass a large omnibus bill to complete the FY2016 budget process? Sneak a large increase in foreign-worker visas into the legislation, of course....
This is clearly where the mind of the establishment is right now, both Democratic and Republican.

The voters' chief concern is a terrorism that the government has proven incapable of controlling -- let's push disarming the people, while doing nothing much about ISIS and actively helping Iran.

One of the terrorists got in on a badly-investigated visa at the same time that ISIS has proven capable of creating counterfeit Syrian passports and is promising to use the refugee crisis as a vector to infiltrate the West -- let's increase the number of Syrian refugees immediately!

The economy, the next biggest concern, is long-sluggish especially for middle- and lower-income workers for whom immigration represents a wage-suppressing mechanism -- obviously, we need many more work visas right away, especially ones that target the lower end of the American wage scale.

This is part of another major concern about a refusal to enforce border security that seems even to encourage rapid, mass immigration into the United States -- so let's allocate almost two billion dollars to resettling illegal immigrants inside the United States.

Even if you don't agree with the public, the thing about being an elected representative you are supposed to represent the public. If you don't do that, you'd better be really persuasive in accounting for your behavior and convincing the public that you were right and they were wrong. Otherwise, your performance review is coming up fast, and it sounds like the voters are looking to make a change.

Well Done

As you will doubtless recall from our previous discussions of the subject, I am a great admirer of the Sikh religion. I think this is a fine step.

Heart beats

I'm about to become the proud new owner of a pacemaker.  Apparently my heart has a curious habit of stopping now and then throughout the day--not that I ever notice a thing.  My father also had weird heart rhythms and had a pacemaker, though somewhat later in life in his case.  Well, it's a boatload of money and a little surprising, but it's a wildly low-risk procedure and won't put any restrictions on me afterwards, so who am I to complain?  The good news is that I don't have a bit of A-fib, which was the heart problem I always expected to get.  A-fib actually is rather hard to deal with, whereas a pacemaker should be a virtually 100% permanent solution to my bizarre heart rhythm.

Among other things, my heart rate drops to 34 during the night.  Lub . . . dub . . . lub . . . dub.  My father's used to drop to 40 while he was sitting up and talking, which used to confuse the doctors no end.  Likewise, my cardiologist cannot explain how my heart could stop for 10 seconds at a time, as it apparently did last week, in the middle of the day, without my even feeling faint.

All of this came about because my new doctor, who spends time with his patients a la Marcus Welby, told me to get off my butt and reduce my weight.  I'm making good progress, and this shouldn't interrupt that program at all.

Presidential Candidates as Star Wars Characters

It's interesting that our two frontrunners are both variations on Darth Vader.

Former Guardsman Facing Decades in Prison For Terror Plot

Fortunately, unlike in other cases we can see a clear causal factor here: Hasan was obviously a disgruntled veteran.

He was aiming at killing up to 150 people in an attack on his former comrades.

University of Georgia Discovers 27 Graves Beneath Baldwin Hall

As the article points out, the headline is more surprising than the story. The hall was built immediately beside the grounds of a historic cemetery, which has lovely old trees. It is mown by goats to protect the old stones from being darkened by fumes, or damage to the tree roots from mower blades.
The circa-1938 academic hall, where some 20,000 US navy cadets once learned to fly planes during the second world war, was set to receive its first major facelift in more than half a century....

According to one state estimate, the cemetery could be home to as many as 5,000 graves, including those of revolutionary war veterans, Confederate civil war soldiers, and family members of Georgia politicians. Hundreds of the graves are unmarked. Over the years, the university encroached on the six-acre plot. According to historic records, Darden said, UGA planners thought they had transferred bodies located at Baldwin Hall’s current location to the nearby Oconee Hill Cemetery.

33 Gifts for the Military Man

An article from Havok Journal. Most of these will work well for military women too, though they may want different work clothes.

I do prefer a slightly longer pocket knife than the one he recommends, but it depends on your branch of service. The USAF won't allow you to bring a pocket knife longer than 3" on base, as I recall. I usually carry one of these, which has a too-long-for-the-Air-Force blade length of 3.99". It's strong, keeps an edge well, has a serrated portion for those kind of cutting jobs, and opens easily with one hand.

Nordic Christmas Customs

Some of these far-Northern traditions may help you get into the spirit at a time when the weather outside feels more like Spring than Winter.

Also, some of you may want to give socks for Christmas.
The keeper of the ultimate naughty list, Grýla is an Icelandic giantess who comes down from her mountain at Christmastime to eat misbehaving children. Her pet, the Christmas Cat, tags along and eats anyone who didn't get new clothes for Christmas, a tradition that probably makes Icelandic children a lot more grateful for those socks from grandma.
That's right, you little punks. You'll take those socks and smile.

How To Turn A "Straight News" Story Into An Editorial

Everybody does it, but I've never seen it done harder than ABC TV News does it here.

Here's the lede from the print version of the story:
A majority of Americans oppose banning assault weapons for the first time in more than 20 years of ABC News/Washington Post polls, with the public expressing vast doubt that the authorities can prevent “lone wolf” terrorist attacks and a substantial sense that armed citizens can help.
So, the actual news is that a second poll now finds a majority opposed to an assault weapons ban for the first time since that scary term was invented out of whole cloth to sell gun control. The President has already moved on to calling these things "battlefield weapons," which they are not: the kind you take to the battlefield are automatic. But the shift in rhetoric is unlikely to be persuasive given that most Americans now doubt the government's competence to protect them from terrorist attacks of this kind. They're right, of course, to doubt it. The government can't possibly stop these sorts of attacks reliably. Even if they assume vast new surveillance powers and police powers, they just won't be everywhere all the time. The only institution that could possibly stop lone wolf attacks reliably is the militia, in the original sense of the ordinary people of the country armed for the defense of themselves as well as the common peace and lawful order. They're the only ones who will always be wherever the terrorist may pick to attack.

So, as a news story, this story is empirically opposed to the President's narrative and agenda.

Now, if you're inclined, watch the television version of the story at the link. Let us count the ways in which it bends this story into the approved form:

1) It opens with a "troubling headline" about a local news story in Albuquerque, which would normally never make national news, but which is elevated just so that ABC can link the shooting to the news story via a 'this comes at the same time as...' move.

2) The news story is built not around the poll, but around demonstrations in favor of the Second Amendment. These are described as having been organized "to push back against the President's campaign to rein in gun violence." That's right -- they're demonstrating in favor of gun violence! What they want is for gun violence to be unrestrained!

3) We still don't get the poll. First, an additional introductory feature about some accidental shootings, complete with footage of a bloody ambulance bed being moved to a hospital. We're now halfway into the story, and all we've heard is that people organized at rallies, shot each other accidentally, and "oppose the President's plans." Why? A man is allowed to explain just after the halfway point: he says that if you tell Americans they can't have something, they'll want it. So, really nothing more than childish defiance is at work -- no Constitutional principles, no concerns about government competence, no terrorism, just a kind of fit that Daddy won't let them have candy.

4) Now we get a segment about how the President is moved by the shootings at Sandy Hook. It runs for 1/6th of the length of the news story, and shows the President somber, hurt, and speaking "almost daily" about the need to "protect our children."

5) We are now 1:21 into a 2:00 story. The poll comes up: "The public agrees with the President on some of his proposals..."

6) We get specific numbers on those proposals the public agrees with.

7) "But a ban on assault weapons looks unlikely..." -- because the poll shows that public opposes it? No! "...as Republicans push back."

8) Ted Cruz is allowed literally half of a sentence in defense of whatever these "Republican" ideas might be.

9) Twenty seconds left! "The White House admits not all Democrats are on board." Do we hear from a Democrat explaining why? Of course not! No, we hear from a White House dude explaining that "We're going to twist the arms" of Democrats to get them on board.

10) They close without ever giving the numbers opposing assault weapons, never mentioning the doubts about government competence to stop attacks, and never allowing anyone to give any part of the countervailing principled arguments, nor the empirical ones either. Instead, they close with a pledge from the White House and its supporters to have a "fifty-state strategy" to get new gun control through Congress.

Television rots the brain. Sometimes, it's by design.

In December?

Someone missed the first line of The Canterbury Tales...
A former physics teacher is recreating a 700-year-old pilgrim's journey using only medieval clothing and equipment. Steven Payne, 52, set off from Southampton's Mayflower Park to Canterbury on foot with a letter of approval from the Pope. The two-week journey means he will be spending Christmas Day sleeping with just a woollen cloak for protection and a venison pie from a medieval recipe.... The clothing is based on items on a body found in peat in Scandinavia.... The pilgrim is taking medieval-style food with him, with the modern addition of a mince pie....

Mr Payne is not taking a tent and will sleep in fields under his wool cloak or in structures which would have been built in 1365. If he experiences any resistance for sleeping in churches or chapels he said he would produce the letters from either the Bishop of Portsmouth or the Pope.

Feel that Bern! No, really... feel it.

So according to the Berniementum blog (yes, that's what they chose as their name), we're all about to get to eat some crow.  Because OMG TOTALLY YU GAIZ, Bernie totally has a plan to pay for all his rainbows and unicorns!  And just wait till you hear it!

No kidding

Even Slate magazine is starting to notice the Obamacare failure.  This year's bad news, besides the failure of the non-profit coops and the news that many of them aren't even guaranteed, which is bad enough, is that PPOs are disappearing from the market.  The Slate article concentrates on New York, but the same thing is happening in Texas.  We're stuck in an HMO for 2016, which barely feels like coverage to me, considering that the time we're really going to want to depend on insurance is when we face something really scary, and that is exactly when I don't relish being confined to a puny network.  But we've also applied to one of those non-insurance healthcare cost-sharing organizations, so we'll see how that goes.

Moon Letters

In the Black Book of Carmarthen.

The explanation is easier: the writing is on vellum, which was often 'erased' by being scraped and then written over. It turns out that, with UV light, we can see the old letters and read them.

Prison 2016 Update

The intelligence community punches back at State's claims that Hillary Clinton's emails weren't TOP SECRET. Yes, they were, the IC says -- and one of them still is.

Since the emails originally were classified by the IC and not State, Secretary Clinton's original classification authority won't be available as a defense. She should have obeyed procedures according to the original classification authority who issued the classification, not treated these letters as not-so-secret even if she disagreed with their decision.

In fact, it doesn't look like she disagreed -- she just didn't care enough to obey the law when something else was more convenient.

Meanwhile, two Senators have written to Secretary Kerry and Director Clapper to ask, 'Hey, who leaked that State objected to the classification level to the press?' That kind of thing could give voters the impression that the charges weren't so serious -- not that John Kerry would put politics above national security.

UPDATE: 2016 as the year of justice long delayed? Bergdahl to face General Court Martial as commanding general sets aside recommendations.

These cases are alike in that the President is personally involved in trying to shade the rule of law for political reasons. It may be that some of those oath-bound to see justice done are growing tired of it.

50 Years Since

This article in the Jewish journal Tablet is titled "Vatican II at 50," but it is really about one subset: "a brief 'Declaration on the Relation of the Church to non-Christian Religions' titled 'Nostra Aetate,' whose fourth section deals with Judaism." It is a scholarly take on the reaction of different parts of the Jewish and Christian worlds to that document, which took several steps to formalize an understanding of how the Church related to Jews that would lead to tolerance and acceptance, and perhaps in time even friendship.

It caught my eye because I had just seen yesterday a statement from a collection of Orthodox Jewish rabbis that was framed as a reply, fifty years on.
“As did Maimonides and Yehudah Halevi, we acknowledge that Christianity is neither an accident nor an error, but the willed divine outcome and gift to the nations,” the rabbis said in their statement. “In separating Judaism and Christianity, G-d willed a separation between partners with significant theological differences, not a separation between enemies.”

“Both Jews and Christians have a common covenantal mission to perfect the world under the sovereignty of the Almighty, so that all humanity will call on His name and abominations will be removed from the earth,” they added. “We understand the hesitation of both sides to affirm this truth and we call on our communities to overcome these fears in order to establish a relationship of trust and respect.”
The Church has likewise put out a statement timed to the anniversary with language that, if anything, strengthens the commitment. One line catches my eye:
How God will save the Jews if they do not explicitly believe in Christ is "an unfathomable divine mystery," but one which must be affirmed since Catholics believe that God is faithful to his promises and therefore never revoked his covenant with the Jewish people, it says.
The ability to speak in terms of 'unfathomable divine mysteries' is a surprising strength.

Who Is Being Sacrificed?

On a piece about "Obama's Sacrifice," we learn that the President is sacrificing the peace of the West to protect American soldiers.
So — and this is the message that no President could ever tell the American people — it’s a trade-off: Dozens or perhaps hundreds of American and other Western casualties rather than thousands of killed and maimed U.S. and allied troops and billions more spent in a new ground and air war with no guarantee of success. What’s more, intensified war in the Middle East would inevitably trigger more home front attacks rather than prevent them.
Which leads Matthew Yglesias to remark, apparently approvingly, "In this way, the hardest problem in US counterterrorism policy is in some ways as much a speechwriting challenge as anything else."

"Merry Christmas" in European

A map of the many ways in which it is said, shaded by linguistic connections.

From a pretty nifty site that mostly focuses on teaching English to Europeans. They have many fun maps, and a lot of articles on proper grammar.

Air Force Abandons the 21-Gun Salute

Allegedly for budgetary reasons.

"Human-level" Concept Acquisition

In today's AI news, a probabilistic approach to learning allows machines to learn to generalize about how to draw some simple figures at a rate similar to human beings.

I finally put my finger on it

So let me preface all this with the following disclaimer.  I in no way can bring myself to support a single Democrat candidate currently in the field.  I do not think a single one of them should be put into the White House.  But I'll tell you, I honestly think that if Donald Trump wins the Republican nomination, I won't be able to bring myself to vote for him.  But for the longest time, I couldn't really pin down specifically why.

This Stamp Was Accurate, Once

Not since 2004. We beat them once. We'll beat them again.


With great thanks to Raven, and in memory of Colonel Sam Colt.

Alternative Headline: Republican Politics Much Less Corrupt Than Advertised

The boys at Vox are sad that Republican "megadonors" can't buy the election.

The same is not true in the reverse: Clinton's international megadonors have not only bought her the primary, they've kept her out of prison.

Zoroaster Lives!

The Kurds are awesome on so many levels.

A Small Irony on Religion

Sister John Paul Bauer shot a ten-point buck, and shared the meat with local hungry families. Naturally, she came under intense and obscene criticism.
Within days, the nearby Erie Diocese removed the Facebook post because of nasty comments posted by activists who apparently were offended enough by guns, God and hunting to feel justified in reacting offensively and lewdly.

God, guns and prayer have been intertwined as enemies of the political left ever since Barack Obama described Pennsylvania voters as being “bitter” over job losses and surmised that “they cling to guns or religion.”

Despite handily winning this state twice, his and the left's hatred for the very people who voted for him has never waned. As with everything else he dislikes about traditional American culture, he has sought to “correct” the behavior of those people.

Last week, that corrective zeal reached an entirely new level when the left condemned the act of offering thoughts and prayers to the grieving, treating it as code for gun ownership.
Had she been a devout Muslim, would the criticism be as loud?

Probably not. Nevertheless, if she had been, it would be the NRA and not the President defending her right to keep and bear arms. The people so hot to restrict her rights are the very ones who think themselves to be on the side of sympathy and understanding for the religious -- provided they are Muslims. The NRA is as ready to defend a Muslim's rights as a Catholic's, but they are said to be the enemies of all that is decent and good in America.

We Missed Out

James Madison's deleted Constitutional proposals were helpfully clarifying.
Another item that Madison proposed was making sure at least three of the liberties guaranteed in the Bill of Rights applied to all states.

“No State shall violate the equal rights of conscience, or the freedom of the press, or the trial by jury in criminal cases,” Madison said in the fifth part of his original Bill of Rights proposal.

The selective incorporation of parts of the Bill of Rights to the states didn’t happen until the early part of the 20th century as the Supreme Court interpreted the 14th Amendment’s Due Process Clause in a series of cases.

Madison also wanted to clearly spell out that each branch of government had clear, distinct roles.

“The powers delegated by this Constitution are appropriated to the departments to which they are respectively distributed: so that the Legislative Department shall never exercise the powers vested in the Executive or Judicial, nor the Executive exercise the powers vested in the Legislative or Judicial, nor the Judicial exercise the powers vested in the Legislative or Executive Departments,” he said in the last part of his proposed Bill of Rights.
The proposed incorporation would have made clear that the states and the Federal guarantees were different, and might have made unnecessary the 14th Amendment's vesting of Federal Courts with such expansive powers. They might have been given only an additional power or two to oversee, rather than reordering the relationship between the states and the central government so completely. It is my sense that most of the serious tensions in American's politics come from the fact that the Federal courts impose one-sized-fits-all solutions on a nation that does not agree about fundamental questions of right.

The proposed clarity on the separation of powers would have been helpful, too, at least potentially. The Supreme Court understood the difference until Roosevelt intimidated them into yielding place. It's been a long fall since then.

Charles Blow Visits a Gun Show

And the result is slightly positive.
I thought of how productive it would be if more people with discordant views on gun regulations could have as civil a discussion as I had with my brother — full of mutual respect, adults disagreeing but not attempting to demonize, honestly searching for solutions.

The gun lobby poisons these conversations. It pumps out and promotes a never-ending stream of worst-case scenarios until it builds a level of fear and paranoia that only profits gun makers and grinds all progress to a halt.

Indeed, the Austin Highway Gun Show itself published on its Facebook page on Dec. 9 an image of a gun and a Bible with the caption: “History has shown that these are the first two things banned by totalitarian governments.”

But, I must also say that, to a lesser degree, some proponents of better regulations also do damage by painting with too broad a brush and labeling the millions of gun hunters, collectors and people simply seeking to provide an extra layer of protections for their families — people like my brother and his gun show buddies — as deranged and deficient. Most are not. Many are simply enthusiasts like my brother and the elderly man who climbed out of an S.U.V. as we were about to leave.

My brother bellowed, as is his wont, “How you doing today?” The man responded with a smile, “Any day I can go to a gun show is a good day.”
Emphasis added. I think we can disagree about which side "poisons" the debate the most. Still, it's a more welcome tone than we've seen from the Times lately. Or, indeed, from many others.

She Had Help

Today's outrageously outrageous Trumpism: 'Hillary Clinton killed hundreds of thousands of people with her stupidity.'

Doubtless she bears part of the blame for the precipitous withdrawal from Iraq, because her State Department failed in its attempts to negotiate a Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government. They tried, and they blew it. Partly the President is to blame, too, for not getting more directly and personally involved but accepting the 2011 withdrawal as a fait accompli.

On the other hand, if the Maliki government had behaved better, perhaps Iraq would have remained stable. If Assad hadn't touched off a major civil war next door, that would really have helped. And, of course, if we'd left Saddam in place only tens of thousand of people would have been killed by his brutal regime if the history of his reign is any indication.

She bears some responsibility, and it is the quality of guilt that it can be divided without being lessened.

I Would Have Called This "Marketing"...

...but I guess that's less scary-sounding than "psychological data and analytics."
As Cecil Stinemetz walked up to a gray clapboard house in suburban Des Moines last week wearing his “Cruz 2016” cap, a program on his iPhone was determining what kind of person would answer the door.

Would she be a “relaxed leader”? A “temperamental conservative”? Maybe even a “true believer”?

Nope. It turned out that Birdie Harms, a 64-year-old grandmother, part-time real estate agent and longtime Republican, was, by the Ted Cruz campaign’s calculations, a “stoic traditionalist” — a conservative whose top concerns included President Obama’s use of executive orders on immigration.

Which meant that Stinemetz was instructed to talk to her in a tone that was “confident and warm and straight to the point” and ask about her concerns regarding the Obama administration’s positions on immigration, guns and other topics.
I suppose it's really both. It's not really shocking to learn that he sent pro-Israeli messages to pro-Israeli groups and pro-gun-rights messages to NRA members.

XKCD speaks

These are posts from "Not Exactly Rocket Science," by the way.

In The Guardian, the author of the XKCD comic strip interviews an astronaut.  Did you watch the movie "Gravity" and pick it apart?  I didn't like that someone in a low-Earth orbit who wanted to catch up with someone else in the same orbit, but on the opposite side of the Earth, accelerated to catch up.  The XKCD and his astronaut had different problems.  For one thing, apparently the movie producers sometimes had Earth rotating in the wrong direction in the background.  The astronaut noted in passing that, when he was in orbit, he had to get used to the idea that north wouldn't always be up.

All-Around Education

That's the etymology of "encyclopedia."  The Atlantic is running an article about the habit of creating these works, starting with Pliny.

Sure-Fire Electoral Success

Republicans are in dismay over the primary. S. E. Cupp apparently thinks they ought to throw the election to keep Trump out of the White House -- but how hard can they really throw it?
For Democrats, particularly those who must defend President Barack Obama’s record on foreign affairs and terrorism, there is no good news. According to the latest New York Times/CBS News survey, seven in 10 Americans now describe ISIS as a major threat to national security. Another 44 percent of respondents believe another attack inside the United States at some point in the next few months is “very” likely, greater than at any point since October 2001. 57 percent of those polled disapprove of Obama’s handling of the issue of terrorism. According to Gallup, 67 percent believe future “acts of terrorism” inside the United States are either somewhat or very likely. Gallup further revealed that confidence in the government’s ability to keep its citizens safe is lower than it has ever been since the 9/11 attacks. Simultaneously, a majority of Americans fear they will be the next victims of that forthcoming attack for the first time since 2001. Perhaps most ominously from a Democratic perspective, satisfaction in the direction the country is headed has not been this depressed since November of 2014 when Republicans rode a wave of voter dissatisfaction to pick up control of the U.S. Senate.
It is in this environment that both their President and their front-runner for the party's nomination have decided to make their party's main issue obtaining unilateral authority to strip Americans of the Constitutional right to keep and bear arms without due process.