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.