Counterpoint: Needed, More Americans

Bret Stephens thinks we are dangerously underpopulated:
…America is vast, largely empty and often lonely. Roughly 80 percent of Americans live in urban areas, covering just 3 percent of the overall landmass. We have a population density of 35 people per square kilometer — as opposed to 212 for Switzerland and 271 for the U.K.

We could use some more people. Make that a lot more.
He has some arguments about new immigrants being, on average, better people than Americans. They'll work harder for less money, go to church more often, and -- he claims -- get into less trouble with the law. It's hard to say if that's true or not, actually; drug traffickers who cross international borders make up almost half of Federal prisoners, but that's not representative of populations in state prisons or local jails, where 90% of prisoners are but which are not good about submitting statistics in a fashion that can be readily studied. Clearly 100% of illegal aliens have committed at least a misdemeanor Federal crime; but since the debate is about whether or not to eliminate those very laws, that's not of much interest to the discussion.

Myself, I hold these truths to be self-evident.

1) American cities are too crowded, and the bulk of new immigrants are going to go right to those cities -- just as they cluster in cities in the countries from which they come. (Besides, huge swathes of the unoccupied land in the USA -- especially out West -- is Federal land in national monuments, forests, parks, and wildernesses. The same folks who want to up our population density to UK levels would have a fit if you proposed opening that land to settlement and economic exploitation.)

2) New immigrants can in fact be better Americans than native-born Americans, but only if they come loving the American way of limited government and maximum freedom. Some do: likely you've known them, as I have. One of the best Americans I ever knew was a Korean-born Korean who fought the Communists in the 1950s, and then came here. He loved America with all his heart, and did his best to impress his love of the American ideal on all of his students once he became a professor of Political Science. I'll take all the guys like him you can find.

But that's my marker for whether or not America would benefit from any given immigrant. America is in a key sense a philosophy. If they share the philosophy, well and good: we can use all the Americans we can find. Otherwise, there are already plenty of folks on the highway.

In Lexington, Virginia?

I've been hearing people mockingly say, 'Get woke, go broke' fairly often lately. This guy, though, really might. It's one thing to refuse to serve a prominent member of the Trump administration at a restaurant in DC, or in New York City. Lexington, Virginia, is not the right town for that.

It's been purged from the English-language Wikipedia article, but if you check the German-language one it still refers to Lexington as "The Shrine of the South." This is the site of Robert E. Lee's grave in the chapel named after him, at the University named after him, where also is the grave of his horse, Traveller. Stonewall Jackson was born here, and Sam Houston nearby. Currently it is the site of the Virginia Military Institute, producer of the kind of hardcore second lieutenants that come out of these Southern military academies -- the Citadel in Charleston, SC, produces their like as well. It seems like every other highway in the surrounding countryside is called "Lee Highway." Confederate flags abound.

There's a reasonable argument for freedom of association allowing a business owner to refuse to serve guests of whom he morally disapproves. There's a countering argument, also reasonable, that public accommodations should not discriminate for moral reasons to include religious beliefs. Those discussions are worthy and interesting, but here I'm merely struck by the practicalities of this decision. It's not like you can up and move your cozy bed-and-breakfast to another town, the way you could close a franchise of a chain. There's an irreplaceable investment that's been made in a particular location, which has a particular environment around it. People don't come to Lexington, VA, on tour because they are interested in woke politics. They come to see their kids at VMI or Washington & Lee -- both on the list of "Most Conservative Colleges in Virginia" -- or to tour the shrines of the South.

I guess he deserves some respect for having the courage of his convictions. If you're willing to pay the freight, you can do what you want.

Randomness beats faulty prediction

I've signed up for an Aeon feed and so far am finding the occasional interesting article.  Here's one that examines how seemingly meaningless augury techniques might be a good way to break people of the habit of using affirmatively harmful predictors.  As I see it, though, the real trick is the double-blind study:  one group uses the proposed predictors while the other relies on a random draw, then you figure out which produced better results.  Randomness for the sake of randomness doesn't have the appeal for me that it seems to have for the author.  But as a way of deciding whether that herb supplement is worth the money and risk, sure.

How's that Warming Going?

A thirty-year report.
Thirty years of data have been collected since Mr. Hansen outlined his scenarios... Assessed by Mr. Hansen’s model, surface temperatures are behaving as if we had capped 18 years ago the carbon-dioxide emissions responsible for the enhanced greenhouse effect. But we didn’t. And it isn’t just Mr. Hansen who got it wrong. Models devised by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have, on average, predicted about twice as much warming as has been observed since global satellite temperature monitoring began 40 years ago....

These corrected climate predictions raise a crucial question: Why should people world-wide pay drastic costs to cut emissions when the global temperature is acting as if those cuts have already been made?
Well, because the payments aren't evenly assessed world-wide, thus allowing nations like China and Russia to 'catch up' with the West.

Support Group for the Woke

A parody from the BBC.

A Pictish Fort Destroyed by Vikings

AS the Vikings sailed away, they probably thought they'd done a good day's work.

The Pictish fort behind them was ruined and ablaze, its defenders put to the sword and anything worth looting had been thoroughly pillaged.

But now archaeologists examining the remains of the 10th-century settlement at Burghead on the Moray coast say the attack by the Northmen has actually helped preserve the site and ensure it could be studied by future generations.
Somewhat like a volcano, I suppose.

In other Viking science, a close examination of relics has produced a sense of what color paints were commonly used to decorate in the Viking Age.

I've got to remember this line

Useful filler next time you need to say nothing:
Even some Democrats, including warriors of press and tube, are beginning to take note that separating the children was first an Obama idea. A CNN interlocutor braced Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin with a loaded reminder that many critics of Donald Trump, who are now critical of bunking the children on mattresses within enclosures of wire and steel, made no criticism when Mr. Obama did it.
“You know,” Sen. Baldwin replied, in a voice as bland as a bowl of Cream of Wheat, “on this issue that we get into a moment where we’re making progress and then when it stalls we turn around. I think we all need to continue to be focused on it and press it through.”

Aren’t There Enough People In America?

Another Anton piece.

I don’t want to oversell Anton. I’ve met Anton a couple of times. We haven’t talked, because he’s the kind who talks so much that I don’t bother to try to talk with them. He’s a foppish dresser, proudly so. I don’t know how much we have in common. But look at this, where he gets the working man exactly right:

“After at least two decades of wage stagnation and even decline, now that we’ve finally reached the nirvana of full employment (and who knows how long it will last), why not take advantage of this tight labor market to raise wages across the board? Especially for the working and middle classes that got nowhere or even lost ground during the housing, finance and tech booms of recent years?”

Boy is right about that. He’s got a few other strong points too.

The other half of the motive

And if a hope of currying favor with the expected new president isn't enough, now there's the fear of suffering reprisals from the possible new Congress:
The Justice Department’s tepid OIG report, with its risible assertion that there was no political bias in the FBI’s Clinton email probe, suggests that it was written by people afraid to tell the unvarnished truth about the conduct of the federal government’s police apparatus, an agency that openly defies congressional oversight and has participated in a vendetta against a sitting president. The FBI’s leadership clearly hopes that the Democrats will win majorities in Congress and put a halt to the investigations into its multifarious abuses of power. The OIG is loath to face the ruthless reprisals that would inevitably follow such a disaster.
In other words, the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General is filled with people who fear the FBI. Think about that for a minute. What is the usual term for a government whose members live in fear of its police arm? Ronald Reagan famously said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” The OIG report suggests that its demise may be only one election away.

"Future Pres HRC"

Speaking of grand unifying theories, I believe Victor Davis Hanson has cracked the code that explains a lot of head-scratching deep-state decisions in 2016.

Karen Veith: Closing the Door on the Madison Metropolitan School District

A teacher with 16 years in the system explains in detail why she quit, primarily because the administration's policies and lack of leadership led to chaos in the school. There are a lot of stories out there like this one.

It's worth reading the whole thing if you want to understand public schools today.

Incrementalism vs. absolutism

I don't understand the particle physics, of course, but I'm interested in this discussion about the approach to research:
The bottom-up method is much less ambitious than the top-down kind, but it has two advantages: it makes fewer assumptions about theory, and it’s tightly tethered to data. This doesn’t mean we need to give up on the old unification paradigm, it just suggests that we shouldn’t be so arrogant as to think we can unify physics right now, in a single step. It means incrementalism is to be preferred to absolutism – and that we should use empirical data to check and steer us at each instance, rather than making grand claims that come crashing down when they’re finally confronted with experiment.
This gets me where I live. We can't make much sense of data unless we have theoretical structures, but it can be hard to improve our theories if we let them blind us to new data. I love the image of "bunging in" a new hypothesized particle.

On second thought . . . .

. . . Let's don't try it again after all.  Even Columbia's poorest citizens are seeing through the bright promises of socialism.  Nicaragua is not looking satisfied either.

Pope Francis Denounces Abortion

Nazi comparisons are everywhere these days.
...the SIR agency of the Italian bishops’ conference quoted him as denouncing the pre-natal tests that can result in parents choosing to terminate a pregnancy if the fetus is malformed or suffering other problems.

“Last century, the whole world was scandalized by what the Nazis did to purify the race. Today, we do the same thing but with white gloves,” the agencies quoted Francis as saying.

The pope urged families to accept children “as God gives them to us.”
On this point, at least, he is solidly within the norm of Papal remarks. Unfortunately, I don't think our age is primed to listen to him. It's also worth remembering that eugenics weren't just a Nazi thing; they were beloved by the elite here in America, too.

Colonel Kurt on the IG Report

In his inimitable style, a beatdown from an unapologetic voice of the right.
The bombshells in the IG report could justly be classified as “thermonuclear,” but remember the Comey conference back in July 2016? Its bombshells were thermonuclear too. Integrity Boy laid out an utterly devastating case against Felonia Milhous Von Pansuit, highlighting in damning detail her litany of crimes that would have consigned you, me, or anyone else not in the elite to a long tour in the stony lonesome. And then that Looming Doofus concluded his lengthy summation with, “But never mind.”

The same with the IG report. Yeah, the report demonstrated intense and pervasive political bias. Yeah, at every turn the FBI/DOJ hacks gave unprecedented deference and breaks to Hillary. Yeah, from the get-go they talked about how no one was ever going to be prosecuted. Nah, nothing to see.

It’s like a prosecutor laying out a crushing case to a jury, then saying, “And in conclusion, I’d like you to find the defendant not guilty.”

“No evidence,” concludes the IG report. It’s 500+ pages of evidence.
There's more, if you're inclined.


Paul Sperry:
IG Horowitz revealed in Senate testimony FBI never named a target or even subject in Clinton probe. Not Mills, Abedin, Combetta or Clinton herself. "Nobody was listed as a subject of this investigation at any point in time," adding this was "surprising" for a crim probe
It would be surprising, had it been a criminal probe. For an exercise in one hand washing the other, it's just what you'd expect.

I wonder if the Mueller probe has named any subjects or targets? Wanna bet?


BREAKING: IG Horowitz says 2 of the 3 unnamed FBI agents caught sending anti-Trump text messages are currently on the Robert Mueller probe investigating President Trump
Of course they are.

Sad life

Hard to beat this Dan Pfeiffer piece for lack of self-awareness:
For most of my time working for Obama, whenever we encountered some Beltway political crisis that dominated cable news, we would ask focus groups of voters if they had heard anything about it. There were things that Washington got worked up about, and things the American people cared about, and rarely did those things overlap.
But something had changed. Suddenly, focus groups knew all about the trivial things that Washington would get worked up over, and they knew about them in great detail, often reading back to the moderator what sounded just like Republican talking points or a Fox News story—which are actually the same thing.
It must have seemed brutally unfair to Mr. Pfeiffer, after what amounted to a lifetime of succeeding in controlling the news. Can you imagine a world in which ordinary voters have become aware of the GOP spin on an issue?  Who let that happen?

I particularly enjoyed his explanation of how the American people lost their faith in the MSM, the proximate cause of the Democrats' otherwise inexplicable loss of the Senate in 2014: it happened when the MSM uncritically accepted George W. Bush's lies about the WMD in Iraq. Oh, and about that same time, Fox News cynically persuaded customers that they would enjoy a news outlet that covered stories the MSM was ignoring, but only because Fox wanted to make money, which is a bad motive for news organizations unless they're the ones Pfeiffer likes, in which case we should all want them to remain profitable so they can retain all those seasoned, reliable reporters. Also so that political operatives can avoid an unpleasant hectic life keeping up with a voracious and uncivilized news cycle, because it turns out that Pfeiffer's stint in the White House was really kind of a pitiful drag.

I'll bet it seems even more like pointless drudgery in retrospect.

Crimsoning the Eagle's Claws: Review

In 2014, a scholar named Ian Crockatt translated a series of poems by a Viking Crusader named Rognvaldr Kali Kolsson. The poems are well known, coming from the Orkneyinga saga. Nevertheless they reward new translations, for reasons the author ably explains in his translator's introduction.

Likening the extremely strict poetic form to the shell of a crab, Crockatt points out that what it is 'to be a crab' is to have that precise form. (This is a highly Aristotelian point, form as structure that defines being). It is not possible to directly translate the poems into English without losing the form. One will get a sense of the poem's subject matter, but nothing of the sense of the poem; Crockatt likens this to knowing crabs only from encountering plates of cooked and mashed crab, but never knowing a thing with shell or claws.

Of course, in order to capture the form, you'll have to swap some things around. The version of Norse spoken by Rognvaldr is effectively a dead language, and while numerous loan words and other influences exist in English, the basic vocabulary of the language is different. You can craft an English version by preferring Old English words to ones derived from Latin or French, and then precisely applying the form of stressed-and-unstressed syllables, alliterative near-rhymes versus full-rhymes (alternating by line, so that 1/3/5... are near-rhymes and 2/4/6... full ones). But now you have an English poem in the Old Norse form, and it's going to be meaningfully different from the original. Content may be shifted from one line to another, so that the images get disrupted; or the word that fits the form may have a different connotation in English than was intended in the Norse.

As a very ordinary example to clarify, he gives:

"tið mér bók ok smíðir."


"well-read, a red-hot smith -"

You can see that the full-rhyme alliteration and stress patterns are right, but the content is changed subtly. There's nothing about being 'red hot' in the original. The line does not end but is continued into the next thought with a dash. You lose the sense that he is proclaiming mastery of books and smithing in exactly parallel terms, which is an interesting juxtaposition that a modern English speaker would never arrive at because reading is so ordinary for us, and smithing so arcane. To be 'well-read' means something quite different than the Viking intended. All the same, you get a much more lyrically proper sense of the poetics by reading it this way. A straight translation would deny encountering a poem with rhythm and flow.

Scholars who want to understand the poems thus wisely grapple with them first by direct translation, then by seeing if they can translate them poetically as Crockatt does. It is a useful exercise for him for another reason. The poetic form shapes the word, but learning to use the form shapes the mind. Habituating the mind to the creation of poems in just this form is going to alter the way one thinks, slightly but definitely. In learning the compose poems in this strict form, you are learning to think just a bit more like the Viking who is your historical subject.

Some of the translations are beautiful and evocative even though alliterative poetry is rarely used in Modern English. Here is his rendering of a love poem, which I find especially striking.

Who else hoards such yellow
hair, bright lady -- fair as
your milk-mild shoulders,
where milled barley-gold falls?
Chuck the cowled hawk, harry
him with sweets. Crimsoner
of eagle's claws, I covet
cool downpours of silk; yours.

George Mackay Brown gave this same poem without the erotic final thrust:

Golden one, Tall one
Moving in perfume and onyx
Witty one, You with the shoulders
Lapped in long silken hair/Listen: because of me
The eagle has a red claw.

The "silk" mentioned in the original is her hair, not her clothes, the downpouring of which might also be coveted; it is a love poem, after all. The erotic is lost in the strict translations; admiration of beauty is there, but not the tension. Yet I suspect Crockatt is right to find a way to include it.

The book is recommended. You may wish to pick up a copy of the saga to go with it, as the book is devoted to only the poems themselves.

The Cycle

Michael Anton on why the Founding was corrupted.


Blogger is annoyingly not working right now. Here’s the link:


From the Federalist's excerpt of the DoJ FBI report, a couple of charts of leak paths (at the link), and this finding by the IG:

Second, although FBI policy strictly limits the employees who are authorized to speak to the media, we found that this policy appeared to be widely ignored during the period we reviewed. We identified numerous FBI employees, at all levels of the organization and with no official reason to be in contact with the media, who were nevertheless in frequent contact with reporters. The large number of FBI employees who were in contact with journalists during this time period impacted our ability to identify the sources of leaks.

The USAF has PAOs—Public Affairs Officers—who are the only persons authorized to speak to the public, not just the press, about USAF official business.  There are sever penalties for violating the regulations laying out that authority.  USAF members are, of course, allowed to speak to the public, including the press, but those members must be at pains to be clear that they're speaking only for themselves, and they cannot under any circumstance speak of official business—those questions are to be explicitly referred to the PAO.  I think the other services have similar requirements.
And this:

FBI employees received tickets to sporting events from journalists, went on golfing outings with media representatives, were treated to drinks and meals after work by reporters, and were the guests of journalists at nonpublic social events[.]

While the IG team acknowledged that the difficulty of identifying the leakers, as I've commented once or twice, "difficult" means "possible."  The only way the FBI and the DoJ can regain credibility is for the effort to be expended, the leakers identified promptly and publicly, the leakers fired for cause, and where appropriate (the bribe receptions of the second cite), the leakers brought to criminal trial.

It's especially important to do this promptly because the large majority of line agents and DoJ personnel are honest and above board, but their reputations are badly smeared by these…miscreants'…misbehaviors.

Eric Hines

The wild surmise

Project Gutenberg has had a spate of old histories of the New World, which I can't get enough of.  Every time I read a reference to Darien I hear this Keats sonnet in my head:
On First Looking into Chapman's Homer
Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star'd at the Pacific—and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
The poem refers to an exciting translation of Homer by George Chapman.  The last few lines stick in a lot of heads, it seems; the literary world is stuffed with references to them.  G.K. Chesterton worked them into a drinking song, The Logical Vegetarian:
I am silent in the club,
I am silent in the pub.,
I am silent on a bally peak in Darien;
For I stuff away for life
Shoving peas in with a knife,
Because I am a rigid Vegetarian.

No more the milk of cows
Shall pollute my private house
Than the milk of the wild mares of the Barbarian
I will stick to port and sherry,
For they are so very, very,
So very, very, very, Vegetarian.
Clovis Sangrail freezes out a fellow trying to cadge a favor in Saki's "The Talking-Out of Tarrington":
The next moment the overtures of an affably disposed gentleman were being received by Clovis with a "silent-upon-a-peak-in-Darien" stare which denoted an absence of all previous acquaintance with the object scrutinized.
Vladimir Nabakov famously incorporated a baseball-themed pun on the sonnet's title into Pale Fire:  "Red Sox Beat Yanks 5–4 On Chapman's Homer."

Ted Davis explained that baseball has been around forever, since God made the whole world in the big inning, then Eve stole first, and Adam second, after which they were both thrown out.  He then wrote "On First, Looking into Chapman's Homer":
Or like stout Mantle, when with eagle eyes
He star’d out at the distant fence — and then
Watch’d his ball just rise and rise and rise —
Silent, above a park in Washington.
A Punch sketch from 1922 recounts a student's attempt to recite the poem.  He gives "coffee-colored" for "deep-brow'd Homer," and ends with "Or like fat Cortez, when with staring eyes/He swims in the Pacific. . . " to the disgust of his professor, who predicts his enormous success as a Philistine in public life.

Jordan Peterson Says We Should Make Ourselves Dangerous

James Morganelli talks about this at the Federalist.

But the interview takes a turn after Peterson says, “It’s very helpful for people to hear that they should make themselves competent and dangerous and take their proper place in the world.”

Stossel scoffs, “Competent and dangerous? Why dangerous?”

“There’s nothing to you otherwise,” Peterson replies. “If you’re not a formidable force, there’s no morality in your self-control. If you’re incapable of violence, not being violent isn’t a virtue.
Morganelli agrees and reflects on this idea and draws out the ethical principles at play in deciding to use violence. I'm not sure we would all agree with his conclusions, but the discussion is interesting.

Prager U Declared a "Hate Group"

What a strange conclusion. Having watched a few Prager U videos, I've no idea what they could be talking about. I don't remember ever hearing them say anything hateful; frequently, they're not even irritable.

But maybe I missed their greatest hits. Here are 21 videos that YouTube is censoring. Let's watch a few and judge for ourselves.

Western Fiction Recommendations

For those who prefer a good Western, here is a similar list to the Viking fiction list proffered below.

The Defeat of Reason

A pair of book reviews, tied together by a common argument.
People are gullible. Humans can be duped by liars and conned by frauds; manipulated by rhetoric and beguiled by self-regard; browbeaten, cajoled, seduced, intimidated, flattered, wheedled, inveigled, and ensnared. In this respect, humans are unique in the animal kingdom.

Aristotle emphasizes another characteristic. Humans alone, he tells us, have logos: reason. Man, according to the Stoics, is zoön logikon, the reasoning animal. But on reflection, the first set of characteristics arises from the second. It is only because we reason and think and use language that we can be hoodwinked.

Not only can people be led astray, most people are. If the devout Christian is right, then committed Hindus and Jews and Buddhists and atheists are wrong. When so many groups disagree, the majority must be mistaken. And if the majority is misguided on just this one topic, then almost everyone must be mistaken on some issues of great importance. This is a hard lesson to learn, because it is paradoxical to accept one’s own folly. You cannot at the same time believe something and recognize that you are a mug to believe it.
The review goes on to treat high matters of physics and philosophy.

Viking Fiction Recommendations

Of course readers of the Hall know about Lars Walker's works, some of which we have read together. Once you have read all his books, and The Long Ships, and those Fafhrd stories that turn on sailing, you may still be wanting more. Here is another list, which embraces Viking-themed fantasy.

Recommendations from readers are encouraged.

DOJ Watchdog Report Looks Bad for Jim Comey

"Insubordinate" is not the same thing as "illegal," but it does seem to confirm the recommendation (by Rosenstein) that Comey deserved to be fired. If it was right to fire him, then it can't have been improper to fire him, not even if he was working on something really important. It'll be interesting to see what else this report contains. That the Clinton investigation was improperly political is clear to all observers, but we will learn a lot about whether or not the FBI is capable of correcting itself through the Inspector General process.

This is the second of three highly awaited reports on the FBI lately. The third one will deal with the investigation into the Trump campaign, and whether it was done for political purposes.


You can talk to the animals, although it isn't always clear which of them understand what you're saying. But they certainly seem to talk with each other. In principle, then, it's just a translation gap that keeps us from effective interspecies communication.

Of course, just as with any conversation, we may learn that we don't like certain animals very much. And vice-versa.

Outlaw Country

NRO worries about 'the conservative disposition.'
Yet the more important story may be how Trump and his loudest supporters are redefining the conservative disposition — the mood or motive that makes people self-identify as conservative in the first place — into an attitude of alienation, suspicion, and defiance....

[According to one such who gave an interview] “I’ve always been a nonconformist,” he says in the article. “In today’s culture, the nonconformists are conservatives.”

It’s an implication commonly heard on the right these days, especially among its youthful, online faction. Progressives, this faction argues, control so much of mainstream society that any true revolt against power necessitates identifying with the Right. Yet different people can interpret this mantra in different ways, and it’s here where the new conservative disposition begins to cause problems for those who value ideological coherence....

[I]f one possesses a less discriminating hostility to power, then the logic of conservatism-through-rebellion can easily solidify into a cruder disposition of cynical nihilism in service of nothing in particular.
Conservatives in America have always been divided between those who believed that human nature needed to be filtered through wise institutions, and those who thought they were upholding the American heritage of freedom in a way that liberated us from institutions as much as anything else. For a while it was a close debate, as both sides had good arguments. Institutions do shape character, and character does matter. On the other hand, if one isn't free to choose which institutions to allow to shape one's life, one isn't really free.

Well, the debate is over, ladies and gentlemen. The institutions have been infiltrated and killed, one by one. It's not just the colleges, or the left-leaning churches. It's the Boy Scouts; it's the mainstream churches. There are holdouts, but they're holding out against tremendous pressure. The NRA is a holdout; the Marine Corps is holding out against its own leadership. The Army has elements that are holding out. But would you trust the FBI, after what we've seen these last few years? The IRS? The Department of Justice? The Bureau of Land Management? Maybe the Forest Service, just because they're mostly not thinking about managing or controlling people.

If the institutions fail, then the freedom road is the only road left. Maybe that's not 'conservative,' but if so, it's only because there isn't much left to conserve. It's worth considering that the outlaws are right, and it's time to make something new.

Elegant but wrong

Advances in physics in the 1970s and 1980s led to huge improvements in our ability to predict phenomena precisely. Since then, not so much:
"All of the theoretical work that's been done since the 1970s has not produced a single successful prediction," says Neil Turok, director of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Canada. "That's a very shocking state of affairs."
* * *
"I can't believe what this once-venerable profession has become," [writes Sabine Hossenfelder, a physicist at the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies in Germany]. "Theoretical physicists used to explain what was observed. Now they try to explain why they can't explain what was not observed. And they're not even good at that."

Learning to Swim: Muir vs. Wayne

Via our friends at The Art of Manliness, a meditation on learning to swim by John Muir. It involved almost drowning.
One hot summer day father told us that we ought to learn to swim. This was one of the most interesting suggestions he had ever offered, but precious little time was allowed for trips to the lake, and he seldom tried to show us how. “Go to the frogs,” he said, “and they will give you all the lessons you need. Watch their arms and legs and see how smoothly they kick themselves along and dive and come up. When you want to dive, keep your arms by your side or over your head, and kick, and when you want to come up, let your legs drag and paddle with your hands."...

As soon as my feet touched the bottom, I slowly rose to the surface, but before I could get breath enough to call for help, sank back again and lost all control of myself. After sinking and rising I don’t know how many times, some water got into my lungs and I began to drown. Then suddenly my mind seemed to clear. I remembered that I could swim under water, and, making a desperate struggle toward the shore, I reached a point where with my toes on the bottom I got my mouth above the surface, gasped for help, and was pulled into the boat.... I was very much ashamed of myself, and at night, after calmly reviewing the affair, concluded that there had been no reasonable cause for the accident, and that I ought to punish myself for so nearly losing my life from unmanly fear. Accordingly at the very first opportunity, I stole away to the lake by myself, got into my boat, and instead of going back to the old swimming-bowl for further practice, or to try to do sanely and well what I had so ignominiously failed to do in my first adventure...

Never again from that day to this have I lost control of myself in water. If suddenly thrown overboard at sea in the dark, or even while asleep, I think I would immediately right myself in a way some would call “instinct,” rise among the waves, catch my breath, and try to plan what would better be done. Never was victory over self more complete.
Confer with John Wayne's similar lesson.

The Kingly Pardon Power

Donald Trump is wrong to say that, as President, he has 'an absolute right' to pardon himself. That is doubly wrong. First, it is a power pertaining to a government office and not a right that is being described. Second, the power is not absolute. It is limited to cases that are not matters of impeachment.

Those are technicalities, of course, though people like me think technicalities are sometimes quite important when we are describing limits on the power of government. Trump's basic point, allowing for his penchant for vague language, is correct. The President can pardon any Federal crime, even if the crime is merely an accusation or suspicion rather than a proven fact. Here's the Constitution's language:
...he [i.e. the President] shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.
There is one "except," and no other limits. It doesn't say "unless it's himself accused." It doesn't say "unless it's in his self-interest." It doesn't say anything other than what it does in fact say.

This is a power that kings used to have, and it is a tremendous power, so it's reasonable to fear that the use of it threatens to establish a king rather than a President. There are nevertheless checks on this power. If the Congress doesn't think the President is acting responsibly, they can impeach him and remove him from office. He cannot pardon himself in this case because it falls under the clear exception for impeachment cases. (The same is true if they should impeach and remove his chosen officials within the Executive branch, or the Judiciary).

If Congress does not act to do this, the People of the United States may vote to replace them. Such elections are held every two years for the entire House of Representatives, so that impeachment if not removal can be effected relatively swiftly if needed. Senators might resist the popular will, but facing the specter of a massive electoral wave in the House demanding impeachment, they are likely to act on removal.

If the People do not think that the President's use of the power of the pardon justifies such a wave to force the removal of the President, well, they are in effect signing off on the action. Under our system the People really are the sovereign that the old kings used to claim to be. They are the ones who have the final authority to approve the President's actions or not. If they do not demand his ouster, and especially if they should go on to re-elect him, all of our forms have been satisfied. The true sovereign has blessed the action.

This is a quality of democracy that most philosophers dislike very much. It has rare defenders, including British Law Lord Patrick Devlin in the last century. But in general philosophers are uncomfortable the the idea that clear violations of their preferred justice principle should go unpunished simply because the violations are popular, or simply because the violator is popular. Philosophers are of course free to make this argument to the people to try to convince them of it, but that seems like a poor solution to many of them. They know better than the common rabble, after all: what otherwise was the point of all those years of study?

The counterargument is pragmatic, and indeed the same kind of counterargument that capitalism raises in its defense against charges of injustice or of promoting inequality. Perhaps so, says the capitalist, but look how much better off we all are under this system! The alternative systems likewise claim to be organized by those who understand better, but they lead inevitably to poverty and frequently to ruin. Capitalism is wiser even when it violates justice principles, because it makes the trade based on local information about what is most needed right there by the people who really need it. It may sometimes make trades that violate principles, but the overall effect is a rising tide that lifts all boats. (And indeed, as much as capitalist globalization has done to disrupt America, it has raised boats around the world: global poverty is at an all time low.)

Similarly, here, the small-d democrat is inclined to accept the right (not power, but right) of the people to make their own decisions about what to support politically. They may sometimes make trades that the philosopher would not like and would not support, but they do it for reasons of their own that are obvious to them locally and opaque to those further away. These reasons are said to be 'racism' or 'bigotry' or 'hate,' but in fact they are simply opaque: you don't know because you aren't there, enmeshed in the life of the person making the choice. The accusation is an act of imagination, not a grasping of knowledge. That it is an act of imagination that suits one's own political interests, because it empowers elites like one's self instead of small men and women in the countryside, is reason for a true philosopher to be suspicious of it.

So it turns out that this kingly power is rooted in the plainest democracy, at least here in America. The President certainly does have the power to pardon any Federal crime with only one class of exceptions. If he does this badly and for wrong reasons, first our representatives and then we ourselves must punish it. Or, if we do not, then we must accept the responsibility for the choice. The king, after all, is ourselves.


Andy McCarthy makes an allied argument.
More significantly, as I argued in Faithless Execution, we’ve become such a litigious society we fail to recognize that the Constitution mainly relies on political checks, not judicial ones. The idea is to promote liberty by putting the most important decisions in the hands of representatives who answer to the voters, not in the hands of judges who are not accountable to the public.
He goes on to criticize talk of self-pardon on other grounds.


Apparently Nixon-era Federal lawyers came to the opposite conclusion, on the grounds that 'no one can be a judge in his own case.' But I think the above shows that such reasoning isn't adequate; no President does get to be the judge, finally, in these matters. By nature it appeals to the People, who are rightly sovereign.

"Traditional" Wife = "White Supremacy"

I am struck by the insistence on creating a new word to describe someone who does something that wives have traditionally, i.e. always, done. Calling them "tradwives" rather than "wives" is of a piece with the 1984 tendency to describe English Socialism as "Ingsoc," or for that matter the move to describe men as "cishet males." What we would have simply called a "wife" when I was a boy now must be described as a "cishet female tradwife," if you believe this nonsense.

Of course it is also the case that these women are white supremacists, because naturally that is the narrative to forward for the NYT. I'm sure there are white supremacist wives out there, although I imagine they are far fewer in number than the NYT imagines them to be. For every one you can find with a YouTube show that has troubling undertones, I'll bet that a fair-minded study would find ten thousand that are just really traditional wives.

Indeed, 'traditional wife' isn't an unhealthy role, and the argument that it is sort-of only for whites is not going to help other communities. Stable marriages are of great value in developing wealth across generations, as should be expected given the virtues that are needed in order to be successful at a stable marriage; and increasing wealth across generations is how you finally end the cycles of poverty and dysfunction. If anything we should be pushing people to develop the right virtues and to nurture their marriages, not trying to stigmatize a model that works for at least some subset of married couples.

UPDATE: A better invocation, although with the same social justice goals: using the Catholic act of contrition as a model for apologies.

A Victory of Sorts

Religious freedom is, and was, one of the basic liberties that America was founded to protect. Today the Supreme Court handed down a decision in the infamous "bake the cake" case, one that reasserts that religious liberty is a freedom that the government must take steps to respect.

Fortunately or unfortunately, the court did not rule on what that means. Many people think that religious liberty is just code for bigotry, and want it subordinated in every case in which religious liberty comes into conflict with things like baking cakes for gay weddings. Others think that religious liberty is a basic freedom, codified in the first amendment, and should always come out on top. The court didn't set any standard either for which should predominate, or how to adjudicate.

But that may be for the best. It leaves states free to make 50 different decisions, rather than imposing a one-size-fits-all standard on our diverse nation. I have often argued that SCOTUS's propensity for one-size solutions has been destabilizing to our nation. For that reason, I'm pleased with this decision.

Rampant Lion

The band's name is a variation of the famous formation that Robert the Bruce used at Bannockburn.

On Wild-Eyed Trump Critics

Henry Olsen writes that many critics seem to be 'gaslighting themselves,' a term I know from Tex's occasional use of it. I think that's right to a large degree: they're whipping themselves up in echo chambers on Twitter, and in societies for "Resistance" where their opinions are common to everyone. As a consequence they're reinforcing their own world view, which grows darker and more alarmed by the day. These growing fears are often unmoored from reality (See "Nazi" and "Boko Haram," immediately below).

I have been a frequent critic, through the campaign and to date. All the same, I have to say that -- on balance -- he is so far having a successful presidency. This is surprising given that he's been under serious investigation the entire time, and has run a White House and National Security Council that has been entirely too chaotic for its own good. His first Secretary of State was a disaster; his Attorney General, a source of grave disappointment even to Trump himself. All the same, he has managed to make good on strong tax cuts; a 'right to try' bill that lessens the Federal Government's sense of ownership of us even when we are in hours close to death; a gutting of many regulations, which combined with the tax cuts has spurred economic activity that President Obama thought would take 'a magic wand'; significant progress against ISIS; what looks like strong diplomatic moves on Iran and North Korea; he has obtained a number of concessions from China on economics; he has spurred a rethink of Turkey's drift into authoritarianism; he has, in short, had a few home runs and even more RBIs.

His rhetoric remains just as it always was, although some of his supporters think that is a large reason for his success. It may well be: it has been interesting watching him deploy his celebrity to smack down foes and build new alliances (e.g., the Kardashians; his pardon of a famous and mistreated black heavyweight fighter). His capacity to cause outrage frequently causes his opponents to lose the ball, running after this-or-that instead of remaining focused on opposing his policies. They have had successes in generating storms of outrage, but those do not necessarily translate into policy wins: the anti-NRA storm has not generated new Federal gun control, though it has generated many new NRA members; the current storm against border arrests may well reduce migration, just because it will send the opposing message to the one sent by the 'catch and release' policy, i.e., that bringing your kids not only won't get you automatic parole, it'll get you stress and difficulty. You may think, as many do, that stressing these families is immoral, but in effect all criminal legislation works that way. It is the fear of the penalty that makes the law effective.

As Olsen says:
Some Americans have been so disaffected by economic changes of the last decade that they see Trump’s enthusiastic embrace of American jobs for American workers as a breath of fresh air. Others find his staunch support of American security as reassuring. Trump’s proposed Muslim ban enrages many of his opponents, but the polling data suggests that this more than any other proposal is what made him president.

Others might be less enthusiastic about Trump but have good reason to think he’s doing a good job. Religiously traditional people see themselves under siege from an elite culture that holds them in contempt and have chosen to embrace the devil that backs them over the devil who does not.

Still others, many of whom are traditional business or free market conservatives, remain wary of him personally but increasingly like his policies. Indeed, there are a number of polls that show Republicans who voted for Gary Johnson to be of this view. They might prefer someone without Trump’s flaws, but faced with the evidence of a man who hasn’t screwed up and who has implemented much of their agenda they seem willing to reconsider their prior anti-Trump views.
Olsen goes on to point out that this could all turn the other way, too, if things don't continue to go Trump's way. Trump needs to gain support, not merely to rely on his existing support. But he may well, should the economy continue to boom and ordinary Americans come to see him as someone who has made their lives better. "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" was a powerful campaign slogan once. It may well be again. That depends on it being a fact that most Americans really are better off than four years since. Still, they well might be.

I think the President is open to serious criticisms even yet, but you can't make them if instead you are yelling about fascism. Just this week a new NSC appointee was described in a press outlet as a "Neo-Nazi"; Google posted search results about the California Republican Party stating that their ideology was "Nazism." Both criticisms are both ridiculous and unserious. And if you are only raising unserious criticisms, you're missing the chance to stick the guy where he's open to being stuck. More, if ordinary Americans like him and you're not careful about this language, there's a risk that you'll accidentally end up rehabilitating Nazis.


Drudge provides an illustration of why some people are not so very unhappy with Donald J. Trump.

The response from critics was to complain that it was a "crime" for him to issue the information from the jobs report before it was released by the agency (which works for him). This is the kind of unhinged nonsense that is going to render criticism even of legitimate issues irrelevant. You want to jail the guy who brought us to record-low unemployment? Because he didn't follow D.C. protocol? C'mon.

Separating Children at the Border

Our nation is failing badly at our public discourse. This week has seen one of the outrage storms that are increasingly common, this time over the Trump administration's decision -- this is how it is painted -- to separate the children of immigrants from their families at the border. I have seen this compared to the Nazis taking Jewish children as a prelude to murdering them. A number of children have been 'lost' by the system; I have seen this compared to the 'lost girls' seized by Boko Haram.

This is all madness. What's really at stake is that a Federal judge on the 9th Circuit has been pressing successive administrations to obey a 1997 settlement agreement. The agreement wasn't really meant for the circumstances that have arisen since then, which has led to negative consequences when it is applied anyway. Multiple administrations have dealt with these consequences, and really the problem is that Congress needs to revisit the law. But Congress can't do that because it is too divided on what the law should be.

As a result, the real debate we are having -- apparently entirely without realizing it -- is whether justice morally requires us not to enforce Federal criminal immigration laws, in every case in which they might be enforced on migrants traveling with children they claim to be their own. There are very negative consequences to accepting that criterion as requiring the waiving of criminal sanctions, especially in that it empowers human traffickers but also in that it encourages migrants to bring children along on a very perilous journey. We really should be discussing that, and trying to decide what the right solution looks like. Instead, we're talking about Nazis and Boko Haram.

What's going on here is that there was a 1997 settlement to a 1985 dispute called the Flores Settlement Agreement. This is not a law, but it is treated by the courts as if it were a sort of contract between the government and any migrants it might arrest. The 9th Circuit Court has applied it in this way for decades. Of particular interest here, the Flores agreement requires that children who are not suspected of a crime not be detained by the government. If it happens to detain some by accident, it has to release them within 20 days. The 9th Circuit polices the government aggressively on this point.

This is why the Nazi/Boko comparisons are so silly. These children aren't being separated from their parents in order to do them some harm, but because they are receiving due process of law, aggressively policed by a court interested in protecting their rights. They're being set free, not stolen. And the reason the system is losing so many is that they're being turned over to family by preference, without checking their immigration status. When you turn over someone in the country illegally to someone already part of the migrant underground, you shouldn't be surprised when a high percentage of that group don't answer your mail or help you arrange visitation. But unlike Boko Haram, the government isn't trying to steal these kids from their families. It's trying its best to return them to their families, while prosecuting parents who have broken the law.

This prosecution is not being done maliciously either. Bringing your kids into the country illegally is a felony, "people smuggling" -- ten years per child in the Federal pen. These folks are only being charged with the misdemeanor offense of bringing themselves. The government doesn't even want to keep the parents in jail for very long. It is merely that the government knows these people are in the country illegally, and wants to hold them until it can have their asylum and deportation hearing. The Trump administration's original idea, shot down by the 9th Circuit last July, was to hold the kids with the parents. The 9th Circuit said they had to either not hold the parents ("catch and release," as this approach is sometimes called), or separate them from their children and release the children.

This process does not work perfectly. This is the same Federal government that lets Veterans, perhaps the most respected American demographic, die on waiting lists. The Federal bureaucracy can't do anything both well and quickly. Since the 9th Circuit insists it be done quickly, unsurprisingly the rapid release of the children isn't done well. That was true for the Obama administration (which is the one the report everyone is raising Cain about reports having lost all the kids), and it will be true of the Trump administration as long as we keep using this silly system. Human traffickers, an aggressive bunch, have been successful at applying for sponsorship of these children -- and getting it, because the Federal bureaucracy has 20 days from finding the kid in the desert to having to hand them over to somebody.

So, OK. Let's no do that anymore. I agree. Let's find a different system. What should it look like?

Well, let's start with the dilemma that the Flores Settlement Agreement provokes. Either you must let any migrants go if they are traveling with children they claim are their own, or you must separate them from children who probably really are theirs. Taking the second horn of the dilemma provokes the Nazi talk. But taking the first horn provides perfect cover for human traffickers traveling with child slaves who really have been stolen from their families.

The Trump administration can't do anything except choose between these horns. The 9th Circuit could do something else, but their enforcement of the Flores agreement is consistent -- I don't doubt they think they are just doing stare decisis and correctly applying existing case law. The one group of people who could fix this is Congress.

Congress could provide authority to overturn the Flores Settlement Agreement and replace it with new positive law governing the treatment of these cases. They could allow the government to hold families intercepted crossing the border together, never separating them until their asylum claims can be adjudicated and their deportation or admission arranged accordingly. During the investigation of such claims, they could sort out if it was in fact parents with children they had found crossing the border, or smugglers with slaves. In the former case, sentences can be suspended and the family can be returned to their country together. In the latter, the felony charge should be brought, and the slavers placed in prison. Then the children can be returned to their real families, who are probably desperate with terror.

In that way, you do not incentivize bringing children into danger, and you catch a very bad class of people who really are stealing children to do bad things to them. The 9th Circuit Court should respect that, given that it would be done by an act of law rather than unilaterally by an administration (whether Obama's or Trump's).

So if you're going to call your congressman to talk about this, that's what I suggest you say. But do what you want. Just please stop screaming about Nazis.