Peter Berkowitz: What the New Congress Can Learn from Aristotle

Dr. Berkowitz of the Hoover Institution at Stanford has a good article on the relevance of Aristotle's political philosophy to American government today. It's a good read, I thought. Here's a snippet:

Many on both sides take pride in assuming the worst about the opposition. The left bewails the onset of fascism in America. Yet Republicans have reduced the scope of government by cutting taxes and deregulating the economy. And rather than imposing American rule beyond the nation’s borders, the president and his party have sought to bring immigration under the rule of law.

The right adopts a siege mentality and girds itself for total war against the left even though in 2019 the GOP will still control the presidency, the Senate, 26 governorships, and 62 of 97 state legislative chambers ...

The routine exaggeration, the reflexive resorting to sloganeering and invective, and the determined refusal to countenance alternative opinions leave partisans imprisoned within their cherished clichés and mesmerized by their pet panaceas. What is needed is a larger perspective, a suppler outlook, a more capacious sensibility.

What is needed is a generous dose of Aristotelian political science.

But doesn’t Aristotle, writing in the twilight of classical Athenian greatness, proceed from a discredited conception of nature and human nature? Doesn’t he subscribe to the illiberal and antidemocratic view that the purpose of politics is to cultivate virtue, a task to which only the one best regime is suited? Doesn’t his defense of natural slavery and his subordination of women render his thinking offensive to contemporary sensibilities and irrelevant to contemporary politics?

Such questions provide an excellent introduction to Aristotle’s political science ...

Rendezvous with destiny

We watched "The 15:17 to Paris" this week, Clint Eastwood's movie about three American servicemen who foiled a 2015 terrorist attack on a French train.  I'm enjoying remembering watching it more than I did actually experiencing it.

Eastwood made a controversial decision to cast the three servicemen as themselves.  The acting, therefore, is a bit amateurish and flat, matched by the screenplay and directorial style.  "Lawrence of Arabia" or "A Man for All Seasons," it's not, but the effect is charming nevertheless.  The three young men are completely ordinary in an old-fashioned way, fellows of average ability and unremarkable upbringing.  The main focus is on the formative experiences of Spencer Stone, the guy who physically tackled the gun- and knife-wielding terrorist, from his mildly disappointing interactions with an unsympathetic education system, to his mother's disgust at the suggestion that he take drugs to keep him from looking out the window during boring classes, his impulsive decision to get into shape in order to qualify for a pararescue career in the military, and his sharp disappointment at failing to qualify for his first choice of service.

In another movie, all these experiences would show how society failed a young man and led him down a path of anomie and drug use, or spurred him to cure cancer in defiance of his small-minded critics.  Instead, Spencer fumes over his disappointments, but continues along the military paths that remain open to him, picking up tools and experiences here and there, showing mild sparks of courage and independence, and finally making the fateful decision to board the 15:17 train to Paris with his two childhood friends, now also in the service and also on leave.

The attack itself is not terribly dramatic, considering the potential for horrible injury and death.  It's over fairly quickly.  The heroes have a bit of luck.  The former would-be pararescuer calls on his physical strength, his jiu jitsu training, and a bit of first-aid education to stop the bad guy and help the injured train passenger.  All three take care of business briskly; the main character is awarded the Legion of Honor.

Mediocre critical reviews correctly noted the flat tone of the film.  What I enjoyed was the non-drama.  This was not the "They Jacked with the Wrong Guy" genre, one I particularly enjoy, in which the crisis happens to someone who is fatally underestimated by the villains, like Bruce Willis in "Die Hard." The Everyman hero in "The 15:17 to Paris" made something modest of his modest circumstances, which fitted him to step up and do the right thing in a moment of unexpected crisis.  He made few demands on life, concentrating instead on choosing something appropriate from the opportunities that randomly presented themselves to him and putting a reasonable effort into forming himself to meet them, without either whining or self-aggrandizing.  He apparently assumed that many of the things he tried to learn in the service had been dead ends or wasted effort, but they all came in handy when he disarmed the bad guy on the train and helped the injured guy until EMTs could arrive.

Spencer remained cheerful and open to both fun and duty while he cast about for a direction to his life.  If your neighborhood and your town were stocked with guys like him, maybe no one would be winning a Nobel Prize, but it would be a really good place to live.

Vive La France

Notes from the brink

Craftiness obsesses me at most times, but never more than at this season. It's amazing what you can find if you dig into a craft box you haven't opened for 30 years. And the instructions for folding these pretty strips of paper into Moravian stars were still available on the internet! Now I'm in search of a source of much wider and longer strips so I can make stars about 10 inches wide instead of these tiny things. The tiny ones will go on my tree, the big one on my Church's very tall (regrettably artificial) one.

Proof of concept:  you can, in fact, tape strips of ordinary typing paper together and make a bigger star.  Now I'll have to experiment with a nicer-quality paper with tape joints in different locations.  This 1-1/2-inch strip makes a star about six inches wide, almost as big as what I'm aiming at.

And here are the final products.  I can get a strip of 2-1/8 inches in width and 11 inches long by cutting an 8.5x11 sheet in quarters and taping four strips end to end to make a strip 2-1/8 by 44 inches long, about the right proportions.  Four of those make a star.  That's the size of the largest star, on the right.  The two tiny stars are made of strips 1/2 inch wide.

Yule Tree

The Hall’s tree. It’s not decorated to compete with Tex, but it is twelve feet tall. Second highest tree I’ve ever mounted, but of better quality I think. The other one was 18 feet, but a short needle pine. This one is a spruce.

Hypothesis Affirmed

Shooting the cops in this case is dangerous—they may send a SWAT team to kill you—and in many places it's illegal. But it is nevertheless morally permissible, indeed heroic and admirable.

This Time

An album from Waylon that found its way online.

One... MILLION Dollars!

The state of New York has an idea to reduce gun ownership: make every gun owner carry a million-dollar insurance policy.

Well, it's not a new idea. We've talked about this before, both here and at the now-defunct Winds of Change. Then as now, gun-haters were sure that the expense of such a policy would cripple interest in guns. The truth is, if such policies were widely offered, they'd be pretty cheap.

I have a million dollar liability policy as part of my homeowner's insurance. The cost of this policy is a few tens of dollars a year -- on the order of thirty bucks. I spend more on coffee, monthly, than I do annually on this policy. And that is in spite of the fact that this covers a wide degree of risks, everything from 'slipped on the ice on your walk in the winter' to 'chose to climb a tree on the back 40 and broke my leg.' It covers you if you get burned on my fireplace, or if a roofbeam should fall on your head. Lots of stuff is covered.

The gun policy they're proposing only covers one thing: if I should shoot someone and get sued for it.

Let's run through that in very round numbers to make the math easy. Now there are 300,000,000+ guns in America, owned by around 100,000,000 households. There are just around 100,000 gun injuries or deaths a year. Two-thirds of gun deaths are suicides. Those that are intentional homicides wouldn't be covered by insurance policies because they are crimes, and you can't insure yourself against the consequences of intentionally committing a crime. Only the rare accidental shooting (489, or about half of one thousand in 2015), or a lawful self-defense that resulted in a successful lawsuit, would be covered.

So we've got around 500 annual accidents in a nation of three hundred million guns; assuming all guns were equally likely to cause that injury, and a 100% probability of the insurance company having to pay a claim over it, then the probability that your insurance company has to pay a claim is about .000016. Add in estimated defensive gun use, and there's another group of guns you'd have to insure, but again it's divided over 300,000,000 guns owned by 100,000,000 households. Estimates for how often guns are used defensively vary widely, but the low side numbers are all from the gun-control side; if they believe their own numbers, it's going to be a vanishingly small number of incidents that need to be paid out.

It's a million-dollar policy, but the average cost of a gunshot wound is only $150,000. Assuming that adding in the defensive uses to the accidental shootings fully doubles the number of payoffs, then we've got $150,000 x 1,000 incidents, or $150,000,000 in annual payouts. Divide that by 300,000,000 guns, and we'll need about fifty cents a gun to cover that.

So, if you own six guns, that's three dollars a year. Of course it'll be a bit higher, because the insurance company would have operating costs. But it's not going to break the backs of the firearms injury, even if it survives constitutional review.

'The Virgin Mary Couldn't Consent'

An argument from a Satan-loving professor in Minnesota.
“The virgin birth story is about an all-knowing, all-powerful deity impregnating a human teen. There is no definition of consent that would include that scenario. Happy Holidays"

Another Twitter user called the professor’s claim into question, noting that the Bible states that the Virgin Mary did, indeed, agree to God’s plan for her.

“The biblical god regularly punished disobedience,” Sprankle rebutted. “The power difference (deity vs mortal) and the potential for violence for saying ‘no’ negates her ‘yes.’ To put someone in this position is an unethical abuse of power at best and grossly predatory at worst.”...

Sprankle also decorated his Christmas tree with Satanic decor, as shown in another tweet he sent this past weekend.
The Bible makes a surprisingly large amount of God's desire for human consent, when you consider the power differential. God doesn't need human consent for anything. Like Eru Ilúvatar in the opening act of the Silmarillion, an all-powerful God could readily rework even the most rebellious dissent into a new harmony. So he could respect your free will without cost to himself or his designs. In point of fact, on this model, it's only because of his choice that any of us have free will at all. A god like Ilúvatar could have built mindless machines to execute his designs.

One of the interesting things about the Bible, then, is just how interested God seems to be in humanity's willful compliance. It's true that God punishes bad behavior sometimes. It's also true that God forgoes punishment where there is reform, sometimes. But the central fact of Jesus' mission in the Bible is the search for individual choice -- consent -- on behalf of each and every soul. Jesus does not compel, he argues in favor and leaves it to his listeners to decide what to do with what he says; ultimately, what to do with him.

It's an unreflective pose, this professor's. One ought to think more deeply when one is supposedly wed to the life of the mind.

Language Like a Free Market

Several of us seem to be interested in language, so I thought I'd post a link to editor and language columnist for The Economist Lane Greene's thoughts on the descriptivist / prescriptivist divide and the ways in which language operates like a free market.

Some quick excerpts:

Decades before the rise of social media, polarisation plagued discussions about language. By and large, it still does. Everyone who cares about the topic is officially required to take one of two stances. Either you smugly preen about the mistakes you find abhorrent – this makes you a so-called prescriptivist – or you show off your knowledge of language change, and poke holes in the prescriptivists’ facts – this makes you a descriptivist. Group membership is mandatory, and the two are mutually exclusive.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. I have two roles at my workplace: I am an editor and a language columnist. These two jobs more or less require me to be both a prescriptivist and a descriptivist. When people file me copy that has mistakes of grammar or mechanics, I fix them (as well as applying The Economist’s house style). But when it comes time to write my column, I study the weird mess of real language; rather than being a scold about this or that mistake, I try to teach myself (and so the reader) something new. Is this a split personality, or can the two be reconciled into a coherent philosophy? I believe they can.


Descriptivists – that is, virtually all academic linguists – will point out that semantic creep is how languages work. It’s just something words do: look up virtually any nontechnical word in the great historical Oxford English Dictionary (OED), which lists a word’s senses in historical order. You’ll see things such as the extension of decimate happening again and again and again. Words won’t sit still. The prescriptivist position, offered one linguist, is like taking a snapshot of the surface of the ocean and insisting that’s how ocean surfaces must look.

Be that as it may, retort prescriptivists, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying. ...

Read on for a discussion of changes in English in the Great Vowel Shift, the evolution of the word buxom, the loss of Old English case endings, and the ways spontaneous order does its work in a language, much like it does its work in an economy.

But Is It Conscious?

And how would you know?

There are some standing answers, such as the Turing test, and Sebastian Rödl's test for self-consciousness. These are 'just to be sure' tests, though; they're arguments that we have reason to treat these as thinking beings, as conscious beings, and no reason not to do so. To be sure we aren't exploiting them, then, we should do so.

But consider the arguments from the Aristotelian discussion below, and think about the problem. Are these things somehow programmed to mimic consciousness, or are they becoming conscious? How could you tell?

Solstice tree

Different Definitions of Racism

Over at The Federalist, David Marcus writes about the problems America has because of the starkly different definitions of "racism" progressives and conservatives have. He suggests ways we could compromise on action without compromising on principles. I generally agree with his points, but I don't think the left wants to compromise on actions. I could be wrong, of course.

Here are the definitions and some key points about them:

There are two basic definitions of racism in the United States, one roughly associated with progressives and one roughly associated with conservatives. The former describes racism as the failure to acknowledge and seek to redress systemic discrimination against select disadvantaged minority groups. It is very broad and captures everything from unconscious bias to white supremacy. The latter views racism as making assumptions about, or taking action towards, an individual or group on the sole basis of their race. It is narrow and generally requires belief, intent, and animosity.

These definitions don’t simply differ; to a great extent they actually contradict each other. Much of the contradiction stems from the fact that the progressive definition of racism requires that an advantaged individual or group must be attacking the less privileged. The more conservative and narrow definition of racism requires no appeal to power structures, only to bias, and can be committed by anyone towards anyone.

There is a double standard here that progressives don’t actually deny. It is, in fact, baked into their definition of racism. Under their rubric, the definition of racist has a double standard precisely because society has double standards that they argue overwhelmingly disadvantage the less privileged. It is internally logical and consistent in a way a lot of conservatives don’t quite understand.

On the other hand, those on the left are often shocked when polls show that majorities of white people believe that they are discriminated against in the United States. They will point to economic data, political power, and cultural representation and say, “You people are crazy.” But under the narrower definition of racism, it makes perfect sense. These white people are reacting to the fact that they can be attacked on the basis of their race in ways others can’t. In addition, whites — and increasingly Asians — look at programs like affirmative action as inherently racist.

I think he's done a good job in teasing out the definitions and why conservatives and progressives misunderstand each other on this point.

What to do about it is another thing altogether.

Sign Me Up for Not Signing Up for That

The UN has an idea: give voting rights to migrants. Immediately.
Hidden amongst the 38 jargon-laced pages, the compact affirms the “entitlements” of migrants and refugees; including but not limited to additional job training, diaspora “trade fairs,” assistance sending money to their countries of origin, and a commitment to “educating” native communities on the benefits of multiculturalism and increased immigration.

The document insists it is based on “human rights law” and “upholds the principles of non-regression and non-discrimination.”

This means a nation-state is agreeing to not alter its own internal immigration policies after signing up to the compact. What supranational governmental organizations call “pooling sovereignty,” and what the rest of us call “giving up sovereignty.”

The document demands migrants get the same rights as natives, immediately, including but not limited to voting rights and access to welfare.
Even if I were in favor of higher levels of immigration, which currently I am not -- I think we need at least a generation to culturally absorb the ones we have already -- I would not be in favor of assigning the franchise to people immediately. You need to be here long enough to learn how we do things, and just why, before you should be voting.

We had a long series many years ago now on the franchise. The universal franchise makes some sense, and ultimately we didn't come up with anything better. But you shouldn't assign votes to children too young to have been educated in the proper way that the system works; nor too young to make dispassionate decisions in the light of reason; nor to people too recently arrived to understand fully what is going on.

These days I'm thinking that means that the 'proper education' requirement might disbar very many US citizens, even natural born ones, and that 'too young to make dispassionate decisions' might require raising the voting age to 35. I'm certainly not inclined to believe, from my observations, that we should be even more eager to enlist first-time voters who don't really understand America, how it works, or what its value might be.

Things Aren't What They Used To Be

A meditation at The Federalist.
As I write in my new book, “I Used To Be Conservative: Confessions Of A Conservative Who Used To Be A Conservative Who Used To Be A Liberal,” “I could no longer be a conservative, because being a conservative could no longer be an option.” How true that is.

Sometimes you reach a point—usually when you have something to promote—when what you once thought no longer is what you think now. That point has arrived for me. It’s quite painful, as I’ve said on several CNN programs and YouTube interviews.

The conservatism of today is not the conservatism it was when I was younger, nor is it the liberalism it was when I was middle-aged. I can no longer sit idly by and pretend that what I once believed is what I believe now, or that anyone else should believe it. Or not.

Was Mueller Worth It?

Vanity Fair just published a 'Trump-Hater's guide to Mueller skepticism.' Objectively, the fines extracted from Paul Manafort have more than paid for the investigation, so it's certainly been worth it for the government financially.

And, too, it has been enlightening to watch Mueller make a lifelong public servant plead guilty to a charge of which he wasn't even suspected -- Flynn plead to lying to the FBI, in spite of the testimony from the agents who interviewed him that he was truthful and forthcoming. If he's willing to do that, well, we know that nothing he produces can be trusted without substantial supporting evidence. It's good to realize just how corrupt the government is, and Mueller himself in spite of his sterling reputation.

Mueller caught Flynn on a violation of working for Turkey without registering, which required altering the enforcement of the law governing those practices. Until recently, you could register after the fact; now it's a thing that you have to follow the law and register if you're lobbying the government on behalf of a foreign country. I suppose that's good, but it's interesting that the conviction required changing common practice.

Flynn eventually lost his house and his job and his security clearance, but even with the guilty pleas he extorted Mueller didn't have enough to ask for even a day in jail. So far the sentences faced by those he's haunted have ranged from two weeks to a month. Manafort will probably get hit harder, but not for anything he did with Donald Trump; and even there, I notice that Mueller mostly made him plead guilty to the charges that he couldn't convict on in court. Mueller's record of actually proving things is pretty weak.

I think we have learned from this that the Department of Justice is entirely corrupt at the top, and should be disbanded and replaced. That's an important insight, well worth the price of an investigation that -- as mentioned -- paid for itself.

So sure, it was worth it. Or will have been, if we follow through on punishing the corruption that it has revealed.

A Big Day for Aristotelians

A plant 'cyborg' has proven to have the capacity to move itself around to seek better light. We all know that plants can detect light, and can engage in some limited movement of their leaves in order to maximize exposure. Scientists have figured out how to translate that into an ability to let the whole plant move itself, determining where it should sit.
The idea is reasonably simple—place sensors that listen to the electrical signals generated by a plant and then convert those signals to commands carried out by the motorized wheels. The result is a plant that can respond to changes in light direction by moving itself closer to the source.
If you are an Aristotelian thinker, this is really an interesting development. Aristotle argues (in De Anima) that the human soul has three parts, the rational, the motive (or animal), and the nutrative (or plant-like). Humans, plants, and animals contain the capacity to take nutrition from the world and put it into our own order: to rebuild our cells, say, with proteins taken from outside us. All of us do that, and it is the distinction between living things and things like rocks that are not alive.

The difference between plants and animals, he thought, was just this capacity to move one's self in order to obtain food. The motive soul was a higher level of soul because it required an ability to distinguish things distant from yourself, rather than simply to absorb things that you came into contact with accidentally. Hans Jonas, in The Phenomenon of Life, argues that this capacity requires a self-conscious mind: a hawk must be able to distinguish that it is different from the rabbit. That isn't necessarily clear, though; there needs to be some sort of process by which the hawk finds the rabbit's presence actionable, but it might not be a conscious process. Still, it makes sense to say it is: certainly, in us, we recognize ourselves as different from the hunted animal. There is no special reason to assume it is otherwise for the hawk, there is just no proof that the hawk experiences consciousness.

(Although, speaking of birds, I think it's at least suggestive that crows not only display advanced problem solving in spite of having brains that contain none of the structures we think humans use for it, they also seem to be able to recognize people who have been mean and to communicate that to others in their murder. But we don't know what their experiences are like, or even if they 'have experiences' at all.)

So anyway, it turns out that plants have the ability to process the information they would need to move around; they just don't, naturally, have the capability to move around. For Aristotle, the soul is the perfection of the thing according to its own nature. Wouldn't the plant be more perfect if it could move, just as an animal would be more perfect if it could reason (as, it seems, crows can)?

If the answer is yes, then we come to another Aristotelian dictum, this one from the Physics: it is the role of art to perfect nature. That is to say that the human soul, which is rational in its highest part, can see where the natural has failed to actualize all of its potential. We can, through art, improve nature by bringing it more fully to its complete perfection. The art of medicine is essentially this, or has been up until now: the eye should see, and see well, but does not, and so the doctor works to try to restore or perfect the sight.

So the question to ask is this: are we perfecting the plants' nature, and if so, does that mean that they really do have an animal (motive) soul that has only existed so far in potency? If so, do they have rational souls in potency as well? We have more reason than Aristotle had to think that animals can reason, at least some of them. Perhaps all animals have rational souls that haven't been fully actualized; perhaps, with art, they could be. Plants as well.

That leads to another ancient view, more Plato's than Aristotle's.

Dod Yn Ôl At Fy Nghoed

A Welsh poetic insight into human nature.
[Robert Macfarlane] credits his parents and his grandfather for passing on to him an abiding love for wild places. “I remember seeing a golden eagle for the first time and was amazed that a bird could be so big.”

Macfarlane believes passionately that all children should have the chance to form such memories. Does he think the Government should do more to increase available green space near to home for all children? “Absolutely. I would really like to see nature and environmental well-being in Section 78 of the Education Act so that nature and our relationship with it becomes a part of life, a part of behaviour and ethics.” He mentions the Welsh phrase dod yn ôl at fy nghoed, which means “to return to a balanced state of mind”, but literally means “to return to my trees”.


Songwriter on this one was Kris Kristofferson.

A Second

I'd like to second AVI's recommendation to read this Virginia Postrel essay on culture. This is something we've been talking about for years here at the Hall, but I agree with her assessment that conservatives still have no better ideas about what to do about it. It's as much a magic box for us as economics seems to be for the socialist left.

My best suggestion from a few years ago was to work to introduce the young to old movies. There was a golden age of cinema in Hollywood that celebrated America and its values, in forms variously sweeping and romantic (like The Alamo) or thoughtful and introspective (like The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance). Our left has already worked out a countermeasure, though: they've taught the youth to search out 'problematic' structures in every older form of art, and then to shun it lest they be contaminated by these poisonous ideas.

It's tricky. In principle engaging older forms of art -- not just Hollywood as it was, but Shakespeare or Homer, Malory or the artistic books of the Bible -- still has the potential to awaken and enlighten. Perhaps philosophy is still a valid entry point; you can start them on Plato, and then suggest that they should probably read Homer in order to better understand the references. Then you could say, "But, you know, it's going to be different from what 'we' think today. Part of the exercise is coming to understand a world outside of your own, which will in turn give you a new platform from which to criticize the world you live in today."

Indeed, that is ultimately the whole point of the exercise. Many academic disciplines today only teach a system of thought, which you are simply to apply to everything you encounter. The outcomes can be predicted in just the same way that the outcomes of a sausage-making-machine can be predicted. It doesn't matter what you put in the one end, what comes out will look like sausage, because it is the function of the machine to ensure that sausage is produced from whatever you put in it.

At 20-something, and even the early parts of 30-something, this can feel like knowledge: 'I've learned to understand the world in a systematic and coherent way!' Yet you haven't learned to understand the world at all; you've learned to force the things you encounter in the world into a meat grinder. What comes out looks exactly as you expected it to because of the function of the systems you've been taught to apply. To really learn something, you'd need to be able to step outside the system and criticize it independently.

You can only do that, though, when you have somewhere else to 'stand.' You need the perspective that comes with distance. In other words, you need to be able to think in a different way, which means thinking from a different place. You need an opposing discipline or, alternatively or additionally, you need an older world. Coming to see things the way an ancient Greek might have seen them gives you an option. You can look at the system from outside, and see if you still like what it's making.

So too the learning of other ancient ways of thought: Catholic, Jewish, and yes, Islamic; Buddhist, Viking, Hindu, Anglo-Saxon. Read Medieval poetics, if you find that you like them; study the 19th century novels. Anything to get you outside your system, and give you another place to stand.

Disgusting Contradictions

A 28-year-old dominatrix in England has decided to use her power to convince white Tories to vote socialist.
Maybury, aka Mistress Rebecca, is a self-styled political dominatrix. She plays “with concepts of humiliation”, using words and mind games rather than whips and costumes to cut her cohorts down to size. “I’m interested in men’s aspirations, how they feel confident and how vapid that confidence often is... The kind of job titles they want, the car they drive, the women they say they’re attracted to publicly, but not privately… I have an application form I make them fill out so that I can find out their favourite leader, their favourite band and film. Once I sweep away the capitalist achievements, then what remains are their real desires. Most men never even consider what their masculinity is based on, which is the frightening thing. All masculinity, when we look at it from a historical point of view, is to dominate women.”
Yes, well, no, but let's leave that for today. What I really want to get at is this business of stripping away 'capitalist achievements' in order to get to our real desires. Let's follow that thread.
One client claimed “he was a ‘female supremacist’ and a Tory. I found that such a disgusting contradiction, I couldn’t let him get away with it. Submissives often say that all they want to do is make their mistress happy, and what could make me happier than him becoming a socialist?”
What indeed could make you happier than socialism? By the way, how socialist are you personally, Ms... er, "Mistress" Rebecca?
[She] has since developed her dominatrix work into a unique type of performance art. “I just realised I can use my job as a dominatrix to be a version of a corporate creative, like an art director, where the interns do all the work. The idea is they make the work for me and then I make the money from it when it is sold.”
Marx would be so proud.


In his essay The Monsters and the Critics, Tolkien mentions a phrase used by the Beowulf poet: "Haeledh Under Heofenum." He says this might be variously given as 'heroes under heaven' or 'mighty men on the earth' (as the earth is what is under heaven). But it's curious to me that there's no obvious descendant for the word "haeledh." "Hero" isn't it; that's of Greek extraction.

In fact, I began to wonder if any related word had survived, as the lost word "frith" is a cognate of the modern "friend" and "freedom." (For good reason! See the sidebar for a whole section of relevant links.) It looks as if there was an article by Kathleen E. Dubs that was highly relevant, but I don't seem to have access to that journal.

In a bit of research, I found a few potentially useful links, but they themselves lack important context. One is this old "glossography" of the original languages of Britain and Ireland. It mentions the word in an interesting context, but its comparative language is almost all clearly Norman impositions (e.g., 'frank' really does mean, 'having the (good) manner of a Frank,' and was brought from France by the conquest).

Here, similarly, is a French-language source that gives the reference in comparison to several warrior-related terms in French, e.g., guerrier. I find it fascinating that this Anglo-Saxon word was once well-enough known to Francophones to serve as a useful reference for them. But it also suggests that a close cognate for "healedh" may be "to hold," which would make it "those who hold."

So looking into that, it appears to be correct: the West Saxon version of the root word is "haeldan."

And now it makes sense. "Holders of the earth" or "Those who hold, under heaven," does imply the power associated with heroism in the ancient context. To take hold of a part of the world, to hold it against others, to hold the order of the land together in the face of dangers from both nature and other men -- and even against dragons, if you are Beowulf.

Fusion Power Breakthrough

A major engineering challenge seems to have been overcome.


And then there's Krampus.

In Central European folklore, Krampus is a horned, anthropomorphic figure described as "half-goat, half-demon", who, during the Christmas season, punishes children who have misbehaved, in contrast with Saint Nicholas, who rewards the well-behaved with gifts.... The origin of the figure is unclear; some folklorists and anthropologists have postulated it as having pre-Christian origins....

Europeans have been exchanging greeting cards featuring Krampus since the 1800s. Sometimes introduced with Gruß vom Krampus (Greetings from Krampus), the cards usually have humorous rhymes and poems. Krampus is often featured looming menacingly over children. He is also shown as having one human foot and one cloven hoof. In some, Krampus has sexual overtones; he is pictured pursuing buxom women. Over time, the representation of Krampus in the cards has changed; older versions have a more frightening Krampus[.]
Maybe your elders weren't so easily frightened.

The problem with charity

Have you ever wondered why it does no good to point out to leftists that conservatives give more to charity than progressives?
One page after the champagne ad [in the New Yorker], we see a photograph of a smiling older white man, with the caption, “He loves helping kids. So he gives.” He calls on the reader to “give something back to the world.” My blood pressure rises when I see ads like this, because it goes to the larger problem of charity in America nowadays. If the system worked as it should, and if rich people paid their fair share of taxes, then the rest of us wouldn’t need to beg them to peel off a piece of their income and toss it back to the people.
Why count on people to give when you can just take?

Go, Mighty Bulldogs

That is all.

Footprints and vectors

As they say, Trump needs a wartime consiglieri.

John Solomon does his usual excellent investigative reporting into the muck that is the Trump-Russia investigation.
Early in my reporting that unraveled the origins of the Trump-Russia collusion probe, tying it to Hillary Clinton’s campaign and possible Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) abuses, I started to see patterns just as in the old mob meetings: FBI or intelligence-connected figures kept showing up in Trump Town USA during the 2016 campaign with a common calling card.
The question now is, who sent them and why?
Interviews with more than 50 witnesses in the Trump case and reviews of hundreds of pages of court filings confirm the following:
At least six people with long-established ties to the FBI or to U.S. and Western intelligence made entrees to key figures in the Trump business organization or his presidential campaign between March and October 2016;
Campaign figures were contacted by at least two Russian figures whose justification for being in the United States were rare law enforcement parole visas controlled by the U.S. Justice Department;
Intelligence or diplomatic figures connected to two of America’s closest allies, Britain and Australia, gathered intelligence or instigated contacts with Trump campaign figures during that same period;
Some of the conversations and contacts that were monitored occurred on foreign soil and resulted in the creation of transcripts; Nearly all of the contacts involved the same overture — a discussion about possible political dirt or stolen emails harmful to Hillary Clinton, or unsolicited business in London or Moscow;
Several of the contacts occurred before the FBI formally launched a legally authorized probe into the Trump campaign and possible collusion on July 31, 2016.

The Mari Lywd

Another ancient holdover animal holiday tradition, this one Celtic. It survives in Wales. Although I only encountered it tonight, it has for many years been part of our decorations to put Christmas ornaments for eyes into the bovine rather than equine skulls decorating the walls. It’s festive, even without the ribbons and riddles.

The Yule Goat

An article on the subject of Yule goats, a Christmas tradition with pre-Christian roots in Scandinavia. So do Christmas trees, of course; so do a lot of Christmas rituals. If you find them charming, Grimfrost has Yule goat sets on sale right now.

Thieves in Veterans' Clothing

Some $900,000 worth of clothing, jewelry, and the like.

Believe the Science!

As a case in point, Buss and von Hippel highlight the recent book Testosterone Rex: Unmaking the Myths of Our Gendered Minds by psychologist Cordelia Fine – a text that argues against biological differences between the sexes (and in favour of sociological explanations) and which won wide praise from journalists and left-leaning scientists around the globe, while at the same time receiving scathing criticism from evolutionary biologists and psychologists with relevant expertise in evolutionary science.

Buss and von Hippel argue that Fine and others are motivated by social justice goals (in this case gender equality) to reject findings from evolutionary biology and psychology[.]
The hell you say.

Regional Pride, and Rest in Peace

AVI mentioned in passing over at his place a certain tolerance for 'moderate' regional pride. I'm not sure I've adhered to the moderation standard, which I hadn't understood was expected; but in fairness, Southerners are rarely moderate in this regard.

By sad coincidence, Roy Clark passed away just a couple of weeks ago. I don't think I mentioned it at the time. He was a man whom our region could be proud to have born. His contributions to the world included music and humor, and he was great at both. Here he is with Buck Owens and another of my favorite fellows, the late, great Jerry Reed.

And here he is with Buck Trent, doing a playful variation on a playful standard.

Although he was most famous for these Southern types, he was a thoroughly trained musician who could play anything on one of several instruments.

It was nice to share the stage with these men for a while. I hope they will be long remembered.


Let's do a couple more. One older:

And one with Johnny Cash. Both of these are funny because it's impossible to believe Roy Clark ever shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die. Johnny Cash could sell the line, but Roy Clark just wants to play tricks on the guitar.

Johnny doesn't care. He's having fun too.

Inappropriate Christmas gifts

This is a gift you should reserve for small children of parents who have deeply offended you--like giving a young boy a drum set.  But I have to admit to a strong temptation.  It's a toy fire truck that lights up and emits a siren, which is bad enough, but it also squirts water out of the hose attached to the ladder, how cool is that?

The best part is the video on the Amazon page, showing an adult running the toy through its paces, complete with a small alcohol fire in what looks like carpet near the truck, which the adult carefully extinguishes.  You can tell by the wording of the toy's description that no American lawyers went anywhere near this promotional video:
IMAGINAIVE EDUCATION TOY: This fire rescue truck is a great educational toy for kids, for it helps to cultivating the toddlers fire protection consciousness and emergency situation handling, so that children can protect themselves in the danger to some extents.

My grand-nephew is in that toddler toy-truck stage.  After last week's snows in the Northeast, his admirable father affixed cardboard snow-plow blades to all his trucks, and now the kid runs around the house delightedly yelling "'no pow! 'no pow!"

A Series of Historical Analogies

Beware the attempts to roll things back to control by 'the experts.'

The author actually has some credentials of his own: a former US Army infantry NCO, with a Ph.D. in history.

A Reasonable Point

"Giving your child a dumb name like ABCDE should be considered child abuse because you’re willing to condemn your child to a lifetime of mockery so you can get attention."

Relevant story.

I wouldn't want the government to have authority to prosecute for 'child abuse,' but I definitely think that we should adopt the cultural stance that this sort of thing is an abusive behavior. We ought to treat parents who do this to their children as bad people.

By the way, why are all these crazy stories coming out of Texas? What's going on down there? Texas used to be reliable.

A Wrinkle in the Texas Divorce Case

This feature of the story about the divorce in which the parents dispute the gender of their child escaped me before.
In their divorce proceedings, the mother has charged the father with child abuse for not affirming James as transgender, has sought restraining orders against him, and is seeking to terminate his parental rights. She is also seeking to require him to pay for the child’s visits to a transgender-affirming therapist and transgender medical alterations, which may include hormonal sterilization starting at age eight.
A mother is asking a court to force a father to pay for the castration of his son. She's not just demanding that the father be forced to accept the castration of his son, which would be a monstrosity by itself. She is demanding that he be forced to pay for it to be done. An American court is actually entertaining that request.

I don't ever want to hear another word about how America is some kind of patriarchy.

In Fairness to Brian Kemp

The Free Beacon points out that registration and turnout both increased under Secretary of State Kemp -- now Governor-Elect Kemp.

OK. Fair enough. The real problem with the system wasn't registration, though: it was the ultra-hackable computers with no way to verify that your vote had been counted, or that it hadn't been altered. I don't think Kemp cheated, because if he had the margin would have been safer: if he had given himself 51% instead of 50.3%, there would have been no talk of a runoff and a lot less pressure toward a recount. The duty of the Secretary of State isn't satisfied simply by not cheating, though: he ought to have done his best to set up a system that no one thought you could cheat.

Unsympathetic Guys Sometimes Deserve to Win

The Supreme Court looks set to deliver a win to a heroin dealer, along with thousands of others punished by excessive fines and asset forfeiture.
A decision in favor of 37-year-old Tyson Timbs, of Marion, Indiana, also could buttress efforts to limit the confiscation by local law enforcement of property belonging to someone suspected of a crime. Police and prosecutors often keep the proceeds.

Timbs was on hand at the high court for arguments that were largely a one-sided affair in which the main question appeared to be how broadly the state would lose.
I hope they lose big.

And Don't Forget the Fire Hazard

Schools in Sweden ban St. Lucia celebrations. (Some of you know these from The Ref's famous Scandinavian dinner scene.)
According to preschool manager Anna Karmskog, they want to avoid discrimination, offensive treatment and do not want to “exclude” anyone.

It is also seen from an “equality perspective”. Many people buy Lucia costumes for one occasion. It does not feel right to force the parents to buy these, she says.

Furthermore, many children are reported to be anxious and sad in a large crowd, and the “gender perspective” as the children “walk in a row” is questioned. The school has not discussed the cancellation with the parents.

In Mellerud, Åsen’s school decided to boycott the Lucia celebrations altogether...

“But last week, the school celebrated Muhammad’s journey to heaven without even informing us.”, [one school parent said].

Some now say that the cancelled Lucia celebration is a prelude to tone down Christmas to adapt to Islam. Recently, to prevent terror attacks, barriers have also been set up at Christmas Markets in Malmö.
Well, in fairness, most of the Muslim migrants are without concerns about gender, equality, exclusivity, or discrimination. So really, everybody is getting their way.

Battle of Visby

I came across this picture of a skull fused to a mail coif, from the 1361 Battle of Visby. The Swedish History Museum hosts the remains.

The issue at stake was, unsurprisingly, which government got to collect taxes. Gotland was paying taxes to the King of Sweden, but the Danes felt they had a claim -- and they also had professional fighting men with recent experience and what were at the time modern arms.
The Danish army was composed mainly of Danish and German troops, many mercenaries from the Baltic coast of Germany, with recent experience in the various feuds and wars between the German and Scandinavian states. These men would have worn what was known as Transitional armour, with iron or steel plates over vital areas and joints over a full suit of chain mail. They were led by Valdemar IV of Denmark. Against them was an army of Gutes, mainly freemen and minor nobles. The ordinary freemen appear to have worn more limited but still effective protection, with many skeletons that were excavated wearing a chain-mail shirt or a coat of plates to protect the torso. Some warriors may have worn a padded Gambeson or a leather jerkin or coat[.]
The battle is contemporaneous with the Hundred Years War, which is why this array of armor is said to be 'transitional.' The early battles of the Hundred Years War were fought mostly in mail armor; by the end of the war, articulated plate armor was common not just for nobles but for knights and men at arms. This occurred somewhere in the middle, and less centrally to Europe than were England and France at that time.

Yeah, it's just like that

USA Today explains that the barbed wire at the U.S.'s southern border evokes troubling images of the Iron Curtain.  It brings back memories, doesn't it?  East Germany frantically pushing its refugees towards West Germany, where they hope to build better lives for themselves, and West Germany callously manning the wall with tear-gas-wielding jackbooted cops.

In other news, apparently tear gas is not a violation of the Geneva Convention when Macron uses it against French protesters.  Speaking of the effect of tear gas, at least one would-be U.S. border-hopper understands what it's for: “If they’re launching tear gas,” Castillo said, “it’s better to head somewhere else.”

"Murphy v. Carpenter" & Tribal Sovereignty

The Supreme Court is hearing an interesting case. From

The question before the court in Carpenter v. Murphy is whether Congress disestablished the reservation of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation in the early 20th century. If not, that reservation created in 1866 still exists and major crimes involving tribal members in that region of eastern Oklahoma must be prosecuted in federal courts, not state courts.


Much of Tuesday's hour of arguments focused on the practical implications of a ruling in favor of the tribe. Several justices showed deep concern about the ramifications of a ruling in favor of the Creeks.
“There are 1.8 million people living in this area,” said Justice Stephen Breyer. “They have built their lives not necessarily on criminal law but on municipal regulations, property law, dog-related law, thousands of details. And now, if we say really this land ... belongs to the tribe, what happens to all those people? What happens to all those laws?”


Justice Neil Gorsuch, a President Donald Trump appointee, did not participate in Tuesday's arguments and will not take a side in an eventual opinion because he was on the 10th Circuit last year when it ruled that the Creek reservation still exists.

The population of Oklahoma is about 3.9 million people, so this affects a large percentage of them in some way.

The Trump administration sided with the state of Oklahoma:

Last August, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the murder conviction and death sentence of Patrick Murphy, who was convicted in state court of mutilating and murdering George Jacobs in 1999. The court ruled the Creek reservation still exists and Murphy therefore must be tried in federal court for the murder on reservation land.

The Justice Department's arguments were three-pronged: Congress abolished the Creek reservation, the 10th Circuit erroneously cherry-picked historical documents to conclude it didn't, and Oklahoma had jurisdiction in the Murphy case regardless.

“Congress granted the state jurisdiction to prosecute crimes involving Indians in the former Indian Territory as part of the series of acts leading to Oklahoma statehood,” Francisco wrote.


The states of Nebraska, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Wyoming filed a brief Monday asking the Supreme Court to side with Oklahoma, concerned tribal lands in their states could also be affected.

If you are interested, Mvskoke News, the newspaper of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, provides some historical background to the case.

They also give some details on 6 amicus briefs filed in the case.

I Find It Really Gets to the Spirit of the Yuletide

BB: "Melania Trump Criticized For Decorating White House With Skulls Of Her Enemies."

The Nation on Economics

Laissez-faire for China, Iran, Russia, and Turkey -- but the regulatory state at home!

I suppose that will make for a "fairer world economy," if by "fairer" you mean "the US is no longer far out in front."

The Nation of Islam and Scientology

This is not a topic of interest to me, but it might be to some of you, and I know one of the co-authors.

The Chicago Principles of Free Speech

Apparently the University of Chicago's statement on freedom of speech is now being considered by Australia. The author of this piece doesn't think they need it, which probably means that they need it. If it's purely redundant, there's no harm; it's good to have redundant safeguards for really important things. To whatever degree it isn't redundant, well, that's why you need it.
In 2014, the President (equivalent to the Vice Chancellor of an Australian university) of the University of Chicago convened a committee, chaired by highly acclaimed free speech scholar Professor Geoffrey Stone, to draft a statement that would articulate the university’s commitment to “free, robust, and uninhibited debate and deliberation”.

The university took this step in response to free speech controversies on university campuses in the United States. Examples include disinviting controversial speakers, pressure on faculty to make public apologies for statements some considered offensive, demands for the removal of historic statues or monuments, and the existence of campus speech codes which prohibit students from engaging in hate speech on the ground of race, sexuality, or gender.

The Chicago statement recognises free speech on campus as an issue that goes to the core mission of the university as a place of learning. It defends free and open inquiry in all matters, and guarantees the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn.

It also recognises that freedom of speech does not mean people can say whatever they want, wherever they want. It permits restrictions on speech that violates the law, is defamatory, threatens or harasses, invades privacy or confidentiality, or is incompatible with the functioning of a university.

The statement is a well-articulated and clear enunciation of three things:

1) the importance of freedom of speech to learning

2) the recognition that free speech must have limits

3) the articulation that any such limits must be carefully and narrowly circumscribed.

As of February 2018 the Chicago statement had been adopted by 34 other universities in the US. But this still leaves around 1,600 universities that have not signed up, possibly because their existing policies already support the same views.
"Possibly," at least in some cases. However, in other cases, it is clear that that they don't want these principles because they have others.

"Legally Barred"

I suppose the Eighth Amendment probably forbids the court from taking the appropriate measures here.
A Texas father is fighting for his son in court after pushing back on his ex-wife's claim that their six-year-old is a transgender girl.

According to court documents, the young boy only dresses as a girl when he's with his mother, who has enrolled him in first-grade as a female named "Luna." The father, however, contends that his son consistently chooses to wear boys' clothes, "violently refuses to wear girl’s clothes at my home," and identifies as a boy when he is with him.

The Federalist reports that the mother has accused the father of child abuse in their divorce proceedings "for not affirming James as transgender" and is looking to strip the dad of his parental rights. "She is also seeking to require him to pay for the child’s visits to a transgender-affirming therapist and transgender medical alterations, which may include hormonal sterilization starting at age eight," the report adds.

The father has been legally barred from speaking to his child about sexuality and gender from a scientific or religious perspective and from dressing his son in boys' clothes; instead, he has to offer both girls' and boys' outfits. The boy consistently refuses to wear dresses, according to the father.

The boy was diagnosed with gender dysphoria by a gender transition therapist the mother, a pediatrician, chose for her son to see. According to the therapist's notes, the boy chose to identify as a girl when he was in sessions alone with his mother; alternatively, he chose to identify as a boy when he was in sessions alone with his father.
This poor kid. Mommy and daddy are fighting; mommy really wishes he weren't a boy. He's six. No adult should be doing this to him.

The court is so far going along with this idiocy, if I am correct to believe that 'legally barred' means that some previous court proceeding is the source of this restriction.

An Aristotelian Proof

I'm posting this here because I want to watch it, but I don't have an hour right now to devote to it. If any of you get to it before I have time, feel free to post thoughts (or questions -- I do have some training here if you're not familiar with Aristotelian thinking and want to walk through it).

Wretchard on the Coming Storm

If it sounds a lot like shadow banning and blacklisting its because it is. As Tyler Grant notes in the Hill the basic algorithms behind the Chinese social scoring system and Western hate speech systems are essentially the same. "It’s tempting to think this government overreach is purely reserved to China, after all they did just forfeit significant freedom by electing Xi Jinping president for life. This is incorrect thinking. The rest of the world is steps away from trailing the Chinese into a surveillance state."
The U.K. fines and even imprisons people for hate speech or speech deemed abhorrent to the prevailing norms of society. The U.S. is not far behind. Last week, a Manhattan judge ruled a bar can toss Trump supporters for their political viewpoints. A recent proliferation of politically motivated boycotts seeks to punish "bad" viewpoints; protesters are eager to shout down incorrect speech. In this political climate, it’s not difficult to imagine businesses or the government assessing social benefit or worth based upon a variety of factors including political speech.

With incredible data collection, the plumbing is already in place for such a system to take hold. Our tech companies catalogue large quantities of data on everyone. As we saw with Cambridge Analytica in the 2016 election, this data can be used to steer particular viewpoints; it’s not a far cry to imagine information being used to control viewpoints.
Read that last with Thomas' bit, just below.

Tricking People Into Changing Their Political Opinions?

Choice blindness, eh?

The experiment relies on a phenomenon known as choice blindness. Choice blindness was discovered in 2005 by a team of Swedish researchers. They presented participants with two photos of faces and asked participants to choose the photo they thought was more attractive, and then handed participants that photo. Using a clever trick inspired by stage magic, when participants received the photo it had been switched to the person not chosen by the participant—the less attractive photo. Remarkably, most participants accepted this card as their own choice and then proceeded to give arguments for why they had chosen that face in the first place. This revealed a striking mismatch between our choices and our ability to rationalize outcomes. This same finding has since been replicated in various domains including taste for jam, financial decisions, and eye-witness testimony.

While it is remarkable that people can be fooled into picking an attractive photo or a sweet jam in the moment, we wondered whether it would be possible to use this false-feedback to alter political beliefs in a way that would stand the test of time.

In our experiment, we first gave false-feedback about their choices, but this time concerning actual political questions (e.g., climate taxes on consumer goods). Participants were then asked to state their views a second time that same day, and again one week later. The results were striking.  Participants’ responses were shifted considerably in the direction of the manipulation. For instance, those who originally had favoured higher taxes were more likely to be undecided or even opposed to it.

Norse Arts and Crafts

A History piece on a find at Ribe, including wooden "'solid houses'" dating back no later than the 720s," and "telling discoveries that include jewelry, coins, and a lyre, a stringed musical instrument."

The journalist who wrote the piece is no scholar, though.
How the Vikings went from building a complex and seemingly stable society to gaining their status as brash and hostile warriors is still unknown.
It's not at all unknown. P. H. Sawyer's Kings and Vikings gives an account of how it happened. The stabilizing society gave rise to stronger kings who pushed out the wilder elements, so that the original 'Vikings' were the bandits and warlords that these stronger kings were driving out of Norway and Denmark and Sweden. The success these raiders found in places like England and France provided the fodder for the later, larger-scale "Viking" raids by later generations of such kings. The story is fairly well known, and evident in sources from the sagas to the Heimskringla.

"Permanently (If Need Be)"

I can't imagine it's more than just words, this threat to close the Mexican border "permanently." I assume it means "for as long as necessary to make the economic pain effective." There's too much money to be made for Americans trading across that border for the closure to really be even long-lasting.

Trump's extravagant threat doesn't even place at the top of the rankings for extravagant border-closing threats. The silver standard for these border threats, is Saudi Arabia's.
Saudi Arabia could consider a proposal to dig a maritime canal along the kingdom’s border with Qatar, turning the peninsula-nation into an island and transforming its only land border into a military zone and nuclear waste site, state-linked Saudi newspapers reported Monday.
The gold standard remains McArthur's DPRK/ROK border creation proposal. It started with 30-50 nuclear bombs, followed by a pincer movement invasion to sow a belt of radioactive Cobalt, creating a very firm border indeed.

Oh, by the way, the Border Patrol used pepper spray / tear gas under Obama too. I mean, it's literally their job to stop things like this. It's the whole reason we pay for them to exist year after year.

Cultural appropriation

One thing the pompous can't stand is ridicule.

Not superheroes, really, just people in funny costumes.  You could as easily take it as a joke about the relentless march of tawdry American culture.  But the important thing is that IT'S NOT FUNNY.

"Did you hear what he said?"

The news this week is sounding more and more like a junior-high rumor mill.  I'd heard that former president Obama made a crack about "mommy issues" and wondered what that might be referring to.  Once again, a Google search of recent articles about what sounded like a hot topic left me scratching my head.  Mr. Obama uttered the phrase, the consensus seems to be that the audience laughed knowingly (or tittered nervously?), and a few people are asking whether it's obvious whether he was taking a jab at President Trump's relationship with his mother.

I had not previously been aware of the minor cottage industry in analyzing Mr. Trump's supposed failure to bond with a primary caregiver in infancy.  In any case, some reports of Mr. Obama's curious remark are skeptical that he was even referring to Mr. Trump at all, though quite a few analyzed the strategy of throwing out comments without mentioning the sitting president by name. If the press were a little more curious and evenhanded, at least a few of the articles might have adopted an attitude of wonder that the former president was making such inscrutable remarks to apparently appreciative audiences.  There would be talk of dog whistles. If President Trump had tweeted about "mommy issues," I suspect there'd be more 25th Amendment chatter this week.

For my own part, I wouldn't assume the remark referred to Mr. Trump at all.  I'd assume it was a crack about what keeps people from voting for wonderful candidates like Hillary Clinton (or even Angela Merkel?).  It was perhaps a less incendiary version of the "ex-wife issues" excuse for Clinton's perceived loathsomeness.

But it's a sign of the state of the press that people are grasping at these pieces of fluff instead of discussing anything concrete that someone currently in power is actually doing.  "I heard Mary didn't sit next to Susie at lunch today."

Thanksgiving menus

Neighbors are joining us for Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow, which also happens to be my husband's birthday.  That means he gets to choose the menu and no static of any kind from me.  He's going to try an oyster-bread-cornbread stuffing this year, while reprising a number of brined-turkey and brussels-sprouts dishes that he likes, and probably a wonderful little seafood-in-bordellaise thing in puff pastries.

He doesn't care about cranberry relish, but I decided to think of the others.  My own favorite recipe has a lot of peppers and grapefruit chunks and jicama and nuts and sambal oelek and Chinese five-spice; unfortunately no one but me much likes it, though I can eat it with every meal for a week.  Instead I tried an Anthony Bourdain uncooked relish that's simply raw cranberries and an orange pulsed in a food processor, with sugar added to taste. Three ingredients, no cooking. five minutes, delicious. I'm sold.

I was also planning a Caesar salad until I found that the grocery store has combed its shelves and removed every trace of Romaine, answering the frantic call of the CDC this week.  I was prepared to buy up a lot of Romaine packages marked with skulls-and-crossbones and 90%-off stickers, but the store chain's managers weren't born yesterday: cheaper to put the product on a bonfire than contend with lawsuits in the face of an unambiguous (indeed hysterical) recall notice.  We switched on the fly to an old favorite with spinach leaves, oranges, green olives, and candied toasted pecans.

We've been lazy this fall and haven't put in our usual winter greens crops.  Time to get moving on that, before the CDC loses its mind completely.

Now I'm fascinated

It's become my settled habit to click on articles about Facebook to see if anyone, anywhere will mention what Facebook has done wrong.  Today's catch is a New York Magazine article explaining that it's looking pretty grim for the embattled giant.  It seems that Zuckerberg failed to attend properly assembled corporate meetings to discuss Morally Complex Decisions.  Also, FB allowed itself to function as a Vector for bad things. Those stories you heard about censorship of conservative views, though?  Those were spurious, though they may help us construct the Growing Bipartisan Consensus.  And anyway we're not talking about censorship.  Stop talking about censorship. We're not even talking about destroying the company, but these issues Aren't Going Away.  There are a few specifics in today's article, in the form of statistics on how FB employees feel about the future of the company, which demonstrate conclusively that FB is on the wrong side of history.

It's becoming standard for the author of such an article to explain that nobody goes there any more, it's too crowded. I guess some people still go there, though, which is a Bad Thing, because of the vector and stuff. The people who don't know enough to quit logging in are still being inoculated with improperly curated views.

All I'm getting out of this flap is "nice business, wouldn't want to see anything happen to it." How is it that FB can't figure out how to be the victim instead of the villain in this fuzzy drama?  Does Zuckerberg not have someone on staff who tells him how big a check to write and to whom to write it?

I continue to use Facebook for the simplest of practical reasons:  it's the easiest way to keep an eye on news and opinion in my little county.  I mute all the national nonsense as quickly as I can figure out how.  It doesn't matter in the least whether I like the platform:  I'll use whatever platform a majority of my neighbors use, because their presence is the only important thing.  They're the ones I'm trying to talk to conveniently. I notice, however, that my "blogging," as the current county leadership describes my activity, arouses significant hostility in the powers that be, particularly as it so clearly got me elected at about 5% of the cost that most of them are used to spending on a campaign.  I guess that means I'm a "vector" too.

A Blog on Runes in Orkney

A grad student working on runic inscriptions there has put together a fun blog out of the things that she isn't putting into her dissertation. Those of you interested in such things may enjoy it.

Public services

Powerline records the exact moment when the serpent finished consuming itself:
I was reading an old lecture on Aristophanes by Leo Strauss when I came across these very usable sentences:
When about to enter a place at at which we are meant to laugh and to enjoy ourselves, we must first cross a picket line of black-coated ushers exuding deadly and deadening seriousness. No doubt they unwittingly contribute to the effect of the comedies.
Strauss had in mind of course the typical college professoriate of our time. These lines came springing back to mind when you come across a story like this:
As an unwoke ciswoman, I denounce myself.

Schumpeter Thought Otherwise

Pointing out a UC Berkeley class on destroying Israel and erasing its Jewish history (and, presumably, population), a hopeful author writes:
But good will come of this. Since there are no constraints on what universities do, they are increasingly moving toward the extremes. In doing this, they undermine their own legitimacy and their bogus claims of serving a societal good or promoting civic virtue.

Eventually, such a system will collapse because the larger society will recognize that it is paying for its own delegitimation and destruction through courses that view America and Western Civilization as the roots of all evil in the world.
The great economist Joesph Schumpeter thought the opposite. He believed that this very feature of the university's education of the rising elite would eventually destroy the West and capitalism itself.

We seem to me to be closer to Schumpeter's vision with every generation. Indeed, in Schumpeter's day Marx was recognized as disproven; now the Marxists are resurgent, and whole fields that are utterly Marxist in their frames of interpretation and criticism often do not even realize how wholly they have been subsumed.

The Second Must Not Be A Second Class Right

A piece at National Review by John Yoo, part of a series on restoring constitutional order, addresses the issue.

Everyone here knows my position, which I see no need to repeat after 15 years of blogging. If you don't know what I think about it, or just about anything else, it's in the archives. As a matter of fact, I could probably stop writing this blog just anytime, returning to it only when I change an older opinion for some reason. My opinion on the 2nd has not changed at all.

Good Advice Democrats Will Ignore

Joan C. Williams more-or-less accurately explains what Democrats need to know about attracting non-elite votes. To whit, stop treating economic concerns as pure racism; stop playing up race and gender issues, and focus on helping ordinary people; stop thinking that you and your fellow elites are so much less racist than ordinary people anyway. (Williams doesn't quite have the courage to go beyond 'ordinary white people,' and explain that racism is more or less universal and just as unhelpful in every demographic; but maybe The Atlantic isn't ready for that yet.)

Stop, in other words, focusing on demographic change as a solution. Quit telling white working class voters that you plan is for them to die so they stop being a problem for your agenda.
[P]eople on Twitter ask whether I’m finally ready to admit that the white working class is simply racist. What my Twitter friends don’t seem to recognize is their own privilege. If elites cling to the idea that working-class whites are perpetrators of inequality, rather than both perpetrators and victims, perhaps it’s because they want to believe that they are where they are because they’ve worked hard and they’re the smartest people around. Once you start a conversation about class, elite white people have to admit they have not only racial privilege but class privilege, too.

Acknowledging this also requires elites to cede yet another advantage: the extent to which they have controlled Democrats’ priorities. Political scientists have documented the party’s shift over the past 50 years from a coalition focused on blue-collar issues to one dominated by environmentalism and other issues elites cherish.

I’m one of those activists; environmentalism and concerns related to gender, race, and sexuality define my scholarship and my identity. But the working class has been asked to endure a lot of economic pain while Democrats focus on other problems. It’s time to listen up. The only effective antidote to a populism interlaced with racism is a populism that isn’t.
Needless to say, she is being totally ignored.
Democrats thinking about running for president in 2020 are dramatically changing the way the party talks about race in Donald Trump’s America: Get ready to hear a lot more about intersectionality, allyship, inclusivity and POC.

White and nonwhite Democratic hopefuls are talking more explicitly about race than the party’s White House aspirants ever have — and shrugging off warnings that embracing so-called identity politics could distract from the party’s economic message and push white voters further into Donald Trump’s arms.
I'm pretty sure that ordinary people -- and not just white people -- will be very impressed by intersectionality. Negatively impressed, but deeply impressed all the same.

Biker In Chief Stares Down Putin

The President is a little soft-hearted for my tastes, but for whatever it is worth, our VP is solid.

Men of the North

A longstanding question of the Hall, posed rhetorically but meaningfully, has been 'where are our Wagners, our Beethovens, today?' One of them is Jeremy Soule.

Soule writes for Bethesda Softworks, and produced some few years ago one of the greatest orchestral pieces since Wagner.

If you have the nearly-four-hours, it is well worth your time throughout. The songs, echoing Tolkien, are in an invented language originally belonging to dragons. Although the game is an adventure, most of the music is peaceful rather than stressful: mostly it focuses on the beauty and wonder of creation, rather than the strife between creatures. But when it does consider conflict, it rises into the epic scale.

He has a new album out this year, which is symphonic sketches on the same scheme. It does not aspire to epic, and so it is not quite as powerful, but it is also well constructed.

An Interview with Paglia

Definitely the most interesting voice currently participating in that movement broadly called 'feminism,' Camile Paglia has given one of her periodic long and wide-ranging interviews. They are usually worth reading, and this one is no exception. For me there is always much to disagree with, but surprising points of commonality. For an example of the latter:
Claire Lehmann: You seem to be one of the only scholars of the humanities who are willing to challenge the post-structuralist status quo. Why have other humanities academics been so spineless in preserving the integrity of their fields?

Camille Paglia: The silence of the academic establishment about the corruption of Western universities by postmodernism and post-structuralism has been an absolute disgrace.... Most established professors in the 1970s probably believed that the new theory trend was a fad that would blow away like autumn leaves. The greatness of the complex and continuous Western tradition seemed self-evident: the canon would surely stand, even if supplemented by new names. Well, guess what? Helped along by a swelling horde of officious, overpaid administrators, North American universities became, decade by decade, political correctness camps. Out went half the classics, as well as pedagogically useful survey courses demonstrating sequential patterns in history (now dismissed as a “false narrative” by callow theorists). Bookish, introverted old-school professors were not prepared for guerrilla warfare to defend basic scholarly principles or to withstand waves of defamation and harassment.
It's hard to find anyone in academia now who will openly proclaim that the Western canon represents something categorically superior to, well, anything else. Western philosophers will still quietly murmur to each other their recognition that what they are doing is both categorically different from, and better than, what goes by the name of "Eastern philosophy." But they won't say it in public, and in private only among trusted friends.

"Fix it, Facebook"

I've been following the most recent flap over Facebook in a desultory way. I assumed if I clicked on a few articles I'd find one that explained what FB was supposed to have done wrong this time.  Instead, I found article after article that assumed I understood the obvious crime(s), and lots of increasingly desperate acknowledgements by FB that it can and should "do more."

Particularly interesting were the sprinkling of references to FB's failure to "do more" to stem ethnic violence in Myanmar.  Wait, what?  Did something just happen in Myanmar?  When I click through on the Myanmar references I get more comments about "doing more," but no dates or particulars.  Even FB's 60-page white paper on "doing more" fails to explain what happened in Myanmar before it drifts off into an extended discussion of the history of censorship and repression in that country.  Finally a general search for "Myanmar Facebook" took me to reports of a violent flare in 2014 said to be connected to someone's publishing a deliberately false rape report in a FB post in an apparently successful attempt to stoke racial violence in that benighted country.  It seems that FB did not already have Burmese-speaking moderators in place on the night the false allegations were made, despite its clear responsibility for understanding how dangerous communication can be in a country with a history of such iron repression.  After failing to reach FB executives in the first few hours of the crisis, Myanmar officials simply disabled FB in their country, which apparently caused things to calm down by morning.  Those terrible people at FB, however, took more than a year to put its Burmese-speaking moderation operation into place, complete with operatives well-versed in the entire social and culture quagmire that is Myanmar.  And in the meantime FB callously allowed the Myanmar people to continue communicating with each other.

So why the sudden interest in FB late in 2018?  The New York Times apparently is investigating again, and--as helpfully summarized by the San Francisco Chronicle editorial page--this time has discovered that FB is engaged in denial and deflection.  It hired consultants to discredit its critics, mostly in the context of the Russian influence on our 2016 election, but Myanmar keeps getting thrown in the mix, too.  FB downplayed the seriousness of reports from its own executives about something apparently related to these concerns.  It deflected blame onto its rivals.  It sought special favors from politicians.  (These are nearly direct quotations; I'm not removing any references to specifics.)  And it took these unprecedentedly vile measures to escape blame for--what, exactly?

Well, it seems FB isn't taking its trust, transparency, and privacy problems seriously.  FB is not doing enough to combat false news and information on its platform.  Its failure in Myanmar four years ago shows that it's not willing to be an aggressive defender of human rights.  Its shaky steps to improve transparency haven't been thorough or consistent.  It uses contractors to hit back at critics.  Social media platforms are being used to sway and divide people, and the new House Democrats are thinking of doing something about it, so FB had better get with the program.

I feel an unwilling sympathy for Zuckerberg, trying to punch back against this amoeba.  I can't wait to see what the incoming class of representatives are drafting up.  It shall be a federal crime to operate a social media platform when your head isn't in the right place?

Way back in 2014, someone apparently had the bright idea of pursuing a successful criminal prosecution against the woman who first published the deliberately false rape claim in Myanmar.