Ukraine Shuffle

So, the latest thing that is definitely going to lead to impeachment according to Twitter is this story that Trump asked Ukraine to investigate Biden’s son. I am pretty sure the real corruption is the way Biden used his position and US money to derail the investigation in the first place. Am I missing something? It’s wrong to try to undo a corrupt act of a prior administration if it might benefit you politically?

Stripping Words

The Oxford English Dictionary, compiled in part by Tolkien, is asked to strip out offensive words. Offensive to whom? Guess.

Probably Wasn't Going to Vote for Her Anyway

Elizabeth Warren doesn't like men?
Elizabeth Warren made the political calculation this week that she doesn’t need men to win the presidency.

“We’re not here today because of famous arches or famous men,” she told a rally in Washington Square Park Monday night.

“In fact, we’re not here because of men at all,” she said, emphasizing the “m” word like an expletive....

Immediately before saying “we’re not here because of men,” she dissed George Washington and the beautiful Tuckahoe marble arch that bears his name.

“I wanted to give this speech right here and not because of the arch behind me or the president that this square is named for — nope.”
I mean, I can half get why she thinks it's fine to run down Washington, him having been a slave-owner and all. It's dumb, running for the office he dignified and for which he set the terms. Still, in the current moment, it makes a kind of perverse sense.

Why expand the complaint from 'slave-owner' to 'man,' though? That's alienating to a lot of your potential voters.


Three faces of fracking

Per Glenn Reynolds:  Because of fracking, (1) the U.S. is suffering only a moderate fuel price shock from the Saudi oil-field strike, (2) China is losing $97 million a day from the same, and (3) while "the U.S. Navy used to have to keep the straits of Hormuz open. Now it only has to be able to close them."

A Few Small Matters Have My Attention

I’m a little behind this week. Tex is doing a great job running the place, with an assist from Tom. I’ll get back with you soon.

Jim Webb: Soldiers without a Country

Sen. Webb tells the story of the burial of 81 ARVN paratroopers in California:

On Friday, a U.S. Air Force aircraft will carry the commingled remains of 81 airborne soldiers of the former South Vietnamese Army from Hawaii, where they have been stored in a military facility for more than 33 years, to California. On Oct. 26, there will be a full military ceremony honoring their service in Westminster, often known as Little Saigon, where tens of thousands of Vietnamese Americans now live. 

This will be a unique occurrence because their names might never be known and because they were soldiers of an allied army. Following the ceremony, these forgotten soldiers will be laid to rest under a commemorative marker in the largest Vietnamese-American cemetery in our country. 

Hanoi declined to take them.

One of the best speeches I ever heard in person was from a former ARVN infantry colonel when the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall came to OKC. That city has a large Vietnamese American community established by refugees from the war.

By the end of that speech, I think half the men in the crowd were ready to go back over and try again.

I'm glad these paratroopers will finally be laid to rest on free soil, even if it isn't in their own country.

What's this "we" jazz, paleface?


Counter drone world

This isn't going to get any prettier.

Mate selection

No one knows how long DNA has been around, but a confident guess would be some billions of years.  In all that time, it's been trying, in the anthropomorphic sense that leads us to inject purpose into the process of natural selection, to perfect ways of projecting itself from one cell or organism to another, the definition of evolutionary "success."  In the case of sexually reproducing species that go to some trouble finding suitable mates, that has led to a bewildering variety of mating displays and strategies for selecting genetically suitable partners.  In humans, that sometimes includes what we call courtship and marriage.

So what could go wrong with a social trend toward pairs of infertile parents choosing to reproduce with sperm donated by strangers?  Maybe a gay couple, fertile individually but obviously not with each other--with apologies for my ableist bias.  Maybe a gay couple who prefer to buy anonymous sperm from a respectable laboratory with the latest in foolproof genetic screening protocols.  Who says you should get to know anything about the father of your child that can't be read off a medical chart that included the results of a scientific personal interview?

And if the resulting babies have financially crippling special needs, and your union isn't strong enough to hold up under the pressure, who says stuffy old principles about lifelong marital fidelity and loyalty to children are any more workable when couples have a reproductive sexual bond and a genetic relationship to their own children?  Just sue the sperm bank for not giving your reproductive choices the attention they deserved.


David Epstein is out with a book countering Malcolm Gladwell's "10,000," arguing that starting early and practicing endlessly in a narrow range is not the path to all excellence:
David Epstein examined the world's most successful athletes, artists, musicians, inventors, forecasters and scientists. He discovered that in most fields--especially those that are complex and unpredictable--generalists, not specialists, are primed to excel. Generalists often find their path late, and they juggle many interests rather than focusing on one. They're also more creative, more agile, and able to make connections their more specialized peers can't see.
Robert Heinlein famously said that specialization was for insects, but we also know that dabbling is for dilettantes.  Epstein and Gladwell are lining up on either side of the long-running dispute over the purpose of education:  should our children be drilled in facts and techniques, or should be we planting 1,000 seeds in virgin soil and confidently awaiting decades of creative flowering?

"Complex and unpredictable fields" are just what most people aren't going to master. The students who will master them may need a completely different kind of education from what an aggressively leveling public school is equipped to provide, particularly if it's staffed by administrators and teachers who have never mastered a complex or unpredictable field themselves, relying instead on legislated job security and a monopolist's command of the public funding teat.

Schools need to provide a fair shot for all young comers, but the good they can do for some students won't be much like what they can do for others.  Epstein's generalists are probably soaking up basic facts and techniques so easily that teachers barely had a role in the process.  The teachers won't do their average students any favors by skipping the ABCs and hoping for a brilliant synthesist to emerge after years of impoverished job-hopping.

This means war for someone

Best tank up. Iranian-backed Yemeni Houthi rebels claim credit for taking out half of Saudi Arabia's oil production (5% of world production) in a drone strike this weekend. Good thing U.S. energy production has soared in the last couple of years.

Robert Burns

And now for a break from ranting:

Fleeting moments of clarity

The New Neo reports on George Packer's description of the moral dilemmas of parents trying to run their kids through public wokeschool.  Packer wants to stay in the fold, but now and then a bit of cognitive rigor intrudes:
Adults who draft young children into their cause might think they’re empowering them and shaping them into virtuous people (a friend calls the Instagram photos parents post of their woke kids “selflessies”). In reality the adults are making themselves feel more righteous, indulging another form of narcissistic pride, expiating their guilt, and shifting the load of their own anxious battles onto children who can’t carry the burden, because they lack the intellectual apparatus and political power. Our goal shouldn’t be to tell children what to think. The point is to teach them how to think so they can grow up to find their own answers.
I wished that our son’s school would teach him civics.
Then he goes back to Trump-bashing.
Packer is sad and he’s bewildered. He doesn’t really know how this all came up, doesn’t connect the dots, and he doesn’t know what to do. The idea that the right has some answers never really occurs to him. I sympathize with him in his struggle, and wonder where it may ultimately lead. At the moment, the cognitive dissonance is fierce.

Destroying humanity to save it

This kind of nonsense would be chilling even if it were not based on a transparent attempt to use ignorant pseudo-science as an excuse to flog one's cultural enemies into submission:
I’m talking, of course, about climate change ... every one of the world’s major polluting countries institute draconian conservation measures, shut down much of its energy and transportation infrastructure, and completely retool its economy ... overwhelming numbers of human beings, including millions of government-hating Americans, need to accept high taxes and severe curtailment of their familiar life styles without revolting. They must accept the reality of climate change and have faith in the extreme measures taken to combat it ... Every day, instead of thinking about breakfast, they have to think about death.
I don't need to accept anything of the sort without revolting.


Blow this case wide open

Andrew McCabe reportedly has threatened to take them all down with him.  Go for it, Andy.

Loss of accustomed impunity

It's a loss that leaves people sputtering.

Hot, smoking conscience

From "How the Great Truth Dawned":
Many, including Solzhenitsyn, took the next step and accepted God. Why not remain an atheist who believes in an absolute moral law? Here again we must understand the thought-shaping power of Russian literature, particularly Russia’s specialty, the great realist fiction of ideas. Great novels test ideas not by their logical coherence, as in academic philosophy, but by the consequences of believing them.
* * *
Thinking novelistically, Solzhenitsyn asks: how well does morality without God pass the test of Soviet experience? Every camp prisoner sooner or later faced a choice: whether or not to resolve to survive at any price. Do you take the food or shoes of a weaker prisoner? “This is the great fork of camp life. From this point the roads go to the right and to the left. . . . If you go to the right—you lose your life; and if you go to the left—you lose your conscience.” Memoirist after memoirist, including atheists like Evgeniya Ginzburg, report that those who denied anything beyond the material world were the first to choose survival. They may have insisted that high moral ideals do not require belief in God, but when it came down to it, morals grounded in nothing but one’s own conviction and reasoning, however cogent, proved woefully inadequate under experiential, rather than logical, pressure.

Don't Cuss the Fiddle

Ovid Remains Provocative

This is an interesting interview that makes some good points about the timidity (to the point of dishonesty) of 19th century translations. Along the way, though, it provokes an astonishing admission from one of the interviewees.
And also [Ovid's Metamorphoses is] about the only real subject—it’s about power, and it’s about how power transforms, and that is almost the only interesting thing in the world, you know?
Well. I wish the young lady the opportunity to discover some of the other interesting things in the world, but ultimately that will be up to her to decide to pursue or not. Still, how sad -- how shocking -- how impoverished! It is sorrowful to think that someone might say that and mean it.

Still and all, it is an interesting interview. There's a lot of ground it doesn't explore, but exposes for those who might be more interested in it. Ovid remains worth reading, in part because he challenges us to consider a sexual morality so very different from our own. These are, after all, gods engaged in all this sexual violence; and humans, especially women, are expected by the moral order of the universe to suffer it. Yet the people, even the women, are not at all innocents, also engaged in brutal and extractive power, and the Victorians hid that too.
...Let’s talk about Leucothoe. You wrote about that so beautifully; let’s get into the specifics, word by word. That’s another story that stuck with me and flared back to life again when all the Weinstein stuff happened. The sun god comes in while everyone’s weaving; she’s with her friends.

SM: She’s spinning with her slaves, in fact—

JT: Oh f***. God. [Laughs]
They don't discuss Medusa, one of the most famous of the metamorphoses, but it's just as strange to our eyes. Ovid has Perseus recount the story of how she became a Gorgon.
They say that Neptune, lord of the seas, violated [Medusa] in the temple of Minerva. Jupiter’s daughter [i.e., Minerva/Athena] turned away, and hid her chaste eyes behind her aegis. So that it might not go unpunished, she changed the Gorgon’s hair to foul snakes.
Athena is one of the virgin goddesses. Somehow Medusa being raped in her temple violates her, Athena's, sense of modesty or chastity. Medusa is punished for this violation of Athena's sensibilities, even though it was a god who was acting on her against her will. Neptune, of course, is not punished; he is immortal, as beyond human morality as he is beyond human mortality. Medusa is horribly transformed to punish her for offending the gods, but there was no way for her not to offend.

In a way this is worth exploring less in terms of raw power, or even in terms of male and female archetypes, than in terms of the relationship between the human and the divine that the Romans experienced. The divine are not human in a surprising way, given that we often think of the Greco-Roman gods as being anthropomorphic. The Judaeo-Christian God, though ultimately all-powerful to a degree that makes even ordinary language inapplicable except equivocally, turns out to have a more direct relationship to human morality. As we see in Sodom and Gormorrah, Abraham can argue with him and prevail. As Jesus, there is a capacity for perfectly human pity and engagement. The God Neptune, the Sea, is not human but only looks human. The Sea does with humans whatever it wishes, on whatever inscrutable whim, and they alone suffer for it.

But the sea is one of the beautiful things, and one of the interesting ones. It is not only its power that makes it so, though its power can be awesome to behold.


Someone asked me to name the two best Western movies ever made. That's an impossible task. There are so many outstanding Westerns, a list of a hundred would leave out some very worthy nominees. Among the very best ones, it is probably not possible to fairly rank them.

Nevertheless, I complied, naming one Western that is for my money the perfect true Western; and one that is of the revisionist mode that has been more popular since the later 1960s.

1) Hondo.

2) Once Upon a Time in the West.

Here follows a defense of these choices, as well as a laying out of what I take to be several plausible alternatives.

Classic Westerns:

Probably most people, asked to pick a single exemplar of the genre, would have named either Shane or High Noon. Both are excellent films, although if you are going to watch High Noon, you should really also watch Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo, which was made as a direct response to it; Hawks thought High Noon was flatly unAmerican. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is another that could be named as a kind of summary of all that has gone before, introducing a criticism but still honoring the past. There are plenty of other plausible entries, such as The Oxbow Incident.

There has also been a small but worthy group of more contemporary Westerns in the classic mode, especially Tombstone and Open Range. They deserve to be mentioned, even though I would tend to select something from the classic era as the pinnacle of the form.

For me, though, Hondo is the perfect Western. It stars John Wayne, as the quintessential American Western ought to do. (So does Rio Bravo, and after a fashion Valance). It was based on a story by Louis L'amour, as the quintessential American Western ought to be. The character is perfect: virtuous and autonomous, he stands on his own two feet and respects the autonomy of others even when he strongly disagrees with them. He is quick to offer a hand, but never does for another to such a degree that they cease to be independent themselves. Though it is a 'cowboy and Indians' movie, Hondo makes enemies among both kinds of folks, and friends among both kinds of folks, and it shows the Apache fairly and indeed positively. Hondo is a perfect statement of what the Western, in its classic era, did best.

You can and should watch more than just one of these movies; watch as many as you can. If I had to name one classic era Western as the pinnacle, though, it would be Hondo.

Revisionist Westerns:

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance might actually fit here as much as in the classic genre. It definitely begins the revision and re-examination of the genre that is more completely done elsewhere. Some other great names, which some might think of first, include Peckinpaw's The Wild Bunch, Leone's The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, and Eastwood's Unforgiven. All of these are worthy choices.

I picked Once Upon a Time in the West for two reasons. The first is that Sergio Leone took everything he learned from The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly and applied it more seriously here. The second but more important reason is that Once Upon a Time comes to a deep metaphysical insight into the human condition that plays out over the course of the film. It is made explicit by the dialogue right before the final gunfight. I think the conclusion is true; and if so, the golden age we have been living in was always going to end. Maybe it isn't true; but if it isn't, there won't be room for men in the golden world to follow.

Revisionist pictures are at their best when they learn the lessons of the old form, and draw deep conclusions that advance our understanding. Of the others I named, Eastwood's Unforgiven does this best; but the conclusion is not that different from Leone's. Indeed, if anything, Leone sets it out in starker terms.

SSGT David G. Belavia

A good speech by the Medal of Honor recipient after his induction into the Hall of Heroes.

Appropriate for 9/12, I think.