A Revolution from Above, to Empower the Already Powerful

This is an interesting argument. The opening frame is worth hearing; the rest is impossible given the structures of power, so you can stop whenever you want once he starts talking about the Ivy Leagues. Harvard and Yale and Duke may burn in a revolution, but they will never roll over in the way he discusses. 

If only I still traveled

I confess, I never liked to travel.  I liked being in faraway places, for a short while, at least, but getting there got to be less and less fun the more I had to do it, the deeper a disgust I developed for hotels, and the more nightmarish airports became.  I've traveled very little since 9/11 and none at all since COVID.  I like where I am.

Still, if I knew anyone still forced to submit to the indignities of airlines and airless hotel rooms, this would certainly be a tempting purchase:  a compact, hard-shell suitcase on wheels that pops up to become a closet full of shelves.  It's almost too bad I haven't any use for such a well-designed little product.  It reminds me of the "object" that Diana Villiers has made for Stephen Maturin in the Aubrey/Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian.

What to do Next?

I'm done with the read-through of Plato's Laws. Perhaps I should now read secondary literature on it, and try to turn that into a publication of some sort; but on the other hand, this doesn't seem like the right time in history for a genuinely academic work. The reason to read things like this is to try to find a way forward; in more peaceful times, it might be better to write for an academic audience.

Is there any philosophical text that you have always wanted to read, but never gotten around to reading? Especially if it might be relevant to the presently brewing troubles?

On second thought

Isn't police defunding the real public health crisis confronting America today?  Why not divert COVID funding to fill the hole in Chicago?

Plato's Laws XII: The End

At the end of his last dialogue, Plato has his Athenian return to the subject of virtue, its divisions, and its central importance to good governance. These arguments should be familiar even if you have only read my summary of Plato; students of Plato will know them backwards and forwards. Yet it is worth looking at them one last time, as he chooses to do.

The Athenian closes his long miscellany by raising a worry that, although they have set up excellent laws, the state's longevity and security has not been assured. He likens this to the spinning of wool, which needs a knot at the end to prevent the work from all coming undone. What sort of knot could ensure that all this carefully-spun pattern of laws and institutions should continue to hold together across generations? 

The answer that he comes to is to empower the nocturnal council with the power of serving as a general committee on the virtue of the citizenry and the state, which to a reader living after the French Revolution and the various Communist movements is as terrifying an answer as it is easy to contemplate. Let us agree that pragmatism has proven this approach to be a false answer. It is still worth looking through the argument to see if we could identify where it goes wrong.

First: keeping the state from going astray from virtue is analogical to navigating a ship to its proper destination, or leading an army to victory rather than defeat. Thus, just as a ship needs a captain and an army needs a general, someone needs to be firmly in charge of making sure that the proper end (virtue, the right destination, victory) is kept always in view and adjustments are made as necessary to get there.

Second: the state is like an animal's body in that it has different organs that serve different purposes. Just as an animal needs sense organs like eyes to identify threats in the world, the state will need a sense organ (apparently the sort of thing we would call an intelligence service, the Athenian proposing elements to survey both domestic and foreign environments). Just as the animal needs a mind to make decisions about what to do with the information sensed by the sense organs, the state will need a decision-making body. Just as the animal's mind will only be successful if it has the right kind of understanding to make correct judgments about what its senses detect, the decision-making body needs to be composed of individuals with a very high level of practical understanding.

Third: we call the qualities they will need "virtues," but we also call them collectively "virtue." The Athenian had already divided them all the way back in Book I into four parts (courage, temperance, wisdom, and justice). Now we get a very Socratic move: the right people to be on this council will be the ones who can say exactly why it's acceptable to call them four, and in what way they are separate; and also who can say why it is right to call them one, and in what way they are the same.

Socrates at least as Plato presents him to us was very concerned with this proposition. Virtue is a kind of knowledge, and thus is rational. Rationally, things are either one thing or they are more than one thing. They are a unity, or they are not a unity. Courage is a kind of wisdom, because it is a practical wisdom about what to do in the face of danger. It is a 'practical' wisdom because it embraces both the knowledge of what to do, and the capacity to do it. But if you have courage, then, you should be able to say exactly what it is that you have -- you should be able to give a rational account of this rational quality.

Back in Book One, I said that the Athenian gave an account that doesn't seem to follow a rational order of priority. Wisdom is the chief virtue, but a precondition for justice. If that's the way we rank the virtues, then the priority of wisdom arises from the fact that you must have it in order to attain the others; it is thus prior in the literal sense. Yet courage is also a precondition for justice, and it is said to be lesser ranked. Here in Book XII, the Athenian says that courage is partly bestial, which seems like it is therefore not rational, at least not fully. 

Ath. There is no difficulty in seeing in what way the two [virtues] differ from one another, and have received two names, and so of the rest. But there is more difficulty in explaining why we call these two and the rest of them by the single name of virtue.

Cle. How do you mean?
Ath. I have no difficulty in explaining what I mean. Let us distribute the subject questions and answers.

Cle. Once more, what do you mean?
Ath. Ask me what is that one thing which call virtue, and then again speak of as two, one part being courage and the other wisdom. I will tell you how that occurs:-One of them has to do with fear; in this the beasts also participate, and quite young children-I mean courage; for a courageous temper is a gift of nature and not of reason. But without reason there never has been, or is, or will be a wise and understanding soul; it is of a different nature.

If courage is not (fully) rational, then you shouldn't necessarily be able to give an account of it of the type he is demanding. If it is a precondition for justice, then, justice itself has an irrational root. You shouldn't expect to be able to give a fully rational account of it if it is predicated on a partly irrational quality.

Plus, this deeply complicates the idea that courage and wisdom are two parts of a greater whole. Wisdom is said to be "a gift of nature and not of reason" and thus "of a different nature" from wisdom. (Hamilton gives this last as "the cases are utterly different.") Why should we expect to find a rational account of the unity of the virtues if they are neither fully rational in all cases, nor of the same nature?

The Athenian does not give us the answer, which would allow prospective council members to cheat by just repeating what he has to say, but he does give us a hint of how to proceed that students of Plato, Aristotle, and the Neoplatonists will recognize. 

Ath. [W]e ought to proceed to some more exact training than any which has preceded.

Cle. Certainly.
Ath. And must not that of which we are in need be the one to which we were just now alluding?

Cle. Very true.
Ath. Did we not say that the workman or guardian, if he be perfect in every respect, ought not only to be able to see the many aims, but he should press onward to the one? this he should know, and knowing, order all things with a view to it.

Cle. True.
Ath. And can any one have a more exact way of considering or contemplating. anything, than the being able to look at one idea gathered from many different things?

Cle. Perhaps not.
Ath. Not "Perhaps not," but "Certainly not," my good sir, is the right answer. There never has been a truer method than this discovered by any man.

The answer is philosophical training with an eye towards appreciating the Forms. The Forms are supposed to be fully rational (Aristotle says that they are pure activities, and thus stripped of all mere potentiality -- and as such, you should be able to appreciate them intellectually). However, they have an interpenetrating quality. Because they are not material, they are capable of being 'all together in one place,' yet intellectually distinguishable from one another. Perhaps you have an idea of number, for example; and in a way, all the numbers you know are 'there.' But in another way, you can distinguish the numbers 1 and 4, or any other numbers, and say exactly why they are different, and exactly in what ways they are the same. 

This requires a type of philosophical training that the Athenian admits he has no idea how to perform, and in fact can't devise for students. They have to figure it out for themselves, by doing the work, where they need to go next. 

Ath. In the first place, a list would have to be made out of those who by their ages and studies and dispositions and habits are well fitted for the duty of a guardian. In the next place, it will not be easy for them to discover themselves what they ought to learn, or become the disciple of one who has already made the discovery. Furthermore, to write down the times at which, and during which, they ought to receive the several kinds of instruction, would be a vain thing; for the learners themselves do not know what is learned to advantage until the knowledge which is the result of learning has found a place in the soul of each. And so these details, although they could not be truly said to be secret, might be said to be incapable of being stated beforehand, because when stated they would have no meaning.

He is capable of saying a few things about what kinds of things they must learn, and the first one is that they must develop a fear of God. No one without a firm conviction on the proof of the divine, and the soul that orders the world, can be trusted with power. That part of the argument was actually given in the text, so potential Guardians on the council must show that they have understood and accepted the argument. The world is ensouled, and the soul that began all motions is deeply ordered and driven by a commitment to justice. 

The rest of it he likens to a game of dice, with three dice, where the winning throw will be only three aces or three sixes (e.g., 1 chance in 108, although I think here Mr. 5,040 is thinking more of the metaphor of very long odds than a specific mathematical number). It may be nearly impossible; but if it can be done, he says to Cleinias, "you will obtain the greatest glory; or at any rate you will be thought the most courageous of men in the estimation of posterity."

So: where did he go wrong? Was it a failure to wrestle with the irrational roots of what he wanted to be fully rational virtues? Was it the idea that godly men would rule fitly, which pragmatically seems to have been disproven by the long history of the Vatican and its council of Cardinals? Was it the analogy of the state to a body? The analogy of statesmanship to the captaincy of a ship or being general of an army? Was it the idea that human beings would benefit from being subject to the rulership of virtuous guardians? 

Or was it just that the philosophical training that was necessary but nearly impossible proved actually impossible to convey? If you did have guardians who fully understood the relationship of courage and wisdom and temperance to justice, could they guide the community justly? Or would they, too, fall into the human weaknesses that Aristotle warns against in the Rhetoric? 
First, to find one man, or a few men, who are sensible persons and capable of legislating and administering justice is easier than to find a large number.... The weightiest reason of all is that the decision of the lawgiver is not particular but prospective and general, whereas members of the assembly and the jury find it their duty to decide on definite cases brought before them. They will often have allowed themselves to be so much influenced by feelings of friendship or hatred or self-interest that they lose any clear vision of the truth and have their judgement obscured by considerations of personal pleasure or pain.
At the end of this reading, I hope you have questions, and that you feel inclined to voice them or to engage them. If you'd like to do so privately, rather than in public, feel free to email me. But one of the greatest goods of Plato is the invitation to all to join the field of philosophy. He doesn't end up having all the answers either, and is often aware that the things he wants to say sound incoherent. Don't be afraid to compete; even the masters of this game have given no perfect answers, and no sure way forward. The best the Athenian can say is that he wants to try, but admits that the odds are very much against him.


An essay and lecture. 

The devil you say

 When that that happen?

Worth Considering

It's not true that the 'Woke' are strictly Marxists, not most of them: I know some who are, strictly, but most of them are just adapting Marxist argument styles to issues of gender or race. This author argues that they aren't at all Marxists, however, because they've abandoned collectivism. 

I'm going to think about that for a bit before I respond to it. I feel like it's wrong, but I'm going to work through it for a while before I decide. The one thing I will say now is that a good friend of mine who actually is a self-declared Marxist is happily working on reparations programs around the black community in one town in Georgia. He's right that the community was abused, historically and not all that long ago, by the expansion of the local university. Some of his ideas for making that right are not terrible;  and ironically, sometimes it requires him to defend non-Marxist things like property rights. 

So maybe there's flexibility, and maybe there's cross-pollination; but it does seem to me like there's a lot of compatibility, at least. I'll think about it; in the meantime, read his argument.

BB: Man Asks You Use His Preferred Adjectives

“It distresses me when people use adjectives I don’t identify as,” Becker later explained. “Like ‘creepy,’ ‘weird,’ or ‘off-putting.’ That’s basically denying my existence and trying to genocide me.” Many would call that statement ‘nutty,’ but that is not from Becker’s list of approved adjectives.
The Bee is tremendously good at this stuff, although really we're already there. You're not only supposed to use the preferred pronouns, but adjectives like "female" or "male" and nouns like "man" or "woman" as preferred, too. Otherwise it's, like, genocide.

And genocide is only ok if it's one of your cultural norms!

I Too Can Write From My Interpretation of My Own Experience

In fairness, the most famous practitioner of this genre went on to be President twice.

Nina Navajas Pertegás, assistant professor and researcher at the UV Department of Social Work and Social Services, has carried out a study on the consequences of fatphobia and the cultural imposition of thinness through her own experience, with a body itinerary that ranges from her childhood to adulthood. This scientific methodology, called autoethnography...

That doubly doesn't make sense. An intrinsically subjective method is not in any sense 'science.' Nor, by definition, can one be one's own 'ethnic group.' The whole concept of ethnicity is collective, not personal nor individual. 

Apparently you can get a tenure track job for this nonsense, though. 

Friday Night Action

Excess Deaths

Some CDC figures on overdose deaths, which are up 25%. 

He's a dreamer

 From Marty Makary in the WSJ:

Some medical experts privately agreed with my prediction that there may be very little Covid-19 by April but suggested that I not to talk publicly about herd immunity because people might become complacent and fail to take precautions or might decline the vaccine. But scientists shouldn’t try to manipulate the public by hiding the truth.

A Proverb of William Wallace

Dico tibi verum, Libertas optima rerum; Nunquam servili, sub nexu vivito, fili.

His uncle, a priest, is supposed to have taught him this saying. It translates: 

'I tell you a truth: Liberty is the best of things, my son; never live under any slavish bond.'

Plato's Laws XII

The final book of the Laws has the feeling of a miscellany. To some degree that has been true of earlier books as well, but at this point the Athenian is bouncing around and returning to say more about topics already covered. There is more about crime here; also, more about military service and the general regimentation of the life of citizens. All citizens, we are told, are to have officers to whom they report. Male and female, young and old, they are to live all of their lives in a military discipline with superior officers ordering their lives.

It's a bit strange to me that the Athenian takes such care about military punishments, which are much less harsh than the ones suggested for other crimes. The military life is supposed to be the ordering principle of the citizenry, in order to defend the state; all of life and education is built around it. Yet while death is the regular punishment for almost any crime, military cowardice is to be punished with fines and dishonor. Even if you abandon your arms and your post, you are not executed.

Ath. If a person having arms is overtaken by the enemy and does not turn round and defend himself, but lets them go voluntarily or throws them away, choosing a base life and a swift escape rather than a courageous and noble and blessed death-in such a case of the throwing away of arms let justice be done, but the judge need take no note of the case just now mentioned; for the bad man ought always to be punished, in the hope that he may be improved, but not the unfortunate, for there is no advantage in that. And what shall be the punishment suited to him who has thrown away his weapons of defence? Tradition says that Caeneus, the Thessalian, was changed by a God from a woman into a man; but the converse miracle cannot now be wrought, or no punishment would be more proper than that the man who throws away his shield should be changed into a woman. This however is impossible, and therefore let us make a law as nearly like this as we can-that he who loves his life too well shall be in no danger for the remainder of his days, but shall live for ever under the stigma of cowardice. And let the law be in the following terms:-When a man is found guilty of disgracefully throwing away his arms in war, no general or military officer shall allow him to serve as a soldier, or give him any place at all in the ranks of soldiers; and the officer who gives the coward any place, shall suffer a penalty which the public examiner shall exact of him; and if he be of the highest dass, he shall pay a thousand drachmae; or if he be of the second class, five minae; or if he be of the third, three minae; or if he be of the fourth class, one mina. And he who is found guilty of cowardice, shall not only be dismissed from manly dangers, which is a disgrace appropriate to his nature, but he shall pay a thousand drachmae, if he be of the highest class, and five minae if he be of the second class, and three if he be of the third class, and a mina, like the preceding, if he be of the fourth class.

Now "death before dishonor" is something I've said myself, and Kant holds to it as well; but it's rare to see it put into practice in a legal code. When he suggested 'transforming a man into a woman' as a punishment, I thought he was going to propose castration or something like that; but no, it really is just stigma and fines. 

There is also a lot more care in the piece to making sure that no one suffers even this punishment unfairly. What if you fell off a cliff, and that's how you lost your arms? That's not the same thing! And what if you were overcome by a mass of enemies, and they stole away your shield and spear in spite of your best efforts? That's not the same thing either! And what if you fell into the sea? Etc. 

Along the way there are regulations for ambassadors, both outgoing and incoming; how long the dead shall be lain out before burying (three days, just to make sure they're really dead and not just in a trance); selecting magistrates; more about lawsuits; competitions for best citizens; and so forth. 

I won't have much to say about this book, but I am going to write one more thing about the discussion of virtue and its various kinds that comes at the end of it. That will be, I think, my final post on the Laws.

Not a Communist


 ...is on the ground and transmitting imagery.

Eric Hines

Plato's Laws XI, 3: Family Law and More Crimes

This will be the final post on Book XI. There is a lot covered here, but I've decided that mostly we don't need to delve into it because much of it is a set of technical discussions and distinctions we would never consider adopting. A lot of it turns on family law particular to the colony, which even the Athenian admits looks like nothing else anyone in Greece would do because of the basic law that there remain precisely 5,040 households. Thus, being dismissed from a household means exile; you can't just move across town, rent a house, and start earning a living working for the shopkeeper. You're forbidden to move, forbidden to rent, and forbidden to work at the trades. You have to leave the colony and go somewhere with quite different laws in order to make a life. 

One point of interest comes in the discussion of divorce and widowry. Because of the importance of maintaining the precise number of households, we've already seen that married couples who prove unproductive of children will be forcibly separated if necessary. Divorces for irreconcilable differences are also permitted, although there is a negotiation process meant to produce accord that is unlikely to succeed because it involves 20 advocates (ten male and ten female). That's too many people in the room for an agreement to result.

Yet the interesting point comes after divorce is agreed to be in the best interests, and a new partner needs to be selected; or, in the case of widowry, when death has brought about the end of the marriage. The Athenian acknowledges a view of marriage that separates the functions of it by age.

Ath. Those who have no children, or only a few, at the time of their separation, should choose their new partners with a view to the procreation of children; but those who have a sufficient number of children should separate and marry again in order that they may have some one to grow old with and that the pair may take care of one another in age. 

Now you may remember from the discussion we had in our own society of 'gay marriage' that the position of the Church, and many religious people in general, is that marriage is a sacrament and as such has one particular end. A 'sacrament' is a kind of blessing by which God gives people a way of overcoming sinful nature. In the case of marriage, the sin is the sin of lust: marriage regulates lust in such a way as one can live virtuously with one's sinful nature. Lust is brought within a system that allows its expression in a non-sinful way: there are in fact three goods of marital sex according to Aquinas, and all of them are perfectly attained in marriage. The principal end and primary good, reproduction, is perfectly attained only in this way because in this way are children brought into the world in the right position to be supported and loved by their parents, sustained and educated into adulthood, and brought into the community as a fully-formed member. 

For the Athenian, there is no sin, but only vice. It is vicious for citizens to have sex with slaves, for example; he talks about how notorious that is, and how it should be punished by exile of the guilty citizen as well as the slave and their children. Marriage is not a sacrament, since there is no sin; the regulatory function is to be performed by the personal virtue of temperance, rather than by an institution like marriage. One does not give into lust even with one's spouse, in other words; it is the sort of thing that Chesterton celebrated as an advantage of the Church over the virtuous pagans of old.
Christian doctrine detected the oddities of life. It not only discovered the law, but it foresaw the exceptions. Those underrate Christianity who say that it discovered mercy; any one might discover mercy. In fact every one did. But to discover a plan for being merciful and also severe -- that was to anticipate a strange need of human nature. For no one wants to be forgiven for a big sin as if it were a little one. Any one might say that we should be neither quite miserable nor quite happy. But to find out how far one may be quite miserable without making it impossible to be quite happy -- that was a discovery in psychology. Any one might say, "Neither swagger nor grovel"; and it would have been a limit. But to say, "Here you can swagger and there you can grovel" -- that was an emancipation.

This was the big fact about Christian ethics; the discovery of the new balance. Paganism had been like a pillar of marble, upright because proportioned with symmetry. Christianity was like a huge and ragged and romantic rock, which, though it sways on its pedestal at a touch, yet, because its exaggerated excrescences exactly balance each other, is enthroned there for a thousand years.
Yet here it is the pagans who have the advantage, because they have admitted a truth about human nature that the Church continues not to do. The institution of marriage is an institution of human nature; and its basic function changes as we age because we change as we age. There are old men who are still driven by lust, but not so many; and the function of marriage transforms, with time, from the care and raising of the youth to the sustaining and comfort of the old. Admitting this second end for marriage is more humane than trying to restrict it to the single end (as the Medieval priests did, having no wives and few children, but observing society from a place of detachment in which support for the elderly was provided by their Orders). 

The Athenian punishes disrespectful or inattentive children with heavy fines, and then returns -- through a frightening leap of logic -- to criminal matters via the need to punish poisoners. He has a careful division of poisoners into kinds that is Kantian in that all of the carefully constructed branches lead to the same conclusion: the sentence of death. One might have taken the reasonable short-cut that poisoning is particularly wicked and thus worthy of death whenever proven, however it was done; but philosophers often love these sort of precise and careful but ultimately practically inapplicable categories. 

There are also rules for lunatics, who are a private matter that the family is bound to control; and a discussion of the various kinds of lunacy, if anyone is interested in ancient Greek opinions on psychology. 

Finally, there is a general admonition against greed and its distorting effects on law and justice. 

Ath. There are many noble things in human life, but to most of them attach evils which are fated to corrupt and spoil them. Is not justice noble, which has been the civilizer of humanity? How then can the advocate of justice be other than noble? And yet upon this profession which is presented to us under the fair name of art has come an evil reputation. In the first place; we are told that by ingenious pleas and the help of an advocate the law enables a man to win a particular cause, whether just or unjust; and the power of speech which is thereby imparted, are at the service of him sho is willing to pay for them. Now in our state this so-called art, whether really an art or only an experience and practice destitute of any art, ought if possible never to come into existence, or if existing among us should litten to the request of the legislator and go away into another land, and not speak contrary to justice. If the offenders obey we say no more; but those who disobey, the voice of the law is as follows:-If anyone thinks that he will pervert the power of justice in the minds of the judges, and unseasonably litigate or advocate, let any one who likes indict him for malpractices of law and dishonest advocacy, and let him be judged in the court of select judges; and if he be convicted, let the court determine whether he may be supposed to act from a love of money or from contentiousness. And if he is supposed to act from contentiousness, the court shall fix a time during which he shall not be allowed to institute or plead a cause; and if he is supposed to act as be does from love of money, in case he be a stranger, he shall leave the country, and never return under penalty of death; but if he be a citizen, he shall die, because he is a lover of money, in whatever manner gained; and equally, if he be judged to have acted more than once from contentiousness, he shall die.

A firm hand to restrain the litigious nature of society! Overall, though I agree that lawsuits can be pernicious if brought for the wrong reasons, I prefer the old Icelandic system from the sagas to Plato's ruthless state.

Power mixes

 I'm already reading inanities about hotcoldwetdry (is there anything it can't do?) to explain why global warming results in arctic freezes.  My favorite from today is the notion that the polar air heated up so much that it became unstable and drifted down into the southern U.S.  I think it's also possible it was depressed by seeing so much white supremacy.  But as my husband asks, if objective reason is racist, can the science ever really be settled any more?

Anyway, at the risk of reinforcing white supremacy, here are some helpful graphics showing not only the drastic impacts on different power sources in the Texas deep-freeze, but also the contemporaneous mix of power sources in other grids around the nation.  In Texas, wind power fell off a cliff, so natural gas took up a lot of the slack.  However, even gas took a hit from the freeze (pipelines malfunctioned), and demand took off like a rocket.  Presto:  blackouts.

I'm trying to figure out why rolling blackouts became fixed patches of power that stayed on for days next to power that stayed off for days.  At first I read vague statements about how it was too hard to roll the outages when certain areas had been off too long.  Today I found a new statement about how it was too hard to roll the outages when the percentage of outage was too great across the system.  No explanations so far, and neither of those statements is obvious.  Is there a technical explanation that's too difficult to wheel out for the public?

Also, this morning there are renewed calls to force Texas to stop evading FERC jurisdiction by maintaining its own power grid, ERCOT.  I popped over to the FERC site to see what fresh ideas they had to offer, and found this.

Liberalism: the "alien machine" to prevent civil war

This Cathy Young contribution to the Slate Star Codex drama makes more sense to me than most, and one heck of a lot more than the incoherent, spiteful mess published by the execrable New York Times.

From Alexander himself:
People talk about “liberalism” as if it’s just another word for capitalism, or libertarianism, or vague center-left-Democratic Clintonism. Liberalism is none of these things. Liberalism is a technology for preventing civil war. It was forged in the fires of Hell — the horrors of the endless seventeenth century religious wars. For a hundred years, Europe tore itself apart in some of the most brutal ways imaginable — until finally, from the burning wreckage, we drew forth this amazing piece of alien machinery. A machine that, when tuned just right, let people live together peacefully without doing the “kill people for being Protestant” thing. Popular historical strategies for dealing with differences have included: brutally enforced conformity, brutally efficient genocide, and making sure to keep the alien machine tuned really really carefully.

A funny new idea: don't lie

Glenn Greenwald continues to buck the trend:
One can — and should — condemn the January 6 riot without inflating the threat it posed. And one can — and should — insist on both factual accuracy and sober restraint without standing accused of sympathy for the rioters.

Requiescat in Pace, Rush Limbaugh

I first heard of Rush Limbaugh from a left-wing teacher, who was animated about him even in the early 1990s. I started listening to his show just to see what had the guy so upset. What I found, as some of you may have as well, was the first real education I ever received in conservative political principles. I'd grown up around conservative Democrats in the Bible Belt of rural Georgia, but none of them expressed principles clearly. To some degree I think they'd just inherited their ideas, and knew what 'right looked like,' but not how to express just why it was right. I didn't always agree with those principles as he expressed them, but I found real value in understanding.

My father began listening to him after hearing me talk about him, and Dad developed a great affection for his show. Dad was politically very conservative as he got older; less so in his youth. He appreciated the way that Rush would lay things out in a way that was definitely not what you'd hear on the traditional news: a legitimate, alternative perspective from which to consider things. Over time I think Dad became convinced of much of it. 

Rush was widely hated all that time, and not only because people on the left often think people on the right are secret racists and monsters of one sort or another. They also hated him, I think, because he mocked them. He was an entertainer, and sometimes he switched from serious talk to humor of the sort of which it could be unpleasant to be on the receiving end. I understand that they didn't appreciate that, but conservatives of any sort are subject to much more regular and much more vicious humor from the society at large; late night television has turned into a festival of mockery for that part of America.

President Trump awarded Rush Limbaugh a medal at the State of the Union, an honor that he probably merited for his work in education alone. I wish his family peace, and his soul forgiveness and rest. 

Different Cultural Norms

Joe Biden gave an interview last night in which he was directly asked about the genocide against the Uighur being conducted by the People's Republic of China. He said there were "different cultural norms," which is true -- the PRC's culture is apparently perfectly OK with genocide -- but a shocking and awful thing to have said. 

Jack Posobiec points out that some of these cultural norms embrace kidnapping the children from their mothers, putting them in camps, and making them proclaim their love for Mother China.  A German study suggests forced sterilization is ongoing; the State Department has reported on systematic rape. Presumably this is the same idea as in Braveheart: "The problem with Scotland is that it's full of Scots... we'll breed them out." Except, of course, in the movie it was only for one night; on China's "New Frontier," it's every night, while you're held in a camp rather than allowed to go home. 

The Thirty Tyrants (sadly far more than thirty of them this time) are hard at work to praise their true friends and allies, the leadership of the People's Republic of China. For our own sake as well as that of the suffering Uighur, we must not let them get away with this. At least the truth about what is happening must be spoken. 

"Why No One Believes Anything"

An article at National Review today addresses the general collapse of trust in news reports.
Andrew Cuomo, the Emmy Award–winning governor that a swooning press held up as the enlightened standard for an effective pandemic response... may have covered up nursing-home fatalities....

The Lincoln Project, the great conquering super PAC of the 2020 election, hailed as the work of geniuses and lavished with attention on cable news, has imploded upon revelations that it is a sleazy scam.

And the widely circulated story of the death of Officer Brian Sicknick, a key element of Trump’s second impeachment, is at the very least murky and more complicated than first reported.
You could extend the list a lot longer than that, and I'm sure each of you has your own favorite example. 

When speaking of the wilder conspiracy theories like Qanon, I've lately been proposing that they're successful because they actually are more plausible than the official story. The official story is that Jeffrey Epstein killed himself. 

The author says there are no ready solutions, but there are: there just aren't ready actors. The solutions are to speak the truth, to stop treating journalism as a front for cultural warfare, and to stop believing that 'your team' are the good guys. Not 'playing for the team' is apparently not an option, however; 'winning' or 'advancing the ball' seems to be what journalism has become. 

Costs exist, however. Credibility and attention are the currency, and if you become incredible people stop paying attention, too. Then what have you got? You've got people looking for alternative sources, and some of those sources believe in lizard people.


My little coastal county doesn't fare well in extreme cold. We do have Yankee transplants here, but there's no accounting for citizens who appear to think that "rare freezes" are the same as "impossible freezes." This was an unusual cold spell in that many people have lost power not just for a few hours but for days on end, so the simplest coldproofing steps suddenly proved inadequate. Pipes will freeze now that would have been OK if house heat had stayed on. Not many thought to empty the pipes when the heat went off, and a day or two later--when it became clear that the outages weren't "rolling"--it was too late.

To make matters worse, when everyone drips pipes, or when pipes burst, water pressure goes to nothing. When the municipal water system loses power it can't make the treatment plant work and can't maintain water pressure. Many are outraged to be told that they should boil water, which they can't do because they are helpless without electrical power to boil water with. Or a few have power to boil with, but now no water pressure and so no water to boil. Seems like they would join forces with the contingent on the next block and get some water boiled.

You wouldn't believe how many people haven't got the means even to light a cooking fire in a grill. This cold snap didn't exactly sneak up on us, but many lost water pressure last night without having filled a single container. The stores lack power and haven't been restocked this week--no bottled water! There is no gasoline for sale; too many pumps are still without power. And this is in a county that's not even five years past its last hurricane-related weeks-long power outage.

Communications are strangely stable. I assume people are using smartphones and charging in their cars.

As uncomfortable as this all is, our temperatures have not been what you would call dangerous: upper teens, at the worst. There's no reason for anyone to risk exposure as long as they have dry shelter out of the wind. I doubt there's anyone reading this post who hasn't camped outside in worse. A few large buildings, like churches, have generators, but most are simply larger versions of the cold, uncomfortable boxes that the homes have become, and so are useless as shelters. Better to pile on the blankets at home and wait it out, assuming you keep some food and water in the house.

The weirdest thing I've heard all week: it's barely risen above freezing for several days now, but people are letting food go bad in their unpowered refrigerators. I just read about someone in another town worried about the safety of her insulin supply. What do they think refrigerators do?

One thing I'm pleased about: we had very few wrecks on icy roads. I dreaded hearing that people would skid off the causeway into the bay.

A few look at this situation and think: I should plan right now for improved backup systems in case something like this happens again. The rest want to know the name and phone number of someone they can call and complain to about the lousy service at this hotel.