Rand Paul, of whom I had heard once or twice in passing before a few days ago, is probably the most talked about man on the internet today. And yesterday.

What I find interesting about young master Paul is that he has unusual courage for a politician -- probably due to his inexperience. He's willing to tell you what he really thinks, and why. The attacks he's suffered as a result demonstrate part of what is wrong with American politics today. The question he was originally asked, though, points to a deeper problem with our society.

The attacks are unfair because they attempt to paint him as being a racist, or at least unwilling to resist racism, even though he said something rather different. He held that he would not do business with a company that engaged in racist practices; that he thought those practices were morally wrong; and furthermore, that they were stupid as a business matter. That's hardly racism.

What caused the firestorm was that he didn't subjugate his other principle -- that owners of businesses should have free-association rights, which limit the government's power to tell us what we can and can't do. That position is not obviously wrong, and indeed is one that almost everyone would endorse in any other context besides racism. It shows that racism has been, and remains, a unique problem whose solutions should never be exported to other issues.

For example, let's say I own a small business. A person comes in, and after a little while talking to them, I determine that I believe that they are of low character and/or are dangerously unstable. Should I have the right to refuse to do business with them, based only on my intuition about their character?

Absolutely I should. The case is clearest if I am, say, a Federally licensed firearms dealer; even if the 'instant background check' turns up nothing on you, I ought to have the right to refuse to sell you a Glock if I think you're up to no good. That clarity isn't limited to guns, though; if I run a feed-and-seed in the country, I need to be able to refuse to sell you fertilizer, which can be used to make HME. Or piping, which can make pipe bombs. Or an axe, or a knife, or a hammer; or a baseball bat, if I sell sporting goods; or a car, if I sell cars. This is small business owner as good citizen.

In giving the small business owner that right, we are protecting our society to the degree that they put their good citizenship and moral intuition ahead of their desire to make money. We are also, however, endorsing Rand Paul's position -- because it quickly becomes impossible to sort out why you have a bad opinion of someone's morals. You might say that no harm can come from feeding anyone; but even that is not true. Harboring and forwarding people you suspect might be criminals is harmful.

You may say, "The racists knew that they were not dealing with criminals." And maybe they did; but how would you prove that, in a court of law?

Racism, as a special evil with a unique history, has required intense Federal intervention to mitigate. No other evil in our national fabric is of the same type; the tools we built to break these chains are too strong to use against lesser evils.

Mr. Paul is in a difficult position, and I feel for him. He has two deeply held principles that are in conflict. So do I, though they are different principles: Cassandra and I were talking the other day about whether a society with respect for women requires a powerful and intrusive state. A state that cannot rip your family to shreds cannot protect women from abusive husbands. A state that can rip your family to shreds is prone to evil, because power corrupts, and that kind of power will be misused. Our own case shows that it is misused regularly.

This is a potentially irreconcilable conflict in principles of equal weight. Perhaps it is possible to find a way to protect the rights of women without an intrusive state -- perhaps we can find a way to do it through individual action. In the absence of such a method, though, I'm in a difficult position. I believe the modern state is far too strong, and we desperately need to pull its fangs. I also believe that women's interests are our duty to protect, and defend, and that men who do not love and defend women are no men at all.

Do I believe that enough to sacrifice my desire to severely cut back the authority granted to the state? I don't know. I don't know that I don't; I don't know that I do. The principles are in conflict. Both of them are right, as far as I can see; but they do not co-exist.

Rand Paul is in a similar situation. He holds two principles that are both right: anti-racism, and a belief in the right of free-association. There's nothing wrong with either principle. The problem is, what to do when they conflict?

Enemies are Good For You

Enemies Are Good For You:

An interesting proposition:

Really gotta love results of UCLA research involving 2,003 middle school children that showed girls with reciprocal antipathies – you don’t like me, so I don’t like you – outscoring others on…

* Social competence, rated by peers and teachers(!)
* Popularity and admiration

Teachers said boys with reciprocal antipathies were better-behaved.

Carey quotes various authorities on why it may be healthier to feel hostile toward hostile others.

Since We're Doing Music

Since We're Doing Music:

...and good lads from Texas, Doc Russia had a piece up just recently.

He adds:

Yeah, I look back at a lot of the stuff that I did when I was young, and it strikes me now as being not rebellious or tough or daring. It was infantile. And sure enough, I let a lot of opportunities pass me by simply to spite myself. Now, I am older and more mature, yet I still feel as if this journey has a long way to go before I have myself figured out.

Sure, I still am fighting many fronts. That's okay, there is a lot more peace in my heart now than there was then. There is no tempest that the heavens or kingdoms of the world can produce that will dislodge a man with a calm heart.

I pray that I am able to bestow the wisdom which will let my daughter learn from my mistakes. I hope that she can. There ain't no need for her to have to go through what I did.
But the ladies are not as we are, my dear friend. We are born mad, in a way they are not. For us confession is the road, first and foremost, to trying to understand ourselves. Why on earth have we done what we have done, and been what we have been?


"Everybody Draw Muhammad Day"

Reason Magazine posts the winners. But you know, consider this claim:

Similarly, the invocation of the popular Where's Waldo? series forces the viewer to ask Where's Mohammed?, and to begin a hunt for a figure in the midst of an overstuffed scene. One assumes the black-robed character in the upper right-hand quadrant of the image is our quarry, but then what does it mean to confer on a small dot any significance whatsoever?
Well, what does it mean? What it doesn't mean is that the small dot can't carry that kind of significance. It can. You can. Joan of Arc did. Robert the Bruce. George Washington. Jesus of Nazareth. The Buddha. William Marshall. King Arthur -- whoever he was -- and Sir Thomas Malory, who told his tale in his own way.

This is another place where logic defies us. It shouldn't be the case, according to logic, that 'a small dot' should be able to bear 'any significance whatsoever.' But we can; and we do. Perhaps that is by God's grace; and perhaps it is by human dignity. But it is true, whether or not it is logical.

Daniel's Favorites

Daniel's Favorite:

Our co-blogger Daneil, USMC, sends this as a favorite for the music thread:

Coq au Vin

Coq au Vin:

We had one of those rare but prized visits from my sister, last night. I made a dish whose recipe allegedly dates to Julius Caesar and his invasion of Gaul. Though no documentation confirms that tale, if a dish so fine were as old as that it would be small wonder!

The knife my sister is holding, used frequently for butchering duties here, is a Kabar Next Generation. It's also a good swimming knife.

There are lots of recipes for the dish online, so I won't bother to type it out. The bread was also fresh made. It's essentially a simple white bread, but with milk substituted for the water; less 1/4 cup of the liquid, for which I substituted an egg. That gives it a much richer flavor and crispy golden brown crust, which is ideal for dinner rolls.

A good time was had by all.


A Civil Servant's Poetry:

Here lies what’s left of Michael Juster,
A failure filled with bile and bluster.
Regard the scuttlebutt as true.
Feel free to dance; most others do.
It turns out that the head of the Social Security Administration has a different sort of secret than most in Washington. He's a poet, and a good one. Also a translator of Horace, who renders him with the boldness of wit that Horace doubtless intended:
...why no one’s content
with either what they’ve done or fate has sent,
yet they applaud men taking other trails.
“O lucky businessmen!” the soldier wails,
his body weighted down by age and shattered.
Yet whenever southern winds have battered
his boat, a businessman will surely cry,
“Can’t beat the army life! Don’t you know why?
Two sides will clash, and in a flash you’ll see
a sudden death or joyous victory.”
It's good to know that we have men of intelligence, spirit, and who remember the ancient things. Unfortunately, the article ends, he as other civil servants know "that their political masters would never really stop playing a bloody game of ambition and small-mindedness."

And thus, in spite of men of such quality, here we are.

Did Vikings Wear Horned Helmets?


Not sure I trust their expertary, but I thought I'd toss it out to see what you all thought.

A Good Sharp Edge

...Is A Man's Best Hedge Against the Vague Uncertainties of Life.

There's some fair practical advice on offer in this little bit of a song.

A second song of worth, from the same young gentleman.

The Tide

The Tide:

Two stories of interest about women and Islam. The more important is from Saudi Arabia.

A member of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, the Saudi religious police known locally as the Hai’a, asked the couple to confirm their identities and relationship to one another, as it is a crime in Saudi Arabia for unmarried men and women to mix.

For unknown reasons, the young man collapsed upon being questioned by the cop.

According to the Saudi daily Okaz, the woman then allegedly laid into the religious policeman, punching him repeatedly, and leaving him to be taken to the hospital with bruises across his body and face.
Parzival's remarks to Gawan, that "it was better to trust women than God," may well be true in this case. But if it were really God, perhaps he sent you the woman whom you find you can trust. (Remember the story about the preacher and the rowboats!)

The less important story is, of course, the beauty pageant. Yet it is not completely unimportant. As I remarked in the comments to Jim's post at BLACKFIVE, the photos of this young lady are 'why they hate us.' That's the whole thing in a snapshot.

I hope that the young woman in Saudi Arabia will not be harshly punished, since apparently she was captured. It is an exercise of a basic human right to resist tyrannical authority; or perhaps we might better say that it is a high calling to do so. Note also in the story the discussion of the Kingdom's first co-educational institution, "with no religious police on campus." That produced shockwaves, which will likely not end soon.

UPDATE: See also this post.

Beatus Vir

Beatus Vir:

To Monteverdi we owe a substantial part of the transition from early music to the Baroque. Here is a motet, whose words are from the Vulgate.

There is also this "Madrigal of War," which was inspired by this sonnet, which was in turn composed by Petrarch.

Another Post on Mind/Body

Another Post on Consciousness and Science:

Arguing against my position is this author from the Chronicle of Education, defending the new Atheism. I don't think he does a very good job of understanding the position being argued by his opponents:

After all, there is no evidence that consciousness and mind arise from anything other than the workings of the physical brain, and so those phenomena are well within the scope of scientific investigation.
That's really not what is being argued; what's being argued is that even complete proof on this score wouldn't alter the question. It's not that science should not answer these questions, but that it cannot. By all means try!

This part of our discussion below is on point.
Well, if we were talking about medicine, I'd be inclined to agree that it would be an odd position to believe that spirits caused physical diseases.

What we're talking about, though, is consciousness -- that direct experience of reality that normally leads people to believe that they have a mind; and which opens for us the realm of experiences that very often lead people to believe that they have a soul. These beliefs are based on intuition about our direct experience: if that doesn't rise to the standard of scientific evidence, it is at least empirical.

And it happens to be in an area where science has no final answer available, even in theory. For example: imagine that through future advanced brain scan techniques you could prove that the brain's state wholly determines our mental experience, and that we can control mental experiences by altering brain states in a reliable way.

Does that prove that there is no mind? Not at all -- what it proves is that the mental supervenes on the physical. The question of why we have the mental experience at all is still there.

It doesn't even address the question of where consciousness "comes from," because there's no way to determine if consciousness is arising from the brain, or if the brain is a receiver for consciousness. For example, imagine that you could now build an entire human being, controlling every aspect of their physical reality down to the quantum level. In theory, then, you should be able to produce two people who are actually identical: and, if the mental supervenes on the physical, they should have exactly the same mental states, and indeed, be thinking exactly the same thoughts.

Can you prove that they are, in fact, having the same thoughts? It turns out you can't actually even prove that they are conscious -- to the degree that we show that the mental supervenes on the physical, we run into what philosophers are currently calling the ZOMBIE problem. They may react predictably, even deterministically, in the way that a person experiencing consciousness does; but we can't really know if they are actually conscious at all. They may be physically determined, not "human." Our only reason for assuming otherwise turns out to be that same intuition that leads us to believe in the mind, and sometimes also the soul.

All that means is that these questions come down to articles of faith -- even at very high levels of scientific evidence, currently unavailable to us. That means the one assumption is no better founded, from an evidential perspective, than the other; but the intuition remains to support the idea of minds and souls. That fact seems important to me, but even if you are inclined to disagree, it remains the case that these questions appear to lie permanently within the area of faith.
That's not an argument about what science should or should not do; it's an argument about what it can and cannot do, not what it may or may not do.

Science can do what it likes, and ought to do whatever it can.

However, it needs to beware of its limitations. Imagine a science that appeared to show a hard determinism even at the quantum level. Would it answer this question?
What's more, because the powerful appeal of religion comes precisely from its claims that the deity intervenes in the physical world, in response to prayers and such, religious claims, too, fall well within the domain of science. The only deity that science can say nothing about is a deity who does nothing at all.
No, actually, it would not. A God who had the ability to alter the world could, and maybe might, alter the world so completely that what appeared to be determined by physical forces was determined instead by divine will. A genuinely omnipotent God could alter the past and the future as well as the present.

It's fine to say, "Well, I don't believe in such a God." It's not important that you do; it's just the case that these questions are beyond the realm of what we can know for certain. Even imagining the best possible proof according to methods of scientific inquiry currently impossible, we find that the base question isn't resolved by any standard of proof we can imagine.

What remains is our experiences, and our intuitions about them. Those intuitions may be set aside or valued, as you prefer.


In keeping with the Robin Hood theme, here are a few other archers. The first is from my most recent purchase at the Met - a book titled Battle; A Visual Journey Through 5,000 years of Combat (by R.G. Grant), which is an excellent history of warfare, giving broad brush strokes of what happened, between whom, using what, when, and showing how said-particulars fit into the historical scheme of things.

This is in the European Sculpture Court, which has some fabulous classics sculpture, including a Perseus holding Medusa's head, cast in white marble. The only reason I don't post it is, wonderful as it is, it doesn't come close to the one Grim posted a bit ago, which I think is in Italy. Some of my favorite Rodin sculpture is in this room, a section of the Burghers of Calais.

Here are those crazy Burghers!,
though the picture cannot do them justice; you must gaze at their pained expressions in person.


This is the American Wing of the Met. It is simply fabulous, filled with breathtaking sculpture in an open and airy setting. It abuts the Medieval Hall and the Arms and Armor Hall, and resides next to the Tiffany displays, which are something to behold. The bronze sculpture I posted to accompany Grim's Mother's Day poem comes from this room.

A Good Moment

Hope for the Future:

I'm not sure which of these items I like better: the governor of California calls to end all state welfare, or this ad from Alabama:

Yes, Allah, he's serious. When a man from Alabama pulls out his lever-action in a political ad, he means business.

Robin Hood

Robin Hood:

I went to the new Robin Hood movie today, prepared to see Gladiator in cloaks; instead, I saw a genuinely remarkable and worthy film. I hope that all of you will take time to see it, but more importantly, that you will suggest that others should see it.

The new Robin Hood harmonizes perfectly with our current political situation exactly where it varies from the historical account. This may or may not be how it was intended, but it happens to be the case. King Richard the Lionheart is the old king, valiant but wasteful on foreign adventures. King John is the lying, prideful new king, who talks about unity and promises to bring all Englishmen together, then betrays them in order to seize greater power and taxes from the people. He is provocatively weak, inspiring a French invasion because he is clearly unable to lead. He is saved by William Marshall and Robin Hood, the former a military man who is trusted by all except the new King -- who detests him, but needs him 'whether he likes it or not.' The latter is an everyman, good at what he does, honest, brave, and foolish enough to believe that a king will appreciate his honesty.

The remarks on liberty, the place of the law in relation to it, and the rights of men are note perfect. Normally departures from history in historical films bother me; but not here, because there is other game afoot.

It's a tremendous movie, deeply enjoyable. Some of the music is fantastic, designed around the mandolin and drum.

I would not have expected it to be the best Robin Hood film ever made; but it may very well be that, and besides that, a great movie judged apart from its genre.

Japanese Cuirass and helmet

For your information: