Para Bellum

Para Bellum:

[A]ll the multiple-victim public shootings in Western Europe have occurred in places where civilians are not permitted to carry guns. The same is true in the United States: All the public shootings in which more than three people have been killed have occurred in places where civilians may not legally bring guns.

Less Anecdotal Evidence

Less Anecdotal Evidence:

This is the sort of thing that warms my heart.

The Lexington County Republican Party on Thursday night asked GOP state Sen. Jake Knotts to resign for calling gubernatorial nominee Nikki Haley a “raghead.”

The county party said the comments brought “shame” and “disgrace” to both Knotts and the state in the resolution condemning the state senator’s actions.
Now that's the language of honor! He has brought shame on his state, on his party, and on the people of South Carolina. If they are to defend their honor, they are bound to hold him to account. It is heartwarming to see them doing just that.

By the way, what she was before becoming a Methodist was a Sikh; about which this is relevant:
The Kirpan (English pronunciation: /kɪərˈpɑːn/; Punjabi: ਕਿਰਪਾਨ kirpān) is a sword or dagger carried by many Sikhs. According to a mandatory religious commandment given by Guru Gobind Singh (the tenth Guru of Sikhism) at the Baisakhi Amrit Sanchar (a holy religious ceremony that formally baptizes a Sikh) in AD 1699, all baptised Sikhs (Khalsa) must wear a kirpan at all times....

The kirpan is both a defensive weapon and a symbol. Physically it is an instrument of "ahimsa" or non-violence. The principle of ahimsa is to actively prevent violence, not to simply stand by idly whilst violence is being done. To that end, the kirpan is a tool to be used to prevent violence from being done to a defenseless person when all other means to do so have failed.
As far as I'm concerned, that makes them one of the most honorable religions in the world. I'll take as many Sikhs as they want to send.

A Libertarian Question

A Libertarian Question on the Recent Spill:

Samizdata asks a question:

One issue for us free marketeers is this: we like to talk about how pollution is, in some ways, a property rights issue. When a huge oil leak contaminates a sea and damages vast amounts of marine life and say, fishing industries, it is an interesting question on how exactly that issue gets resolved without some way of apportioning costs and compensation. Is a state needed to oversee this? Can it be fixed by entirely non-state means?
The answer to that question is "No," because costs approaching the costs of this spill are always going to be worth fighting for. As a result, some coercive method is going to be required to ensure that payments are made, not merely promised.

The closest a pure market solution could come to that is some sort of Mutually Assured Destruction arrangement, whereby firms/corporations that welshed on their debts would be subject to every party to the agreement refusing to work with them in the future. The problem with such an arrangement is that the firm/corporation is already facing certain destruction if it attempts to pay liabilities on this scale. There's at least a chance they could find a few people willing to work around the agreement; so the MAD "treaty" would necessarily be of less threat than the hard reality of taking responsibility.

Everyone knows I'm no fan of super-powered governments, but this is a clear case for governance. (Nor is it an affront to Constitutionalism: the Constitution gives authority for dealing with Law of the Sea matters to Congress, not the states or the People.)

Now, the bad news: the government model isn't going to work here either.

While I am no lawyer, I'm fairly sure that BP can protect most of its resources by filing for something like bankruptcy under British law. British judges are not likely to hand over a core national asset to be chopped to pieces for America's benefit; especially not at the demand of a President who sent the bust of Churchill back to England because he didn't want it in the White House. Even if he were an honorary Knight of the Garter, though, they're not going to wreck their country to save ours.

A utopian World Government might possibly be able to resolve this matter according to some norm of law. Such a government is a practical impossibility at this time, given humanity's very different ideas of what "justice" and "law" ought to mean. (Confer sha'riah with the West with China.) Even if it weren't impossible, it doesn't exist.

So the lesson is: life isn't fair. Injustice is the norm. The best we can hope to do, with all our efforts at law and order, is to create the occasional lapse in injustice.

Be prepared to suck this one up, because there's nobody to make it right. Nobody can, and therefore nobody will.

GHBC Renewed

Grim's Hall Book Club: The Way Forward

I think I would like to take Eric up on his suggestion that we do another round of Plutarch before we move on. He has a selection to suggest to us, and then we can move on to one of the Icelandic sagas -- this will give me a moment to review them. The Saga of Burnt Njal is surely the most famous and for good reason, but it is a large undertaking: you'd have to let me know if you'd prefer a shorter book, though if you choose it, it is certainly worth your time. On the other hand, my personal favorite -- the saga of Egil Skallagrimsson -- is likewise fairly long! (Although there is a redacted version for fans of Dr. Suess.)

We might follow it up with a comparison of two or three pieces that touch on Harald Hardrada, "the Thunderbolt of the North," who (few remember now) invaded England only days before William the Conqueror. Had the English king not just finished defeating a major Viking invasion at Stamford Bridge, only to have to conduct a forced march to the sea... well, it's possible that history might have been different.

So, next, the lives of Nicias and Crassus, with Plutarch's comparison. We'll discuss them in about a week. After that, Vikings.


On Fairies:

Joe recently made a remark on the subject of fairies. As he raised it in a memorial post to someone he admired, I didn't wish to raise the issue at the time, but after a decent interval I'd like to dispute something he said. That was this:

Or, as I might say to Chesterton, you may like the freedom to believe in fairies - but the fairies lose their magic if you do. And what a shame - because, in their rightful state, how beautiful they are.
Now, that is a serious claim. Chesterton wrote quite a bit about the fairies. His chapter in Orthodoxy called "The Ethics of Elfland" is among the finest things ever written. Elves are not fairies, of course; the root for elf is the Old Norse alfar, meaning "white," and they seem to be the honored dead, or those who belong to the Otherworld to which we go (or from which we come!) when we are not living here. Fairies are beings of a type unlike us; the root word is ultimately from the Latin, relating to the Fates. Elves are like us, but in another state; fairies are, whatever their other nature, genuinely alien beings.

The old tales about this are quite clear, if you care for old tales as I do. The problem in dealing with fairies is that they don't really understand us, and vice versa. In a fairy story, what seems amusing to them may destroy a man entirely; or bounce him hundreds of years out of his timeline, losing to him forever everyone he loved. We aren't really able to know if the 'revenge' our heroes take on them in these stories doesn't destroy them, or otherwise distort them in horrible ways. There is a sharp disconnect; and if you're of a literal mind about your literature, you might say that it is one of the rare attempts by humanity to imagine a completely different kind of intelligence.

Chesterton wrote quite a lot about these things, but the thing he wrote that I'll quote here is on another subject. It is still on point:
The disbelievers in miracles deny them (rightly or wrongly) because they have a doctrine against them. The open, obvious, democratic thing is to believe an old apple-woman when she bears testimony to a miracle, just as you believe an old apple-woman when she bears testimony to a murder.... If you reject [the "choking cataract of human testimony in favor of the supernatural"], you can only mean one of two things. You reject the peasant's story about the ghost either because the man is a peasant or because the story is a ghost story.
This is the problem I have. I have never seen a fairy; I don't know that I could see one. Yet I believe in them, because I know a woman who tells me that she has seen them. This woman is one whose testimony on any other subject I would not question; I have known her for years, and I have observed her to be a woman of unusually strong moral character. She is faithful to what she thinks is right even when it is to her own disadvantage. I am quite certain of her honesty.

That gives me compelling reason to assert, at least: "I know that she really believes that fairies exist." What would stop me from asserting, "I am prepared to believe that fairies exist"? Chesterton tells us: I have his two options. The first one, though, will not do. I cannot reject her testimony because of who she is, because I know she is just the kind of person whose testimony I should rely on if I rely on anyone's at all.

That leaves, then, only the second option. If I reject her testimony, it must be because I have a doctrine that fairies cannot exist; that fairy stories are never true.

I don't have any evidence, however, for that proposition. If I say I am being rational in rejecting her testimony, then, I am fooling myself. I have no rational reason to doubt her testimony merely because I haven't had the experience myself, any more than I could doubt her testimony to a murder because I didn't see it happen too.

The modern way of dealing with this is to push it into psychology; to say, in short, that there is something wrong with her. That is wrong in two senses. First, I have never observed anything wrong with her; genuine disorders are usually evident along a broad line of problems. She has always held a job, works hard, has strong and steady friendships and relationships to others, doesn't drink (let alone to excess) and uses no drugs, etc. So, it would be strange for me to impute some sort of disorder to her. She shows every evidence of being well ordered.

Second, I can no more see her mind than I can see a fairy. To make a positive judgment about her mind (that it is disordered) in order to avoid a positive judgment about a fairy (that it might possibly exist in some way we don't yet understand) is merely to prefer one sort of untestable theory over another. There is no lab test that can approach either question. I'm really making an aesthetic claim, not a scientific or a rational one. I'm saying that I prefer a world in which people who believe in fairies are insane, or that I prefer a world in which fairies might exist.

Of the two, aesthetically, I prefer the second. This happens to line up with the evidence of the woman being well-ordered in all other observable aspects; and with a vast wealth of similar testimony, dating over centuries and across cultures. So: I honestly believe that the rational position is that there likely are fairies. That also happens to be what I'd prefer to believe. I am aware of the potential for confirmation bias, then; but anyone who asserts the contrary had better be equally aware of their own aesthetic preferences, and resulting biases.

Does that mean that fairies lose their magic? I don't know that it does; they are quite mystical to me, since I have no way of seeing them, yet believe that somehow they exist.

What it definitely doesn't mean, however, is that I'm denying them their rightful place. If indeed they do exist, their rightful place is in the realm of things that exist. We should conceptualize our world in a way that leaves room for them.

1680 China West

China and the West: 1680 Edition

Via Arts & Letters Daily, a remarkable piece on how East and West met in earlier times.

The particular meeting of the minds that I am exploring this evening occurred in the 1680s. That was just a century after the pioneering Italian Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci (whom the Chinese still refer to by his Chinese name of “Li Madou”) had crossed the border between Macao and China and rented a small house in Guangdong province. As a conversation piece, he placed on the wall a print of a world map made in the West, with the names of the main continents and countries spelled out in the Western alphabet. Some of the Chinese who came to visit were vexed, other were intrigued. It was those Chinese with the greatest interest in getting at the truth who persuaded Ricci to make an enlarged version of the world map with the names identified by Chinese characters, and with the cartography somewhat adjusted so that China was closer to the center of the map, rather than being stuck on the periphery (as had been the case with the original map). In following these Chinese requests, Ricci further revised and enlarged the map with descriptive passages (in Chinese) which gave commercial and political details of many countries in both Europe and East Asia, along with descriptive references to some aspect of the Catholic states, the role of the papacy, and the nature of Chinese relations with its neighbors.

Over the following years, a small but steady stream of missionaries followed Ricci, and even served in Chinese official positions in the bureau of astronomy. A smaller number of Chinese also traveled to Europe during this period, though none left detailed accounts of their experiences. But travelers moving in either direction during the 1680s were aware....
Aware of what? You'll have to read the rest.

The Dog Makes the Man

The Hat Makes the Man:

...and the man makes the dog. (Hat tip to T99, who should remember that she has posting rights here.)

Maggie's Farm says, "Pathetic. Even when my kids were little, they would not put up with that from our dogs. That is now a worthless dog, and it is the owners' fault."

It's not a worthless dog, though. That dog could be put right in thirty minutes by a man who knew how to do it. The problem is, having done it, the training would need to be reinforced and maintained. "Mr. President" would be right back in this situation in a few weeks, even if you handed him an animal that was perfectly trained.

That's nature at work. That's a metaphor for where the whole world is going, as long as he remains in the position he's in.

Forty-Five Minutes

Forty-Five Minutes:

It's a big chunk of your day. But watch it.

Anecdotal Evidence

Anecdotal Evidence:

Still, it does make one feel better about our neighbors in South Carolina.

Their allegations may ultimately help Ms. Haley, experts say, if she is viewed as a victim of dirty campaigning.... “I voted for the lady,” [one man] said, referring to Ms. Haley. “I was going to vote for McMaster but I didn’t like all of the junk that the other campaigns were saying about the lady.”
I hope we'll see the scoundrels run out on rails. It's a fine old tradition, really.
Gerard van der Leun, of the blog American Digest, from time to time has a little feature he calls "something wonderful" when he comes across something, well, wonderful on the internet.

So in that spirit, Here's the Opera Company of Philadelphia flash mobbing the Reading Street Terminal Market on a recent Saturday.

Various pics

This one goes with Grim's story of the Marine carrying his girlfriend up the mountain. Semper Fi, she says. Indeed.

And here is a little Belle Heures teaser. I didn't forget you guys and risked life and limb taking pictures with my cell phone, whilst evading no fewer than three minders in the exhibit. I felt so Mission Impossible. (I just went to a translation site to be cute and put that in French for effect and don't you know its spelt the exact same way?!)

This might be the one that I took through a magnifying glass they supplied. The aureola have real texture and look as though they were painted yesterday, though my little cell phone camera cannot reflect the true skill used.

And another one taken of two Mourners they had near the Belle Heures stuff.

And this is a little bit of information related to the conversation we were having about traditional religious orders. It's from the newsletter of a group of cloistered monks I support.

Grim's Hall Book Club

Grim's Hall Book Club:

It's been a while since we had a book club entry. While I suppose Zelda's Ogre counts as reading, in a sense, it would be a good idea to get back to the business of reading some underlying classics.

I've been reading Parzival this summer, one of the last major Arthurian texts that I hadn't read before. It fails my basic test of reading material for GHBC, though, which is that there does not appear to be a free version online. I suspect that it's not even available at most of your public libraries, except perhaps through interlibrary loan, as the story -- once the most popular tale in Europe -- has fallen out of fashion.

We could do some more of Plutarch, if you like. Some of the Norse sagas make for excellent reading, and I'd like to tackle at least a few of those over the next few years. Some of you may have other ideas. Let's hear them.


Scruton on Cyborgs:

Roger Scruton takes on an old debate of ours, and looks forward:

The belief that humanity makes moral progress depends upon a wilful ignorance of history. It also depends upon a wilful ignorance of oneself – a refusal to recognise the extent to which selfishness and calculation reside in the heart even of our most generous emotions, awaiting their chance. Those who invest their hopes in the moral improvement of humankind are therefore in a precarious position: at any moment the veil of illusion might be swept away, revealing the bare truth of the human condition. Either they defend themselves against this possibility with artful intellectual ploys, or they give way, in the moment of truth, to a paroxysm of disappointment and misanthropy. Both of these do violence to our nature. The first condemns us to the life of unreason; the second to the life of contempt. Human beings may not be as good as the shallow optimists pretend; but nor are they as bad as the prophets and curmudgeons have painted them.

In order to see human beings as they are, therefore, and to school oneself in the art of loving them, it is necessary to apply a dose of pessimism...
That is the beginning; but what happens when we can change human nature? He appears to be pessimistic about that as well. Yet he is pessimistic in an odd way; this pessimism is required for us to be happy.
The transhumanists believe that we will replace ourselves with immortal cyborgs, who will emerge from the discarded shell of humanity like the blessed souls from the grave in some medieval Last Judgement.
The transhumanists don’t worry about Huxley’s Brave New World: they don’t believe that the old-fashioned virtues and emotions lamented by Huxley have much of a future in any case. The important thing, they tell us, is the promise of increasing power, increasing scope, increasing ability to vanquish the long-term enemies of mankind, such as disease, ageing, incapacity and death....

We are not, and cannot be, the kind of posthuman cyborgs that rejoice in eternal life, if life it is. We are led by love, friendship and desire; by tenderness for young life and reverence for old. We live, or ought to live, by the rule of forgiveness, in a world where hurts are acknowledged and faults confessed to. All our reasoning is predicated upon those basic conditions, and one of the most important uses of pessimism is to warn us against destroying them. The soul-less optimism of the transhumanists reminds us that we should be gloomy, since our happiness depends on it.
Confer with the piece from Mr. Dalyrymple, below. The idea is that redistributing resources cannot make people happy, because happiness comes from the development of internal virtues. It cannot even make them "not poor," as the failure to develop those virtues will strip them of whatever wealth you redistribute to them. What it can do, as in the case of the islanders with the phosphorous, is destroy them: it can undermine the virtues they do have by removing the scarcity that demands and regulates those virtues. Disaster follows.

This would appear to be the same concept, but pointed not at "the poor" but at all humanity. It seems like it might be right, too, on the same terms. Aristotle held that happiness (eudaimonia) was an activity, specifically rational activity in accord with excellence. The concept of "excellence" rubs up against failure: after all, you are judging what is excellent by comparing it with what is not.

This kind of life is perhaps a good example of what would 'justify us in having a child' according to Mr. Singer. What if we could promise that the child would never grow old or weak, nor be hungry, nor suffer pain or danger? Well, wouldn't the child be horribly bored with such an eternal life? Where then is the joy, the eudaimonia that Aristotle spoke of? How does the child excel if there are no challenges?

No matter, you might say; emotions are really "in" the brain, so we will remove the concern that you would be bored and unhappy by simply arranging to stimulate the appropriate pleasure centers. You will be perfectly happy and satisfied, forever.

That, then, would be for Mr. Singer a justification of the child's life. What kind of person would we be, though? What would that do to our moral nature? What would we do with such lives, and such freedom?

I suspect the answer is "nothing." If that is the case, Singer is wrong: the child may as well not have been born at all.



Against spirituality in academia:

The kind of research Poloma and her colleagues propose, however empirical and peer-reviewed, seems to come as an affront to centuries of purported progress in disentangling natural science from supernatural belief. Depending on whom you ask, Templeton represents either the hijacking of nothing less than the meaning of life, or the restoration of its luster, which has been dulled by politics and cynicism.
In favor:
So why don’t we make ourselves the last generation on earth? If we would all agree to have ourselves sterilized then no sacrifices would be required — we could party our way into extinction!

Of course, it would be impossible to get agreement on universal sterilization, but just imagine that we could. Then is there anything wrong with this scenario? Even if we take a less pessimistic view of human existence than Benatar, we could still defend it, because it makes us better off — for one thing, we can get rid of all that guilt about what we are doing to future generations — and it doesn’t make anyone worse off, because there won’t be anyone else to be worse off.
Of course, Singer doesn't intend to argue for the importance of God in philosophy; and the Templeton scholars don't mean to be an argument against it. Yet each of them seems to do a good job of forwarding their opponent's position.

Editing the Mind

Editing the Mind:

We can now edit photographs far better than ever before. What happens when can edit memories to go with the new photos? Turns out, we already can.

She's preparing a report on a new experiment involving U.S. military personnel in survival training. First, the trainees were brutally interrogated. Then, through bogus photographs, their memories were altered so that they could no longer identify their interrogators. The experiment is an inadvertent blueprint for getting away with war crimes. Loftus worries about who will use it.
Everyone will.

I imagine they were

I Imagine They Were:

Mr. Daylrymple writes:

No subject provokes the deformations of sympathy more than poverty. I recalled this recently when asked to speak on a panel about child poverty in Britain in the wake of the economic and financial crisis. I said that the crisis had not affected the problem of child poverty in any fundamental way. Britain remained what it had long been—one of the worst countries in the Western world in which to grow up. This was not the consequence of poverty in any raw economic sense; it resulted from the various kinds of squalor—moral, familial, psychological, social, educational, and cultural—that were particularly prevalent in the country (see “Childhood’s End,” Summer 2008).

My remarks were poorly received by the audience, which consisted of professional alleviators of the effects of social pathology, such as social workers and child psychologists.
Doubtless. Nevertheless, he makes a good case. Eric will probably recognize the truth of his remarks on the sudden alteration of people from subsistence to rentiers.

The Blade Show

The BLADE Show:

So today I went down to the BLADE Show, the annual exposition of Blade magazine. It was all the way down in Atlanta, but I went anyway because some of my association were getting together to play.

Described as "the world's largest knife show," it had some truly impressive entries from craftsmen and artists as well as industry leaders. I was impressed to see that almost every table was either a major manufacturer or an independent knifemaker of significant skill; there were also some supply dealers. What there wasn't was pawn shops, for the most part, or people peddling trash such as you get at gun shows (one reason that I have not been to a gun show in several years; another reason is that I believe I have a sufficient number and variety of guns for the various tasks that I encounter requiring them).

Of special interest to me were Albion Swords and CAS Hanwei. I met "Tinker Pierce," who has designed their latest range of swords for western martial artists. He provided a couple of test models of his longsword, blunt, which you can see being used above. They performed better than expected! After an hour of vigorous practice, there were no nicks on the blade, and the fittings had not loosened at all.

Albion invited me to handle every one of their main production line swords, and spent quite a while with me talking through the differences in the models. I was highly impressed, especially with the stunning difference in handling qualities between their type XIIa and type XIIIa war swords. These things read like they should be very similar in characteristics, as the stats are similar; both are made of the same monosteels, as well. The main difference is the taper line. Yet the XIIIa is a wholly different creature in the hand.

It was a very good time.

War Posters