Apples and Oranges

Apples and Oranges

Assistant Village Idiot never seems to fail to have something interesting and useful to say. This week, he mined a couple of excellent comments from a discussion at Volokh about whether libertarians' natural home was with liberals or conservatives:

[M]ost liberals compare real markets to idealized governments.
A benevolent government is better than a malevolent market, but neither of those extremes exist.
If you scroll a little further down in his site, you'll be treated to a wonderful YouTube song.

The Basket Case of Asia


While pundits in the U.S. prattle about the epidemic of obesity among the poor, North Korea shows us what real poverty looks like. In the mid- to late 1990s that country managed to starve something like 10% of its population to death. While conditions had been slowly improving over the next ten years, the government destroyed its tiny fledgling private markets last November. Per the Guardian, "With less than 24 hours notice, all of the money in circulation was abolished and the markets closed. People were issued with a limited quantity of new money to buy subsidised food from state stores."

Now famine looms again. After the currency was destroyed, inflation caused an abrupt doubling in food prices. Even privileged officials who used to appreciate gifts of Scotch from visiting aid workers are now begging for rice on the next visit. North Korea's per capita spending on healthcare (which is theoretically provided free of charge) is 50 cents a year, one-tenth of Burma's. Surgeries, such as amputations, are performed without anesthesia. Five percent of the population is infected with tuberculosis.

It takes many years of effort to produce this kind of failure. In the late 1950s North Korean farms were collectivized. For some decades, subsidized imports from the USSR permitted a conversion to electrically driven irrigation, chemical fertilizers,diesel-powered tractors, and massive earth-moving to create terraced fields. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, the subsidized imports were cut off.

In 1992-1993 the North Korean media began to argue the benefits of having only two meals a day as opposed to the traditional three, claiming the latter was unhealthy and excessive. . . . However, the North Korean government did not follow the example of China or Vietnam, where the return to private agriculture led to an instant revival in food production. In the early 1990s the Pyongyang leaders saw how the reformist Communist governments of East Europe had been wiped out, and they considered any reform potentially dangerous to their own survival.
In 1995, the entire Korean peninsula was struck by disastrous floods. While the economic impact on South Korea was negligible, North Korea never recovered. Its already meager food production was cut in half.

The most recent plunge into famine seems to have been caused by pure human stupidity, with scant help from natural disasters. Per a March 2010 L.A. Times article:

The idea behind the [November 2009] currency exchange, economists say, was to confiscate the cash of people who had become relatively rich selling on the private market and to restore the equality espoused by the communist system. . . . Immediately after the currency revaluation was announced, police shut down the markets where people had been buying most of their food. In theory, people were supposed to buy it from state stores at subsidized prices. But the state stores had no food and people were forced to scrounge for whatever they could purchase at exorbitant prices from black marketeers. . . . By the end of December, North Korean authorities had retracted the ban on markets. But the merchants had lost all their cash and couldn't restock their merchandise.
Several months later, a 77-year-old apparatchik was blamed for the currency-destroying policy and executed by firing squad, an action that, despite its popular appeal, did nothing to address the famine.

Will anything change this time? A woman from the border town of Musan told the L.A. Times: "My son thinks that something might happen. I don't know what, but I can tell you this: People have opinions. . . . It is not like the 1990s when people just died without saying what they thought." But a 28-year-old North Korean, who told of children starving, offered a different take: "I don't doubt [Kim Jong-Il's] good intentions. It is the people under him who are corrupt." The L.A. Times reported that North Koreans on the whole blamed the 1990s famine on U.S. sanctions. As one escapee to China explained, in North Korea "even little children know you are a bad person if you talk that way about the leadership. It is hard to change that mind-set."


On Dr. Codevilla's Article: "America's Ruling Class and the Perils of Revolution"

Dr. Angelo Codevilla, professor emeritus of international relations at Boston University, has written an interesting piece. Some of it will occasion much argument and debate about how to refine, or whether to reject, parts of his picture; but some of it is very clear and difficult to argue against. I will excerpt those parts here, as a foundation.

On the Ruling Class:

Today's ruling class, from Boston to San Diego, was formed by an educational system that exposed them to the same ideas and gave them remarkably uniform guidance, as well as tastes and habits. These amount to a social canon of judgments about good and evil, complete with secular sacred history, sins (against minorities and the environment), and saints. Using the right words and avoiding the wrong ones when referring to such matters -- speaking the "in" language -- serves as a badge of identity. Regardless of what business or profession they are in, their road up included government channels and government money because, as government has grown, its boundary with the rest of American life has become indistinct. Many began their careers in government and leveraged their way into the private sector. Some, e.g., Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, never held a non-government job. Hence whether formally in government, out of it, or halfway, America's ruling class speaks the language and has the tastes, habits, and tools of bureaucrats. It rules uneasily over the majority of Americans not oriented to government.
On the relative success of our political parties:
When pollsters ask the American people whether they are likely to vote Republican or Democrat in the next presidential election, Republicans win growing pluralities. But whenever pollsters add the preferences "undecided," "none of the above," or "tea party," these win handily, the Democrats come in second, and the Republicans trail far behind. That is because while most of the voters who call themselves Democrats say that Democratic officials represent them well, only a fourth of the voters who identify themselves as Republicans tell pollsters that Republican officeholders represent them well. Hence officeholders, Democrats and Republicans, gladden the hearts of some one-third of the electorate -- most Democratic voters, plus a few Republicans....
On the relationship of the majority to the government:
The polls tell us that only about a fifth of Americans trust the government to do the right thing. The rest expect that it will do more harm than good and are no longer afraid to say so.

While Europeans are accustomed to being ruled by presumed betters whom they distrust, the American people's realization of being ruled like Europeans shocked this country into well nigh revolutionary attitudes.
On why laws are so long today:
Laws and regulations nowadays are longer than ever because length is needed to specify how people will be treated unequally. For example, the health care bill of 2010 takes more than 2,700 pages to make sure not just that some states will be treated differently from others because their senators offered key political support, but more importantly to codify bargains between the government and various parts of the health care industry, state governments, and large employers about who would receive what benefits (e.g., public employee unions and auto workers) and who would pass what indirect taxes onto the general public. The financial regulation bill of 2010, far from setting univocal rules for the entire financial industry in few words, spends some 3,000 pages (at this writing) tilting the field exquisitely toward some and away from others. Even more significantly, these and other products of Democratic and Republican administrations and Congresses empower countless boards and commissions arbitrarily to protect some persons and companies, while ruining others. Thus in 2008 the Republican administration first bailed out Bear Stearns, then let Lehman Brothers sink in the ensuing panic, but then rescued Goldman Sachs by infusing cash into its principal debtor, AIG. Then, its Democratic successor used similarly naked discretionary power (and money appropriated for another purpose) to give major stakes in the auto industry to labor unions that support it.
On clearing the decks:
Reducing the taxes that most Americans resent requires eliminating the network of subsidies to millions of other Americans that these taxes finance, and eliminating the jobs of government employees who administer them. Eliminating that network is practical, if at all, if done simultaneously, both because subsidies are morally wrong and economically counterproductive, and because the country cannot afford the practice in general. The electorate is likely to cut off millions of government clients, high and low, only if its choice is between no economic privilege for anyone and ratifying government's role as the arbiter of all our fortunes. The same goes for government grants to and contracts with so-called nonprofit institutions or non-governmental organizations. The case against all arrangements by which the government favors some groups of citizens is easier to make than that against any such arrangement.
On the difficulties facing both sides in forcing the other to bend to its will:
Sweeping away a half century's accretions of bad habits -- taking care to preserve the good among them -- is hard enough. Establishing, even reestablishing, a set of better institutions and habits is much harder, especially as the country class wholly lacks organization. By contrast, the ruling class holds strong defensive positions and is well represented by the Democratic Party. But a two to one numerical disadvantage augurs defeat, while victory would leave it in control of a people whose confidence it cannot regain.

Certainly the country class lacks its own political vehicle -- and perhaps the coherence to establish one.
Indeed, what he is calling the "country class" is a "class" only in the sense that it is the class of people not part of what he is calling the "ruling class." It has some common interests as a result of being left out of the power structure; but aside from that, much that is incoherent.

One thing barely alluded to, but important: there is one national-level force that is not captured by the ruling class, which has internal coherence and an ethic that is drawn from and reverenced by the 'country class'; and of which the ruling class is extremely suspicious as a consequence.

Is It Crazy to Hope?

Sea Changes

Jonah Goldberg wonders whether the political world is on the verge of important change for the better:

For nearly a century now, the rules have said that tough economic times make big government more popular. For more than 40 years it has been a rule that environmental disasters -- and scares over alleged ones -- help environmentalists push tighter regulations. According to the rules, Americans never want to let go of an entitlement once they have it. According to the rules, populism is a force for getting the government to do more, not less. According to the rules, Americans don't care about the deficit during a recession. . . . And yet none of these rules seem to be applying . . . . Clinton proclaimed the era of Big Government was over, and left office quite popular. Barack Obama said, in effect, "Oh no it's not" . . . .

Maybe President Obama really can make the
tides run backwards.


Who Writes This Stuff?

Via Little Miss Attila, this "review" of the action series "World War II":

Probably the worst part was the ending. The British/German story arc gets boring, so they tie it up quickly, have the villain kill himself (on Walpurgisnacht of all days, not exactly subtle) and then totally switch gears to a battle between the Americans and the Japanese in the Pacific. Pretty much the same dichotomy - the Japanese kill, torture, perform medical experiments on prisoners, and frickin' play football with the heads of murdered children, and the Americans are led by a kindly old man in a wheelchair.

The comments are good, too, going on to review spin-off series like the life and career of Richard Feynman, and the Korean conflict.

Jefferson Roots

Jeffersonian Roots:

Let's do three history pieces in a row: here's one on Jeffersonian thinking and its return to relevance. Consider it in light of our discussion from yesterday.

“No person shall…be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” So reads a portion of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, part of the Bill of Rights passed by the First Congress and ratified by state legislatures, sponsored originally by Thomas Jefferson’s friend and political ally James Madison. It echoed, of course, Jefferson’s words in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Madison and Jefferson followed the tradition of John Locke, the British philosopher whose Two Treatises on Government was taken as the justification for the transfer of power known as the Glorious Revolution of 1688-89—the subject of my 2007 book, Our First Revolution: The Remarkable British Upheaval That Inspired America’s Founding Fathers. Locke believed that men could be free only if their lives, liberty, and property were protected by the rule of law. And he believed that only men with property could be relied on to self-govern.

Rome and Bernie Finel

A Theory about Rome:

So, having just entertained a theory about feudal England, let's consider a question about Rome. Eric, I'm looking at you.

The problems facing the Roman Republic in the 1st Century BC were obvious for several generations before they resulted in the final crisis that lead to imperial rule. There were a large number of proposed solutions, some more fanciful than others, but it was precisely the apparent inability of the state to address problems that everyone recognized existed that destroyed the existing institutions. At the core, the Roman Republic faced two problems.

First, the growth of Roman power and the acquisition of an empire stressed the existing structure for managing provinces. The lack of a well developed colonial bureaucracy combined with the practice of annually appointing new provincial governors from the ranks of recent senior magistrates created massive instability. Significant elements of provincial administration – notably tax collection – were outsourced to private companies, and provincial governors saw their postings as an opportunity for self-enrichment, which was both a cause and consequence of the increasing cost of running for political office. The result was endemic corruption in Rome, and frequent instability in provinces as a consequence of the rapacious practices of tax farmers and governors. Particularly in the more recently acquired provinces in and around Anatolia and the Levant, this instability led to revolts and opportunities for external actors to weaken Roman control.

Second, for a variety of reasons that economic historians continue to debate, there was increasing income inequality....
As Roman historian in residence, what do you think of all this?

Liberty By Law

Liberty By Law:

I've encountered today an interesting article on the subject of how the Anglo-American tradition of liberty arose. We are keenly aware of the Greek, Roman, and even Germanic/Norse influences, but there is also an important fact arising from the Norman Conquest. The late Sidney Painter argues, in his article "Liberty and Democracy," contained within Feudalism and Liberty (Johns Hopkins Press, 1961) that our liberties arose from the rights of feudal vassals -- that is, that originally these rights were earned by military service, and were protected as part of that contract. In the case of a dispute between the king and a vassal about the terms of the contract, the question was resolved by the vassals in common; and feudal service was very much a two way street, with each side owing the other certain duties.

In much of Europe, the nobility and knighthood remained a separate and special class. Not so in England:

When William the Conqueror took possession of the English crown he organized it as a complete feudal state. But England had a large population of freemen in addition to the mass of the unfree and the Norman kings never made any legal distinction between knights and other freemen. The freedoms which were inherent in feudal vassalage went to all freemen as vassals, direct or indirect, of the king...

The right of all freemen to the privileges of vassals was clearly accepted in England from the Conquest, but found its first clear expression in the Magna Carta. This document was stated to apply to all freemen. It also contained in specific form a statement of the most basic of all liberties -- the right to due process of law.

Thus in England as the unfree became free they acquired the same legal status as knights of the feudal world. Individual liberty was part of the fundamental law.
He goes on to point out some exceptions to his general thesis: for example, no one had the right to 'freedom of religion' until after the Reformation; freedom of the press is likewise a much later invention (and indeed, there was no printing press in 1066).

The English kings went on to further conquests in Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and so forth; thus they spread this idea abroad.

It's an interesting thesis by a historian of the Medieval period. Now compare it to Starship Troopers, which is on the recommended reading list for Marines and the Navy both. The idea being put forth always had a kind of intrinsic appeal, didn't it? The things we call the rights of citizens feel like they ought to be earned, through service -- especially military service.

Perhaps this is why: because that was always the original bargain.

White Flash

White Flash:

There seems to be a scripting error with the site; T99 reported it, and I've encountered it as well. The screen suddenly goes white, and sometimes a popup window says something about needing to enclose a script in body tags.

I've looked at the code, and removed all the scripts except the one for the comments, which is within the body tags. I'll continue to see if I can figure out why this is happening.



In The New Republic:

Although it’s deeply politically incorrect to say so, intellectually, things were better under the Bush administration.
I could think of lots of worse things to be doing than to be making armor in Poland.
LUBLIN, Poland (Reuters) – Just like his Medieval counterparts 600 years ago armourer Tomasz Samula has hardly any time to outfit his knights before battle commences.

Samula is racing to add the final touches to the metal breastplates, helmets, gloves and other accoutrements needed by the Lublin knights before they take part in re-enacting Grunwald, one of the largest battles of the Medieval age.

I imagine Lars and Grim will appreciate this item.

Respect and Women

Respect and Women:

I've been following Cassandra's despair over this nonsense, and it occurs to me that someone should point out a couple of things to any vulnerable young men in danger of believing in Roissy. The first is that Roissy may be dumb enough to believe what he's writing, but his picture of human psychology isn't even accurate when he's describing himself. He says, that is, that all male 'attention seeking' is really about trying to obtain sex.

In fact, however, all his writing about sex is really to obtain attention. His attempt to reduce all human activity to sexual longing is false on its face.

The second thing that ought to be pointed out, to a young man despairing of finding love, is that the model is entirely wrong about what women want. What women look for in a man is respect.

I do not mean merely the obvious: that women want a man who respects them, or that they want a man who respects women. What is at least important is that they want a man who respects himself. They want a man who aspires to things, because he wouldn't respect himself if he didn't. They want a man who treats himself like a man of honor, which means that he behaves like a man of honor. That means he takes his word seriously, and does his duty. If he also treats women with honor and respect, he will not lack for love from women of worth.

That is simply said, but done with much labor. It is far harder than trying to fool them into thinking you might be worthwhile. Yet you can fool even a foolish person only for so long; the price of relying on that tactic is that you cast away the thing that really mattered, which was love. Oh, I know you're supposed to believe that love isn't what you "really" want; but deep down, you know the truth.

Courtship Rite

Threats or Promises?

As the November elections approach, we hear a good deal of doubt about whether they can be expected to make a difference, or whether the new pols will fall prey to the same temptations as the old once in office. I worry a lot, as do many, about whether you can make a democracy work when a slim majority can vote to require the slim minority supply their material needs, or when a politician's best chance of being elected is to promise short-term perks no matter the long-term consequences. Then this week's controversy erupted over whether the President did or did not personally guarantee that passing the Stimulus Bill in 2009 would prevent unemployment rates from hitting 9%, and whether that should be construed as a promise or merely an "unenforceable" prediction.

It reminded me of one of my favorite science fiction novels, "Courtship Rite." Part of the setup in this imagined world is that the leader is called the "Prime Predictor," and earns his post not by favoritism or descent but because the predictions he has deposited in the official archives have proved more accurate than those of any of his countrymen. The Prime Predictor presides over a council. Each citizen is given a vote in council proportionate to his personal constituency, defined as those loyal friends whom, on being challenged, he can list by name and detailed concerns. A citizen who can identify no constituency must remain childless or leave the clan.

In this hypothetical society, promising goodies that you can't deliver is instant disaster, as is winning support for a policy by predicting a successful result that does not materialize. It doesn't help to have good explanations for why the predicted result doesn't materialize, unless you accurately predicted the obstacles, too. A side benefit is the imagined society's extreme care taken in the negotiation of contracts, where the emphasis is on finding an agreement that most accurately embodies the expectations of both parties and is highly unlikely to disappoint either. Tricking someone into a bad deal is self-defeating when your political power depends on your public predictions having come true.

Folías de España

Folías de España:

I'll join Eric in giving honor to the Spanish for their victory in soccer, though to my mind the far greater honor is in having inspired this tune.

La Belle Homicide:

There is a particularly awesome version of this on this record, but I see no version online. It is amazing; this video is a small hint of what it manages.

A Lost Bird

From the writings of the Venerable Bede, an analogy from an ancient British pagan. It comes from the period of the conversion of Northumbria, under St. Edwin, king of that land in part of the seventh century. (It happens that I was born on his feast day.) The conversion was by conquest, but the story is a fairly insightful image for thinking about the human condition:

The present life of man, O king, seems to me, in comparison with that time which is unknown to us, like to the swift flight of a sparrow through the room wherein you sit at supper in winter amid your officers and ministers, with a good fire in the midst, whilst the storms of rain and snow prevail abroad; the sparrow, I say, flying at one door and immediately out at another, whilst he is within is safe from the wintry storm; but after a short space of fair weather he immediately vanishes out of your sight into the dark winter from which he has emerged. So this life of man appears for a short space, but of what went before of what is to follow we are utterly ignorant.
So the bird flies into our hall, and we see it come; and we see it pass through our hall, lit by our fire; and then it flies out the other end, and we know no more of it. This is like the soul, which comes from who knows where? And where does it go?

G. K. Chesterton had one of his Danes re-tell the story in The Ballad of the White Horse:
‘For this is a heavy matter,
And the truth is cold to tell;
Do we not know, have we not heard,
The soul is like a lost bird,
The body a broken shell.

‘And a man hopes, being ignorant,
Till in white woods apart
He finds at last the lost bird dead;
And a man may still lift up his head
But never more his heart.
Chesterton's version goes beyond the pagan story, which begins and ends in honest mystery: it allows the soul extinguished, even as a concept, by 'cold truth' that comes at the end of 'being ignorant.' Guthram, the great king, has come to believe this. He sings that his wars are waged for no other reason than to try to drive the memory of this thought from his mind.

After his poem, Alfred takes the harp. He sings boldly, but:
And the King, with harp on shoulder,
Stood up and ceased his song;
And the owls moaned from the mighty trees,
And the Danes laughed loud and long.
The first time I read the Ballad of the White Horse, I found this entire book an annoying bit of sermonizing in an otherwise rousing tale of war and adventure. I've come to realize that, instead, this book is the heart of the work.

The Twelfth of July

On the Twelfth of July:

I nearly forgot.

"King Billy" would be William of Orange, who came to fight the Jacobites of the Scottish, Stewart line in their last great stronghold in the year 1689. Later the Scots thought better of it, and gave the Stewarts two more good tries, in 1715 and again, for the famous "Bonny Prince Charlie," in 1745.

Didn't work out. But as the man said: "May have been the losing side; still not convinced it was the wrong side."

World Cup Result.

The round table. Or hall. Or something like that.

Researchers exploring the legend of Britain’s most famous Knight believe his stronghold of Camelot was built on the site of a recently discovered Roman amphitheatre in Chester.

Wisdom and Education

Wisdom and Education:

Here's an article that jumps right into Neo-Platonism as it affects a current debate among scientists.

Is there such a thing as wisdom -- a thing, stuff, an abstract entity -- or are there only wise individuals and wise actions and attitudes, these latter not exclusively the possession of the individuals in question given that even fools can sometimes be wise?

This question is a significant one, because it bears on the enterprise of "wisdom studies," a parallel endeavour to the "happiness studies" now big in the neuropsychologically-informed social sciences. (And there too the question has to be: is there such a thing as happiness, or only happy individuals and happy times and experiences, the latter not the exclusive property of the individuals in question, given that even the gloomiest of us can occasionally be happy?) If you aim to study wisdom, or happiness, presumably in the hope of finding out how we can all be wiser and happier, you had better be clear about the object of study; and, as Stephen S. Hall's Wisdom: From Philosophy to Neuroscience shows, that is hard to do.
I am somewhat amused by the persistence of this stumbling block, which was a major issue at the fall of Rome; again, during the return of Aristotle's writings following an early Medieval period dominated by neo-Platonists; again, as we were just discussing the other day, at the beginning of the Renaissance; again, in the nineteenth century when many of our ideas about language were being re-examined, and some of the old ideas of Peter Abelard were being independently rediscovered by men like Gottlob Frege; at several points in the 20th Century; and again, now.

In other words, it's one of the eternal stumbling blocks of philosophy: a basic metaphysical claim that both scientists and philosophers continue to dispute. Nor is this a "science v. philosophy" issue: there are scientists on both sides, and philosophers on both sides.

Science might be expected to shed some light on this question, and sometimes it seems like it is going to do so in a very helpful way. It may yet! Consider anger:
Lixing Sun, a professor of biology at Central Washington University, thinks we have a "fairness instinct." And he may be right. He maintains that high on the roster of human propensities is a "Robin Hood mentality" that characterizes our species and qualifies as one of those "mental modules" that evolutionary psychologists consider part of our likely biological inheritance. If so, our fairness instinct goes far beyond the pleasure we take in romantic tales of medieval Merry Men adventuring in Sherwood Forest. Sun believes that despite the fact of our specieswide social and economic disparities—perhaps in part because of them—human beings are endowed (or burdened) with an acute sensitivity to "who is getting how much," in particular a deft attunement to whether anyone else is getting more or less than one's self.

In a much-noted laboratory experiment several years ago, described in the report "Monkeys Reject Unequal Pay," the primatologists Sarah F. Brosnan and Frans B.M. de Waal trained capuchin monkeys to perform a certain task for which they received cucumber slices. The monkeys performed just fine, until they were permitted to see others being rewarded with grapes, a higher-value payment. Previously acquiescent, many of the cucumber-receivers promptly stopped participating, sometimes even throwing those measly, unfair cucumber payments out of their cage.
So: that suggests a neo-Platonist position, does it not? After all, monkeys are expressing "anger" over "unfairness" in just the same way as their not-very-close relatives, humanity. This suggests there might be some real set of qualities that capture "fairness," and that perhaps we can build systems to ensure these outcomes.

The problem is that the split isn't over data, but over how we interpret data. So, if I am instead a Nominalist -- that is, I don't think that "wisdom" or "fairness" are real, but just names -- I can point out that we humans are doing the observation and naming in both cases. Thus, you're just as free to be a Nominalist about this data. There's only one category, after all; and humans are making the rules about what data to include in that category.

If that's the case, then it's not clear that we could capture what "fairness" really is; indeed, by including the different case of monkeys in the category, we may be making it impossible to get at a system that approaches human ideals. (A system that ensured all people got equal numbers of grapes and cucumbers would not be very satisfying to humanity! We would prefer a choice.)

Here is one of the basic splits in our understanding of reality, then. Which of you are Realists, and which Nominalists? Don't be surprised if one position seems entirely and obviously correct to you, and the other preposterous on its face: that has very often been the case, for adherents on both sides, across the centuries.

Another good question, then: Why have so many smart people been so unable to see the reasons that so many other smart people have favored the other position?

Europe and Women

Europe and Women: A Day in the Life

Cassandra notes a story wherein France stands up for its vision of what a woman's rights are, and should be. As comments note, that right does not include the religious freedom to choose to veil in public; but it does include a freedom from being forced to do so. While not "optimal," as Mr. Axlerod might say, it's better than nothing.

Switzerland, however, has freed Roman Polanski. Their reasons for doing so appear to be that the US Justice Department did not correctly handle the Swiss legal procedure, by failing to properly answer Polanski's claim that he had already served his agreed upon sentence of 42 days of "observation." I'm sure that he did not enjoy his month and a half in jail. The fact is, however, that his offense included raping and forcibly sodomizing a girl who was not only smaller and weaker than him, and not merely a minor while he was an adult, but whom he also had weakened by giving her drugs and alcohol.

The law is rarely just, however, and this case may well have been decided upon the law. I suppose we're meant to feel good about that.

Spatial Thinking

Android Dreams

From Vanderleun, this Smithsonian article about imposing virtual maps on sensory input:

Hold an electronic tablet up as you walk along a street, and it will show an annotated overlay of the real street ahead—where the clean restrooms are, which stores sell your favorite items, where your friends are hanging out. Computer chips are becoming so small, and screens so thin and cheap, that in the next 40 years semi­transparent eyeglasses will apply an informational layer to reality. If you pick up an object while peering through these spectacles, the object’s (or place’s) essential information will appear in overlay text. In this way screens will enable us to “read” everything, not just text. Last year alone, five quintillion (10 to the power of 18) transistors were embedded into objects other than computers. Very soon most manufactured items, from shoes to cans of soup, will contain a small sliver of dim intelligence, and screens will be the tool we use to interact with this transistorized information.

iPhone already has apps that create overlays on reality in very handy ways. One is an app that listens to a song on the radio and tells you what it is, which I consider pure magic I've been waiting for all my life. Even better, there is an app that can identify a tune that's being hummed in the roughest and most incompetent way.

I thought there was another app that lets you point the screen at the night sky and see a superimposed constellation map, but it turns out it really uses your GPS-determined location to load a map of the sky you ought to be looking at, rather operating directly off of the visual input. Pretty nifty anyway.

The Smithsonian article also offers this view of the increased powers of intellectual synthesis that may result from web-surfing:

Books were good at developing a contemplative mind. Screens encourage more utilitarian thinking. A new idea or unfamiliar fact will provoke a reflex to do something: to research the term, to query your screen “friends” for their opinions, to find alternative views, to create a bookmark, to interact with or tweet the thing rather than simply contemplate it. Book reading strengthened our analytical skills, encouraging us to pursue an observation all the way down to the footnote. Screen reading encourages rapid pattern-making, associating this idea with another, equipping us to deal with the thousands of new thoughts expressed every day.

My own experience is that following links sometimes fragments my attention and leads me down rabbit holes, but it also encourages me to connect many ideas I might not otherwise have done. I suppose there's the danger of turning into one of those guys who's always muttering about how "it's all part of the pattern: the Freemasons, Obama's birth certificate, fluoridation."


Good news.

Church Music

The Wedding Feast

Here's something from Assistant Village Idiot that reminded me of what we were talking about the other day, the metaphor of music or dance as Heaven:

One of my repeated themes of the last year is that worship is not something we create on Sunday mornings. Worship is going on all the time in heaven, and our worship is an attempt to connect with that - to become part of it, learn the steps and the songs. If you remember the descriptions of heaven as a wedding feast, then the idea of learning all those line dances, preparing for the songs that have special meanings at various parts of the ceremony, and looking forward to drinking almost too much except now you actually have good judgment, can begin to see how the combination of pentecostal enthusiasm and liturgical familiarity might work.

The Anchoress (h/t Little Miss Atilla) hosted a long discussion the other day about the role of music in church services, during which lots of people got to air their frustrations with the trend in hymns in the last forty years or so. The point of the article was to ask readers to identify their ten most-hated hymns, but a lot of the discussion was equally about why some music works better than others. (I was surprised to hear that even what I think of as traditional old Episcopal hymns were a hotbed of heresy from the point of view of Catholics, but there you are! My education in most of what separates Catholics from Episcopalians is spotty, aside from obvious things like the authority of the Pope.)