Music of Honor:

It's been too long since we had a post devoted to music, which is at the core of our visions of beauty. Here is an old favorite of mine, in two parts.

The new comments system lets you post YouTube videos easily. Show me your favorites.

How good an officer would you have been?

I got a 72 despite arguing with superiors (imagine that).

Academic Review: Begging for a Fatwa Edition

Muslim Lesbians in the Middle Ages:

On the topic of people who stand up for what they believe, I have to express a certain admiration for the courage of the scholar who decided to write this paper:

Arab lesbians were both named and visible in medieval Arabic literature. Moreover, and in contrast to their status in the medieval West in the same period, for example, Arab lesbians were not considered guilty of a “silent sin,” and there is no clear evidence that their “crime” was punished by death. In fact, lesbianism in the medieval Islamicate literary world was a topic deemed worthy of discussion and a lifestyle worthy of emulation.

Amer also notes that Islamic legal texts have very little to say about same-sex relations and practices between women, and that perhaps it was considered an acceptable alternative for women in avoiding sex with other men outside of marriage. For example, a 14th century Arab writer, explains, "Know that lesbianism insures against social disgrace…"

That's going to be a highly unacceptable thesis to a whole lot of people. I hope the debate over it remains within traditional academic protocol, because there is some reason to believe that it might not.

Hooah, Sir

Hooah, Sir:

Now, that sounds like a man who cares about what he thinks is right. I might differ on the question of what he thinks is right, but I love a man who stands up and fights for it.


Rhetoric: "A Mongrel People."

Did he really say that?

“Mongrel” is one of those words so loaded with negative connotations that it doesn’t work as anything but an insult....

Which leads to this question: How insulated from America has Barack Obama been[?]
Hot Air defends him on the point, saying it was 'merely amateur' and that there are other ways of saying it that are less offensive. Indeed there are! But that doesn't change the argument -- the point is that it takes more than amateurism to miss how offensive that word is in this context. The point is not that there are less offensive ways to make the same point; it's that it would be hard to construct a more offensive way.

Hot Air, following Instapundit, suggests that he was reaching for "mutts." They are thinking of Bill Murray in Stripes.

We can push the point further, though. Imagine he had said that African-Americans were " the mustang: whose ancestors were of many breeds, but which arose only once they came together to run free on American soil."

It's the word that matters. The question is, to what degree does the choice of words reflect the mind? Does the difference between "mongrel" and "mustang" reflect a difference in his mind? If so, what is that difference?

Global Warming

TEOTWAWKI: Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Megan McArdle is discussing anthropogenic global warming today, in the old-fashioned sense of "warming" and not merely "some combination of climate conditions we can't predict that will be either colder or warmer or both at once, but very bad." One of her commenters made a sensible point:

I won't give serious consideration to the arguments of any eco-doom prophet who does not first demonstrate that he has invested all his money in a way that hedges against that which he professes to expect.

The more extreme the predictions, the more extreme the investment must be. If these guys haven't spent all their money on -- I don't know -- oxygen tanks, canned food, firearms and property on very high ground, they should shut up. Because there's no internally consistent way that a person could actually believe such things while spending their lives blogging from coastal cities.
Hear, hear. I feel the same way about market bears and bulls who spout off in public: if they're serious, they'd better be able to establish that they're all in, going short or long, according to their prediction. Otherwise I just figure they're making noise, because that's what they get paid to do.

I have severe misgivings about the future. You can tell I'm not that sure what will happen, though, because I've taken only limited and tentative steps to hedge against a societal collapse, beyond the sensible precaution of being old enough that I probably won't live to see it. But here's a list of my favorite post-apocalyptic fiction, anyway, which keeps me mulling over the possibilities:

  1. Lucifer’s Hammer (Larry Niven/Jerry Pournelle)
  2. A Canticle for Leibowitz (Walter Miller)
  3. Millennium (John Varley)
  4. The Stand (Stephen King)
  5. Malevil (Robert Merle)
  6. Farnham’s Freehold (Robert Heinlein)
  7. Orphans of the Sky (Heinlein)
  8. Tunnel in the Sky (Heinlein)
  9. Fiskadoro (Denis Johnson)
  10. Slapstick (Kurt Vonnegut)

A Good Death

Grim said something the other day about how the expression "Live by the sword, die by the sword" struck him as more of a promise than a threat. We have to go somehow, and the ways that are worse than going by the sword are too numerous to count. One of those worse ways surely is death in the ICU after prolonged treatment of a terminal illness.

The New Yorker is running an article on hospice care, a fine resource that in my experience is always called in too late. A strange rule about hospice care is that a doctor must certify that the patient is not expected to live more than another six months. Until death is at the very door, few patients or family are willing to ask for such a conclusion, and few doctors are eager to give it. To both doctors and patients, it feels like giving up at a point when it's terribly difficult to be sure. Patients report feeling that they've been abandoned to die, in large part because insurance terms force a stark choice between palliative and curative care. Patients must choose between any hope that aggressive treatment might yield a cure, and expert help to make the best of what time is left. It's a rare doctor who can help a patient negotiate those shoals.

In the debate over ObamaCare, we heard statistics about the large percentage of medical costs that occur during the final year of life. The subject is difficult to address, not only because it raises the issue of rationing controlled by strangers, but also because we don't always know that it's the last year of life until death arrives to make the calendar plain. And yet sometimes we know perfectly well, don't we? There are medical conditions in which we're rarely wrong when we guess that the end is near. Even then, though, there's the fear of giving up too soon. So people opt for full-bore "curative" care past the point of diminishing returns. They miss out on palliative care that could have afforded them a better death at home. They run up enormous bills in the process. One insurance company conducted an experiment to see whether, in these cases, they could help both themselves and patients by approaching the likely end in a different way. The company asked the obvious question: Why should curative and palliative care be mutually exclusive?
Aetna . . . knew that only a small percentage of the terminally ill ever halted efforts at curative treatment and enrolled in hospice, and that, when they did, it was usually not until the very end. So Aetna decided to let a group of policyholders with a life expectancy of less than a year receive hospice services without forgoing other treatments. A [cancer patient] could continue to try chemotherapy and radiation, and go to the hospital when she wished—but also have a hospice team at home focussing on what she needed for the best possible life now and for that morning when she might wake up unable to breathe. A two-year study of this “concurrent care” program found that enrolled patients were much more likely to use hospice: the figure leaped from twenty-six per cent to seventy per cent. That was no surprise, since they weren’t forced to give up anything. The surprising result was that they did give up things. They visited the emergency room almost half as often as the control patients did. Their use of hospitals and I.C.U.s dropped by more than two-thirds. Over-all costs fell by almost a quarter.
A strange bifurcation has opened up in the medical care we've grown accustomed to in recent decades. Their medical training, the iron discipline of legal liability, and our cultural aversion to acknowledging death hamper today's doctors in guiding patients to the best possible death. In contrast, hospice workers often show remarkable skill at it. How did we decide that doctors and hospice workers should never work together? Why should doctors think of hospice care as "giving up"? When did so many doctors stop thinking of a major part of their function as advising when continued treatment is doing more harm than good?

Unless you've been awfully lucky, you know the problem I'm talking about. The patient and his family don't fully understand what can be cured and what probably can't, or what later terminal symptoms are likely to replace the current ones if the present crisis is survived. Possibly they're in outright denial. The doctor has neither the time nor the inclination to get into messy, emotional discussions with frightened, grieving laymen, or to risk being second-guessed when the end approaches. In the hectic atmosphere, it's hard to remember what the patient is being asked to endure, and for what purpose. A movie scene that struck home to me was in "Critical Care," an extremely dark comedy about hospitals. An elderly patient is being kept alive by horrendous means. When the doctor hears the floor nurse's summary of the treatments that were inflicted during the previous shift, he asks, "Where should I send the bill? To Blue Cross, or Amnesty International?"

Whether delivered in a special ward or, even better, at home, hospice care is a godsend. There probably are people who have had a bad experience with it, but I've never met one. It's a godsend even if it's delayed for no good reason until a few days or weeks before death. For many people, it would have been incomparably more valuable months earlier. The New Yorker article includes some fine descriptions of what hospice care is good at: giving the patient and family a variety of tools to deal with emergencies at home, in order to avoid a trip to the ER that, at best, will result in a brief spate of torture and, at worst, will lead to a mechanized death among strangers, intrusive procedures, and frantic ugliness. Unlike most doctors, hospice workers are a phone call away. After each visit, they will leave behind not only morphine to deal with breakthrough pain but other medications and equipment to deal with emergencies like shortness of breath. They will focus on preserving mental alertness, mobility, comfort, dignity, and peace in the last weeks, days, and hours before death. I recommend the full New Yorker article for its interviews with patients who tried it both ways, and for its insights into how difficult it is to advise the dying. So much depends on our willingness to face facts, talk to each other, and make clear choices.

The Bruce

The Heart of the Bruce:

A sword commissioned in 1705, whose blade dates to the time of Robert the Bruce, sold for ten thousand pounds. Bthun sends the article.

On its blade, an emblem pays homage to Sir James Douglas, who died while carrying Bruce's heart in 1330. Depicting a wild man with a heart on his left breast, the emblem features the inscription, For Strength In Stier This Heart I Bier" (for strength in battle this heart I bear). On the reverse it features a crowned Lion Rampant.
Now, if you don't already know the story, you are probably scratching your head and asking yourself, "Why was Sir James Douglas carrying his heart?"

Since many of you may not know the story, and the article only sketches it, allow me to relate it. This is from Froissart's Chronicles.
During this truce it happened that King Robert of Scotland, who had been a very valiant knight, waxed old, and was attacked with so severe an illness that he saw his end approaching: he therefore summoned together all the chiefs and barons in whom he most confided... "My Dear friend Lord James Douglas, you know that I have had much to do, and have suffered many troubles, to support the rights of my crown. At the time that I was most occupied I made a vow, the non-accomplishment of which gives me much uneasiness: I vowed that, if I could finish my wars in such a manner that I might have quiet to govern peaceably, I would go and make war against the enemies of our Lord Jesus Christ. To this point my heart has always leaned; but our Lord gave me so much to do in my lifetime, and this last expedition has delayed me so long, followed by this heavy sickness, that, since my body cannot accomplish what my heart wishes, I will send my heart in the stead of my body to accomplish my vow.

"I will that as soon as I be dead you take my heart from my body, and have it well embalmed.... and, wherever you pass, you will let it be known that you bear the heart of King Robert of Scotland, which you are carrying beyond the seas on his command, since his body cannot go[.]"

...and when Lord James could speak, he said, "Gallant and noble king, I return you a hundred thousand thanks for the high honor you do me."
Sir James Douglas died in that quest: but not before he cast the heart into the midst of the Saracen army of the King of Grenada.


A Frenchman, a Russian, and a Scandinavian Walk Into a Bar

This Arab/Israeli and male/female dispute (see below) has inspired me to engage in some entertaining rounds of stereotyping. I've been reading Megan McArdle's several pieces on the issue whether FICO scores are good predictors of employee performance and whether, if not, employers should be banned from using them to assess job applicants. (My view, naturally, is that the issue is for the employer to decide, just as would be the case with astrological charts. If the FICO scores aren't good predictors, the employer will miss out on good employees and will suffer in competition with employers who use better predictive tools.)

The somewhat stale comment thread on this latest FICO article suddenly went off in an interesting direction. Much of the annoyance over the FICO process centered on the frustrations many of us have suffered with human resources departments. One commenter said, "And if there is a more noxious department in any company, I'm unaware of it." Another immediately suggested: "you must not have much interaction with IT." OK, now they're talking my language!

A third commenter jumped in with (mildly edited):

I use international relations and national characters as the metaphor for intra-organizational relations.

HR are likely the French: infuriating and they tell you "that is not possible" about things that you know are perfectly possible but they chose not to do because it doesn't conform with their utterly arbitrary rules.

IT are like the Soviet Union: ruthlessly imperialistic and utterly untrustworthy. They constantly try to expand their empire and impinge on user freedom and autonomy and they are more concerned about the welfare of the state than of the individuals in the community (think of all the [sh*t] they impose that makes you have to change how you work, often for the worse, with the justification that it's more efficient for the IT backbone).

The former are difficult friends (or maybe your spouse). The latter are the ENEMY (or maybe your ex).

Okay! Now we've brought in the additional useful metaphor of spouses and exes. I'd like to see where we can go with it. And don't forget lawyers. The next commenter's suggestion, "Let's not let legal off the hook here," elicted this response:

Legal are like the Scandanavians: constantly telling you can't/shouldn't do that, to the point where you wonder just whose side they're on.
And the reply: "And like the Scandinavians, almost always ignored."

Sex, Lies, and Fraud in the Inducement

Here's a story about how our notion of fraud and crime can get tangled up in times of radical changes concerning sex, hedonism, and ethnic hatred. An Israeli Jewish woman had consensual sex with a man she believed to be a Jewish bachelor "looking for a serious romantic relationship." After what sounds like a rather casual assignation in a building near where they met in downtown Jerusalem, she discovered he was an Arab. He was convicted of rape and sentenced to 18 months in prison on the ground that her consent was invalidated by his deception.

I can certainly understand that consent to sex is invalidated by force or the credible threat of force, and perhaps even by blackmail, though I think blackmail is stretching things. (That is, I'll buy nonconsensual sex as the value extracted by blackmail, to support a blackmail conviction, but not blackmail as the force to support a rape conviction.) But really, by deception about ethnicity?

I take this story as a ugly confluence of racism with the present totally confused state of affairs regarding casual sex. We haven't seen a rash of criminal cases involving garden-variety dishonesty in sexual relationships, and a good thing, too, or the courts wouldn't have time for anything else. This court obviously thought that lying about one's ethnicity put the dishonesty in a class by itself, which is just tawdry. The court's reasoning also revealed a gaping disconnect between its protective assumptions about the young woman's purity, versus her actual conduct. "The court is obliged to protect the public interest from sophisticated, smooth-tongued criminals who can deceive innocent victims at an unbearable price - the sanctity of their bodies and souls," the judge wrote.

But hold on, now. The details are sparse, but the sex seems to have involved a fairly casual encounter. There was a time when society would have wasted little sympathy on a woman foolish enough to have consensual sex with a near stranger. She was expected to get to know something about him first, and preferably to let her family get to know a good bit about his family. The modern attitude, particularly with the advent of birth control, is more permissive regarding casual hookups. But then should a woman who barely knows her lover be heard to complain that she was deceived about his social context? Should we be imprisoning a young man for violating "the sanctity of her body and soul" that she appeared to hold so cheap? (I realize I'm using "we" very loosely here; this was not an American case.)

Here's an old song about the dangers of leaping before you look, with the genders reversed. The song's humor can't work when it's the man being deceived unless he's been snookered into marrying his partner first, which shows us something about what we assume it takes for a man to be irretrievably ensnared by a sexual encounter: "Now all you young men who would marry for life/Be sure to examine your intended wife."

There once was a lawyer, they called Mr. Clay
Who had but few clients, and they wouldn't pay
At last, of starvation he grew so afraid
That he courted and married a wealthy old maid

...The ring on her finger left no room to plead
For his failure to ask for a warranty deed

. . .She hung her false hair on the wall on a peg
Then she proceeded to take off her leg. . . .

The courts didn't cut Mr. Clay any slack. Caveat emptor!


Another Answer to Fermi's Paradox?

If universes nest in black holes, and the event horizon of black holes (largely?) prevent information transfer, there could be many civilizations: but nested so that the methods of communication we have are poorly suited to contact.

Actually, that doesn't answer the paradox -- the universe is as large as it was when Fermi asked the question; this is another example of just how large it might be. But it does throw up a new barrier to human understanding -- if we are nested in a black hole of some mother universe, how do we explore what lies beyond that horizon?

The walls of the world get farther away.

The World in Connections

Is This the Party to Whom I Am Speaking?

HotAir links to this New York Times article about the White House's difficulties reaching Shirley Sherrod by telephone last week between Monday and Thursday. It's an amusing article, in part because White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was claiming to the press corps that "the secretaries" were trying to reach her at the very moment she was on a split screen at CNN, watching the press conference. It's also an interesting story about the evolution of the President's relationship with the MSM, because the NYT made it pretty clear it was accusing the White House of lying, even to the point of relying on the old "critics say" and "one blogger commented" gambits to throw in some anonymous zingers.

But here's what I really enjoyed about the article: it describes the glory days, when the White House Operators could get anyone on the line, any time, just like in the movies. The nostalgia starts with some parlor tricks, such as President Kennedy asking the operators to locate someone for him who was in fact standing next to him in the Oval Office (it took them only minutes). They also found Truman Capote for him, not at his unlisted number in Brooklyn Heights but at the home of a friend in Palm Beach, also unlisted.

My favorite, though, was how White House staff ran down the House majority whip, who was fishing in the Gulf of Mexico during the Cuban Missile Crisis:

A Navy helicopter dropped a bottle down to his boat with the following note: “Call Operator 18, Washington. Urgent message from the president.”
These days, with everybody carrying a cellphone, it's hard to imagine a dedicated executive staff taking three days to reach anyone. As the article noted, 20-year-old interns at CNN didn't seem to be having any trouble.


The End of Love and the Madness of the Ruling Class:

If there is one thing that divides the remnant of ordinary America from the political class, it is a sense that life should involve therapy. Is ordinary life so traumatic that you need treatment for experiencing it?

Yes, argues this very interesting article: it is if you have lost the ability to love.

For centuries in the West, and until only recently, love has been the underlying essence in which the pulsations of existence had their being. People were encouraged to indulge in the daydreams of love, to love their lover, their family, their sect, their nation, and ultimately all mankind. When this civilization came crashing down in the first half of the 20th century after two world wars, the West had a vital interest in replacing a civilization based on love with something else. And it found that substitute in the new ethos of caring, of which the caring industry is the leading exponent.

The ideology of love began nine centuries ago in the era of courtly love. It seems natural to us that people should always have been obsessed with love, but this is not the case. Our code of etiquette that gives precedence to women seems natural, but it is a legacy of courtly love, and to this day is considered to be far from natural in Japan, say, or India. Prior to courtly love, the idea of marrying for love would have been unthinkable. Marriage was a union of property, a social calculation, and still is in many countries. In the West, marrying for any reason other than love seems crazy....

During the First World War, Westerners pierced with the most intense pangs of devotion to strangers whom they had never met — their countrymen — shot at other strangers across deep trenches. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers died in the name of love of one’s country.

Love ideology had revealed its fatal flaw. Clergymen, philosophers, artists, and politicians had encouraged people to intensify their passion for others, to join in consciousness with an ever-expanding number of individuals, with loving all humanity the final goal. But it is impossible to know humanity in the concrete; humanity is a fiction, it cannot be loved....

In romantic life people still want to fall in love as much as ever, and love ideology remains as strong as ever, encouraged by the entertainment industry, but outside this sphere the caring relationship has displaced love as the framework of existence, outside of which no issue, however compelling, no passion, however profound, and no belief, however soaring, is of much account. Many people today meet their basic psychological needs, including self-esteem, fulfillment, and identity, not through a social system of friends, intimates, and communities, as people did in the age of love, but by working directly with a caring professional....

True, the caring experience lacks the intimate gusto and genuineness of feeling that marked life in a social system. Gone are the hysterics and absurdities, the waving of bullet-pierced banners and the singing of militant songs. Gone is the special pride that one religious sect felt against another. But society is more stable. Although many Americans still cleave to love, dream of love, and hope for love in their romantic lives, the other dimensions of life have been spared the tumult and violence that once haunted life when the love ideal reigned supreme and people bonded intimately with strangers.
Yet he closes on a note of disaster, not hope. The caring ethos isn't just empty; it also contains the seeds of violence. You get all the peril, but none of the joy.
In the past, allegiance to a nation, a tribe, a city, a family, or even just a group of friends distorted reality such that people put up with these burdens. A group provided the framework of one’s whole being, within which was to be found all that life had to offer. It charmed reality; it made hard life easier to endure. Without this charming of reality, people will see life in all its horrible unfairness, fueling their anger and resentment. Winning romantic love in private life, already a matter of luck to begin with, will become an even more high-stakes game, since in a world governed by the caring ethos private life will become love’s last bastion, and the only place in which to build a strong attachment. Without romantic love, and with the unfairness and injustice in life laid bare for all to see, people may grow violent. And because groups built around love will continue to decline, people will have fewer groups on which to focus their anger; instead, other unattached individuals will become the focus of anger. The Virginia Tech massacre is just one example.
This plays well with T99's article from yesterday about the kind of people who 'go Nazi.' Which kind was it? The 'lost generation,' she said; the ones who don't have a heart of love.

"Those who haven’t anything in them to tell them what they like and what they don’t-whether it is breeding, or happiness, or wisdom, or a code, however old-fashioned or however modern, go Nazi."

Family can do that; friends can. Religion can. Love can. These are the things that matter.

The West must learn to love again, if it is ever to be whole.

Burnt Njal, III

The Saga of Burnt Njal, Week Three:

Here is this week's readings; and here is next week's.

We are about to enter into the real blood-letting of the work. You may say, "Haven't we seen some blood-letting heretofore?" No, indeed! All this, and all the legal settlements of the various killings, have only been a prelude. Starting next week, we will read of the days when Gunnar has had all he cares to take.

An interesting point about Gunnar, going into this. He has what you might call a bifurcated reputation. We see this a lot in our own time, especially in politics. A given figure is understood by his supporters to be a saint and a hero; the other side says he is a demon, or a monster.

Gunnar is viewed by one side as weak and easy to torment. That seems strange, as he is a demonstrated killer and a man who has offered those who came to him at law the alternative of 'going to the island' (Holmgang). But he doesn't resort to killing right off, as some men do, and it has led some in that era to view him as a man they can bull. We will soon see him lament:

"I would like to know," says Gunnar, "whether I am by so much the
less brisk and bold than other men, because I think more of
killing men than they?"
The circumstances of his complaint will not make it seem much like whining.

Who Goes Nazi?

Who Goes Nazi?

Someone at Bookwoom Room linked to an old 1941 Harper's essay that's been posted on the web, part of that magazine's effort to bring its 148-year history into its electronic archives. Dorothy Thompson (1893-1961), a journalist, was kicked out of Nazi Germany in 1934 and over the next seven years watched Hitler's power spread to France. Writing in Harper's in 1941, before it was clear whether the U.S. would join the war, she proposed the parlor game of imagining which party guests would go Nazi when the time came. "Nazism," she says, "has nothing to do with race and nationality. It appeals to a certain type of mind."

Thompson felt that the post-WWI "lost generation" had been "treated to forms of education which have released him from inhibitions. His body is vigorous. His mind is childish. His soul has been almost completely neglected." As if setting up a country-house mystery, she examines thirteen people:

  • a contented blue-blood with a classical education,
  • a pragmatist who "fits easily into whatever pattern is successful,"
  • a social climber who is "bitterly anti-Semitic because the social insecurity of the Jews reminds him of his own psychological insecurity,"
  • a "spoiled only son of a doting mother,"
  • a masochist looking for someone other than her bored husband "before whom to pour her ecstatic self-abasement,"
  • a warm ex-actress "full of sound health and sound common sense,"
  • a cheerful young man studying engineering in night school at City College,
  • a contrarian intellectual whose "brain operates quite apart from the rest of his apparatus,"
  • a "good-natured and genial man" ready at any time to "grab a gun and fight,"
  • a young German emigre who left the Nazi Youth to escape to Switzerland on foot,
  • an assimilated and wealthy pro-business Jew who is skeptical of the criticisms of Hitler,
  • a sad, quiet Southern Jew who loves his country "in a quiet, deep, unostentatious way," and
  • a powerful, predatory labor leader.

Thompson considers which of the guests will make the right choice and concludes: "Those who haven’t anything in them to tell them what they like and what they don’t -- whether it is breeding, or happiness, or wisdom, or a code, however old-fashioned or however modern, go Nazi."

It's oddly reassuring to read this essay, written by a thoughtful journalist with enough experience in 1930s Europe to know just what the world was up against. In 2010, we're facing discouraging trends in education, social dissolution, and moral unraveling, but no more than Thompson saw.

Gentlemen, You Can't Whine Here

Night Is to Day As War Is to . . .

. . . Sissies?

Ed Schultz, the MSNBC commentator, made waves this week by complaining that President Obama gave an interview in his time slot to Fox News after all the hardcore shilling he'd done for ObamaCare. He made another revealing complaint, too, as reported by John Fund in the Wall Street Journal, in his pep talk to Netroots attendees: "The White House has a war room. I think they have a sissy room too."

I've been noticing a lot of this lately. The party of peace, love, and understanding can get pretty butch when it lets its hair down among friends. Anyone would think they'd concluded that violence is sometimes morally justified in a good cause.

Expect blowback this week from the sissy lobby. ". . . All We Are Saaayyyy-ing . . . ."

The Post-Racial Administration

Shouldn't Maureen Dowd Have Seen That Coming?

Ann Althouse quotes from Maureen Dowd's loopy analysis of l'affaire Sherrod, including her approving citation to the even wilder loopiness of Congressman James Clyburn of South Carolina. Clyburn's suggestion? "[Obama] needs some black people around him.” Per Dowd, Clyburn explained that

Obama’s inner circle keeps “screwing up” on race: “Some people over there are not sensitive at all about race. They really feel that the extent to which he allows himself to talk about race would tend to pigeonhole him or cost him support, when a lot of people saw his election as a way to get the issue behind us. I don’t think people elected him to disengage on race. Just the opposite.”
Ms. Althouse's commenters dismantle this claptrap instantly in at least two ways. To begin with, as commenter Paul Zrimsek noted: "The NAACP's reaction was of a piece with the White House's. Does the NAACP need more black people too?"

What's more, as commenter Bagoh20 pointed out, how do you "get the [race] issue behind us" by expecting the President to engage obsessively on race?

Jane Austen

The First Rule About Jane Austen

Darleen at Protein Wisdom strikes a blow for Austen fans. "Is that your blood?" "Oh -- yes. Some of it." Actually I've read more than one pomo critical essay on Jane Austen that didn't diverge much from this video in intellectual style, minus the humor. The second video ("Dad Club") is worth watching, too. But now I've blown a good fraction of my satellite download ration for the day.

The Way:

Next morning Alveric came up the tower to the witch Ziroonderel, weary and frantic from searching all night long in strange places for Lirazel. All night he had tried to guess what fancy had beckoned her out and whither it might have led her; he had searched by the stream by which she had prayed to the stones, and the pool where she had prayed to the stars; he had called her name up every tower, and had called it wide in the dark, and had no answer but echo; and so he had come at last to the witch Ziroonderel.

"Whither?" he said, saying no more than that, that the boy might not know his fears. Yet Orion knew.

And Ziroonderel all mournfully shook her head. "The way of the leaves," she said. "The way of all beauty."

-Edward Plunkett, Lord Dunsany, The King of Elfland's Daughter


Unicorns, Scientifically Considered

This starts a little slow, but it's only a couple of minutes long and I think he'll have persuaded you by the end.

The impact of Global Warming on unicorns deserves more study.

WWI and Jihad

The German Plan to Provoke Jihad:

A new book examines the Kaiser's attempt to provoke a global Jihad in order to undermine the British Raj.

Helping to whip up passions was one of history’s most unlikely jihadists, Baron Max von Oppenheim, who directed the Kaiser’s “jihad bureau” for the duration of the war. The scion of a Jewish banking family, an archaeologist, writer, and veteran Near East hand, Oppenheim thundered that Muslims “should know that from today the Holy War has become a sacred duty and that the blood of the infidels in the Islamic lands may be shed with impunity”. (Germans, Austrians, and Hungarians were granted exceptions, of course.)

Oppenheim supervised a crack team of Orientalists, among them Alois Musil, cousin of the novelist Robert, who trekked to central Arabia in 1915 to enlist Arab tribal sheikhs, and Oskar von Niedermayer, who made a perilous journey across the Persian desert to spur the Emir of Afghanistan into attacking the Indian Raj.
Did it work? Well...
Almost everywhere – Persia, the Shia strongholds of southern Mesopotamia, Afghanistan and the Hejaz – German agents found themselves contending with endless logistical traps. With the British Navy in control of the seas, the still incomplete railway took on a vital importance. There was simply no way for the Ottomans to ship arms and materiel across vast distances to supply their would-be allies. The “jihad”, in actuality, turned into a series of cash transactions, with the Germans (and British) resorting to subventions, financial blandishments, and outright bribery.
Logistics will get you every time.