On Social Science

On Social Science:

This piece has some interesting harmonies with our discussion, below, on infinity and mysticism.

Prior to the launch of the stimulus program, the only thing that anyone could conclude with high confidence was that several Nobelists would be wrong about it.

But the situation was even worse: it was clear that we wouldn’t know which economists were right even after the fact....
The rest of the piece will not shock you, because we've talked about all these problems before. Still, it's a good brief examination of just what the problems are, especially the difficulty of conducting controlled experiments in what they are still pleased to call the "social sciences."

The article ends on a cautionary note, though, which may seem odd given its heretofore focused insistence on the importance of experimentation. "Social sciences" are in fact conducting more experiments, but the author doesn't really expect things to get any better.
The experimental revolution is like a huge wave that has lost power as it has moved through topics of increasing complexity. Physics was entirely transformed. Therapeutic biology had higher causal density, but it could often rely on the assumption of uniform biological response to generalize findings reliably from randomized trials. The even higher causal densities in social sciences make generalization from even properly randomized experiments hazardous. It would likely require the reduction of social science to biology to accomplish a true revolution in our understanding of human society—and that remains, as yet, beyond the grasp of science.
That is the great temptation of Hard Determinism to those who want to believe in it -- not just to reduce human society to biology, but indeed to then reduce biology to physics. You can understand the temptation, because after all, we do physics fairly well by comparison! Wouldn't it be nice if we could just reduce the problem from a complicated social issue to a physics problem?

Well, actually, no it wouldn't. I expect there will always be a push to try, though, for just this reason. It's much easier to look for my car keys over here.

Wishful Thinking

"The Ruins of Viking Boston"

A great line from the Boston Globe, in a story on how their city got so many Viking flourishes.

At Memorial Drive and Fresh Pond Parkway in Cambridge, behind Mount Auburn Hospital, there’s an official-looking granite historical marker inscribed with a claim so wishful that it probably qualifies as a lie: “On this spot in the year 1000 Leif Erikson built his house in Vineland.’’
No, he almost certainly did not. The guy who put up the marker, though, held a chair at Harvard. Did he really want to believe it so badly that he did believe it?

The Mead Hall

The Mead Hall:

Mary Sevelli's Tastes of Anglo-Saxon England has a recipe for mead. It requires three pounds of honey, so for a long time I never tried it on account of never remembering to buy so formidable a quantity at once. I usually only eat honey on pancakes, which means that a jar of honey could readily last me a year or two.

Or it could have done; now I think I may have to start setting up beehives. I've got three batches working their way through fermentation at this point, because the taste of the first batch at its first racking was so good that it justified the additional experiments. It's some good stuff, especially if (as she recommends) you take the trouble to find Champagne yeast. I did the first batch with baker's yeast, and it still came out good.

There's little involved in making a batch, and it makes the house smell like cinnamon and honey; then you put it away for a while, rack it a couple of times, and after a few months drink it. You can store it in old milk or water jugs (suitably cleaned) with balloons on top, if you don't have the fancy equipment that professionals like. If you wanted clarity you could run it through a coffee filter instead of cheesecloth, but there are quite a few beneficial qualities to honey, so you might want it just like this.

If you wanted something more authentically ancient, you might dispense with the cinnamon and black tea that she advises, and use instead different flavors like grains of paradise, cloves or nutmeg (or just honey!). There are many other mead recipes online as well (for example, see here).

Sweden Rockabilly

Swedish Rockabilly:

Apparently... yes.

Gotta watch twenty-two seconds into this one.

If you don't like Sweden, how about Singapore?

Good news bad news

I've Got Good News and Bad News:

Apparently asking for advice is really, really bad. Fortunately, I never do that.

Among the findings:

Talkative youngsters tended to show interest in intellectual matters, speak fluently, try to control situations, and exhibit a high degree of intelligence as adults. Children who rated low in verbal fluency were observed as adults to seek advice, give up when faced with obstacles, and exhibit an awkward interpersonal style.

Children rated as highly adaptable tended, as middle-age adults, to behave cheerfully, speak fluently and show interest in intellectual matters. Those who rated low in adaptability as children were observed as adults to say negative things about themselves, seek advice and exhibit an awkward interpersonal style.
Now, you might say, "But caring what people think is extremely important for adaptive function in social animals like humanity!" Not so! Let me tell you what a drill sergeant once said to me and a whole group of other people. He said:

"I've got good news and bad news for you. The good news is, Sergeant Smith loves ya'll."

When you hear that, you can be pretty sure you're not going to be asked for your advice.

More Constitutional Makeupery

Making The Constitution Up As We Go Along:

So the other day we noticed Rep. Stark saying that the Constitution contained no meaningful restrictions on Federal power...

...except for those unconstitutional programs that might prevent illegal aliens from getting a job.

Now, the woman's point about the 13th Amendment is preposterous. Saying that the Federal Government has an obligation to provide a service is coherent with the 5th Amendment's provision that the Feds can seize property for the public interest, provided they pay a fair market price. There's no reason they can't require your labor of you for some similar public interest, provided they likewise pay what's fair. (Which may not be what you think you deserve, or could be earning in another line of work, but only what is fair for the particular type of labor they force you to provide: see, inter alia, the draft.)

However, the 10th Amendment provides a very clear division between Federal and State powers; and the 14th Amendment, which brings many state issues under the jurisdiction of the Federal courts, does not thereby bring those issues under the jurisdiction of Congress. Congress still has only its Article I powers. All the 14th is supposed to do is ensure that the states may not tread on the normal rights of Americans.

What are those rights? The 14th Amendment spells out one of them plainly:

But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime…
So, the same amendment that defines the power of the Federal courts to serve as enforcer of 'equal protection' rights defers to tradition in ideas of what those rights may be. Women did not gain the right to vote in the 14th Amendment. "Equal protection" clearly did not intend to mean that every person was to be given precisely equal rights and privileges. Rather, they were to be given rights and privileges equal to others of their status: men for men, women for women, felons for felons, citizens for citizens, non-citizens for non-citizens, etc.

Women do, of course, now have the right to vote. That is because of the 19th Amendment, which was passed according to the normal Article V process. What that means is that those who wanted women to vote -- both men and women wanted this -- constructed an argument and took it to the people. In time, they convinced Americans of the rightness of this position. The majority of states ratified a proposition that had been passed by supermajorities of both houses of Congress.

As a result, although it was a massive change in our social structure to grant women the right to vote, we have made that change with great stability and without noteworthy friction. Compare with the voting rights issue the 14th sought to protect, which was being imposed by force instead of argument: a hundred and sixty years later, and we still have some disputes about it.

Prop 8 opponents believe they have made an argument, of course; but they have so far convinced only the court.
I think they’ve made a needless mistake in pushing this in the courts instead of doing it legislatively state-by-state. The optics are uniquely bad — a federal judge imperiously tossing out a public referendum enacted by citizens of one of the bluest states in America on the shoulders of a multi-racial coalition.
The thing is, a legislative victory probably could have been achieved without even the time required to build the 19th Amendment coalition. The culture appeared to be moving that way. Imposing a settlement by force in this area is an unwise maneuver. I leave aside the oddness of the court's finding that there is no rational basis for thinking that sex has something to do with marriage. The broader point is that, win or lose on that argument, the court has decided to make up the Constitution instead of enforcing it. They have done so in a way that does not adhere to the will of the People -- even a 'diverse,' and blue-state People -- but that slaps it aside.

There will be consequences to choosing that road. For one thing, it ties their movement tighter to that faction in our government that refuses to abide by what the Constitution actually says about restrictions on their power; but which offers ever-more inventive arguments about its restrictions on the People. That is the wrong side, even if their cause is the right cause.

About the latter question I disagree with them, but only mildly. About the former question I have a great and unshakable conviction.

An ancient question: how many numbers are there?

In the sixth century B.C.E. Anaximander of Miletus gave a name to the infinite, calling the indeterminate, or “something without bound, form, or quality,” apeiron. But limitlessness, and non-rationality, and ineffability were all descriptions of what infinity was not. The closest anyone came for centuries to a positive definition was “potentiality” as opposed to “actuality,” in the influential terms of Aristotle. But this formulation did little to help define the indefinable. Even Galileo, nearly two thousand years later, bowed his weighty head before the limitless. Contemplating the series of infinite integers (1,2,3,4...) and the series of infinite even numbers (2,4,6,8...), he gave up: clearly both could continue without limit, and yet wasn’t one precisely one half as large as the other?
And thus we crack open the shell of one of the hardest problems in Metaphysics. Now, I must admit that I love the thesis of this particular article: that mysticism, and not pure reason, is necessary to apprehend the truth. That is exactly what I would like to believe to be true, here as elsewhere.

For that reason, let us turn aside from it, and explore something else. Dr. Anthony Kenny talks about the problems of 'potentiality and actuality' as expressed by the famous Islamic philosopher Avicenna. (This is from pp. 193-5 of Kenny's Medieval Philosophy.)
If we take 'essence' in the generic sense, then the distinction between existence and essence corresponds to the distinction between the question 'Are there Xs?' and 'What are Xs?' That there are quarks is not at all the same thing as what quarks are.... But if we take the distinction to be one about individual essences, then it seems to entail the possibility of individual essences not united to any existence; individual essences of possible, but non-existent individuals. The essence of Adam, say, is there from all eternity; when God creates Adam, he confers actuality on this already present possibility.
Dr. Kenny does not want us to accept this idea.
Let us ask how an individual humanity -- say the humanity of Abraham -- is itself individuated. It is not individuated qua humanity: that is something shared by all humans. It is not individuated by belonging to Abraham: ex hypothesi, it could exist, and be the same individual, even if Abraham had never been created but remained a perpetual possibility. It can only be identified, as Avicenna says, by the properties and accidents that accompany it -- that is to say, by everything that was true of the actual Abraham -- that he migrated from Ur of the Chaldees, obeyed a divine command to sacrifice his son... Of course, since Abraham's essence was there before Abraham existed, it could not be individuated by the actuality of these things, but only by their possibility.
This natually looks like Saul Kripke's assertion that Aristotle could have been Aristotle even if he'd gone into shoemaking instead of philosophy. Names are, Kripke said, a 'rigid designator' for a given thing; what that thing does, or might have done, is still captured by the designation across various possible worlds. He did this here; he did that there; but it's still the same thing. Joe in this world lost his Mustang to me in a poker game; in another world, the same Joe decided to spend the night reading philosophy, and therefore kept his car. (Wise Joe! Even if it gave him a headache!)

Well, all that takes us right back around to the article: and the mysticism.
Rocking in the belly of the Imperial Russian Navy ship as it sailed, in June 1913, through sparkling Aegean waters toward the Monastery of St. Pantaleimon on Mount Athos, the Archbishop Nikon of Vologda braced himself. He was determined. Even before hermits in the deserts of Palestine practiced the “Prayer of the Heart” in the fourth century, Christianity had known mystical sects. Later called hesychast monks from the Greekhesychia, or stillness, such mystics had believed in the power of glossalia, or “praying without ceasing,” with control of breathing and the heartbeat, to reach union with God. Already in the fourteenth century Gregory Palamas, a Constantine monk, had settled on Mount Athos preaching hesychasm as a true alternative to the staid rationalism of Byzantine Christianity. Now, in modern times, to the great consternation of leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church, a Russian monk named Ilarion had instituted the “Jesus Prayer” among his followers (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”—sometimes shortened to “Lord Jesus Christ,” or just “Jesus”—repeated over and over again), a prayer considered heretical for harking back to mystical times. Ilarion admitted that when reciting the prayer worshippers needed to be careful. There were three “stages of immersion”—the oral, the mental, and finally the “Prayer of the Heart”: if one jumped between them prematurely, warm blood could descend to the lower parts of the body and lead to sexual arousal. Archbishop Nikon of Vologda clenched his fists.

The last thing Nicholas II wanted was for bickering monks to invite an invasion of the Greek army into the monastery; the czar didn’t care much about the theological dispute, but he was not about to lose a Russian protectorate in the Aegean. Later, after the gunboatDonets had lowered its anchor and Russian marines stormed the monastery with clubs, water hoses, and bayonets, each side would claim a different story. Whether monks were brutally murdered, soldiers were beaten, or only a small number of fanatics were rather quietly subdued didn’t in the end really matter: after all, nearly a thousand monks were hauled back on the ships to Russia, where their leadership was thrown in jail, and the rest were defrocked and banished to far-off provinces. The Name Worshippers of Mount Athos had been shut down. What mattered most were the defiant interruptions to the angry sermon of Archbishop Nikon of Vologda, who had marched into the monastery courtyard behind the troops. “You mistakenly believe that names are the same as God,” his voice trembled. “But I tell you that names, even of divine beings, are not God themselves.” Corralled, water-drenched, their arms twisted violently behind their backs, the monks would not be silenced. “Imia Bozhie est’ sam Bog!” some of them were clearly heard shouting, their eyes alight. “The Name of God is God!”....

Throwing himself into set theory back in Moscow, Luzin maintained strong ties with Florensky, and here is where the escapades of the monks of the Aegean return to our story. It is not clear precisely when both men first learned of Name Worshipping, but already in 1906 they enjoyed calling each other by names other than their own. When news of the rebellion on Mount Athos reached Russia in 1913, Florensky spoke up publicly in its favor, and befriended monks who had endured firsthand the navy’s brutal attack on St. Pantaleimon. Soon two worlds were becoming entwined. Lebesgue had asked whether a mathematical object could exist without defining (meaning naming) it, and now the answer was becoming clear. Just as naming God via glossolalian repetition was a religious act that brought the deity into existence, so naming sets via increasingly recursive definitions was a mathematical act that conferred a reality in the world of numbers. Cantor and before him the ancient Neoplatonists had shown the way, but this was only the beginning. Infused with mysticism, Florensky believed, new forms of mathematics and religion were being born, ones that by rejecting determinism would rescue mankind from catastrophe. In both cases—God and infinity—the key to bringing abstractions into reality was bestowing upon them a name.
What is the power of a name? And, as Kripke warns us to consider, just what are we naming? There is a truth lying there as deep and as dangerous as the sea.

Hitchens Cont

Hitchens on "The Topic of Cancer":

The man continues to write very well, and with great courage. It's hard not to admire and like someone who is so willing to encounter the world.

The notorious stage theory of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, whereby one progresses from denial to rage through bargaining to depression and the eventual bliss of “acceptance,” hasn’t so far had much application in my case. In one way, I suppose, I have been “in denial” for some time, knowingly burning the candle at both ends and finding that it often gives a lovely light.
As indeed it does. I likewise will be poorly placed to complain if I should find that fate has dealt me some similar illness. It's something I think about from time to time; frankly, I don't expect to live to be very old.

But I also think about Sir Lancelot, after the tournament in which he bore the shield of the brother of the Lily Maid of Astolat instead of his own. He had taken that shield in order to fool his cousins into not recognizing him, so he could have the pleasure of striking them down. Thereby he was badly wounded by a man who would have held his hand if he had known him, and who came to him in his sickbed to apologize. But Lancelot said:
“I have the same I sought, for I would with pride have overcome you all. And there in my pride I was near slain, and that was in my own fault, for I might have given you warning of my being there, and then I had no hurt…. Therefore, fair cousin,” said Sir Lancelot, “let this language overpass, and all shall be welcome that God sends.”
That's a statement of tremendous courage, although Sir Thomas Malory wrote it from a position of knowledge. I salute Mr. Hitchens, who does well and boldly in that terrible valley we all must traverse.

Great Moments in Campaign Slogans

Great Moments in Campaign Slogans

Sharron Angle isn't turning out to be a very good candidate, but I've got to hand it to her on her newest line: “Harry Reid’s Plan to Save the Nevada Economy: Coked-up Stimulus Monkeys.” She's referring, of course, to a report to be released soon by Sens. Tom Coburn and John McCain the 100 most ridiculous stimulus-funding projects, which will include a study of the effect of cocaine on monkeys, new windows for a closed visitor center, and modern dance as a tool for software development.

Great News on the Gulf

Great News

The AP says everything's fine in the Gulf now, move along, nothing to see here. A full 75% of the Deepwater spill was skimmed, burned, evaporated, or otherwise disposed of by a kindly Mother Nature. Of the commenters to this press release in the Houston Chronicle asks, if we drop Washington, D.C., into the ocean, will 75% of it go away?

Not What the Patients Ordered

Not What the Patients Ordered

From "Dave in Texas" at Ace: Missouri has held the

first of 3 (I think) state referendums on Obamacare, to amend state law to "deny the government authority to 'penalize citizens for refusing to purchase private health insurance or infringe upon the right to offer or accept direct payment for lawful healthcare services." Last month a Missouri judge rejected a challenge to remove Prop C from the ballot.
We know what Pete Stark thinks. Here's hoping Missouri sends DC a big "oh, well then allow us to retort."

The results as of late Tuesday evening? With nearly half of precincts reporting, YES: 75.6% NO: 24.4%. Three to one against.

Dave in Texas predicts that tomorrow's spin will be "what's wrong with Missouri?" But you can't tell me a lot of incumbents aren't feeling a pucker.

Old Hickory

Old Hickory:

Distinctive Unit Insignia of the "Old Hickory" Brigade, 30th HBCT

Major Joel Leggett drops by to mention, in the comments to one of the posts below, an apparent Glenn Beck assault on Andrew Jackson. I don't watch TV or listen to the radio, so I tend to miss Mr. Beck unless his remarks get excerpted on a blog somewhere. This sounds fairly foolish.
I just happened to catch Beck’s announcement that he is putting together a special wherein he will lay the blame for America’s initial wrong turn on Andrew Jackson and the idea of Manifest Destiny, a concept Beck believes put us on the path to a secular man oriented world view vice the God centered idea of “Divine Providence.” What a load of crap.

To begin with, the term “Manifest Destiny” was not even coined until 1839, two years after Jackson’s administration ended. It did not even come into popular usage until the 1840s. How on earth could Andrew Jackson be responsible for the concept of Manifest Destiny as described by Beck. I guess it is possible that Beck thinks the Westward advancement that occurred under Jackson’s administration proves his point. But if that is the case why not blame Jefferson as the father of Manifest Destiny. It was Jefferson who was responsible for the Louisiana Purchase, the event credited with opening the West for settlement.
We can go back further than that, and ask about Mr. Washington's intentions. He dispatched generals Lachlan McIntosh and Daniel Brodhead west during the war to establish a line of forts designed to open the west to his forces, and allow them to attack British strongholds. Their successor, John Gibson, used those forts as a base for expansion into what is now Indiana, of which he became acting territorial governor and Secretary of the Territory under President John Adams. Why were we expanding into Indiana?

I'm also not sure where Mr. Beck is getting the idea that there was a Christian Age in pre-Jacksonian American politics. If anything, the reverse is true: Jackson rode the tide of a populist revolt into the White House. His small-town, backcountry supporters were much more likely to be intensely Christian than the Founding Fathers had been. Jackson himself was a Presbyterian, which in those days was still the stern, Scots-Irish, Calvinist sort of religion that it has largely ceased to be in the last generation. That was one of the complaints against him in 'polite society' during his administration; and indeed, it's fair to say that 'polite society' gave him more trouble than the British Army ever did.

The Tax Worm Ouroboros

The Tax Worm Ouroboros

As reported at NBCWashington (h/t HotAir), the District of Columbia funds a Summer Youth Employment Program relies on a $23 million annual budget to hire about 20,000 young residents of the District for various minimum wage summer jobs. The program overspends this budget every year. This year's 50% budget overrun prompted the D.C. auditor to complain and the D.C. Mayor to suggest -- wait for it -- expanding the program for an additional week, using, in part, other funds that had been earmarked for the homeless.

None of this is the real story, though. The amazing part is that all the furor exposed the fact that SYEP funds were being used to send "participants to attend a Council oversight session at which they lobbied for more funding for the program." No doubt D.C. political critters find this reasonable. As Michelle Malkin notes about this charming boondoggle, minimum wage laws devastate the youth employment rates, while government make-work jobs initiatives simply redistribute the unemployment. But surely when the jobs initiatives consist of hiring unemployed youth to lobby for additional funds for jobs for unemployed youth, we've closed a very neat circle.

It's hard to see how it's very different, on its small scale, from government workers forming unions that lobby for high pay and benefits for government workers.

It's Not Partisan If We're Doing It

A Time to Fight

A new article by George Parker in The New Yorker decries "partisanship" in the U.S. Senate from the point of view that the core mission of the Senate is the fundamental reform of American society. For Parker, partisanship means holding back progress for base political gain. Predictably, he finds partisanship an evil and baffling habit.

For this kind of mournful piece, the first step is to evoke the Golden Age. There is the traditional recourse to Alexis de Tocqueville, who in 1832 praised the Senate's "lofty thoughts" and "generous instincts." After the Civil War, unfortunately, with brief shining moments of "spasms of legislation" under Wilson and FDR, the Senate became “the dam against which the waves of social reform dashed themselves in vain—the chief obstructive force in the federal government.”

Parker interviews an impressive variety of Senators and staff. Although he throws in the occasional admission that "Democrats have been known to do it too," his story is mostly a long jeremiad against the new breed of hardcore Republican partisans who inexplicably use every rule and procedure in the Senate book to block heroic, forward-thinking legislation. “We find ourselves at a moment in our history when the questions are huge ones, not small ones, and where things have been put off for a really long period of time,” mourned Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va). “Yet you have a Senate that’s designed not to advance change but to slow it.” Parker describes the ugly process that led to ObamaCare without a trace of irony, seeming to view it as the triumph of good legislation over baffling obstruction. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill, Democratic Party Whip) said, “I was stunned that only four Republicans would join us in passing this historic [financial regulation] legislation. What does it take to bring the Republican Party into the conversation about the future of America?” Well, just at a guess, perhaps it would take . . . proposing solutions that appealed to a broad majority of voters? In some cases, that can even muster a bare majority of voters?

Parker is deeply disappointed that the Senate reform engine likely has run out of steam. "The two lasting achievements of this Senate, financial regulation and health care, required a year and a half of legislative warfare that nearly destroyed the body." He attributes the damage to partisanship. He does not imagine that the opposition party could be carrying the flag of dissent for the American public. He quotes, but does not seem to understand, Sen. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky, Senate Minority Leader): “To the extent that [Democrats] want to do things that we think are in the political center and would be helpful to the country, we’ll be helpful. To the extent they are trying to turn us into a Western European country, we are not going to be helpful.”

Parker's sources wax nostalgic about the days when Senators formed personal bonds across party lines. “It’s awfully difficult to say crappy things about someone that you just had lunch with,” mused Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn). I'm reminded of the reports of unofficial truces between American and German forces along stagnant fronts in World War I. Mean-spirited officers broke up these heartwarming developments by periodically transferring troops to difficult posts along the line, knowing that human beings naturally form loyal bonds with people in manageably small groups after a period of prolonged contact -- and also knowing that the troops' business on the line was not to foster international goodwill and camaraderie but to win a battle for their respective countries. If the military command hadn't believed the battle was more important than the individual soldiers' diplomatic breakthroughs, they'd probably have let the soldiers go home to practice conviviality among a society of their own choosing.

I have a completely different definition of "partisanship" from Mr. Parker. What I call "partisan" is a Senator's opposition to a policy he genuinely supports, purely for the strategic advantage of damaging his opponents. An example would be Senators who support a war in the first flush of outraged patriotism, but who then begin to backpedal for fear that the public's support is making a President from the opposing party too popular and successful. What I do not call "partisan" is opposition to disastrous policies with every weapon at one's disposal. A progressive movement in this country has pushed reforms for many decades. A strong countermovement has developed among Americans who believe the reforms are wrongheaded and corrosive. As long as the progressives believe reform must be pursued at all costs, they will not confine themselves to measures that enjoy broad public support. As long as that is true, the party of resistance will fight them as if they were enemies, not colleagues.



Here is the White House's chosen response to the news that a constitutional challenge to their health care mandate has been permitted by the courts.

We saw this with the Social Security Act, the Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act – constitutional challenges were brought to all three of these monumental pieces of legislation, and all of those challenges failed. So too will the challenge to health reform.
This, then, is the understanding of our opponents: Constitutional challenges are to be expected, but they will always be overcome. The Constitution isn't so important that it could stop "monumental" legislation; complaining that the Constitution does not permit something is merely a temporary holding action by the rear guard of a defeated army. It only keeps the inevitable back a short while.

Now, it is our challenge to show they are wrong. The Constitution matters. We must show that its limits do limit, and that it delegates no more than it claims to delegate.

In this cause, no sacrifice is too heavy. We are better with no Republic than with a government that burns the Constitution, one that views it only as a minor inconvenience to enacting some alternate plan.

Mair's Longsword

Mair's Longsword:

Thanks to reader B.M. who kindly sent a link to a beautifully crafted edition of Paul Mair's longsword manual, in Latin, De Arte Athletica. Note the beautiful illustrations, which show the kind of fighting foil used to simulate longswords in some places. You also see foils of this type in Joachim Meyer's work. Albion Swords makes one -- quite functional -- which is named after the latter gentleman.

Since we're on that subject, Lars, have you seen Albion's new line for Viking re-enactors?

One for Eric

One for Eric:

...who has doubtless already seen it. But just in case!

Scholars discovered the 100-yard-wide (90-metre-wide) canal at Portus, the ancient maritime port through which goods from all over the Empire were shipped to Rome for more than 400 years.

Old Friends

Old Friends:

Doc Russia writes:

The last place I drove to was the recruiter's office. The Marine recruiter was not in, and I was a little disappointed, but not surprised about. Even when I enlisted, half my lifetime ago, they were usually out visiting high schools or doing other community activities on fridays. It is unfortunate, because I wanted to tell them something. I wanted to hand them my impressive looking business card, show them pictures of my beautiful wife and adorable child. I wanted to tell them about all of the exciting things I had accomplished, the places I had gone, and the adventures I had had. This was so that they could tell these young teenagers that of all of these things which I had and had done, none of them could have happened if I had not come to this unremarkable cubicle in a non-descript office park first....

In 1993, I was a 17 year old on a bus leaving a hometown which held all the friends I held most dear to me (and still do) and headed towards an infamous swamp of an island run by the most fearsome men of history, known for only two things; the trials it inflicted and the men that survived.

Stay Home

Stay Home, Mr. President:

Georgia would just as soon you not drop by.

At least, Democrats in Georgia feel that way.

The President will fly into town Monday morning.

If you think this will be a time for Democrats running for office to rally around the chief executive- -you probably haven't been following the campaigns this summer.

Former Governor Roy Barnes will not be available to meet Mr. Obama. The Democratic gubernatorial candidate will be somewhere in Georgia- - far from Atlanta....

In 1996 Democrat Michael Coles was running against Republican Newt Gingrich for the 6th congressional district seat. Mr. Coles avoided President Clinton at rallies in Atlanta and Macon.... "I think the difficult thing for anyone in Georgia - if you run as a Democrat- is to separate yourself from not being a national Democrat, because Georgia Democrats like Zell Miller and Sam Nunn are cut out of a different cloth and that's how I wanted to be seen."
Republicans, on the other hand, are overjoyed to see him. I understand Sonny Perdue will be going out to meet his plane and welcome him down. The more people see of him, the better the Republican Party will do come November.
Grim is going to like this one.
When one thinks of heraldry, images of the lion and the unicorn most often spring to mind. In Papua New Guinea, however, beer labels are featured on shields used as protection in battle. Fighting shields had not been used in 50 years but when war broke out between groups in the 1980’s there was a need for them once more. Artist Kaipel Ka uses beer advertising designs on shields he makes for various warring groups. The emblems act like the team colors of sporting groups.

Heh. So, what would you put on yours?

Njal Week Four

Njal's Saga, Week Four:

Here is this week's reading, and here is next week's.

I should say something about "outlawry," because it comes up in this week's readings, and will be of great importance later in the saga as well. There was no death penalty in Icelandic law of the period. Indeed, until this week, we haven't seen anything like criminal law employed at all -- the lawsuits have been more like our civil suits, where people are awarded damages and compensation, but no one is physically punished by the state.

This is a delightful feature of medieval Icelandic law, which contrasts sharply with the law as practiced everywhere else (including in Viking societies with kings, such as Norway or Denmark). Nevertheless, there were occasions when the Icelandic courts could authorize force. This was done by declaring a man to be an "outlaw." The court does not physically punish the outlaw. It merely removes the protection of the law from him -- not usually forever, but for a period of time. During that period, if he is killed, the courts take no notice. Normally men went into exile during their period of outlawry, so as to avoid being killed; but some outlaws were dangerous enough that they felt no need to do so, and lived pleasantly in Iceland in spite of their status. The most famous of these is Grettir Ásmundarson, or "Grettir the Outlaw," about whom there is also a famous saga.

If this is a 'criminal penalty,' it comes up for reasons that may sometimes strike us as strange. Dozens have been killed so far without it ever being invoked; but we see what seems like a pretty minor offense threatened with outlawry this week.

"What!" says Geir, "wilt thou challenge me to the island as thou
art wont, and not bear the law?"

"Not that," says Gunnar; "I shall summon thee at the Hill of Laws
for that thou calledst those men on the inquest who had no right
to deal with Audulf's slaying, and I will declare thee for that
guilty of outlawry."
This is a procedural violation -- Geir has simply involved the wrong people in the inquest. That doesn't merely invalidate his complaint, but also makes him subject to the penalty of outlawry. Why?

The reason is that defying the rules of the court is being punished symmetrically: if you don't play by the rules of the law, you lose the protection of the law. In Anglo-Saxon law, where there was also a concept of outlawry that was somewhat similar, ignoring a summons to appear at court one of the common ways to be declared Caput gerat lupinum (lit. "one who bears a wolfish head," or 'a wolf's head' -- i.e., someone who could be killed like a wolf, with no penalty).

A second matter: there are two references to priests in this week's reading. Geir "the Priest" is one of the actors, and Gunnar promises to make an oath before a priest. Note that the 'priesthood' being referenced here is heathen! We will read about the Conversion of Iceland later in the saga.

The word being translated as "priest" is usually goði. There were often female Gyðja. Their legal and political function is more important than their religious function, and the office continued to exist for these purposes even after the conversion. Somewhat like notaries public, they held special powers to witness, etc., based on the respect due their office. Before the Conversion, they might -- but did not necessarily -- maintain privately-owned temples, called hoffs.


Zinn the Communist:

This is not shocking to anyone who's read his books; in fact, it's the perfect explanation for them. The story combines frantic Communism (attended CPUSA meetings five nights a week) with blatant dishonesty (lied about it).

Zinn died not long ago, but he lived long enough to write a piece about the first year of the Obama presidency.

I thought that in the area of constitutional rights he would be better than he has been. That's the greatest disappointment, because Obama went to Harvard Law School and is presumably dedicated to constitutional rights. But he becomes president, and he's not making any significant step away from Bush policies. Sure, he keeps talking about closing Guantánamo, but he still treats the prisoners there as "suspected terrorists." They have not been tried and have not been found guilty. So when Obama proposes taking people out of Guantánamo and putting them into other prisons, he's not advancing the cause of constitutional rights very far. And then he's gone into court arguing for preventive detention, and he's continued the policy of sending suspects to countries where they very well may be tortured.

I think people are dazzled by Obama's rhetoric, and that people ought to begin to understand that Obama is going to be a mediocre president--which means, in our time, a dangerous president--unless there is some national movement to push him in a better direction.
There is, of course: the Tea Party Movement.

Preparing for the End

Preparing for the End:

The NYT is considering how you can offset the failure of Social Security. I find myself shaking my head in amazement as I read the piece.

AT 35 YEARS OLD At this stage, our couple are earning $120,000 ($60,000 each) and they have $75,000 in total retirement savings. But to make up for the decline in Social Security benefits, they need to save about $84,474 above and beyond what they are already saving before they retire. We assume they save the extra money in a taxable account that allows for easy access, because they are already saving 10 percent or more of their total income in a 401(k). That extra money saved is equivalent to about a 7.8 percent increase in total retirement savings, across all accounts. This also means they’ll have less discretionary income — about 9.4 percent less to be exact — to spend each year, over the course of their lives.
Wow, that's really going to be hard -- but with a bit of belt-tightening, everything will be just fine. Assuming, of course, that your household earns $120,000 a year from age 35. Only seventeen percent of households are in that range; and as peak earning years are later in life, mostly they won't be young couples.

Oh, they also need to have $75,000 in retirement savings already. That's about three and a half times as much as the average 35-year old. Assuming both of them have the average in savings, that gets you a little more than halfway to $75K.

How about some more reasonable estimates? Let's say they earn half what you're projecting, and have more average salaries. Now, to follow the NYT's easy math, they only need to find a way to almost double their combined savings this year, and then they need to save at a far greater rate (with half the money, and much less disposable income).

Assuming they can't do that, they need to expect they won't be retiring -- not at 67, and probably not ever. If they have jobs, they'd better keep them!