"Put him in Camp Bucca"

It occurs to me that if you can make a comedy prank show out of planting fake IED's in celebrities' cars, then for all intents and purposes, the war has been won.

But I have to agree with Allahpundit that this rates a "99 out of 100 on the inappropriateness scale".

(via Hot Air)

They Walk Among Us

They Walk Among Us

I like to write movie reviews on Netflix, and to create "Lists" there. (They call them "Top Ten" lists, but there's nothing to prevent the list from being only five long, or extending far beyond ten.) Today I'm creating a list of movies with a theme that always entertains me, which is people who look like humans but whom the other characters gradually realize aren't from around here. I suppose this kind of thing appeals to people with alienation issues. I love it when characters make all kinds of excuses for an alien's alienness, but then finally to admit that the explanation for all these eccentricities is truly extraterrestrial, or supernatural, or sometimes a case of time travel. I also love a storyline that explores what it must be like for the alien.

Here's my list so far:

  • The Man Who Fell to Earth
  • Time After Time
  • The Terminator
  • Starman
  • Kate & Leopold
  • Unbreakable
  • Highlander
  • Splash
  • Cat People
  • Hancock

By coincidence, Netflex has decided today to shut down most of its reviewer-community functions, including all lists. Too bad. I liked being able to find a reviewer I trusted and then browse his reviews and order some of the movies he liked, many of which I would never have heard of earlier. Apparently Netflix is moving more into streaming videos, which would be great if we could get a fast internet connection here, but we're stuck with horrible HughesNet service until the cable gets laid out into the boonies near us.

Reason and Evolution

Reason and Evolution:

I doubt that this gentleman and I see eye-to-eye on everything, but I also believe in the power of evolutionary theory to explain many human behaviors:

Behavioral economists are inspired by psychology, not by evolutionary theory, and not even psychology writ large, but a particular sub-discipline called cognitive heuristics and biases, which shows how often people depart from the expectations of rational choice theory. The result is a long list of “anomalies” and “paradoxes” but no positive account of our psychological mechanisms as a product of genetic and cultural evolution. I wish that I could report otherwise, but it is necessary to take the Evolution Challenge for the field of behavioral economics, no less than for neoclassical economics....

What goes for economics also goes for every other body of knowledge about our species.

Philosophy as a discipline also needs to do more to account for the lessons of evolutionary science. Modern philosophy is dominated by the influence of Kant and Hegel, for whom the rational nature of humankind was the really important thing. In this they felt believed they were drawing upon and improving the legacy of the ancients, who had argued that thought was the faculty by which we regulate all our other faculties (Plato), or even that thinking was the essential nature of humanity (Aristotle).

The accounts of human nature arising from this rationality-centered picture tend to be wrong exactly where evolutionary theory says they should be wrong. It also tends to lead to a misreading of the ancients, who were closer to questions of survival, life, and death -- and therefore to evolution as a process. If you read Plato's Republic as a defense of reason, for example, you're missing the fear of destruction that arose from the Spartan conquest of Athens, the civil war, the tyranny. For that matter, if you read Aristotle as endorsing rationality as the dominant fact of human life, you've misunderstood what he meant by "reason." Reason, for the ancients, is a faculty that is supposed to be able to aim at both truth and beauty.

I doubt you can get to truth with reason alone; but I'm sure you can't get to beauty! Even the most friendly reading -- beauty as some sort of compliance to rules of symmetry or mathematical formulae -- still doesn't really get you there. Nor does it explain virtues like courage, magnanimity, friendship, or love.

Letting humans be a kind of evolved animal as well as a thinking being allows their animal nature to be as important in your philosophy as it proves to be in reality. The question becomes not: can reason control animality? Rather, the question is: what is the right balance between reason and animality for the best kind of life?

OK, and Along Those Same Lines

OK, and Along Those Same Lines

Tracey Ullman puts the same song to excellent use in this skit, a favorite of mine:

Lions and Birds:

We've talked about this before, but it's worth looking at again given that Mark Steyn has written about it lately. Listen to this song, by a group called "the evening birds" -- and they sound like them. You'll recognize the tune at some point.

At 1:10 in this next version, the lady piper hits what a bluegrass artist would call the "breakdown" of the interesting part of the song.

And here's Mark Steyn's story of how this song became the famous one you know.

The Viking Gateway

The Viking Gateway:

From TYWKIWDBI ("Things You Wouldn't Know If We Didn't Blog Intermittently") comes this:

[I]n northern Germany, not far from the North Sea-Baltic Canal... one can marvel at a giant, 30-kilometer (19-mile) wall which runs through the entire state of Schleswig-Holstein. The massive construction, called the Danevirke -- "work of the Danes" -- is considered the largest earthwork in northern Europe...

The researchers have discovered the only gate leading through the Danevirke, a five-meter (16 feet) wide portal. According to old writings, "horsemen and carts" used to stream through the gate, called "Wiglesdor." Next to it was a customs station and an inn that included a bordello...
People say that prostitution is the oldest profession, but I suspect this last sentence has the order the right way around.

How Did You Learn to Read?

How Did You Learn to Read?

Having no children in school (or anywhere else), I've had no dog in the fight over techniques for teaching literacy for a long time. Every now and then, though, I stumble on a debate over phonics, whole language, sub-lexical reading, holism, or graphophonemics that makes me wonder what in the world everyone is talking about.

I don't remember learning to read. I have no idea how I was taught, except that I think it must have included some attention to skillsets that now glare at each other over the barricade separating Phonics Land from Whole Languagea. I'm sure I can remember connecting letters to sounds, but I'm equally sure that no one drilled me in meaningless word-calling exercises before exposing me to stories, if only because I'd recall the physical violence that would have been required to keep me at the task. The earliest two things I can remember about learning to read are the shocking realization that it was possible to read silently to oneself -- who would have thought of such a thing! -- and the glow of pleased recognition when a neighbor explained that the ridiculous sequence of letters "i-n-g" meant the interesting sound I knew from words like "king" and "ring." Could it be that, back in the 1950s, I was being treated to what the New York Public School system calls its newly adopted system, "Balanced Literacy"?

When I turn to articles about literacy pedagogy, I begin to doubt my longstanding ability to read and comprehend:

*A reader uses three cuing systems:
  1. the graphic (printed visual array);
  2. the syntactic (conventions and consistencies of the language’s structure);
  3. and the semantic (meaning or comprehension, including background information and personal previous experiences). [graphic organizers, Language Experience Approach (L.E.A.) and Directed Reading-Thinking Activity (DRTA), writing books and stories]

    I don't know what any of that looks like when a teacher or a kid does it. I think people just read stories to me that I was interested in, pointed out the words, and probably explained the sounds of the letters, and at some point it sank in. Maybe that's what they call Directed Reading-Thinking Activity plus embedded phonics these days. Perhaps my family was all holistic and trendy! Maybe they began every lesson by activating my "prior knowledge (schema) through discussion" and continued this throughout the lesson to help me make connections to other books as well as my own experiences. There may have been attention to explicit skill instruction and the use of authentic texts, including culturally diverse literature in various modalities.

    Or maybe the people who write about education have just become unusually insane in recent decades.

    How did you guys learn to read? What about your kids?

    Lives Well Lived

    Lives Well Lived

    What do people regret from their deathbeds? A palliative care nurse reports that her dying patients felt that they'd sold their dreams too cheap and wished they hadn't given in so thoroughly to the expectations of others. Breadwinners on treadmills regretted missing so much of their children's and partners' lives, only to be able to buy more things none of them really needed. Stoics and shallow peacemakers were sorry they'd lacked the courage to express their feelings. Many regretted not keeping in better touch with old friends. Others concluded that a fear of change had left them mired in old miserable habits when they could have chosen happiness for themselves.

    I took this all as a rather sweet cautionary tale about drawing from the deepest wells within ourselves and not spending our lives caught up in frantic but not very meaningful scurrying: Mary vs. Martha. The comments on Assistant Village Idiot's site made me realize that others might see a much more unattractive "lotus-eaters" kind of message. Our friend Retriever, for instance, read the nurse's account as a kind of "watered down Joseph Campbell follow your bliss" screed, and doubted whether most people ever really regretted "doing the right thing, or meeting their responsibilities." Not being much of a "follow your bliss" type myself, I went back to read the original post to see if it still struck me the same way.

    It did. I still see it the way AVI does. He quotes Screwtape on the human souls he was teaching his nephew to tempt:

    ...so that at last he may say, as one of my own patients said on his arrival down here [Hell], "I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked."
    The difference must lie in my assumption that the work the dying patients regretted was neither their true duty nor their heart's desire but a lot of vain fuss. It's one thing to do hard, unpleasant work that really needs to be done, either for its own sake or to provide for your loved ones. It's another to get caught up in a rat-race that separates you from everything that should be most important. This is something that C.S. Lewis wrote about a lot: the idea that neither hedonism nor self-negation for its own sake was the ideal. Screwtape's advice continues:
    As a preliminary to detaching him from the Enemy [God], you wanted to detach him from himself, . . . . Of course I know that the Enemy also wants to detach men from themselves, but in a different way. Remember always, that He really likes the little vermin, and sets an absurd value on the distinctness of every one of them. When He talks of their losing their selves, He only means abandoning the clamour of self-will; once they have done that, He really gives them back all their personality, and boasts (I am afraid, sincerely) that when they are wholly His they will be more themselves than ever. Hence, while He is delighted to see them sacrificing even their innocent wills to His, He hates to see them drifting away from their own nature for any other reason. And we should always encourage them to do so. The deepest likings and impulses of any man are the raw material, the starting-point, with which the Enemy has furnished him. To get him away from those is therefore always a point gained; even in things indifferent it is always desirable substitute the standards of the World, or convention, or fashion, for a human's own real likings and dislikings. I myself would carry this very far. I would make it a rule to eradicate from my patient any strong personal taste which is not actually a sin, even if it is something quite trivial such as a fondness for county cricket or collecting stamps or drinking cocoa. Such things, I grant you, have nothing of virtue them; but there is a sort of innocence and humility and self-forgetfulness about them which I distrust. The man who truly and disinterestedly enjoys any one thing in the world, for its own sake, and without caring twopence what other people say about it, is by that very fact fore-armed against some of our subtlest modes of attack. You should always try to make the patient abandon the people or food or books he really likes in favour of the "best" people, the "right" food, the "important" books. I have known a human defended from strong temptations to social ambition by a still stronger taste for tripe and onions.

    So there are different ways of looking at giving in to the expectations of others. A lot depends on what they expect.

    Moving on to other Remedies

    Other Remedies:

    Having closed the last inquiry, then, let us examine other ways in which we might be able to repair -- or if need be, restore -- the proper function of the government. This essay looks at the structure of the original American government, and asks why that particular model was chosen. There was a problem at that moment in history that people were thinking about: the difficulty of defending a Republic that was extended over a large territory. Such a Republic would be necessary, because smaller republics would not be able to muster the resources to defend themselves in that era. But there were problems with the model:

    Governments at a distance from the people they rule tend to be invisible; and when human beings are invisible, they tend rightly to suppose that they can get away with a lot. Moreover, large polities tend to face emergencies more often than small polities, and emergencies require from rulers vigor, alacrity, and resoluteness of the sort most easily provided by a man who can act alone. The challenge facing the American Framers was to devise a constitutional structure capable of producing a government fit for meeting emergencies but unlikely to become, as James Madison once delicately put it, “self-directed.”

    To meet this challenge, they turned to the second and third parts of Montesquieu’s Spirit of Laws – where he sketched out two different ways in which a republic can overcome this limitation on its magnitude. It was, he realized, necessary that it do so because – at least in modern times – no small republic could hope to marshal the resources necessary for its self-defense when attacked by monarchies of intermediate size or despotisms immense in size.

    The first expedient suggested by Montesquieu was federalism. By means of federalism, a group of republics could project power in the manner of a monarchy while remaining small enough to be genuinely self-governing.

    Montesquieu’s second expedient was the separation of powers. By distinguishing along functional lines between the executive power, the legislative power, and the judicial power and by distributing these three powers to different bodies in such a fashion as to render them separate and quasi-autonomous, the English had managed to transform a monarchy into a republic capable of sustaining itself on an extended territory. For emergencies, they had an executive capable of vigor, alacrity, and resoluteness. To prevent that executive from becoming a tyrant, they had a House of Commons responsible to the electorate and capable of calling the executive’s servants to account. To avoid populist excesses, they had a House of Lords capable of checking the House of Commons; and to protect the liberty of the citizens, they had judges who could not easily be removed from office and juries selected from among the peers of those accused.

    The Americans combined both expedients. To begin with, they instituted a federation, building on the remnants of the old colonial system and on the structure that existed under the Articles of Confederation. At the center, they established a government of limited powers – capable of defending the nation, of guaranteeing to every state a republican government, of regulating commerce between the states, and of responding to emergencies. To the states and local governments, where the territory was comparatively small, they left all other legitimate powers. To make the federal government in some measure independent of the states, they provided for direct popular election of the House of Representatives; and to enable the states to protect their own prerogatives from federal encroachment, they had the state legislatures elect the federal senate.

    At both the state and federal level, the American founders instituted a separation of powers, giving to the executive, the legislators, and the judiciary the means by which to defend their own prerogatives and the motives for doing so – and, by dividing and separating the powers, the Founders sought to make the government and its operations visible to the citizens. Each branch served the general public as a watchdog with regard to the others.

    The measures undertaken by the Obama administration and by its supporters in Congress that gave rise to and sustained the Tea-Party Movement all have this in common. They constitute an assault – evident to anyone who cares to look – on our inherited political order. They transgress on the two great principles constitutive of that order. They are inconsistent with federalism and the separation of powers...
    Federalism has another great advantage, which was important to the Founders: it allows for the diversity of opinion that was very important to making the early Republic as stable as it was. There was not a great deal of social trust between the early states, and the factions in those days were just as hostile to each other as our factions are becoming today. The Federalist structure intended to protect the states' rights to substantially different internal social contracts, so that the descendants of the Puritans in the north and the descendants of the Cavaliers in the South could each have their own laws and ways.

    That part of the idea remains important today: a major part of the friction we have in the United States comes from the use of the Federal government to impose one-size-fits-all solutions on the whole of the nation. The more urban blue states have some basic assumptions about law and justice that are incompatible with what the more rural red states believe, and vice versa. Some of those issues have to be Federal issues (e.g., does the Constitution authorize programs like Social Security?). Many, though, could be handled in a Federalist manner without causing injustice to anyone -- after all, if they really did not like the interpretation of the state of California (say), they could move to New York or to New Mexico.

    Such a model gives us more liberty, as we are free to have several different modes -- at least as many as fifty, as there are that many states. Individuals can then choose from among the many interpretations what they prefer for themselves and their families. Furthermore, they can then live at peace with their neighbors who feel differently, instead of constantly being in friction with each other over the attempt to finalize a 'one-size-fits-all' solution that their faction prefers.

    Thoughts, on the essay or on these matters that it raises?

    Limits Continued

    Limits: Some Concluding Remarks

    Eric says that he doesn't like the talk of limiting the franchise; he's not the first to say so.

    We started with a similar exploratory thought experiment, in Plato: and it was far more tyrannical than anything as mild as 'perhaps the franchise should be earned in some fashion.' The dialogues are still very useful even though no one would ever want to live in such a republic. The good of them is in getting you to teach yourself how to think about the questions of politics. We certainly want a state that is well managed, which executes its functions wisely, and which is able to defend itself (because living in wars, losing wars, or being subject to anarchy is miserable). We certainly don't want a state that goes so far as Plato's in controlling our lives. The one we have now seems to be both overly coercive (as Eric notes) and destabilizing due to ruinous spending programs and internal factional friction.

    Now, if the effect of limiting the franchise were to increase government power and decrease citizen ability to restrain the government, then it would be a bad idea. I agree with that prospect, and if I were certain that would be the effect, I'd agree with Eric's remarks entirely.

    The counterargument: It's possible that by concentrating the power of the vote among those who have an interest in maintaining the small-r republican character of the nation, you could increase rather than decrease the effect of the vote in restraining government coercion. Hamilton was interested in limits in principle because he thought that was the best way to preserve the newly free character of the nation. His idea was that the government would otherwise naturally fall into the hands of the rich and powerful, who could sway the poor. In this, he was drawing on lessons from England, and fairly old traditions.

    Now, that said, this exploration -- as interesting and profitable as it's been to look back at the source of the franchise, to note that the arguments for expanding it were based on virtue, and otherwise to examine how we got to where we are -- hasn't really brought forth useful results. Elise said that her chief objection was that she couldn't think of a way to limit the franchise that would ensure that all and only the right people got to vote. So far, I haven't been able to think of one either.

    All I came up with as good examples of qualities that would demonstrate virtue were honorable military service, and faithful parenthood. That's inadequate: I can think of lots of people I know who don't fall in either category, but who are certainly not folks who should be disqualified from voting. And I can't think of any quality or union of qualities that would be a good proxy for virtue: neither education, nor income level (Hamilton notwithstanding, I don't think either wealth or payment of taxes is a good model), nor much of anything else that comes to mind is really useful in this regard.

    I doubt that limiting the franchise is the answer. The lesson of the Norman expansion of the franchise is that it's worked better than the systems that did not expand it. I don't think there are good moral reasons to believe that the franchise should be universal and unearned, but I also can't think of a good model for earning it that allows all and only (or mostly) the right people to have access.

    Finally, it really does have to be virtue that we have a good way of measuring, and not what Elise calls pragmatics. This is because, as we've discussed, conservatives and liberals seem to have different blind spots in things like threat perception. We need both sets of insights; a state that was ruled by either set alone would be missing a crucial part of the picture. It's important to remember that we need each other, so that someone can see the things I can't see, or that you can't see.

    Unless there are solid suggestions that seem to answer that question, I propose to conclude the examination.

    Yay Juliette

    Yay, Juliette!

    Baldilocks gets a cartoon. Nobody's ever made a cartoon about me; but, on reflection, that's probably just as well.



    Since 9/11, there have been a number of books and articles re-fighting the legacy of the Crusades. In particular, the slaughter in Jerusalem at the end of the First Crusade usually is taken to be evidence of the wickedness of the whole project. Dad29 links to a piece today that points out a fact that doesn't normally make the cut:

    Violence against, and persecution of Jews was never encouraged, tolerated, or condoned by the Papacy. Christianity did not need a thousand years to “clean up its act” with regard to Jews; in response to the atrocities carried out by soldiers in the crusading armies, Pope Calixtus II issued the bull “Sicut Judaeis” in 1120, which declares, among other things that:
    [The Jews] ought to suffer no prejudice. We, out of the meekness of Christian piety, and in keeping in the footprints or Our predecessors of happy memory, the Roman Pontiffs Calixtus, Eugene, Alexander, Clement, admit their petition, and We grant them the buckler of Our protection.
    In other words, when Christians carried out acts of violence against Jews, they were doing so in disobedience to their religion, and their spiritual leaders. This was also the case during the unfortunate sack of Constantinople in 1203, in which Christian turned upon Christian during the Fourth Crusade.
    What is often also forgotten is that there had been some Christian pushback against the Islamic nations before 1095. One reason that the Normans won at Hastings in 1066 is that the Anglo-Saxon army had been in the north fighting Harald Hardrada, the Viking king, only days before; they'd finished a brutal battle at Stamford Bridge, and then had to force march to intercept the invading Normans.

    That same Harald Hardrada had fought in Sicily with the Byzantines, as part of the Varangian Guard. This is told of in the Heimskringla. These campaigns were in the 1040s.

    The reconquest of Spain began in 1085 with the fall of Toledo to Alfonso VI of Leon and Castille. We were looking at a scene from El Cid just the other day, as you'll recall.

    So by 1095, when Pope Urban preached the Crusade, it was not out of desperation and fear of imminent destruction. It was in part out of a sense that the tide had been turning, and that the once-unstoppable forces of Islam had begun to be rolled back. The atrocities committed against Christians in the Holy Land didn't seem impossible to correct, with Toledo in recent memory and with an ally in the East.

    That said, the First Crusade was a miracle. The ally in the East proved treacherous, and a student of the war will be stunned that they carried it off at all. They did so only by the smallest margin, capturing Jerusalem with an Islamic army advancing upon them. I met one of the descendants of the man who led that army, while I was in Iraq; in those days, his tribe (of whom he was one of three brothers who were the paramount sheikhs) had run a kingdom in the north of what is now Iraq. He was very proud of that fact, and he knew that I would know just which army he meant when relating the story -- as indeed I did.

    So, you see: the past is with us. It is not, as Requiem for a Nun put it, even past.

    The Lifecycle of Gov't programs

    The Lifecycle of a Government Program:

    Once upon a time, when the city of Atlanta was growing by leaps and bounds, the Georgia Department of Transportation decided that they needed a new major highway that would let traffic into and out of the city on a direct north-south line. They had an interstate (I-75) that did so on a northwest/southeast line; and they had one that went southwest to northeast (I-85). But they wanted another one just to go north to south.

    The Federal government said, "Nope." They agreed to pay for a regular highway, US 19, but not another interstate.

    So Georgia took the money for US 19, linked it up with some of its own money, and linked it up with the existing Georgia 400 highway. This allowed traffic to flow in from the north directly to the center of Atlanta, where it met up with I-75 and I-85 in the middle of town.

    To pay for the construction, they set up a toll booth. This was something of an innovation in Georgia, but not to worry! It was to be temporary, just until the construction costs were paid off by the state.

    That's been oh, around fifteen years ago. Tens of thousands of cars a day go through that gate, paying tolls both in and out of the city. The original costs were long paid off, but did the toll go away?

    Two guesses.

    In re: "Even More on the Franchise"

    [This post is a propos Grim's "Even More on the Franchise," shortly below. Sorry for the long post….] It's not strictly true that the Founders we less concerned with voting rights per se; they simply left, by design, the manner of enfranchisement to the individual states. The Constitution, after all, was envisioned as creating a federated alliance of States, with the central government concerned with national-level interests (primarily outward looking at the time—national defense, vice individual State defense, for example), and with the central government granted authority to see to the individual States' "foreign" policies—not just with, e.g., European nation-states, but the united States' [sic.] policies vis-á-vis their fellow States—the original purpose of the Commerce Clause, for instance. Indeed, the house of Congress envisioned as being closest to the People—to the voters—was to be directly elected by the People (The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States,…. Art I, Sect 1).

    Since the Founders were trying to guts up a new nation, they left what was at the time viewed to be a local matter to the locals—but they expected voting rights to be granted (acknowledged?) in fashion. It's true that it wasn't until after the Civil War that the concept of voting rights—of the franchise—was nationalized; the Federal government having decided that too many of the States had abused their voting-granting authority (if only because they could enforce that decision, having just won the war). But voting, of some segment of the population having the franchise, is well entrenched in the American polity.

    I'll turn now to my view of limiting this franchise, if we should at all. T99 is concerned that those not enfranchised, or actively disenfranchised, might not behave as well as those who are enfranchised, perhaps to the point of active detriment to society as a whole. I'm not convinced that not having the franchise is necessarily a significant limit on freedom, and so a significant incentive to act up. In Heinlein's construction, for instance (which I mention without judgment of its technical or operational merit), all citizens had the same rights, liberties, and responsibilities, save only the vote. Thus, the nonenfranchised citizen was in the same position as the enfranchised who had lost the vote; the nonenfranchised simply lost every vote. This is a significant disability, to be sure, but I suggest it would be no significant loss of liberty, since the nonenfranchised could take steps to cure the disability at any time. In our own American mechanization of the franchise, we actively exclude felons, they having demonstrated by their behavior a sufficient lack of virtue (I'll elide here a definition of virtue).

    Thismay well be a valid exclusion; however, American society must ask, and answer, one important question of itself. We believe, as a Christian nation, still, in the possibility of redemption on earth. We also claim that once a felon has paid his/her debt to society—that is, satisfied the court-imposed judgment, including whatever jail time plus parole might have been required—that felon should be restored to more or less full citizenship. I say more-or-less because we still restrict felons from possessing fire arms and from the vote. The question to be answered is, "At what point will this felon truly have paid his debt? At what point will we truly restore this person to his full citizenship?" (Note that I'm tacitly including the franchise in "full citizenship.")

    I think the general consensus building is that we do want to limit the franchise, and we do want only the virtuous citizen to vote. This legitimately, I believe, includes felons while in a felonious state (and I suggest that some felonies indeed should cause a permanent felonious state, even though a punishment meted out may have been fulfilled); and noncitizens, even though present legally, regardless of how virtuous. I suggest that such exclusions are legitimate, because they are disabilities that can be remedied by the individual in question: the first by not committing the felonious act in the first place, and the second be deciding to become a citizen. If this construction is accepted, then I suggest that the acceptable window of the definition of "virtue" gets a whole lot broader—because whatever we decide should be grounds for exclusion of the franchise, the individual so excluded has the power to correct the grounds for exclusion himself.

    Some miscellaneous minor points. I speculate the Normans' use of the diminutive "franklin" for the Anglo-Saxons was an insulting usage, and that they reserve "frank" for Normans. I speculate this based on the esteem in which the two groups held each other, and the typical attitude of the conqueror toward the newly conquered, as well as your own view that there were simply too many freemen Anglo-Saxons to easily, umm, disenfranchise.

    (Note that this was not 'universal franchise' in the American sense either, however, as Athens had a number of non-citizen resident classes, and citizenship was linked to military service.) This distinction may not last: there are various American municipalities that are experimenting with the idea of extending the vote to non-citizens (in Colorado, because they live there, too…) and granting six votes per person (in New England, to improve the chances of electing Hispanics who cannot get elected on their merits). For all that, my remarks will proceed from the current meaning of "the franchise," that is the right to vote.

    (Can someone who knows Elise invite her in? It may be that she'd be a willing participant if asked. I'm new to blogging, so I don't know the ethics of this in the blogosphere.)

    Eric Hines

    Animal Rescue

    Animal Rescue

    My neighbors and I all agree, in an adult and responsible way, that you can't go rescuing every animal. It stands to reason you can't give the rest of the county an incentive to dump all their unwanted animals on our road. These worthy sentiments don't help at all. A good handful of us are confirmed suckers, to the disgust of the more sensible members of our households. My husband complains bitterly that I should put up a "no kill shelter" sign on the road.

    One of my neighbors managed to pick up three kittens one day a few months ago, and then a puppy the very next day. We took care of their medical needs and found homes for all of them before too long. This weekend another neighbor brought a starving, lost, friendly little terrier back with him from his bike ride, tucked under one arm. Even better luck this time: the pup has a home already with a more distant neighbor. We try to keep tabs on anyone on the peninsula who's suggested he's getting ready to think about taking in another animal sometime soon, or who might be browbeaten or sandbagged into it. Email newslists help.

    Usually whoever makes the find gets stuck with the foster care (there has to be some discipline!), but the rest of us suckers get together and help with the vet work and the effort to find a new home. There's no explaining this compulsion to people who don't share it. Those of us who suffer from the compulsion have long since exchanged the secret handshakes of recognition. We call each other up to confess that we've done it again, and to get moral support as we reassure our suffering spouses that we're really going to find homes for these creatures, not adopt all of them ourselves. Not all of them.

    The picture above is of two of my scoundrels when we first took them in seven years ago. Honestly, who could have resisted them?

    I'm grateful for my like-minded neighbors. It would be easy to get burned out on this kind of thing if you thought you were alone.


    Tolerance vs. Approval

    American Digest's Vanderleun addresses a distinction I've often struggled to make between the desirability of tolerance and the dangers of abject moral relativism:

    In essence we agree that I tolerate your worship of a moon god and you tolerate my worship of a tree. . . . If, on the other hand, you decide that I have to make continuous noises of "approval" of the moon god in order for you to grant me the right to worship the tree god in peace, we are headed towards an argument that ends in guns. . . . "Toleration does not require approval." It really is the simplest of social compacts and like all great and simple ideas bringing in nuance and qualifiers doesn't strengthen our common bonds as society but weakens it. This is well-known to those that seek to create a climate of continual upheaval in the mistaken belief that, in the end, the fire will not consume them. Civil war consumes all. . . . In the spirit of America, I am prepared to tolerate a vast and unfettered range of religions, beliefs, lifestyles, and other things that my fellow citizens may wish to don in order to decorate their lives and souls. But if they come to me and seek my unfettered approval for this or that hobby-horse they have chosen to ride I shall reserve my approval according to my judgment. Should they then, like piqued children, insist on my approval of this or my disapproval of that as a requirement in custom or in law for my continued full citizenship in this nation, we will find ourselves at daggers drawn.

    It's still not easy to draw the line between tolerance and approval, whatever Vanderleun may say, whenever actions move beyond the largely symbolic and private. I won't be drawing my dagger over monotheism, but I'm not likely to tolerate theft and murder in my immediate vicinity no matter what its multicultural basis.



    I have fixed many broken links today, especially on the sidebar. The switch to a weekly rather than monthly archive has allowed the whole of the archives to be available. (The monthly archives were reaching some maximum length, and then ignoring further entries.) However, it also broke about 3/4ths of the links on the sidebar to items in the history here at Grim's Hall. I think I have fixed them all now.

    I've also made a new link section called "Frith & Freedom," since it's relatively easy to do at the moment, and since those ideas are of importance right now.

    M.C. Quine

    M.C. Quine:

    Today's xkcd has an inside joke that is probably only funny to philosophers. That's a rare beast: but see also here.

    Speaking of which, I went to a gathering of people interested in philosophy tonight; there I received a very great compliment, and witnessed a very great insult. The compliment was just this: at the end of the evening, after I had said goodbye and traveled as far as the street, a young and pregnant woman who had been present at the party followed me out and asked me if I would mind to accompany her through the dark to her car. I don't think I've felt that honored in a long time.

    The insult came earlier in the evening. There were only two women present, the one I just mentioned and another from Brazil. They had been largely ignored by the otherwise-male crowd, and so I made some pretense to bring them into the conversation. One of the young men who had been holding forth -- on Kant, as it happens -- joined us but said nothing. The women had been talking about surfing, which proves to have many harmonies with horseback riding as a discipline of body and soul. We discussed that for a while.

    After a time, the young lady from Brazil looked at the young man, who had been listening to our conversation, and said: "Do you do any exercise?"

    He sputtered a bit, and said, "Do I do any exercise?"

    She looked at him carefully, and nodded. "Backgammon, perhaps?"

    Njal's Saga: Part Seven

    Njal's Saga: Part Seven

    I completely failed to post an entry last week, for which I humbly apologize to those of you who have been waiting to discuss this part of the saga. This week's (last week's!) reading is here; next week's is here.

    This week's readings touch on two main themes: the marriage and killing of Hauskuld, the Priest of Whiteness, and some conflict involving Njal's sons. The latter is the part that is going to drive much of the rest of the saga. Here we see the first of Njal's family to die.

    Note also the mention of Snorri the Priest, who is an important figure in the Heathslayings.

    Even More on the Franchise

    Even More on the Franchise:

    My expectation is that most of you are beginning to bore of this topic, so I appreciate your indulgence as I make a note of my further thoughts.

    I regret that our friend Elise has decided not to join us, because I was hoping to obtain from her an idea of why this notion of a universal franchise was so important to her. It's an interesting question, and a debate on the subject of the franchise will not be complete without a defense of it as an idea.

    For that reason, I'm going to provide that defense myself, as well as I can.

    We should begin with the origin of the word "franchise." Its first use was in the 14th century, making it a fairly new word. It is not the old Greek concept of democracy, in other words, where all citizens have a vote by virtue of being citizens. (Note that this was not 'universal franchise' in the American sense either, however, as Athens had a number of non-citizen resident classes, and citizenship was linked to military service.) Neither was it the Roman sense, which allocated democratic support in several ways over the centuries, but not in our own; we read about one of them in Plutarch's Life of Crassus.

    The word comes from the Anglo-French franchir, from the Old French franc: which is to say, it came to us from the Normans. We first observe it as a description of knights in literature. The word means 'the bearing of nobility and honor befitting a free man.' (See Maurice Keen's Chivalry, which discusses this use of the term "franchise" in several places.)

    When it becomes a description of a status, rather than a personal quality, it originally did not mean "the right to vote." Rather, it meant "to free from obligations," as a man could become free of serfdom or other obligations; he could also become free to do something, as we now say that you purchase a franchise from a corporation (so that you are free to serve their products, etc.).

    So, the word "franc" meant "free man." And this is no surprise, because it is the French word: that is to say, in those days, the language of the Franks. A Frank was a free man. To franchise someone was to make him a Frank. (Do you see the tie to "franklin," the Norman word for the already-free Anglo Saxons who called themselves thanes? It is a diminutive of "Frank," a little Frank! By the same token, "Han" in Mandarin -- which refers to the majority ethnic group, the Han Chinese -- translates literally as "true man" or "hero.")

    In other words, Dr. Painter's theory proves out:

    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.
    So here, then, is the linguistic -- and, as language informs our basic understanding of the world, much of the emotional -- tie between the franchise and our idea of "all men being created equal," which we are discussing below. "To have the franchise" meant "to be a free man," and has meant that for a very long time. Someone without the franchise is not, by these traditional understandings, truly free.

    And that must be the core of the objection: that, by restricting the franchise, we are degrading our fellow Americans to some lesser status than "free men" (and women).

    Now, the Founders were not so concerned about this aspect. Voting rights do not appear in the Constitution, nor in the Bill of Rights; only in later amendments do they appear, as a practical consequence of the Civil War. This implies that they did not feel that the right to vote was one of the primary rights that all citizens should have, or that it was of first importance to protect. Hamilton provided (as we have seen) an argument for restricting the franchise; and there were any number of other restrictions in place as well as the one on the poor. These seem to have been rooted in the idea of franchise as something befitting a free man, in many cases -- literally, a man, since the franchise was denied to women; and also someone who had the means to be free (40 shillings' wealth, in those days).

    Still, we have rejected both parts of that formula. I personally endorse both of those rejections. Therefore, I can make no argument against universal suffrage arising from the Founders' position.

    Furthermore, the Norman exception has proven to be incredibly wise and productive. Whereas much of Europe languished in serfdom and obligation, the exception the Normans made for franklins (largely because it was too hard to enforce any other status on propertied, armed, military families) did great good for England. There was an explosion of liberty and other good things in that land arising from it. By the same token, we have also benefitted by each extension, because it allowed more people the opportunity to rise to the expectations of the status.

    There remains the problem of felons! But that exception, which is the one exception we make to align our principle of universal suffrage with the problem of public virtue, may yet swallow the whole. The noble and honorable bearing that befits a free man is not always shown; and we might well say that, while it is good to offer it to all in the hope that they might rise to the standard, it is better to offer it to all on the condition that they rise to the standard.

    That is another argument, however. Tonight, it is enough to lay out why it is important as a principle.


    They're he-e-e-re

    To the left is the current level of hummingbird action (multiplied by the number of feeders, which we've increased to nine today). Professional watchers tell us it's safe to estimate that there are three birds in the trees for every one you see on the feeder. I can believe it; the twittering and zooming the trees is certainly getting noisy. We've already gone through 3 quarts of sugar water today as of our last refill just after lunch.

    To the right is what they'll look like in a few days or weeks. The local Hummingbird Festival starts in two weeks. It's our county's biggest deal, bigger even than the annual return of the whooping cranes.



    More from the estimable James Taranto this morning: a rumination on the fear of "us" rather than the fear of the "other." He quotes the British philosopher Roger Scruton, who "has coined a term to describe this attitude: oikophobia."

    Xenophobia is fear of the alien; oikophobia is fear of the familiar: "the disposition, in any conflict, to side with 'them' against 'us', and the felt need to denigrate the customs, culture and institutions that are identifiably 'ours.' " . . .

    The oik repudiates national loyalties and defines his goals and ideals against the nation, promoting transnational institutions over national governments, accepting and endorsing laws that are imposed on us from on high by the EU or the UN, . . . and defining his political vision in terms of universal values that have been purified of all reference to the particular attachments of a real historical community.

    The oik is, in his own eyes, a defender of enlightened universalism against local chauvinism. And it is the rise of the oik that has led to the growing crisis of legitimacy in the nation states of Europe. For we are seeing a massive expansion of the legislative burden on the people of Europe, and a relentless assault on the only loyalties that would enable them voluntarily to bear it.

    There is one important difference between the American oik and his European counterpart. American patriotism is not a blood-and-soil nationalism but an allegiance to a country based in an idea of enlightened universalism. Thus our oiks masquerade as -- and may even believe themselves to be -- superpatriots, more loyal to American principles than the vast majority of Americans, whom they denounce as "un-American" for feeling an attachment to their actual country as opposed to a collection of abstractions.

    Yet the oiks' vision of themselves as an intellectual aristocracy violates the first American principle ever articulated: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal . . ." . . . This cannot be reconciled with the elitist notion that most men are economically insecure bitter clinging intolerant bigots who need to be governed by an educated elite.



    The farm-raised vs. wild controversy wouldn't have been my biggest issue here.

    The world's most expensive coffee is gathered from the droppings of wild civets, which eat the coffee berries and enrich their flavor with their digestive enzymes. The results sell for $1,700/lb, which one drinker in Jakarta describes without apparent irony as "twice as expensive as Starbucks," but worth it. Jakarta fanciers now have access to this delicacy because it has been exonerated from the status of "haram," or forbidden to Muslim drinkers, as long as the poop-berries have been washed carefully.

    All is not well in poop-coffee-purist-land, however. Unscrupulous capitalists plan to feed coffee berries to caged civets.

    "I think wild civets offer more variants to the taste," said specialty coffee expert Edi Sumadi. "Inside the cage, the civets' diet is regulated, they're not free to pick following their instincts, so the enzyme inside their digestive system is monotonous."

    Insist on free-range poop coffee.

    H/t James Taranto