Your Government in Action

Your Government in Action

I can only imagine the stimulative effect of the tax money that must have been used to put up this sign, which is post-modern in its self-referential beauty.

H/t Ace's overnight thread via the NPH.
The Hall Bedecked:

While we lack the elegance of T99's lovely home, we have arranged things in a way that matches the merriment of the season.

The skull over the mantel looks on jars of homemade crystallized ginger root and cookies, as well as my great-great grandfather's musket.

The Christmas tree. Slightly obscured are the knights and castles carved into the chest beside; more obvious, the bamboo root carved into the shape of a Chinese guardian spirit.

We have also arranged for a general winter feast:

Even horses can't eat that fast, though, so it needed to be stowed against the cold, wet winter we're expecting here.

Preparation is everything! I have laid in a duck and a ham, and some beer, many pounds of flour and sugar and coffee and other good things.

Fire is needed by the newcomer
Whose knees are frozen numb;
Meat and clean linen a man needs
Who has fared across the fells,

Water, too, that he may wash before eating,
Handcloth's and a hearty welcome,
Courteous words, then courteous silence
That he may tell his tale[.]

Chinese & Philosophy

The Chinese Student of Western Philosophy:

This interesting article touches on the experience of a teacher of political philosophy with numerous Chinese students. They've settled on some interesting choices, and he has some thoughts as to why these particular thinkers of interest to someone rooted in Chinese culture.

I was particularly taken with the wisdom of the one student, who refused an English language immersion course in order to study Latin.



Today's news: Marine Commandant demonstrates the courage to speak the truth as he sees it, in spite of his CINC's opposition. The Washington Post refuses to make headlines out of its headline-grabbing poll, showing heightened opposition to Obamacare. Congress continues to set new records, both in spending and in popularity.

Havamal on the Holidsys

The Hávamál on the Holidays:

Many of you will soon be undertaking travel to distant places, in the cold and the snow. I wish to remind you of some very good advice.


The man who stands at a strange threshold,
Should be cautious before he cross it,
Glance this way and that:
Who knows beforehand what foes may sit
Awaiting him in the hall?



Better gear than good sense
A traveler cannot carry,
A more tedious burden than too much drink
A traveler cannot carry,


Less good than belief would have it
Is mead for the sons of men:
A man knows less the more he drinks,
Becomes a befuddled fool[.]


Silence becomes the Son of a prince,
To be silent but brave in battle:
It befits a man to be merry and glad
Until the day of his death[.]
And remember this also, you who travel:

A wayfarer should not walk unarmed,
But have his weapons to hand:
He knows not when he may need a spear,
Or what menace meet on the road.

The Small Laws

The Small Laws:

The other day, I saw a strange post at Volokh, asking whether and why adult incest should be banned by law.

Now, it's a known fact that electing a Democratic president very often leads to challenges to the basic foundations of society. I'm not sure just why this is true; as a lifelong Democrat myself, until the formation of the Tea Party, I can't think of any good reason it should be true. There are plenty of Southern Baptists among the Democratic Party; there are plenty of Catholics; and their most devout voters, the black community, are stridently religious.

Nevertheless, elect a Democrat to the White House, and suddenly you're talking seriously about whether or not there is really a rational basis for banning incest.

Dad29 has the right answer about all this, which is of course to be found in a Chesterton quote.

When you break the big laws, you do not get freedom; you do not even get anarchy. You get the small laws.
What you get, that is, is petty tyranny. A law that denies the will of the vast majority will need invasive powers if it is to enforce its authority. It will need to control you: if not your very thoughts, at least your expressions of those thoughts.

We gain a freedom to commit incest with our adult children: a freedom almost no one wanted, and which freedom almost everyone will resolve by hurling it away -- as one ought to do if one should discover something filthy in one's hand. That, though, brings us back around to Dr. Nussbaum's point, and our earlier discussion of it.

Oh, by the way, why is this incest thing suddenly something that people are willing to step up and defend? I can't help but notice that the guilty party is a noted Palin critic; and, I suppose, that suggests to a certain set that he must therefore be in the right. We need, then, to find out how we have gone wrong, in condemning behavior practiced by so obviously correct and wise a man.

I gently suggest: possibly not.

Matthew 5:9

Blessed are the Peacemakers:

I don't know how much peace was made by Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who has died unexpectedly at the age of 69. The position is an honorable one, though, if undertaken properly with a serious heart. My condolences to his family.

UPDATE: I said above that I didn't know how much peace he had made, which was true in the literal sense: there's little enough in Afghanistan, and I wasn't familiar with his earlier career. This morning's biography in the Washington Post, though, makes it sound like he may have done quite a bit to forge peace, especially in the wars following Yugoslavia's collapse. It's worth reading.

The Piano Arrives!

The Piano Arrives!

I'm taking custody today of my good friend's dog, a dog I'm awfully fond of, for a month or so while she goes on her annual holiday walkabout. Since she lives several hours away, I normally would count on her to deliver him to me, or at least meet me halfway. Not today, though: the gorgeous 9-foot grand piano has arrived. I drove up to admire it and play for a while.

What a beautiful, beautiful instrument. This picture shows my friend, an accomplished flutist, playing a duet with her young son. Fifteen years ago when she turned up pregnant, she could hardly imagine becoming a mother, let alone that her son would become this fine musician. The last time he was at my house noodling around on my piano, I thought he was pretty good for such a young man, fourteen years old. That was nearly a year ago. In the intervening months he's progressed by leaps and bounds. He played some Rachmaninoff and Brahms and Mozart and Liszt, but as my heart belongs to Chopin, he indulged me with the lovely Nocturne in C sharp minor, which you can listen to here, played by another very young person:

We goofed around playing Richard Strauss's Four Last Songs, with my friend playing the vocal parts on her flute, her son sight-reading the left hand of the piano accompaniment and me trying to sight-read the right hand. We made a mess of it, but I haven't had so much fun for ages. When I haven't been to her home for a while, I forget what a paradise of music and art it is. You can barely walk through any room without tripping over looms and spinning wheels. And although I didn't get to stay long, I now have my beloved Chuck, the chocolate lab, here for a month-long visit, making us a four-dog household. Who could ask for more?

Don't Forget the Shower

Don't Forget the Shower

The Geminid meteor shower is beginning already and will get better all night long. Right now they're coming about one every two or three minutes. Look east at Gemini, the two-star constellation a bit north of Orion and slightly lower in the sky. The meteors will appear to be radiating straight out of Gemini in all directions. Most of the ones we saw were a good hand's breath away from Gemini.

Mainstreaming the Constitution

Mainstreaming the Constitution:


A year ago, no one took seriously the idea that a federal health care mandate was unconstitutional.
No one?
A number of readers have taken issue with my saying that "no one" took this idea seriously. It would probably be better to say that very few experts on constitutional law thought there was much chance that the law could be successfully challenged on constitutional grounds. Some chance, but not much. And I think that is unquestionably true. The mainstreaming of this argument over the last 12 to 18 months is little short of remarkable.
This is one of those 'nobody I know voted for Nixon' things. By "no one" he means to say "no academic scholars of the law that I habitually read"; and by "mainstreaming" he means that "main stream" which is composed of constitutional scholars, Federal judges, and the like.

What he's missing is that, actually, everyone believed it was unconstitutional except for a few lawyers and leftists. The reason this argument could so quickly become "mainstream" in his technical sense is that it was already mainstream in the actual sense.

Ms. McArdle writes:
I've yet to see a major story showing how health care reform is working better than expected. So far, everything from the claims that Democrats would get a bounce in the polls after passage, to the promises that you could keep your insurance if you liked it, to the legal issues, turn out to have been overoptimistic at best.
Yes, that's true. So is this, from Professor Richard Epstein:
The key successful move for Virginia was that it found a way to sidestep the well known 1942 decision of the Supreme Court in Wickard v. Filburn, which held in effect that the power to regulate commerce among the several states extended to decisions of farmers to feed their own grain to their own cows. Wickard does not pass the laugh test if the issue is whether it bears any fidelity to the original constitutional design. It was put into place for the rather ignoble purpose of making sure that the federally sponsored cartel arrangements for agriculture could be properly administered.

At this point, no District Court judge dare turn his back on the ignoble and unprincipled decision in Wickard. But Virginia did not ask for radical therapy. It rather insisted that “all” Wickard stands for is the proposition that if a farmer decides to grow wheat, he cannot feed it to his own cows if a law of Congress says otherwise. It does not say that the farmer must grow wheat in order that the federal government will have something to regulate.....

Virginia has drawn a clear line that accounts for all the existing cases, so that no precedent has to be overruled to strike down this legislation. On the other hand, to uphold it invites the government to force me to buy everything from exercise machines to bicycles, because there is always some good that the coercive use of state authority can advance.
Dr. Epstein really gets to the core of the problem with the law, and the reason it is so blatantly unconstitutional. It is unconstitutional not for some technical reason attuned to some careful reading of precedent, but because it effectively eliminates all restraints on government power. Establishing a form of government that was restrained to only essential powers was the reason for writing a Constitution in the first place. If the Founders had wanted a state with unlimited power to do "good," they could have named an Imperator, and set standards for choosing one who was more-or-less reliably good.

Instead, they created a government of and for the people, most of whom won't be all that good. Such a government needs to be carefully limited. That's what the Constitution exists to do. A law that slaps aside those limits is unconstitutional at its very heart: it is poisonous to the character of the American project.

Every Tongue

"...And Every Tongue Shall Confess..."

Aye, and every block of wood.

And why not every block of wood, if it comes to that?