In Excelsiis

In Excelsis:

Iraqi Christmas

The Spirit of Martyrs:

Iraq's Christian community has come under great strain, enduring a massacre at its leading cathedral earlier this year. Today, however, they were out in defiance of tyranny. This, I suppose, is the spirit of the martyrs: and an act of great faith.

In the Philippines, a bomb targeted a Catholic church today. I met a priest when I was in the southern Philippines, and visited his church. He kept a monkey on a harness, which was attached to a ring that ran along a wire so that the monkey could climb all over the church without escaping. That priest was a brave man, too.

The Boar's Head

Merry Christmas:

I didn't get to make that boar's head this year after all, partially because I couldn't convince anyone else that they would enjoy eating it. I will be making the roast duck, which everyone thought they would like.

Again this year I am fortunate enough to be home with family, rather than abroad. We'll see what next year brings! In the meantime, be well, and be merry.

UPDATE: Amusingly, I didn't get to eat the duck either. I did make it, but about two hours short of being ready, a huge snowstorm blew up. As we were visiting family for Christmas, and did not want to become trapped, we had to leave early. I left instructions for finishing the dish, which I understand they did. I'll let you know what they thought of it. Christmas dinner for me: leftovers!

That's OK, though. This is the first White Christmas I've ever seen in my home state. For an hour today I drove in a snowstorm. I can make a duck any day: but snow, in Georgia, on Christmas, is a thing I never thought I'd live to see.

UPDATE: My sister sends a picture of the famous duck.

It was good enough that my father called me to report on how much he'd enjoyed his three servings of it. Since he normally does not care for any food that is even slightly unusual, that's a very high compliment. I'll have to try it again sometime. Thanks to T99 for recipe advice. I ended up combining several, and going with a very slow (five hour) roast.

Christmas in Bethlehem

Christmas in Bethlehem:

If you are so blessed as to be able to manage a pilgrimage to Bethlehem this year, your hosts have a message for you: "No crosses, please."

This Christmas, tourists and pilgrims to the Holy Land will need to keep their piety under wraps. AsiaNews reports that in Bethlehem, the city of Jesus’ birth, the Cross has been banned for fear of stirring up unrest among followers of Islam[.]
All the same, it sounds like a lot of people are going.

The Suit

The Suit:

The business suit is a very odd garment, if you pause to think about it. If you are like me, and wear one perhaps three times a year, you think about its oddness every time you don one. It is made of wool on the outside, unless it is silk or broadcloth; but feels like satin pajamas on the inside. In this as in its color scheme, it is exactly backwards, according to Chesterton: "Becket wore a hair shirt under his gold and crimson, and there is much to be said for the combination; for Becket got the benefit of the hair shirt while the people in the street got the benefit of the crimson and gold. It is at least better than the manner of the modern millionaire, who has the black and the drab outwardly for others, and the gold next his heart."

Neither is the wool on the outside the kind of sturdy wool that holds up to serious wear. It is so thin as to tear at the slightest catch. And it is not wool to keep you warm: if there is any frost about, you will need another coat besides your "coat."

And of course it is worn with the necktie, that sketch at a scarf that does nothing to really warm the throat. The sole surviving purpose of the necktie is to give an otherwise stolid garment the opportunity for individual flair; but not too much!

The Economist celebrates this odd garment, on its 150th anniversary. That is the formal date they assign it: but the roots, they say, go back to Charles II, the Merry Monarch, best of the Stuart kings.

It proves to have an interesting story, in other words: and that may save the thing, which otherwise fails my usual tests for garments on every level.



Bruce Sterling is definitely one of the people I'd like to hear from about Wikileaks.

One minute’s thought would reveal that a vast, opaque electronic spy outfit like the National Security Agency is exceedingly dangerous to democracy. Really, it is. The NSA clearly violates all kinds of elementary principles of constitutional design. The NSA is the very antithesis of transparency, and accountability, and free elections, and free expression, and separation of powers — in other words, the NSA is a kind of giant, grown-up, anti-Wikileaks. And it always has been. And we’re used to that. We pay no mind.

The NSA, this crypto empire, is a long-lasting fact on the ground that we’ve all informally agreed not to get too concerned about. Even foreign victims of the NSA’s machinations can’t seem to get properly worked-up about its capacities and intrigues. The NSA has been around since 1947. It’s a little younger than the A-Bomb, and we don’t fuss much about that now, either.

The geeks who man the NSA don't look much like Julian Assange, because they have college degrees, shorter haircuts, better health insurance and far fewer stamps in their passports. But the sources of their power are pretty much identical to his. They use computers and they get their mitts on info that doesn’t much wanna be free....

Now, Tim May and his imaginary BlackNet were the sci-fi extrapolation version of the NSA. A sort of inside-out, hippiefied NSA. Crypto people were always keenly aware of the NSA, for the NSA were the people who harassed them for munitions violations and struggled to suppress their academic publications. Creating a BlackNet is like having a pet, desktop NSA. Except, that instead of being a vast, federally-supported nest of supercomputers under a hill in Maryland, it’s a creaky, homemade, zero-budget social-network site for disaffected geeks.

But who cared about that wild notion? Why would that amateurish effort ever matter to real-life people? It’s like comparing a mighty IBM mainframe to some cranky Apple computer made inside a California garage. Yes, it’s almost that hard to imagine.

So Wikileaks is a manifestation of something that this has been growing all around us, for decades, with volcanic inexorability.
This is another one of those Joseph Schumpeter arguments about entrepreneurial models. The reason that Marx's monopolies never succeeded in crushing all competition, as he thought they would, is that these advantages -- small, amateurish, and hard to imagine -- are permanent and powerful.


Now You're Talking:

Bob Owens is right on the money:

Laws of course vary from state to state, but the simple fact is that the large majority of states — even those that allow concealed carry — have lacked the foresight to see a concealed carry permit holder as anything other than a civilian protecting himself or herself. They have yet to grasp the fact that concealed carry permit holders are the first line of defense against a Mumbai-style attack.
That's a point we've made here often, and for a long time. The citizen has both the right and the duty to defend the Republic, the common peace, and the lawful order. He should also have access to the tools.

Against Human Rights

Against Human Rights:

If the title of this post sounds vaguely sacrilegious to you, Dr. John Gray says, it's because you are a victim of Utopian piety:

From Jimmy Carter onward, this tenet came to be invoked as “the guiding rationale of the foreign policy of states.” Almost never used in English before the 1940s, “human rights” were mentioned in the New York Times five times as often in 1977 as in any prior year of the newspaper’s history. By the nineties, human rights had become central to the thinking not only of liberals but also of neoconservatives, who urged military intervention and regime change in the faith that these freedoms would blossom once tyranny was toppled. From being almost peripheral, the human-rights agenda found itself at the heart of politics and international relations....

THE MOST damaging effect of Rawls’s work was the neglect of the state that it produced. The natural rights that were asserted in the early modern period by Hobbes and other thinkers were closely linked with the modern state that was emerging at the time. As Moyn notes, the “freestanding individual of natural rights . . . was explicitly modeled on the assertive new state of early modern international affairs.” Hobbes was insistent that the right to self-preservation can be protected by a state that accepts no limits on its authority to act—otherwise, there is only a “war of all against all” in which everyone must be on guard against everyone else. Other rights theorists such as Locke, more recognizable as liberals in a modern sense, wanted to impose substantive limits on what governments could legitimately do; but they too were clear that rights could only be respected in the context of an effective modern state. Human rights might in some sense exist prior to the state, but without the state they counted for nothing....

A willed ignorance of history was also at work. If rights are universally human, embodying a kind of natural freedom that appears as the accretions of history are wiped away, the past has little significance. But if human rights are artifacts that have been constructed in specific circumstances, as I would argue, history is all-important; and history tells us that when authoritarian regimes are suddenly swept aside, the result is often anarchy or a new form of tyranny—and quite often a mix of the two.
The examples the author draws on center around Iraq, of which he is a critic; but I would like to point to another example that may be more relevant to us. In "Philosemitic Discourse in Imperial Germany," Alan Levenson points to what must have seemed to Jews to be a glorious flowering of pro-Jewish sentiment in 20th century Germany. Yet it was not nearly as deep as it seemed:
Within the program of legal, economic, and intellectual modernization that led to the emergence of a German bourgeoisie and a unified nation, Jewish equality was regarded as a by-product. Analyzing the nexus of Jews and German liberals, Pulzer concludes that although the Jews "had good friends and allies, few were prepared to put the defense of Jewish rights above all other priorities."
We've seen a similar movement in this country as regards the claims to "rights" made by homosexual advocates. The claims are being forwarded as by-products of an expansion of individualist "rights" that people want for reasons of their own. For example, the argument for reforming marriage is an outgrowth of the highly individualist reading of marriage: that marriage is really no more than a contract between the two individuals undertaking it, and therefore the happiness of those individuals is its paramount purpose. Given that understanding of marriage -- not marriage as a forging of new kinship bonds, a uniting of families across generations, or a sacred oath, but just a kind of contract that only the two individuals have any right to criticize -- the equal-protection challenge makes a kind of sense. We often speak of marriage as a partnership, but here it is read as exactly and only a kind of business-partnership: a union undertaken freely by two autonomous individuals, for their own pursuit of happiness.

That understanding explains the explosion of divorce, which is a far more important cultural phenomenon in America. If this reading of marriage is the right one, then it is a kind of slavery for someone to remain in a marriage if their happiness lies elsewhere. After all, they entered the union to pursue happiness: if they now see their happiness elsewhere, and remain in the marriage merely to make the other partner happy, they have become enslaved. That is the real thing that the hard-core individualist wishes to avoid: and thus, this understanding of marriage is to be insisted upon at all costs. Gay marriage follows logically from this foundation; but it is a by-product.

Dr. Gray's point about the importance of the political institutions is therefore well-founded: once the institutions of German liberalism foundered, all that philosemitism went entirely away. In a sense it was never real, because it was founded not on love for the thing -- that is, Jewishness -- but merely a convenient by-product of the pursuit of the other things really loved.

(An aside: this is one reason, along with the change in American demographics toward a more robustly Christian society, that I warn that the current movement toward "gay rights" is probably at its high water mark. Take this warning, if you wish, for it is a sincere one. Just as there are many false friends, who seem to be on your side but who are really chasing things of their own, there are some false foes. I may be opposed to your project, but that is likewise for reasons of my own that have nothing to do with gays. It does not mean that I have anything against you, no more than it means that those currently helping with your project really love you for yourself.)

Where Dr. Gray is weaker is in failing to recognize that political institutions are not the only relevant ones. Social and cultural institutions are likewise crucial to making rights actual. Marriage is a good one, since we started with it: it is the institution that supports and defends the next generation, gives them shelter and support until they can make their own way. As it collapses, demographic changes make society less stable: and therefore less able to support "rights" claims for everyone. The extreme form of this is the demographic collapse that Mark Steyn warns about, whereby demographic changes cause the fall and subordination of the culture that ever believed in the "rights."

The rise of "right to serve" in the military is probably the worst case of misunderstanding here. The military is the final hedge that defends the space in which these rights are actual, rather than theoretical. In making individual dignity more important than military necessity, the whole liberal project is endangered.

Of course this is no surprise to readers of the Hall. If you are new to the discussion, there is a whole set of links on the sidebar under the heading "Frith and Freedom" that is relevant. Rights may come from God or from nature, but they come to be actualized only because we make a fellowship fit to defend them. We must drive back the world, make a space, and hold it.

Within that space, yes, we can have all the equality and rights we care to defend. We must never forget that the space has to be defended, though: the institutions are its pillars, and our frith is its walls. The rights live inside the space: they cannot survive outside of it, and do not belong on its frontiers. That is the place where the hard things are done, the things that hold back the world.

Books for Christmas

Books by Companions of the Hall:

If you're looking for a good book to buy for someone, allow me to remind you that two of our friends are published authors. These books would make excellent gifts. (I list them in alphabetical order, to avoid suggesting any preference between the two.)

Tale of the Tigers by Juliette Akinyi Ochieng.

West Oversea by Lars Walker.



The photos I took of totality didn't come out very well, but here is an early one as we approached it.

These things are best viewed with good company.

Orion was majestic tonight, just off the moon.

The stars shines itself,
The bright moon by another;
As one might, in love, for thou.


Against the Cold:

We had some bitter cold earlier this month, although the last few days have been more normal for Georgia in December. Still, since we were called to start burning fires earlier this year, I have laid in a little more wood this week. There is plenty of standing deadwood on the property, already seasoned for the man who will fell the tree, buck it into logs, and break it with an axe.

Here are the stacks of wood I've had time to add this week. This wood is northern red oak and hickory, mostly, though there is quite a bit of dogwood: we had a blight come through and slay many of the dogwoods in the area.

Below is small cache of red oak. Most of this tree was rotten at the top and the bottom, but the core was beautiful.

This stack is dogwood and cherry at the top, red oak in the middle, poplar below.

This is mostly oak and dogwood.

This last one I'm not sure about. It was an oak of some sort, giant and dead, and leaning against a beautiful white oak that deserved to be liberated from it. I'm not sure the exact subspecies, though: this page makes me think it may have been a "Shumard's oak," but I claim no certainty about it.

Read This

Entrepreneurial Government:

Walter Russell Mead has a interesting article that lies somewhat along my own way of thinking.

The bureaucratic state is too inefficient to provide the needed services at a sustainable cost – and bureaucratic, administrative governments are by nature committed to maintain the status quo at a time when change is needed. For America to move forward, power is going to have to shift from bureaucrats to entrepreneurs, from the state to society and from qualified experts and licensed professionals to the population at large.

This doesn’t mean that government becomes insignificant. The state will survive and as social life becomes more complex it will inevitably acquire new responsibilities – but it will look and act less like the administrative, bureaucratic entity of the past. The professional, life-tenured civil service bureaucrat will have a smaller role; more work will be contracted out; much more aggressive efforts will be made to harness the power of information technology to transfer decision making power from the federal to the state and local level. All this change runs so deeply against the grain for many American intellectuals that they have a hard time seeing it whole, much less helping make the reforms and adjustments these changes demand.
Yes, but let's ask the more important question: where do we draw the line? What functions absolutely demand an actual officer of the government, commissioned or elected? Which ones can be executed by a private actor, under the authority of the government?

The answers may lead to some interesting places. For example: military force? No, the Constitution provides a clear authority for Congress to contract that out ("letters of marque and reprisal"). Congress considered (but rejected) a bill to delegate that authority to the President just a couple of years ago. It was a Ron Paul bill, and for now is without support beyond his small following; but nevertheless, the authority for such practices is certainly there.