I had to help him go in the end, after all. We buried him where we're going to plant a new apple tree.


Lady Charlotte Guest:

I knew her, as you probably do as well, as the translator of the Mabinogion, which brought us the old Welsh tales of King Arthur. It turns out she was also an industrialist, first as a partner to her husband and later as a widow; and a knitter of wool comforters for the cab drivers who were, in those days, exposed to the weather. She apparently also built a shelter for them near her home, thus ensuring their comfort and her easy access to a cab if she needed one.

I Stand Corrected

I Stand Corrected:

How many spaces go after a period?

Every modern typographer agrees on the one-space rule. It's one of the canonical rules of the profession, in the same way that waiters know that the salad fork goes to the left of the dinner fork and fashion designers know to put men's shirt buttons on the right and women's on the left. Every major style guide—including the Modern Language Association Style Manual and the Chicago Manual of Style—prescribes a single space after a period. (The Publications Manual of the American Psychological Association, used widely in the social sciences, allows for two spaces in draft manuscripts but recommends one space in published work.) Most ordinary people would know the one-space rule, too, if it weren't for a quirk of history. In the middle of the last century, a now-outmoded technology—the manual typewriter—invaded the American workplace.
I was of the last class of my high school to take "Typing" instead of "keyboarding" as an elective. For that cause, I was taught that two spaces were proper after every period. I'm sure every single post on Grim's Hall adheres to that rule.


Gut old Hans

Good Old Hans:

Talhoffer, that is. National Geographic has been working on a story regarding his fightbook. They've re-enacted certain scenes from it, including the ones we've discussed here that involve women fighters taking on men in judicial combat.

The photo series is here.



Via xkcd.

There is an additional comment, if you leave your mouse hanging over the original, which reads: "Eäendil will patrol the walls of night only until the sun reaches red giant stage, engulfing the Morning Star on his brow. Light and high beauty are passing things as well."

This is why physics is incomplete without metaphysics. Physics tells you what the rules are; metaphysics is the study of why the rules are as they are. Without philosophy, therefore, physics doesn't understand its own lessons.

Consider this, which suggests that the universe has gone through multiple big-bang events, dying and being reborn. Yet each time, there is less entropy. That is to say, in every subsequent rebirth, there is less chaos and more order.

That's sort of interesting, if you're a physicist. If you're a philosopher, it's hard not to think of the Timaeus.

The universe, he proposes, is the product of rational, purposive, and beneficent agency. It is the handiwork of a divine Craftsman (“Demiurge,” dêmiourgos, 28a6), who, imitating an unchanging and eternal model, imposes mathematical order on a preexistent chaos to generate the ordered universe (kosmos).
We could go forward and note the importance of the Timeaus to neoplatonic, Christian, Jewish and Islamic thinking; we could explore the question of which of these models is most promising. It might be enough, for an internet comment, to note it in Plato: and ask the question, "If this is the rule -- that there is more order and less chaos, on a cosmic scale and across the lives of universes -- why is this the rule?"

It may not be a passing thing at all.

Scott Roots Chivalry Marriage

Sir Walter Scott on the Roots of Chivalry's Attitude to Women:

One of the less-well-read works of Scott's is his long-form essay on chivalry. There are reasons why it is not as well read as his books. For one thing, you can learn more about his actual attitude toward the thing by reading his books. In the essay he is careful to criticize, as a scholar should, but the evenhandedness of the essay often gives the impression that there is just as much to be said in blame as in praise. That clearly was not his real sentiment, as his books show us so plainly.

You will also learn more to his credit from the books than from the essay. In his books he is usually generous even to his villains, with only a few of them being without redeeming qualities. In the essay he is more clearly prejudiced, in the just the way one would expect a Scottish Tory of his age to be: for example against the Spanish (who are 'Oriental' in character, he says, and better at feeling than thinking) and Catholics generally (the faith is lowered in quality by superstition, such as reverence for saints and the Virgin Mary).

Nevertheless, it's an interesting essay for those of you who might have time to spend on it. One particular passage that struck me was his writings on how the Germanic nations had a kind of proto-chivalry toward women in their attitude toward polygamy and chastity.

[T]he opinion that it was dishonorable to hold sexual intercourse until the twentieth year was attained... must have contributed greatly to place their females in that dignified and respectable rank which they held in society. Nothing tends so much to blunt the feelings, to harden the heart, and to destroy the imagination as the worship of the Vagus Venus in early youth. Wherever women have been considered as the early, willing, and accomodating slaves of the voluptuousness of the other sex, their character has become degraded, and they have sunk into domestic drudges and bondswomen among the poor -- the captives of a harem among the more wealthy....

Hence polygamy, and all its brutalizing consequences, which were happily unknown among our Gothic ancestors. The virtuous and manly restraints imposed upon their youth were highly calculated to exalt the character of both sexes, and especially to raise the females in their own eyes and those of their lovers.
Scott is relying on Tacitus here. I think it is fair to say that he is slightly overstating the case on polygamy, as we will see; but if anything he understates Tacitus' remarks on the exaltation of women in Germanic marriage. Compared with the Roman or the Greek conception, the barbarians are much closer to our own view about the relationship between husband and wife.
Almost alone among barbarians they are content with one wife, except a very few among them, and these not from sensuality, but because their noble birth procures for them many offers of alliance. The wife does not bring a dower to the husband, but the husband to the wife. The parents and relatives are present, and pass judgment on the marriage-gifts, gifts not meant to suit a woman's taste, nor such as a bride would deck herself with, but oxen, a caparisoned steed, a shield, a lance, and a sword. With these presents the wife is espoused, and she herself in her turn brings her husband a gift of arms. This they count their strongest bond of union, these their sacred mysteries, these their gods of marriage. Lest the woman should think herself to stand apart from aspirations after noble deeds and from the perils of war, she is reminded by the ceremony which inaugurates marriage that she is her husband's partner in toil and danger, destined to suffer and to dare with him alike both in in war. The yoked oxen, the harnessed steed, the gift of arms proclaim this fact.
Lars Walker has occasionally written against the proposition that Tacitus put forward; rather than excerpt his argument, I'll let him forward it himself. Tacitus is clearly writing with influencing his Roman audience in mind, more than he is trying to present a perfectly accurate picture.

There's a lot here that is highly relevant to many discussions we are having about our own society today. I'll stop with this, for now, and see what you think.

Good Post

Mr. Brooks on Civility:

In all the recent fulminating about civility, I haven't seen anything of worth until today. Mr. Brooks' column is a good one.

Civility is a tree with deep roots, and without the roots, it can’t last. So what are those roots? They are failure, sin, weakness and ignorance.
Civility on this model is an expression of humility; and that is surely part of the answer. There is surely a positive quality to it as well. It isn't just that we recognize our own weakness, and are kind to others who are as weak (or weaker).

However, we also know that bullies are very often people who are keenly aware of their personal weakness. Their violence against others is also a reaction to that awareness, just as much a response to this dynamic as the civility Mr. Brooks advocates. It is also directed against those as weak, or weaker, than themselves.

What causes us to get the one and not the other? More and more I feel inclined to pose these questions rather than answer them: I already know what I think about it, after all. What do you think?

Congress Doesn't Care

Congress Doesn't Care:

How well do you know the Constitution? Presumably, most of you will join me in scoring 100% on this embarrassingly easy test. But:

When the Republican House leadership decided to start the 112th Congress with a reading of the U.S. Constitution, the decision raised complaints in some quarters that it was little more than a political stunt. The New York Times even called it a "presumptuous and self-righteous act."

That might be true, if you could be sure that elected officials actually know something about the Constitution. But it turns out that many don't.... those elected officials who took the test scored an average 5 percentage points lower than the national average (49 percent vs. 54 percent), with ordinary citizens outscoring these elected officials on each constitutional question.
Thus the TEA Party's focus on the importance of the Constitution. The sense driving that focus has been that the government simply doesn't care to abide by the limits -- or to fulfill inconvenient responsibilities, such as actually declaring war when they want to fight a war, or actually amending the Constitution to seek new authority instead of pretending that they already have the authority they want.

Turns out, it's not that they don't care about the limits. It's that they are ignorant of the limits. There is no excuse for that, given the brevity of the document and its wide availability. In a just world, every Congressman who failed to achieve at least 80% on that test would be subject to automatic recall proceedings, and replaced with someone more fit for the office.

Arts & Sciences

Arts & Sciences:

The interaction between the arts and the sciences is sometimes noteworthy:

It was Galileo who conclusively swept away the idea that the sun revolved around the Earth, who dismantled the looming edifice of Aristotelian physics. Unlike others of the age, the Italian steadfastly refused to hammer the square pegs of discovery into the round holes of conventional wisdom. Through an unremitting dedication to observation and experiment, it was he who ushered in the age of modern science.

Given his devotion to empirical fact, it seems odd to think that Galileo’s most important ideas might have their roots not in the real world, but in a fictional one. But... one of Galileo’s crucial contributions to physics came from measuring the hell of Dante’s Inferno. Or rather, from disproving its measurements.
The description of the debates about the Inferno among Italian thinkers of the 14th century is highly amusing, but one wonders if they have any equals today. Though I have never been involved with one, I know that there are people making all sorts of virtual-world video games: do any of them have anything like the knowledge to ensure that they don't come up with impossible features? Do they care, as Galileo manifestly did care, that the rules of physics hold?

I agree with the final claim of the article, which is that such play may be highly valuable in just the way that Galileo's play bears a resemblance to the wilder play of quantum physics. "The world’s first true scientist, the professor tells us, understood that it takes a man of reason to provide the proof, but only a fantasist can truly reimagine the universe."

That's one thing we are being called to do now. We'll be well served by the man who can do it.

Time To Go Out

Time To Go Out:

Snow and ice are still on the local roads. Georgia doesn't quite know how to deal with that. All the same, I've got to head out onto the roads today. Should be fun.

...except with ice. Think I'll take the .44, just in case.

Tea Party History, Memory

The TEA Party, History, and "Memory":

Dr. Jill Lepore, historian, has written a new book scorning the TEA Party.

Throughout her book Lepore’s implicit question remains always: Don’t these Tea Party people realize how silly they are? They don’t understand history; they need to learn that time moves forward.... Following one of the several examples she cites of the cruel way the eighteenth century treated insane persons, tying them up like animals, she comments: “I don’t want to go back to that,” as if the present-day Tea Partiers do. How foolish can they be? After quoting an evangelical minister who in 1987 expressed confidence that Benjamin Franklin would not identify with the secular humanists of our own time “were he alive today,” she can’t help mocking the minister. “Alas,” she writes, Franklin “is not, in fact, alive today."...

She believes that the jurisprudential theory of originalism is all part of the “kooky” thinking of the Tea Party. “Setting aside the question of whether it makes good law, it is, generally,” she says, “lousy history.” We have all heard loose, ignorant polemics claiming the authority of the “original” intentions of the Founders. But Lepore seems to have little idea of what the interpretative doctrine of originalism really means and can only dismiss it as “historical fundamentalism, which is to history what astrology is to astronomy, what alchemy is to chemistry, what creationism is to evolution.”
The reviewer was not impressed with this last claim.
Originalism may not be good history, but it is a philosophy of legal and constitutional interpretation that has engaged some of the best minds in the country’s law schools over the past three decades or so. It is basic to the mission of the Federalist Society (an important organization of conservative and libertarian jurists, lawyers, law professors, and students), and at times it may have as many as four adherents on the Supreme Court. Justice Antonin Scalia’s book A Matter of Interpretation: Federal Courts and the Law (1997), which staked out an originalist position on statutory interpretation, was taken seriously enough to generate critical responses from Ronald Dworkin, Lawrence H. Tribe, Mary Ann Glendon, and myself, all published in Scalia’s book along with his replies. In other words, originalism, controversial as it may be, is a significant enough doctrine of judicial interpretation that even its most passionate opponents would not write it off as cavalierly as Lepore does in this book.
Actually, he wasn't all that impressed with the first claim.
Indeed, one implication of T.H. Breen’s impressive new book, American Insurgents, American Patriots, is that the American Revolution itself may have been an ancestor of the modern Tea Party. Far from being a movement instigated from the top down by celebrated elite leaders separated from the affairs of the common people, the Revolution, Breen contends, was a popular uprising from below against a distant imperial government that had lost its legitimacy and its representativeness. In the years leading up to the Declaration of Independence tens of thousands of colonists boycotted British goods, created committees of safety or inspection, drove Crown officials from office, and intimidated and abused their loyalist enemies.

These ordinary Americans organized their resistance without bothering to reflect on the abstract political theories of John Locke or John Adams that allegedly justified the rebellion. “Not that the insurgents did not have ideas about politics,” says Breen. “They did. But these were ideas driven by immediate passions; they were amplified through fear, fury, and resentment.” Confident of their God-given rights and driven by anger against officials of a British government that had treated them as second-class subjects, the insurgents reacted passionately, spontaneously, and mobilized their communities into action. Not unlike the Tea Partiers of the present, these common people were often way out ahead of their so-called leaders.
What really interests me is the discussion in the last third of the piece, over the distinction between what they are calling "critical history" and "popular memory." We can accept the first category, but the second one seems to me to be misidentified. He even uses the right word in the piece, but doesn't recognize the importance of it.

What is that word? I won't excerpt the last part; read the whole thing, if you would. It's an important matter for understanding how we look to the past, and why we do.



So says writer Lenore Skenazy, about men:

Gripped by pedophile panic, we jump to the very worst, even least likely, conclusion first. Then we congratulate ourselves for being so vigilant.

Consider the Iowa daycare center where Nichole Adkins works. The one male aide employed there, she told me in an interview, is not allowed to change diapers. "In fact," Ms. Adkins said, "he has been asked to leave the classroom when diapering was happening."...

A friend of mine, Eric Kozak, was working for a while as a courier. Driving around an unfamiliar neighborhood, he says, "I got lost. I saw a couple kids by the side of the road and rolled down my window to ask, 'Where is such-and-such road?' They ran off screaming."
It seems to me that a person who can't change diapers is probably not qualified to work at a day care center. We can't quite bring ourselves to say, "You're disqualified because of your sex," though, so we see idiocy like this instead.


Oh, Sure:

I see how it is:

[W]omen in their fertile phase are more likely to fantasize about masculine-looking men...

Meanwhile, a man's intelligence has no effect on the extent to which fertile, female partners fantasize about others, the researchers found. They say the lack of an observed "fertility effect" related to intelligence is puzzling
Uh-huh. It's just shocking that brains aren't the real issue.

Fortunately, I am set.

Dangerous Ideas

Dangerous Ideas

From a commenter at Ann Althouse: "Anyone else find it creepy that the new standard of what we may and may not say is: How will it affect the behavior of an obviously crazy person who may or may not hear it?"

The Virtues of Obedience

The Virtues of Obedience:

A great deal of discussion has arisen about the article "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior." Cassandra sent me an interesting response; here is another.

First of all, filial piety requires me to say that it should be obvious that Southern mothers are the most superior. I assume we all have such duties, so everyone gets to make a one-off statement of this type in the discussion below before we tackle the serious issues.

Issue number one: Does growing up under strongly directed authority limit your ability to be spontaneous as an adult? Shannon Love thinks so:

Noticeably excluded from her children’s activities is any kind of team activities. The secret of American’s collective success as a people is our ability to self-organize ourselves on both the small and large scale into highly effective teams. The relative inability to self-organize into teams is why China and some other cultures have lagged behind...
This was the Duke of Wellington's point when he spoke of Waterloo being won "on the playing fields of Eton." Nevertheless, I'm suspicious of it as deployed against China. The Chinese seem to have an excellent structure for forming themselves up into working teams. The problem China has had over the last fifty years has not been its inability to form such teams, but that the teams that form are culturally encoded to "look up" for direction, rather than to "look around." Thus, the Red Guards could appear throughout the urban regions in short order, and function effectively; the Communist party could rather quickly spread to control all aspects of life.

What hurt China was the lack of spontaneous systems of resistance to authority. It wasn't that they couldn't form spontaneous teams: it's that the teams that formed tended to point the same direction.

That may be a problem of this style of "leadership" (insofar as domineering counts as leadership). There is another problem with top-down direction, which is this one:
I once read somewhere that American conservatories graduate over 300 pianists a year, and I would guess that the fraction of them who go on to careers in classical music, other than giving lessons to the next generation who in turn won’t enter the field, must be very low. Chua is setting her kids up for failure; and if it’s argued that music lessons are a good in themselves, which they may be, why does Chua treat them like a matter of life or death, making her kids and herself miserable over them?
The chronic cycle of shortages and price-destroying-surpluses that plagues Communist-type systems arises from this feature. You don't have to be a Communist to suffer from it, though: all you have to be is a central planner. You and I and Bob can look around the world, and we all see basically the same problems (e.g., there is not sufficient wheat being produced). Thus, we all call for basically the same solutions. Six months or six years on, those solutions are now the problem: we all directed our systems to produce wheat, and now farmers can't make a living off the price of the stuff.

The first problem was that the people were starving; the new problem is that the farmers are. So we let some of the farmers do something else, and subsidize the rest: but we all do that, so that the supply of wheat suddenly drops sharply, while residual low prices cause it to vanish. Starvation again!

None of the decisions we've made are bad. In every case we've made precisely the right decision. Centralized planning has this negative quality, even when decision making is perfect. This is true for mothers as well: if every Chinese child is raised to play the violin, the marginal value of violin-playing is going to be even lower than it already happens to be.

You might argue that violin-playing is valuable in its own right, as a way of expanding the mind and developing its faculties. Very good! I agree. Music is a wonderful skill for just that reason. So, though, is drama, an activity that the self-described Chinese mother abhors:
Her scorn for drama takes on a sinister cast when we find out that her husband, Jed Rubenfeld, studied theater in the Drama Division of the Juilliard School from 1980 through 1982.
What does drama teach? Two things, chiefly: exposure to the plays of Sophocles or Shakespeare develops a deep capacity for understanding and sympathizing with humanity; while the experience of playing a role -- or, even more, of directing several actors each trying to play a different role -- develops the faculties of understanding human emotion. You are learning to convey it, but you are also learning how to read it from others. This can make communication easier, develop your ability to understand body language, and generally improve your ability to work with and care about others.

I think we should distinguish, again, between China and this particular "Chinese mother." Obviously the Chinese do not have any problem reading body language, or understanding the intricate unspoken signals at work in a social situation. They are excelled at this set of skills only by the Japanese, and only because the Japanese have a more homogeneous culture. I think this is more an eccentricity of this particular lady than it is a quality of "the Chinese," who love drama and have several fully-developed theatrical traditions of their own.

A generalized point, which seems to underlie the whole discussion: is it important to teach children to obey authority, or to resist authority and follow their own conscience? The answer is: "Yes." The skill that really needs to be taught, though, is the skill of distinguishing which of the two responses is appropriate in a given case. That judgment can be quite difficult to make; it's really what we were discussing in the post on violence and politics, the other day.



A neighbor sent me an alarmed email about a new site, www.spokeo.com, where you can type in a name and get all kinds of personal information. The email was wasted on me, because I never worry about privacy. I'm sure that anyone who can figure out anything important about me is someone I can afford to trust. If I worry about anything, it's that I'm too opaque.

For grins, though, I typed in my name. My correct address and phone number popped right up, and even my husband's name, but after that the accuracy fell off. The purported satellite view of my house was off by a half-mile or so. The reported value of my house was a serious laugh -- especially since that information is easily available in the online county real estate records. For some reason, the site reported that my household includes three people, including my husband's brother. Nothing so interesting going on here.

The site thinks my major hobbies are travel and cooking. OK, I'll buy the "cooking," but "travel"? Hardly anyone hates travel more than I do. I practically never travel.

I think the programs that sort through our electronic traces to discern our identities still need some work. The things that Amazon and Netflix come up with on their "stuff you might be interested in" pages are a hoot.

I couldn't think of a good image to accompany a post on privacy, so here's a cheerful picture of the fire we just lit, enabling us to deal with our sub-Arctic weather (actually just drifting below 40 before dawn for a few days). Yes, I know, the stockings are still hanging there. I'm getting to it.

"Let's Roll"

"Let's Roll"

No one actually said that, of course, but I take some comfort in reading that three men and one woman had the presence of mind to overpower Jared Loughner physically before he could reload. One man heard the gunshots from a neighboring Walgreens and must have been moving pretty fast, because he got there in time to be useful. He and a 74-year-old retired Army colonel each grabbed an arm and wrestled the gunman to the ground, just after someone whanged him with a folding chair. A 61-year-old woman who'd hit the deck after the first shots found that the gunman was now next to her on the ground, so she grabbed the magazine he was trying to reload with, while someone else grabbed the gun. Then she helped one of the men pin Loughner's legs down while the other two pinned his head and torso.

I'd have been happier if someone had returned fire, but this was decisive action for a group of Safeway shoppers taken completely by surprise.

A young man with medical experience provided some useful first aid, too.



It's just starting here, but I hear reports of four inches closer to Atlanta. I spent the day sawing wood -- not to lay in firewood, which I have plenty of already, but to deal with trees likely to fall on the house in an ice storm. I think we should be set to ride this out with ease, now; though if we lose power, we'll be a long way from the top of anyone's agenda.

That's OK, though. It happens that I now have even more firewood. I wonder how many people with "useless" educations like mine know how to use and maintain a chainsaw, or split wood with a double-bit axe? More, I'd guess, than most would expect.

UPDATE: Looks like about an inch so far, as of 12:40 AM.

Politics & Violence

Politics & Violence:

I have written a small thing on the subject at BLACKFIVE.

Theory & Practice

Theory & Practice:

We all saw the strange rants about grammar yesterday, from the odd mind of the shooter. Apparently there's a guy named David Miller who concocted this basic theory, along with a fake language. He claims it is actually the only true language; he also claims he is King of Hawaii.

Philosophy of language does contain some genuine puzzles, but a few minutes' review suggests that none of them are going to be solved along Mr. Miller's route. In the meanwhile, I would like to note that 100% of court cases in which people have employed his methods have failed. This is my favorite:

Lindsay, who presented himself as David-Kevin: Lindsay, argued that he was not a "person" as defined by Canada's Income Tax Act. He said he had ceased to be a person in 1996. The judge refused to let Lindsay opt out of personhood.
Sometimes things sound so good in theory, and just don't work in practice. Here's a case where the theory is bad, too!