Western Civ

Western Civ:

InstaPundit has an interesting post today recommending Western Civ "courses" for those who didn't get them in school. There's a lot there, and probably none of it would have occurred to me as the right way to approach the problem.

The best suggestion of the several is the endorsement of St. John's college reading list. I probably would not have thought of their list, although their fame is well known to me (and well deserved, from all I've heard). It was recommended to me as a school when I was young enough to be looking, but I could not afford it. It's a good list they've put together, though it is too heavy on Enlightenment and modern thinkers, whose importance I have come to believe is overrated.

Fascinating that they decide to wind up the four year program with two classes on Virginia Woolf, for example. Instead of leaving the Medievals in the middle of the second year, I would have spent the whole of the second year on them, as well as part of the third year on them, the rest on the early moderns (Shakespeare, etc); and wrapped up the Enlightenment and moderns in the fourth year only, leaving some weeks at the end for a review of how it all tied together.

You probably do need a year and a half of the program for the ancients; a year at least for the Medievals; half a year for the early moderns; and then the fourth year for the Enlightenment and moderns.

Except in physics, the great ideas are the old ones. The rest is commentary.


Merry Men:

The Politico reports on certain lawsuits:

The federal lawsuits against last year’s health care overhaul were greeted with eye-rolling and snickers from many conventional legal scholars.

Nobody’s laughing now.
That's not true at all!

It's an interesting argument, and an encouraging one. Some of these efforts are wiser than others: may they prevail.

Tzeitel's Wedding

Tzeitel's Wedding

I was reminded by something at Assistant Village Idiot of my idea of the perfect wedding. This scene makes me weep with happiness. -- It's funny to see "Motel" spelled that way. It's not "Motel" as in "Hotel and Motel Management" but "Maht-el," pronounced the way Mid-lanticans used to say "bottle," with a swallowed "t" sound.


A Feast in the Hall:

Today was a special day, not for any holiday, but because my sister came. I always try to prepare something delicious, as she loves good food and good wine, and might therefore come more often.

The First Course.

The Main Course.

This matters to the Hall because it gives me an opportunity to give especial thanks and praise to one of you who deserves it. The centerpiece of today's feast was provided by Mark, whose generous heart was moved by the fact that I was unable to eat the Christmas Duck we so long discussed here. He sent me a large number of pheasants instead. Two of these -- one cut up, and one served whole -- were the main course.

Basque Pheasant.

I made Basque Pheasant, a cake common to Transylvania, and a honey wheat bread. The pheasant was by far the star of the show. Here are the ingredients as listed in this extraordinary reference guide and cookbook:
Basque Pheasant

2 pheasants, cut up
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup white whine
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup vinegar
1 cup medium pitted prunes
1 cup pitted medium Spanish green olives
1/4 cup capers with liquid
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons snipped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons dried basil leaves
As for preparation, I simply put the pheasant in a cast iron dutch oven, mixed all the other ingredients together and poured them on as a marinade. After several hours, put them in to roast at 350 degrees for an hour; then remove the lid from the dutch oven, turn the temperature up to 425 and finish browning the skin and ensuring proper internal temperature (165 degrees in the thickest part of the meat).

It's an interesting flavor, similar to coq au vin for the obvious reasons, but with a sweetness to match the savor that is not found in the French recipe. If you're looking for something new, you might give it a try.

Many thanks to Mark for his generous gift, part of which we greatly enjoyed this evening. I award him "The Hero's Portion" for today, although he could not be here to share it!
Sidepork Pandemonium.

I don't know. Don't ask.


Responding to Bachmann:

Continuing yesterday's discussion on the TEA Party's challenge to the extant Republican party, some Republican thoughts on Rep. Bachmann:

When Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann was named to the House Intelligence Committee earlier this year, one of her Republican colleagues responded this way: “Is that a punchline?” Another simply said, “Jumbo shrimp. Oxymoron.”

Neither dared to attach his name to his comment.
That's not very impressive, guys.

The best response -- from Rep. Walsh -- is still not really an argument.
“She was out of line. She had no business stepping on the official Republican response to the State of the Union,” Walsh said in an interview with POLITICO. “I can say that to you saying I’m a fan of Michele Bachmann’s. She and I think the same on virtually probably every darn issue.”
I say that this isn't an argument because it doesn't answer the question: if it is "out of line" to step on the "official Republican response," why is it out of line? What gives the Republican leadership the legitimate authority to claim the exclusive right to frame a response?

Our party system isn't based on authority, but rather on free association. In many states, you can elect to run as a member of a party without anyone's permission -- for example, in South Carolina, the Democratic Party probably would not have agreed to this.

Mr. Greene paid his money and took his shot, as a free citizen freely choosing to align himself with his party. What if he had won? He would go to the Senate, where he would again freely choose to caucus with the Democratic Party. That second choice is not binding either.
Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter said Tuesday he is switching parties, almost certainly giving President Barack Obama and the Democrats the ability to build a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

The Specter announcement, coming on the eve of the president's 100th day in office, secured the Democrats a 59th seat in the Senate, counting two independents who caucus with the party.
If this is the system, there's nothing like a chain of command that has the authority to assert control over messaging. There is no oath taken, and no legal structure in place. You associate with the party of your choice, only for as long as you want to do so.

That leaves open the question of whether Congressmen should adhere to party discipline even though they do not have to do so. There are two kinds of arguments that could be made for why it would be proper.

1) Money: the national party may have supported your candidacy with cash or other mechanisms. Even though you associate with them on a free basis, you owe them for helping you.

2) Effectiveness: a disciplined party structure is more likely to achieve its agenda than one riven by infighting.

The problem with (1) is that it perverts the intent of the American electoral system. We call members of the House "representatives" because it is descriptive of their duty. They are meant to serve as the representative from their district. The interest of the people who voted for them needs to be their guiding star. To the degree that they let the money flowing through the system distort that guidance, they are off course.

Senators have a slightly different duty, which is to serve as the representatives of their states. That includes their constituents, but also the interests of the state government at the Federal level. If the Senator turns away from those interests in service to a national party, he is failing in his real duty.

The only truly Federal elected officials are the President and Vice-President. These two might reasonably take the will of the national party as some sort of proxy for the will of their whole constituency (although there are still problems with doing so, insofar as the party structure has been captured by wealthy interests). Senators really are not free to do that, if they take their duty to serve their state seriously.

As for (2), it's a very solid point insofar as the party's agenda aligns with your constituents'. If you were elected by a movement like the TEA Party, whose entire point is to force reform, naturally your duty lies in trying to force reform rather than in pursuing an agenda your constituents don't share. Your duty is to try and move the party toward your constituents' agenda.

That may sometimes -- may usually -- involve compromise and negotiation, but it probably doesn't involve submission. A good example might be the Congressional Black Caucus, which generally votes with the party, but certainly makes clear that it has its own reasons for doing so. The difference is that the CBC is an isolated movement unlikely to garner wider support; thus the Democratic leadership can shrug it off. The Republican Party is genuinely threatened with being overthrown and replaced, as its mainline constituents have more reason to align with the TEA Party's populism than with the business interests that long ago captured its leadership. It may be up to the older interests to prove their value to the populists, rather than the other way around.

The Well-Dressed Viking

The Well-Dressed Viking:

Eric sends a book for those of you who enjoy well-known Viking pursuits like sewing.


Genghis Khan, Environmentalist:

It's amazing how little we appreciate his extraordinary achievements.

So how did Genghis Khan... earn such a glowing environmental report card?... [T]he same way he built his empire — with a high body count.

Over the course of the century and a half run of the Mongol Empire, about 22 percent of the world's total land area had been conquered and an estimated 40 million people were slaughtered by the horse-driven, bow-wielding hordes. Depopulation over such a large swathe of land meant that countless numbers of cultivated fields eventually returned to forests.

In other words, one effect of Genghis Khan's unrelenting invasion was widespread reforestation, and the re-growth of those forests meant that more carbon could be absorbed from the atmosphere.
In this he set a shining example for today's advocates of DDT-banning in Africa, the one-child policy in China, and abortion everywhere.


We have gators, too, but not like this. One of the nice things about winter is that the gators and snakes lie low for a while. The tape dates from last summer, in Okeefenokee.



Remember when the mainstream media scarcely could bring themselves to acknowledge that there was such a thing as a grassroots movement called the Tea Party? Demonstrations could be held all over the country involving hundreds of thousands of people, but reporters would dismiss them as "a few dozens malcontents" whose aims and wishes were simply incomprehensible.

I was surprised, therefore, to read on HotAir that voices are rising up against CNN's shocking decision to air Michelle Bachman's separate Tea Party response to the State of the Union earlier this week. Liberals worry

that it could create a fundamental imbalance — two Republicans responding to one speech from Obama — and that there’s no way CNN would allow a liberal Dem to offer a response from the left, as Bachmann is doing from the hard right.
Republicans, in turn, are said to worry that having two responses from the right would dilute their message. CNN itself took the radical position that it made sense to run the speech because it was newsworthy -- itself a newsworthy development:
The Tea Party has become a major force in American politics and within the Republican Party. Hearing the Tea Party’s perspective on the State of the Union is something we believe CNN’s viewers will be interested in hearing and we are happy to include this perspective as one of many in tonight’s coverage.
Maybe it's time for the FCC to turn its sights on CNN.



It's amazing what people find embarrassing.

"It's an embarrassment to the state to have as a symbol that was used only a few weeks ago to kill innocent people," Gunn said.
There's something to be embarrassed about here, but I don't think he and I agree about what it is.

Eric's Knife

A Knife for Eric:

From ancient Rome, a pretty nifty piece of camp equipment.


State of the Union:

There's a surprising amount of skepticism in the media about last night's speech. I expected a more bland reaction given that it was a pretty normal Democratic SOTU speech: the usual insincere framing comments ("The era of big government is over," "The rules have changed") combined with the business-as-usual Democratic Party agenda (massive new spending projects, cuts in the defense budget).

Is it a good sign that they finally realize that they can't just report the competing claims with a straight face, but have to admit that the number don't add up? I mean to say: even the press now realizes it must admit that?

WR Mead

Puritanism and President Obama:

I'm beginning to be impressed by this Walter Russel Mead. He's making good and interesting points fairly consistently.

[F}ar from being dead and buried, the Puritan political tradition in America is best represented by our current president; intellectually and morally, President Obama is a distinguished representative of Boston at its best.

New England government was charged with the creation of a moral society. There was nothing that was not its business: how much did a master pay his apprentices? Who celebrated Christmas? Who was cheating on his or her spouse? The duty of government was to make society live right; the university, the pulpit, the newspaper — these were to be the allies of government in the struggle for good.
This really is the frame we're getting from the Obama left: the state as having a duty to ensure a moral society, which requires regulation of every aspect of life. Those in the professions mentioned are supposed to fall in line with turning out a moral society on their terms: a society whose businesses pay wages that are described in moral terms, whose members have all the nice things we might all like to have, whose tone is appropriately respectful of the wise, and where those who know best are reliably at the top.

Mead notes that this project has a mixed history, which we should consider fairly.
Many of their causes today look prescient: the abolition of slavery and voting rights for women. Others, prohibition, eugenics and various forms of food-nuttery matching the changing scientific fashions of the day, look weird.


“Political correctness” and tortured attitudes toward language and gender have long been part of the New England Way. Victorian New Englanders pioneered feminist ideas and daring new styles of dress — but enforced rigid standards of ‘political correctness’ that stifled American literature, restricted its range of subjects, and drove authors like Mark Twain to paroxysms of rage and frustration. In the nineteenth century Bostonian literary puritanism was so focused on sex that “Banned in Boston” was a label that helped sell books around the country. Today’s Puritans want to regulate “hate” speech on college campuses and engage in tortured debates over topics like “heteronormative” discourse not unlike the hair-splitting theological debates their ancestors were famous for.

But there was never any doubt in the New England mind that the State was the chosen instrument of the righteous in the ongoing mission to make a better world.
He finishes by noting, "In any case, nobody should expect blue thinking to go away.... A rich heritage, deeply woven into American life for more than 300 years, will not vanish away."

Fair enough! The TEA Party project does not even aspire to make them go away; it just wants them to relocate their activity to the state governments, instead of trying to force their ideals on everyone using the Federal government. If Massachusetts wants universal health care, they can legislate as much as they prove to be able to afford. If Georgia wants jobs instead, that's our call.

Some among the blues (as Mead calls them) believe that this is a false dichotomy: that legislating health care is precisely the best way to ensure jobs. If so, prove it at the state level and you'll find other states will follow. Of course, they'll do it because it's economically effective -- not because they feel a moral society requires it. It's distressing to realize, but other Americans may have different ideas about the structure and function of morality.

I wonder if that would be satisfying to the blue mind: to get what they want, but not for the reason they wanted it? Would such a society be "moral" enough for them? Or is it important not just to do the right thing, but to feel the right way?

So What's Bill Up To?

What's Bill Up To These Days?

Teaching the Iraqis how to fly through canyons, apparently.

That's way more exciting than digging trucks out of the mud.

UPDATE: A competitor in the comments posts this video... which, actually, is also pretty cool.

Non-Current Events

Non-Current Events

Something is wrong with my brain, lately; I can't engage with current events. I thought instead I would write about some things I've been reading. First, inspired by the NPH's lovely Christmas gift of five George Eliot novels set to DVD, I began re-reading one of my favorite novels, "Middlemarch." I have a nice copy with one of those ribbons attached to the spine that can be used as a page-marker. What terrific brief portraits Eliot paints of even her secondary characters. This is Mrs. Cadwallader, the rector's wife, expostulating with her amiable but somewhat wiggly landowning neighbor, who was developing a taste for politics in the early 19th century just as Reform was gathering steam:

. . . Such a lady gave a neighbourliness to both rank and religion, and mitigated the bitterness of uncommuted tithe. A much more exemplary character with an infusion of sour dignity would not have furthered their comprehension of the Thirty-nine Articles, and would have been less socially uniting.

Mr Brooke, seeing Mrs Cadwallader's merits from a different point of view, winced a little when her name was announced in the library, where he was sitting alone.

"I see you have had our Lowick Cicero here," she said, seating herself comfortably, throwing back her wraps, and showing a thin but well-built figure. "I suspect you and he are brewing some bad politics, else you would not be seeing so much of the lively man. I shall inform against you: remember you are both suspicious characters since you took Peel's side about the Catholic Bill. I shall tell everybody that you are going to put up for Middlemarch on the Whig side when old Pinkerton resigns, and that Casaubon is going to help you in an underhand manner: going to bribe the voters with pamphlets, and throw open the public-houses to distribute them. Come, confess!"

"Nothing of the sort," said Mr Brooke, smiling and rubbing his eye-glasses, but really blushing a little at the impeachment. "Casaubon and I don't talk politics much. He doesn't care much about the philanthropic side of things; punishments, and that kind of thing. He only cares about Church questions. That is not my line of action, you know."

"Ra-a-ther too much, my friend. I have heard of your doings. Who was it that sold his bit of land to the Papists at Middlemarch? I believe you bought it on purpose. You are a perfect Guy Faux. See if you are not burnt in effigy this 5th of November coming. Humphrey would not come to quarrel with you about it, so I am come."

"Very good. I was prepared to be persecuted for not persecuting -- not persecuting, you know."

"There you go! That is a piece of clap-trap you have got ready for the hustings. Now, do not let them lure you to the hustings, my dear Mr Brooke. A man always makes a fool of himself, speechifying: there's no excuse but being on the right side, so that you can ask a blessing on your humming and hawing. You will lose youself, I forewarn you. You will make a Saturday pie of all parties' opinions, and be pelted by everybody."

"That is what I expect, you know," said Mr Brooke, not wishing to betray how little he enjoyed this prophetic sketch -- "what I expect as an independent man. As to the Whigs, a man who goes with the thinkers is not likely to be hooked on by any party. He may go with them up to a certain point -- up to a certain point, you know. But that is what you ladies never understand."

"Where your certain point is? No. I should like to be told how a man can have any certain point when he belongs to no party -- leading a roving life, and never letting his friends know his address. 'Nobody knows where Brooke will be -- there's no counting on Brooke' -- that is what people say of you, to be quite frank. Now, do turn respectable. How will you like going to Sessions with everybody looking shy on you, and you with a bad conscience and an empty pocket?"

"I don't pretend to argue with a lady on politics," said Mr Brooke, with an air of smiling indifference, but feeling rather unpleasantly conscious that this attack of Mrs Cadwallader's had opened the defensive campaign to which certain rash steps had exposed him. "Your sex are not thinkers, you know -- varium et mutabile semper -- that kind of thing. You don't know Virgil. I knew" -- Mr Brooke reflected in time that he had not had the personal acquaintance of the Augustan poet -- "I was going to say, poor Stoddart, you know. That was what he said. You ladies are always against an independent attitude -- a man's caring for nothing but truth, and that sort of thing. And there is no part of the county where opinion is narrower than it is here -- I don't mean to throw stones, you know, but somebody is wanted to take the independent line; and if I don't take it, who will?"

"Who? Why, any upstart who has got neither blood nor position. People of standing should consume their independent nonsense at home, not hawk it about. And you! who are going to marry your niece, as good as your daughter, to one of our best men. Sir James would be cruelly annoyed: it will be too hard on him if you turn round now and make yourself a Whig signboard."

I usually like to have an upstairs book and a downstairs book. I've just finished a book I've been meaning to read since someone here recommended Matt Ridley, oh, a year or so ago. The recommendation actually was for his newest book, which I haven't read yet, but I picked up two earlier ones first: "Genome," which was quite good, and this one, "The Origins of Virtue." Many books treating human ethics from the perspective of evolutionary biology drive me crazy, but I did enjoy this one. Ridley covers developments in game theory that I know you've all heard about elsewhere, and often here, such as the wrinkles on the Prisoner's Dilemma and modifications such as "tit-for-tat" and "tit-for-tat-with-forgiveness." What he added that I hadn't run into before was attention to game theory experiments in which the players were allowed to play repeatedly and develop reputations, coupled with the freedom to agree or refuse to play with certain players. He ends with a theory of what cooperative characteristics are peculiar to humankind. Not specialization and the division of labor, because insects do that, too. Not the ability to form coalitions and use cooperation as a weapon in social relations, including the defense of territory or assets by a group, because chimpanzees do that. Not even the use of alliances between groups to combat third groups, because bottlenose dolphins do that. What he thinks only humans do is exploit the law of comparative advantage between groups: that is, specialize at the group level, and engage in trade between groups. For him, therefore, the free market is the essence of humanity, which makes him a man after my own heart.

Here's a book I've been slowly reading for a very long time: "Power, Sex, Suicide," by Nick Lane, subtitled "Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life." Power, because mitochondria, which started life as separate bacteria-like organisms that were engulfed and internally "farmed" by other bacteria, are today the powerhouses of our own cells, pumping protons tirelessly across membranes. Sex, because of something that I haven't understood yet about the need to avoid recombination of mitochondrial DNA from our own DNA, which has led to the concentration of mitochondria in the egg and its strict exclusion from the sperm, which is the biological essence of gender distinctions. Suicide, because mitochondria brought with them the mechanism for orderly cell death that is crucial to the welfare of a multicellular organism if each cell is not constantly to attempt a selfish coup d'etat in the form of cancer. You can't go wrong with a popularized science work by Nick Lane. He's a fine writer who knows how to organize his ideas.

But I think I'm going to set all these aside for a while and read a couple of romps that just came in the mail. One is "War in Heaven," by Charles Williams, a Holy-Grail Brit whodunnit from the 1960s that is the anti-Da Vinci Code, and the other is "Night of Thunder," by Steven Hunter, a Nascar-sniper mashup. I recently read about both of these on Lars's excellent site, Brandywine Books.

Warm Weather

Warm Weather:

The stuff has me thinking of spring. I spent the afternoon digging a truck out of the mud -- it got hung up on a tree stump at the bottom of a muddy hill, so I had to take the tire off and cut the stump with a chainsaw. Then the truck slipped back, so the drum and axle went into the mud. Once I got that jacked up, it still wasn't enough to let me put the tire back on, so I had to get a shovel and dig it all out.

Bit of a pain. It was warm, though, even into the early evening.

So I am thinking of spring, and that means St. Patrick's Day. To me that means Kevin Barry's Pub down Savannah way; and good old Harry who sings thereabouts.

Might have to make a trip down there this year. Anybody want to come?


Lessons in Reality:

Greyhawk notes a small collision.

Off they went to see Bradley, bringing a petition with 42,000 signatures demanding he be released from solitary confinement. But then...The Guardian:
...the pair were stopped by military police and Hamsher's car impounded after guards found the vehicle's license plates had expired and Hamsher was unable to produce insurance papers.
The Washington Post:

Quantico spokesman Col. Thomas V. Johnson says the car was towed after the pair could not provide proof of insurance and guards found the vehicle's license plates had expired.
This reminds me of that reporter in Iraq who was so put out by having the Ugandan guards demand his ID. I always liked the Ugandans, but even though they normally saw me twice a day every day, if I had shown up without my CAC card for identification they would not have let me in -- not to the DFAC, not to the PX, not to anything they were assigned to guard.

(In fact, shortly after coming back from Iraq, I went into WalMart and had a moment of panic when I saw the greeter standing there at the door. Where's my CAC card??? She won't let me in!)

Of course, I wasn't delivering pizza important signatures expressing support for a suspected traitor, either. That kind of business is too important to get bogged down with little things like paying your tax-and-tag taxes, or keeping up with the automobile-insurance mandate you'd so eagerly like to extend to my health-insurance bills.

Ten Bucks

When You've Got Ten Bucks that You Can Blow...

We're getting close to the State of the Union, which is the right time for this political warning about incivility.


The Names of Things:

There is some law at work in Georgia that requires names of places to worsen over time. I don't know if it works the same way elsewhere, but a student of history quickly learns that Georgia used to have interesting and descriptive place names, and now has bland and uninteresting names. For example, one of the modest-sized cities in Georgia used to be called "Mule Camp Springs," as it lay at the first good springs for mule trains making the trek over the mountains on the way north; it is now known as "Gainesville."

I was reminded of this on a trip to Fort Yargo.

I mean, come on: "Jug Tavern"? "Groaning Rock"? Those are much better names. You'd want to live in a place called "Jug Tavern."

Here's the old fort, by the way:

Doesn't seem like much, does it? Apparently it was enough.