Madness in Command

"Depression in Command"

An article in the Wall Street Journal challenges a fundamental idea that we use in choosing leadership, assigning security clearances, and indeed even in determining responsibility in the legal sense of the term. Maybe what we need in a leader is madness...

When not irritably manic in his temperament, Churchill experienced recurrent severe depressive episodes, during many of which he was suicidal. Even into his later years, he would complain about his "black dog" and avoided ledges and railway platforms, for fear of an impulsive jump. "All it takes is an instant," he said.

Abraham Lincoln famously had many depressive episodes, once even needing a suicide watch, and was treated for melancholy by physicians. Mental illness has touched even saintly icons like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., both of whom made suicide attempts in adolescence and had at least three severe depressive episodes in adulthood.

Aristotle was the first to point out the link between madness and genius, including not just poets and artists but also political leaders. I would argue that the Inverse Law of Sanity also applies to more ordinary endeavors. In business, for instance, the sanest of CEOs may be just right during prosperous times, allowing the past to predict the future. But during a period of change, a different kind of leader—quirky, odd, even mentally ill—is more likely to see business opportunities that others cannot imagine.
There's a lot of sense to the concept. However, we routinely engage in psychological screening of job candidates, especially for military or leadership positions. The only jobs we don't psychologically screen for are elected officials, many of whom do seem to experience some of the less productive forms of madness -- an intense focus on their own importance, for example. If the theory is right, these tests could be stripping out the very people best suited to military leadership in a genuine crisis. And why should we not believe that? Many generals, like Sherman or Grant, found a success in war that eluded their peacetime efforts: Sherman was a repeated failure, and Grant an alcoholic whose brilliance in maneuvering an army at war was not equaled when he became the leader of the bureaucracy during peacetime.

Maybe we should consider this a reason to vote for someone: that he, or she, is sensitive enough to reality to be depressed now and then!


Modern Political Discourse:

"I'd rather be a hobbit than a troll," says one Congressman to another, in reference to the premier issue of political interest today.

Mainstreaming, indeed!

Tropical Storm Promise

Tropical Storm Promise

We're under what I like to think of as a tentative promise of a tropical storm. We've had only 8 inches of rain in 2011, half of which was in January. The storm track models keep aiming Tropical Storm Don just to our south, which would put us in the wet northeastern quarter, the sweet spot. It's not a very big storm; even in the small center, winds probably will be only about 60 mph. That means that if it misses us by much, we won't even get much rain.

It's sure to dump some rain on someone in Texas, though, and the whole state needs it desperately. This time of year, just about the form we're likely to get rain in is a tropical storm or hurricane. We're grateful to have a small one headed our way: all rain and no evacuation or storm shutters, just the way we like 'em.

Two Weeks


Two weeks from today I should be headed back to the Hall from the "undisclosed location" that has taken up the last few months of my life. I'll be sure to wear a helmet... at least part of the way.

Phoenix Claws

Phoenix Claws

Our neighbors started up a small-scale chicken operation this spring. Earlier this week, it was time to slaughter the excess 3-month-old roosters, who were starting to fight. Max, the man of the household, was kind enough to catch up the roosters one by one, put them in the killing cone, and cut their throats. His wife and I then plucked and cleaned them with the aid and technical advice of his mom, for whom this was a common task earlier in her life. We're lucky to have her experience to draw on. I'm afraid our speed wasn't up to what we'd been reading about: 4-1/2 seconds to pluck one bird! We tentatively learned how to scald and pluck and gut the birds, spending the better part of three hours to get nine of them all done and on ice. But we'll get faster now that we've got the hang of it.

My neighbors didn't want the feet, so I took them home and boiled them down into stock. My husband recommends getting the heads next time, too, but I'm going to have to work up to that gradually. The feet I thought I was equal to. It turns out they make a very fine stock, being so rich in cartilage. This picture isn't of my own stock, but it looks the same: as firm as Jello once it cools. I got a solid gallon of rich stock out of 30 feet (they did six more chickens after I left). I had taken home a rooster the first night, which my husband obligingly roasted, and then I made up a nice batch of chicken and dumplings with the leftover roast chicken and half of the stock the next day. I used my East Texas aunt's housekeeper's simple dumpling recipe, which produces a pasta-noodle style of dumpling rather than the biscuit-drop variety:

1/2 cup Crisco or lard, melted in
1/2 cup hot water
1/2 t salt
2 cups flour
1 egg

Whip up the melted shortening and hot water until creamy, then beat in the egg until fluffy. Stir in the flour to incorporate, then roll it out to 1/8-inch thick on a floured surface. Let it rest a few minutes, then slice it up into bite-sized pieces and drop them into the boiling chicken soup, leaving them to cook until you like the texture of the cooked dumplings (a few minutes, depending on how thin you got them).

I took half of the finished dish back over to Max and Marydell. I revealed the chicken-foot origins of the stock to her, but she didn't choose to tell Max. Today I mentioned it to him and got the expected ewwww response. What the heck: I strained out the toenails, didn't I? And he'd already admitted how delicious it was. Wait till I make up a batch with the heads.

Asian cultures prize the chicken feet in all kinds of dishes. The Chinese, I understand, call them "phoenix claws." In my household, the stock is for us and the dogs get to eat the de-boned discarded solids, as they always do when I make stock.

NYT Argument against interest

"The Left-Leaning Tower"

Give it up, would-be conservative academics, argues the New York Times:

Dr. Yancey, who describes himself as a political independent with traditional Christian beliefs and progressive social values, advises nonliberal graduate students to be discreet during job interviews. “The information in this research,” he wrote, “indicates that revealing one’s political and religious conservatism will, on average, negatively influence about half of the search committee one is attempting to impress.”...

If you were a conservative undergraduate, would you risk spending at least four years in graduate school in the hope of getting a job offer from a committee dominated by people who don’t share your views?

You might well select another career for yourself — but you wouldn’t exactly call it self-selection.
There is at least some chance that academia might choose you precisely because you don't share their views -- the virtue of diversity is, after all, supposed to be at the core of contemporary academic society. In theory, at least.

Hanging Tree

Hanging Tree:

Variations on a theme.


The National Endowment for Humanities on Robert E. Lee:

The NEH continues its assault on Robert E. Lee. The piece is worth reading, I suppose, in that it shows how little they are able to muster themselves to the work. The most they can really do is convict a faction of historians; the truth is, they have almost nothing to say against General Lee himself.

To answer the question they ask -- how could a man like this have become a national hero? -- res ipsa loquitur. The trauma of the war turned many hands, and even good hands, to evil work; but the General seems to have kept his faith, and done so well that even his enemies could only praise him. It is right and proper to honor those who manage such hours so well.



Greyhawk has a piece on Hillary Clinton's Mercenary Army. As to which, I always think of the poem by A. E. Housman.

Epitaph on Army of Mercenaries (1914)
THESE, in the day when heaven was falling
The hour when earth's foundations fled,
Followed their mercenary calling,
And took their wages, and are dead.

Their shoulders held the sky suspended;
They stood, and earth's foundations stay;
What God abandoned, these defended,
And saved the sum of things for pay.
That Iraq has been abandoned by God, I would not defend; but perhaps he has made provisions we might not have expected.

Charity and Goodwill

Charity, Women, and New Media:

Susannah Breslin writes a rather biting piece on women at blogging conferences. The most important part of the piece is on a tangent to its main point, so we'll treat that first.

For example, this month Love Drop is helping the Withrow family. Felicity Withrow is four. She was recently diagnosed with brain cancer. She has a brain tumor that is attached to her brain stem. On top of this, Felicity’s mother is pregnant. Love Drop is trying to raise $5,000 to help the Withrow family with Felicity’s radiation treatments. So far, they’ve raised $2,500, but they need to raise $2,500 more. It’s too bad Mountain Dew would rather give who knows how much to have some “young, cute chick” natter on about Mountain Dew than give $2,500 to the Withrow family to help their daughter not be sick.
Is that too bad? Mountain Dew probably helps many children not be sick, by providing jobs and health insurance to their parents; it may be that there is a greater good being worked than is obvious.

Nevertheless, watch the video.

It is a hard year for charity. We recently finished our Project VALOUR-IT fundraiser, and did not reach the goal in spite of strong last minute strides; and we are very tightly tied to those being helped. This charity has raised only half of what it meant to raise for the little girl, with barely a handful of days left in the month devoted to her.

The reasons for this are obvious: the weakness of the economy, the difficulty of predicting how much you will be able to spare from your own duties and needs. That is to say, it is the weakness of Mountain Dew -- of them and others like them -- that makes it so hard to raise these funds. If people could easily get such jobs, or felt secure in the ones they had, charity would not be so hard to find.

Ms. Breslin makes a larger point about the relative shallowness of female bloggers, but I think she may be pointing her weapon in the wrong direction. The problem isn't female bloggers, but panels about female bloggers. The few women who compete on even terms are as good as anyone; there just aren't as many. If you insist on having a panel about "women bloggers," then, you're going to get a lot of folks on that panel who aren't as interesting as the ones who run at the top.

This is akin to Raymond Chandler's point made in his famous essay "The Simple Art of Murder."
The average detective story is probably no worse than the average novel, but you never see the average novel. It doesn’t get published. The average—or only slightly above average—detective story does. Not only is it published but it is sold in small quantities to rental libraries, and it is read.
We see much the same economy at work in the academy, where men outnumber women among the serious arts and sciences. It is not that the women who do well in those arts and sciences are less serious than the men; there just aren't as many of them. This seems to have to do with the fact that the IQ curve for women is less flat, meaning that there are fewer female idiots and fewer female geniuses. The average woman isn't less intelligent, less interesting or more self-absorbed than the average man; but the average man doesn't get featured on a panel. Because we are interested in showing that we are interested in women, the average (or slightly above average) woman does.

Take heart, then, Ms. Breslin.

"Dear Yankee"

"Dear Yankee"

Via HotAir, I found this Texas Monthly piece by a local journalist who, though obviously no fan of Governor Rick Perry, hasn't much patience with the establishment's usual attitude toward the state that has filled the White House for 17 of the last 48 years. Don't misunderestimate the man, he warns:

The first place you need to go to understand Perry is Paint Creek, where he grew up. Paint Creek is not a town. It’s a watercourse that runs through the cotton fields of southern Haskell County. Perry’s parents were tenant farmers, and not just tenant farmers but dryland farmers, which is as hard as farming gets. In a June 2010 interview with TEXAS MONTHLY editor Jake Silverstein, Perry described an incident involving a new couch that his parents, who “rarely ever bought anything,” had just purchased. “There were places in our house that you could see outside through the cracks by the windows,” the governor recalled, “and this dust storm came in and there was a layer of dust all over that new couch. And it just, you know, kind of—it was a hard life for them.” In the interview, Perry also described taking baths in the number two washtub and using an outhouse until his father built indoor plumbing in his early years. “We were rich,” Perry said, “but not in material things. I had miles and miles of pasture, a Shetland pony, and a dog. . . . I spent a lot of time just alone with my dog. A lot."

For someone who hasn't entered the race yet, Perry is polling amazingly well. It's such a confusing field. There's a huge groundswell of "anybody but Obama" sentiment that hasn't yet found a challenger to coalesce around. Perry has such high negatives that I was hoping someone else would float to the top; I really am not looking forward to another round of hick-bashing and cowboy jokes (and Aggie jokes, too, this time). But I can see how a multi-term governor with budget-balancing credentials might do very well despite the firestorm he can expect from the media. The man has a lot of hard bark on him. He's not yearning for adulation from the masses.

Heh. "There are monsters that need pummeling"

Templar my ass

Templars my @#$:

The attack in Norway apparently had a long-standing fantasy of belonging to a revived Knights Templar. Variations on this fantasy are not uncommon -- one meets lots of "Knights Templar" at Scottish Highland Games thanks to the York Rite -- but it's flatly outrageous to see someone laying claim to the organization who writes this:

Regarding my personal relationship with God, I guess I’m not an excessively religious man. I am first and foremost a man of logic. However, I am a supporter of a monocultural Christian Europe.
We see here a man of "logic" -- so he says -- who wants to dress himself in religious trappings, such as the robes of the Knights Templar and the writings of Søren Kierkegaard.

We keep saying that it's a shame there is no Pope of Islam to condemn these actors, and clarify that the religion does not endorse them. There certainly is a Pope of the Catholic Church, however, who has every right to clarify these matters. If you want to join one of the military orders, there still is one; although I am not sure how one goes about getting an invitation to join (more's the pity!). The Pope is the one who ought to be serving as our "gravity well" here. People worried about Islam overrunning Europe could be drawn into reinvigorating Christianity, and serving in better ways.

Where's the Middle Ground?

Where's the Middle Ground?

All the talk lately about how the powers that be must reach a compromise assumes that there's a middle ground to occupy. I suppose by definition there is, but the problem may be that it occurs in an area that's almost equally unthinkable for statist and small-government enthusiasts. As Don Quixote at Bookwoom Room puts it:

Conservatives want as little government as possible consistent with doing what government must do (internal & external security, some regulation, some useful programs (national highway system, for example)). Liberals want as much government as they can have without killing the golden goose.

The problem is that the two visions don’t intersect. The largest government any conservative worthy of the name could support would still be much smaller than the smallest government any liberal worthy of the name would support. . . .

The issue is not really whether we close the debt gap with tax increases and spending cuts. . . . The issue is what role we want government to play in our lives. Do we want only the government that is necessary? Or do we want all the government we can afford? Or do we want to maintain a government that we can’t afford, leaving our children to deal with the mess? . . . Even assuming that both sides in the current negotiations wish to change from that course (not at all a safe assumption!) they will not do so in anything more than a papered over way unless they can bridge the gap between the first two philosophies.

Mark Steyn weighs in on the demographic difficulty:

The problem is structural: Not enough people do not enough work for not enough of their lives. Developed nations have 30-year-old students and 50-year-old retirees, then wonder why the shrunken rump of a "working" population in between can't make the math add up.

By the way, demographically speaking, these categories — "adolescents" and "retirees" — are an invention of our own time: They didn't exist a century ago. You were a kid till 13 or so. Then you worked. Then you died.

As Obama made plain in his threat to Gran'ma recently that the August checks might not go out, funding nonproductivity is now the principal purpose of the modern state. Good luck with that at a time when every appliance in your home is manufactured in Asia.

CRS Debt

CRS On the Debt, Market Confidence:

Via FAS's Project on Government Secrecy, some Congressional Research products on the debt and market confidence, and the balanced budget amendment.

The CRS puts these things together to inform Congress who are thinking about issues of the day. It usually does a pretty good job at trying to inform without attempting to influence the debate. However, there's a danger that the CRS can sometimes set the left and right limits of debate in situations where (as sometimes is the case) a more emphatic solution is needed than is conventionally thought wise. On the other hand, sometimes it usefully clarifies that radical-sounding options are not as radical as they seem.

For example, section IV of the BBA piece considers the question of whether a Constitutional Convention might be forced by the states. The idea of the BBA is often treated by DC insiders as beyond the pale; the idea of a constitutional convention as being so radical as to be impossible to consider. Yet we are very close to seeing a state-forced convention on the BBA issue.

There is no question that a convention can be forced by the states, but there is a question about whether a state can rescind its request for a convention. (The history here has to do with the radification of the Reconstruction amendments, particularly the 14th, in which states were sometimes forced to rescind their votes and sometimes not permitted by Congress to do so -- depending on whether or not Congress liked how they had voted.) Depending on the outcome of that question, perhaps 32 states have voted to call the convention.

It takes 34 to force the convention. Radical or not, we're very close to it.

Chinese Pizza

Chinese Pizza:

"Slice" has a review of a fusion pizza attempt out of Queens, NY. They weren't terribly impressed, but the idea of Chinese meats on a pizza is one that I encountered to much better effect in Hangzhou, China.

We used to go to a place called the Reggae Cafe, which was a little bar and restaurant near Hangzhou Daxue decorated in what the locals took to be a Caribbean style. They had both Jamaican and Haitian music, actually, from pirated CDs of the type that were a major feature of the Hangzhou economy in those days.

Given the theme, they tended to stretch for anything Western. There was one grocery store in the city that managed to get a case of Guinness beer while we were there, which it proceeded to sell by the individual bottle at an extraordinary price (for China). I bought one for nostalgia, but the Reggae Cafe bought the rest; and then, when they had been drunk, decorated the bar by lining it with the expended bottles.

(Pity it wasn't Dragon Stout, which would have been more to the point! Pretty good beer, too, by comparison to the local swill. But I digress.)

They served what they called a Sichuan Pizza made with the spicy ingredients for which the province is so well known in America. I found it to be delicious; in fact, it was probably the reason I spent so much time at that little hole in the wall.

A little Google searching suggests to me that the "Reggae Cafe" still exists, and is now called "the Reggae Bar" -- having passed its "Reggae Cafe" name to much a much fancier offspring, to judge from the decor in those pictures. Good on them! No word on whether they still serve the pizza.