Going Riding

I will be in the wilderness, seeking adventure, until Monday.

Southern Manners Continued

InstaPundit reports from Knoxville with an addendum:

As a recent (female) Yankee transplant to the south, I can’t speak of past southern manners, but I can speak of what I’ve seen and experienced since I’ve been here. It’s been nothing short of culture shock, in a wonderful way. I work in a retail store where it’s occasionally required of me to help customers out to their cars with heavy packages. I have no problem with this, but I have yet to seen a man let me take the heavier box, and if I try to, they won’t let me. My male co-workers won’t curse in front of me, or even discuss “inappropriate” subjects without first saying “excuse my language” or “pardon me for this”. I routinely have customers tell me not to worry about helping them with heavy packages, and that I should make the guys carry them. I’m called “ma’am”! (And occasionally, “darlin’”, which is also perfectly acceptable.) I’m treated like a lady wherever I go, not just another random customer. I rarely have to open a door for myself, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been offered assistance to my car when my arms are full after grocery shopping, from both men and women alike. 
And the women are no less polite and warm-hearted. They’re happy to have a quick chat or offer an opinion on something if asked by a random stranger. They’ll politely catch your attention if you’re dropped a penny or a piece of paper from your purse to return it. They seem to have a big, wide, authentic smile and a kind word for everyone. They say “Please” and “thank you”, and mean it. And most shockingly, those mothers who bring their young children with them into the stores actually discipline them to make them behave, and will even apologize to the employees if their kids are being unruly. 
I’m amazed and grateful for a culture that teaches such manners. If this is a decline in southern manners, then I can only imagine what they were like at their peak.
Amazing thought, isn't it?  That a culture might put its childrens' self-esteem behind courtesy to strangers?  Why, that's probably child abuse, these days.  Some Federal agency surely needs to do something about this, so as to teach those barbarians how things are done in the United States.  I trust the New York Times will have an update for us soon.

What is the Danger of Citing the Bible?

Almost everyone has one handy.
From today’s briefing:
MR. CARNEY: Well, I believe the phrase from the Bible* is, “The Lord helps those who help themselves.” And I think the point the President is making is that we should -- we have it within our capacity to do the things to help the American people. 
The White House adds in the official transcript:
* This common phrase does not appear in the Bible.

New In Science: Viking Navigation Secrets

A discovery that, if it proves out, may be of some interest to us! 
To avoid getting lost on their voyages across the North Atlantic 1000 years ago, Vikings relied on the sun to determine their heading. (This was long before magnetic compasses were available in Europe.) But cloudy days could have sent their ships dangerously off course, especially during the all-day summer sun at those far-north latitudes. The Norse sagas mention a mysterious "sunstone" used for navigation. Now a team of scientists claims that the sunstones could have been calcite crystals and that Vikings could have used them to get highly accurate compass readings even when the sun was hidden. 
The trick for locating the position of the hidden sun is to detect polarization, the orientation of light waves along their path. Even on a cloudy day, the sky still forms a pattern of concentric rings of polarized light with the sun at its center. If you have a crystal that depolarizes light, you can determine the location of the rings around the hidden sun.
If you are interested in how it read in the sagas, try this:
The weather was thick and snowy as Sigurður had predicted. Then the king summoned Sigurður and Dagur (Rauðúlfur's sons) to him. The king made people look out and they could nowhere see a clear sky. Then he asked Sigurður to tell where the sun was at that time. He gave a clear assertion. Then the king made them fetch the solar stone and held it up and saw where light radiated from the stone and thus directly verified Sigurður’s prediction.

Another Study on Free Will and Neuroscience

These are becoming fashionable!  But this one has an interesting claim.
Like generosity and pettiness, like love and suspiciousness, responsibility is what he calls a “strongly emergent” property — a property that, though derived from biological mechanisms, is fundamentally distinct and obeys different laws, as do ice and water.
What does it mean to say something is emergent?  The concept, as the second link rightly notes, is at least as old as Aristotle, but it has become more significant recently.  From where, though, would such a thing emerge? There are two ways of thinking about an answer to that question.  A thing can emerge in the sense that it can arise from a combination; but it can also emerge in the sense that it can emerge from hiding.  

Now, my question is:  those two senses appear to be different, but are they really?  If we say that the combination is the thing, yet we must admit that reality is structured in such a way that the combination has the potential to give rise to the property.  How is that different from saying that a property embedded in reality is, under the right circumstances, going to come out of hiding?

This is important to the long piece on a new theory of consciousness that I have yet to finish composing, but which I mentioned in discussions with Joseph W. recently.  I think that consciousness is embedded in reality; and the brain is therefore a receiver of something that is already there, rather than a generator as we usually believe.

On Wet Work

I don't write as much on war as I used to, though its importance has not lessened.  I had a piece on BlackFive yesterday, however, which some of you may find interesting.

Ah, "Southern Manners"

Any Southerner grows accustomed, over the years, to the New York Times' mode of writing about the South.  They are at turns tendentious and sermonizing; indeed they would be patronizing if they had the wherewithal to be anyone's patron.  At this point, of course, the Times is hardly what it used to be in that regard.

Still, today's entry -- "Southern Manners on Decline, Some Say" -- is an amazing example of the genre.  It starts off with a headline as solidly correct as those topping other newsworthy stories like "Aliens to Come Soon, Some Say," and "Sasquatch is Real, Some Say."  Having thus established its bona fides, the Times reporters will surely begin with an example that shows Southern manners in decline, right?
One August night, two men walked into a popular restaurant attached to this city’s fanciest shopping mall. They sat at the bar, ordered drinks and pondered the menu. Two women stood behind them. A bartender asked if they would mind offering their seats to the ladies. Yes, they would mind. Very much.

Angry words came next, then a federal court date and a claim for more than $3 million in damages. 
The men, a former professional basketball player and a lawyer, also happen to be black. The women are white. The men’s lawyers argued that the Tavern at Phipps used a policy wrapped in chivalry as a cloak for discriminatory racial practices.
So, what we've learned here is that Southern manners are actually still being enforced:  ladies should be offered a seat.  The Tavern at Phipps is a very nice place, according to the standards of taverns -- I've been there once -- and it is the mark of very nice places in the South that manners are enforced.  This is why such good manners are observed here:  the failure to observe them leads to negative social consequences.

Now, an inattentive reader might have thought the Times brought it up to show that the two men at the bar were the ones being rude -- after all, they are the ones who loudly refused to accord with the general standard.  However, for that to be a comment on "Southern Manners," the men would have to be Southerners. The Times doesn't actually tell you anything about them, but I discovered by an internet search that the "former professional basketball player" is Joe Barry Carroll, whose high school team was in Denver, college in Indiana, and professionally played for California, New Jersey, Texas, Italy, Arizona, and Denver again.

So this is no comment on Southern manners being in decline.  Why the headline?  "Two Loudmouths at a Bar Show Bad Manners" didn't get past the editors?  "Professional Basketball Players' Manners on Decline" didn't strike anyone as terribly newsworthy?

(The Times includes a slideshow with this article, the title of the slideshow being "Civility on the Brink."  It's a series of pictures of children at a finishing school in Augusta dancing and practicing correct handshakes.  I'm not sure how that lines up with the title of either the slideshow or the article, but let's keep trying to sort out what is really going on here.)

So far we're not sure exactly what the Times is trying to say.  Are manners on the decline, or are they still being enforced?  The Times quotes a historian who says he thinks things are eroding, offers none of his evidence (if he has any to offer), and then says:
To be sure, strict rules regarding courtesy and deference to others have historically been used as a way to enforce a social order in which women and blacks were considered less than full citizens.
In the Jim Crow era, blacks and whites lived with a code of hyper-politeness as a way to smooth the edges of a harsh racial system....  Since the Civil War, any decline in Southern manners has been blamed on those damn Yankees.
Oh, I see!  This is a celebration of the end of manners in the South, then!  You've come to take credit!

With that sorted out, I can begin to understand what would otherwise be puzzling.  After all, this doesn't seem like it is a remark on "Southern Manners," but on the manners of people moving into the South from outside:
Dana Mason, who teaches second grade in Birmingham, says manners have been at the lowest level she has seen in her 36 years in the classroom. Parents who move South tell her they don’t want their children to learn to say “yes, sir” or “yes, ma’am.” Too demeaning, they say.
Oh, I see, demeaning.  I suppose being polite to someone else means showing some sort of minimal deference, and that might conflict with the child's self-esteem.  Much better that they should learn to think of themselves as the most important person in the room, regardless of their accomplishments or virtues!  Indeed, since children taught to think this way will develop few virtues, only this approach can possibly ensure their self-esteem.  And self-esteem is very important!
Manners also helped create the South’s famous “bless your heart” culture — a powerful way of seeming to be polite without being genuine. 
“Manners are often a way of distancing and maintaining space,” said William Ferris, a University of North Carolina folklorist who edited the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture with Professor Wilson. “If someone is polite, you better be careful and consider what that politeness veils.”
Ah, well, better we work for less politeness then.  We want people to be authentic, just as we want them to have self-esteem!

This story is the story of a culture on the brink of a final collapse.  The collapsing culture, however, is not the South's.  The culture on display in the words of the author is a culture that is killing itself.  It has fallen out of order:  and strong and rich as it has been, it will not now long survive.

One Tanker's View of the Eurozone

I'm going to guess that many members of this audience may find this analogy helpful in understanding the Eurozone's response to its financial crisis.  The real question, though, is:  why would any polity agree to have their wealth used as armor for the Greeks?

At least, that's the real question from outside Greece.  The Greeks seem to think the real question is a different one.

An Excellent Sign for 2012

Now this was a particularly clever idea for a pollster:  ask Americans which historical President they wish they could bring back to lead the country at this time.
Thirty-six percent of those polled said they wanted the Gipper to lead America out of the economic crisis, while 29 percent picked Roosevelt. Thomas Jefferson came in third place with the support of 14 percent of those polled, followed by Roosevelt’s successor Harry Truman at 8 percent.
Harry Truman is an interesting choice -- I wonder if that eight percent isn't chiefly drawn from people alive at the time Truman was president, since he isn't a figure who is well known for bringing the nation out of an economic downturn.  Reagan v. FDR shows us that a plurality of Americans have their heads in the right place:  nearly four in ten understand what is needed.  Only about one in three are hoping the government will save them, instead of wanting the government out of the way of private action.

We can't fault the 14 percent who chose Jefferson, as Jefferson would be a good choice at any time.  No Andy Jackson, though?  No Teddy?

Words From A Sheriff in South Carolina

"Liberals call me and tell me the chain-gang form of justice isn't working. Well, let me inform you, your form of justice isn't working either."

"I want you to get a concealed weapons permit."

"I'm tired of looking at victims saying, 'There's life after this' … I'm tired of saying, 'We're sorry, we can't keep them in jail.'"
Some will be tempted to scold Sheriff Wright for these remarks, on the grounds that preventing crime is his job.  I am of course not inclined to agree, because the defense of the common peace and lawful order is all of our jobs.  It is the right and the duty of every citizen to defend that peace and order.

Wright seems to suggest that we face a double threat to that peace and order.  The predators are not the only threat, and perhaps not the main threat, from Wright's perspective.  What he's really angry about is the oversight that the justice system places on his enforcement of the law.  That is, he's mad that violent criminals he catches are being turned loose -- and he wishes that we could avoid the system by just having the civilians do what he can't do, which is shoot the criminal dead in the first place.

We didn't think much of the idea of the police passing off to citizens unconstitutional searches, so we might be suspicious of attempts to pass the whole process from trial to conviction to execution.  We might, except that a violent criminal engaged in his crime has little reference to any claim to privacy as related to his actions.  The laws of the fifty states differ on whether they endorse a lethal response -- I don't know about South Carolina, but Georgia certainly endorses lethal force in order to prevent death or grievous bodily harm being caused by a criminal to an innocent.  Thus, the sheriff isn't asking anyone to do anything illegal or improper (which law he would then decline to enforce); he's asking people to do what the law permits them to do, for the common good.

Our system of justice faces several severe threats, and at least two of them are internal -- I mean the explosion of laws and regulations governing individual behavior, so that we can no longer reasonably be expected to understand the law, and the removal of mens rea from a number of these new laws and regulations.  

I'm not sure how sympathetic I am with Sheriff Wright's claim that it's too hard to keep people in jail:  we seem to have a very large prison population, if that is indeed a difficulty.  I do believe that it is important for citizens to be prepared to do their duty for the common peace and lawful order -- at least if we understand "the lawful order" to mean something like "the reasonable and traditional laws of the land" and not "every last rule or regulation someone thought up and slapped through an unaccountable Federal bureaucracy, or that Congress passed unread."  I am certainly sympathetic with the claim that rapists ought to be shot, and that the common good is advanced every time one is killed in the pursuit of his evils.


"Darren Webster dug up a 1,000-year-old casket that also held coins, hacksilver and ingots while scouring at an undisclosed location on the border between Cumbria and North Lancashire.Experts at the British Museum in London say thefind is of 'national significance'.
From the Beowulf:
Aledon þa leofne þeoden,
beaga bryttan, on bearm scipes,
mærne be mæste. þær wæs madma fela
of feorwegum, frætwa, gelæded;
ne hyrde ic cymlicor ceol gegyrwan
hildewæpnum ond heaðowædum,
billum ond byrnum; him on bearme læg
madma mænigo, þa him mid scoldon
on flodes æht feor gewitan.
There laid they down their darling lord
on the breast of the boat, the breaker-of-rings,
by the mast the mighty one. Many a treasure
fetched from far was freighted with him.
No ship have I known so nobly dight
with weapons of war and weeds of battle,
with breastplate and blade: on his bosom lay
a heaped hoard that hence should go
far o'er the flood with him floating away.

Reposting an Old Argument

Daniel suggests, reference the Richard Dawkins video below, that I repost an old piece disproving Atheism.  That piece was written in the very first days of Grim's Hall, when I was a rather different man than I have since become; but reading it over, the main thing I disagree with (aside from my once-more-confrontational tone) is that one cannot prove the existence of 'any god.'  I think Avicenna's argument for the necessary existent is pretty solid; but I hadn't encountered it at the time.

I might also, today, extend my critique of his alleged disproofs of God; but only because he was lazy about them, having apparently not bothered to read the philosophers whose conclusions he was disparaging.  It's not as if Aquinas or Gersonides was unaware of the issue, or without arguments in support of their views.  As all of you have come to know from hanging around here, though, some of the old philosophers are harder to assail than you'd think.  Aquinas, for example, is a thinker whose proofs are often very demanding for a modern reader -- the forms of argument are more sophisticated than moderns are used to encountering.

So, with that as preface, here's an old piece from 2003.

The Raving Atheist:
The Raving Atheist has decided to break lances with me over this post. I've promised him a reply, and I am a man of my word. It will be a bit lengthy.
The Easy Stuff First:
First, RA suggests I "didn't get" his point, which was that if Forn Sidr should spread into the USA, "American schools might soon be compelled to 'respect' ridiculous gods such as Thor and Odin in the same way that they now respect the ridiculous Christian god �- they would no longer be able to disparage the Norse deities as 'mythical.'" I did get the point, but did not bother to reply to it, since it is wrong on the facts:
1) "Forn Sidr" does exist in the United States, and has for about thirty years. It's recognized, under a variety of names, by the US military--you can find the chaplain's reference guide here. So, in fact, it's been around for quite a while, and no such troubles as RA forsees have erupted. I might have spent more time explaining this point, if I had expected to draw an audience who was unaware of heathenry.
2) Furthermore, as I did point out, I recall from my own schooling that the Christian Bible was taught as "literature," or as a source in history that could be questioned and analyzed as other sources. In those classes, the "Christian creation myth" was in fact discussed, using exactly that term--except that it was not "myth" but "myths," as there are two of them in Genesis. Analysis included an examination of why these two myths were probably not written in the order presented, and why the first one in particular was probably the work of a formal priestly class rather than a single author (such as Moses). Now, I went to school in the great state of Georgia, way down South in the Bible Belt. If Georgia can handle doing it that way, I think RA's complaints against the system may be a bit overheated.
Second: there is not in fact a constitutional right to avoid being disparaged. RA demonstrates this fairly clearly by carrying on as he does every day. No one has yet arrested--nor even sued him, so far as I know. The First Amendment protects my right to believe as I wish, but also his right to call me "crazy," which he does a bit later on down the blog. (A tip: if you are going to cite logic as the core of your belief system, it is a good idea to avoid the better known informal fallacies, e.g., ad hominem).
Third: I hardly suppose that "all religions are equally true." I do assert that Atheism is false. We'll get to that momently.
What I assert on the question of the truth of religion is this: excepting Atheism, it is not possible to say with certainty that any religion is false. That does not mean that they are all true; in fact, it does not mean that any of them are true. It means, only, that so long as the believer behaves himself honorably and doesn't cite his beliefs as a good reason for attacking me, my family, or my country, I'm glad to extend him the benefit of the doubt. If he does cite his beliefs as a reason for attacking us, I am glad to extend him the benefit of a burial according to the tenets of his faith.
With the easy stuff out of the way, we'll carry on to the harder stuff.
Forn Sidr:
Since it was Forn Sidr that was the inspiration for his original post, we'll start with that. RA links to his "proof of Atheism." I'll quote the first point in full, since the argument hinges on it:
First, there is no God. In fact, all definitions of the word �God� are either self-contradictory, incoherent, meaningless or refuted by empirical, scientific evidence. Although the nature of the disproof will necessarily vary with the god under review, I will usually be raving against the modern monotheistic (or triune) Judeo-Christian-Islamic God, having (in various permutations) the characteristics of being, conscious, all-powerful (omnipotent), all-knowing (omniscient), all-good (omnibenevolent), immaterial, transcendent. immutable, immortal, infinite, omnipresent, disembodied and eternal.Such a god is as much a contradiction in terms as a square circle, and thus logically impossible, for numerous reasons including the following:
1) Omnipotence is impossible because God would, at a minimum, be unable to limit his powers, e.g., make a stone he cannot lift; if he could make such a stone, then his inability to lift it would defeat his omnipotence;
2) God's omnipotence conflicts with his omniscience, because if God knows everything that is going to happen in advance, he cannot do anything in the present; he must simply watch the future unfold as previously foreseen, because changing anything would falsify his prior belief concerning the future;
3) God's omnipotence precludes him from having knowledge of any sensations or emotions associated with weakness, e.g., fear, frustration, despair, sickness, etc., and thus conflicts with him omniscience;
4) God's omniscience precludes him from having knowledge of any emotions associated with surprise or anticipation, and thus conflicts with itself;
5) God's omniscience conflicts with his disembodiedness, since a being without a body could not know how to drive, swim, or perform any activity associated with having a body;
6) God's omniscience conflicts with his omnibenevolence, since a morally perfect god could not have knowledge of feelings of hate, lust, or envy, or cruelty, etc.
7) God's omniscience and omnipotence conflict with his omnibenevolence, since a god who could prevent evil would do so unless he were unable to do so or unaware of the evil.
The gods of Forn Sidr--the Aesir and the Vanir--actually take part in none of the categories RA finds demonstrably impossible. None of them are all powerful, all knowing, all good (some of them, in fact, aren't particularly good at all), immutable, immortal, infinite, ominpresent, or eternal. They may be transcendent, depending on what you meant by the word; and as to whether or not they are immaterial or disembodied, that is I gather the subject of some debate.
Regardless, the various "omni-" aspects, on which the "proof" relies, simply aren't a problem for Forn Sidr. They make no claims to those properties. This "proof" that they do not exist doesn't touch on them at all.
Yet RA's original post on the subject said that this was "the one form of theology that can safely be declared false." Now, I understand RA himself is prepared to declare all forms of theology false. Still, it's interesting that he's chosen to pick on one that is not touched by his arguments.
On Atheism Generally:
RA holds: "To disprove atheism, one would have to prove the existence of a particular God of a particular religion." That is not true, however. The claim that "you can't prove that God exists" belongs to the Agnostic, an honorable fellow with whom I have no quarrel. The Atheist's claim is that "We can prove God does not exist." I admit that I am not able to prove the existence of any god. However, I can prove that it is impossible to prove the nonexistence of God.
Let's return to the claim that "god is as much a contradiction in terms as a square circle." Indeed. Here's the problem, though, lad: where can I find a square, or a circle?
This is not a flippant question. It touches on the limits of human knowledge. Both the square, and the circle, belong to the realm of mathematics. Mathematics only models the world. If you hand me a child's puzzle piece, and say that it is square, I'll point out that it is not, as it has three and not two dimensions. If you draw one on paper, it will still have depth (if you draw it with ink, which soaks into the paper) or height (if you draw it with a graphite pencil). Examine it closely, and you will find that its edges are not perfectly straight, as a the sides of a "square" must be. Draw a "line," if you will, and you'll append arrows to each end to show that it goes on forever--which it does, but only in theory.
The mathematical certainty you want to apply to the world applies only to the realm of math. In fact, it doesn't even apply there:
Thus, it came as a great surprise in the 1930's when it was formally proven that there exists an unlimited supply of math problems that fundamentally cannot be solved, whether by human or machine. Furthermore, it was shown that the very problem of determining if a math problem can be solved is undecidable.
Even in the realm of math, which is a wholly human creation, and deals exclusively with human concepts, certainty about the absolutes is not possible. Mathematics is a tool--it is, as I said above, a model. Its categories, though, do not accurately portray the world--they only model the world, simplifying it to keep the calculations manageable to human minds and such tools as we can build. Still the ultimate questions are beyond us, even in the simplified realm of math. Things become far more complicated when we pass beyond math into physics, biology, or history.
By the same token, it is not possible to prove the non-existence of God. Yes, it's true that "omnipotent" is a contradiction in terms. The terms, however, are human. They are limited, even as mathematical concepts are limited; and they break at the limits, even as our mathematical concepts prove finally unsolvable. Like mathematics, too, these concepts only attempt to model the world: they are not, in fact, the world. Not only are our concepts imperfect in themselves, but they are imperfect in their attempts at modelling reality. If you find that there are questions about the world you cannot answer, not even in theory, it is foolish to speak of proving that there is nothing beyond the edges of the universe. It is whistling past the graveyard.
The world is too big, and too strong, for us to hold it in our heads. Faced with that, there are no alternatives but three: to pretend it is not so, and that you can possess ultimate knowledge; to shriek in despair; or to bow your head with reverent awe. The first--Atheism falls here--is falseness and self-deception. The second is madness. The third alone allows proper respect for the power of the truth of the world, without destroying the man who recognizes it.
It is therefore the case that none of the religions of Men can be proven false, except Atheism, which has been.

A Gospel Song at the National Press Club

The scoundrels at Gawker were impressed, or horrified, by the apparent success of this song at quelling the media at the National Press Club.  I've been there a few times myself -- it's kind of an interesting place.  The sort of journalists who frequent it are often the sort who believe in the old patriotic model of journalism.  I mean by this that they believe that the press has a duty to the Republic, which is to ensure that the truth is understood and readily available to those of the people who wish to understand.  These are the good guys of journalism, so to speak:  they have their flaws, chief among them an inability to accept that their desire to avoid bias merely causes them to push their bias into their subconscious, so that they cannot honestly track it.  Nevertheless, their hearts are in the right place.  They seem really to believe that they are serving the Republic in the performance of their work; and I've occasionally been impressed by the kind of knowledge and analysis that they can bring to bear -- not from their own corps, as they lack the practical experience of the world that would let them have a capacity for either, but out of the various think tanks and organizations in D.C. who wish to have their voices heard.  You can learn a lot by listening to the thinkers who come to talk to the press.

Watch the eyes of the lady seated at the table to Mr. Cain's right.  I'm not quite sure how to characterize the glance she gives to the camera, although I might start at "disbelief."  When the song is over, though, she joins in the cheery handling of the performance.  Why is that?  How many politicians would try to sing at a moment like this?  Is it good that he does?  Should more of us feel inclined to resort to beautiful and moving music to try to explain ourselves?  If so, why?  If not, why not?

A Sikh Lord

If any of you wish to move to India and devote your lives to becoming the last living master of a Sikh martial art, there is apparently an opening.

The Sikhs practice a particularly honorable religion, which I admire though it is not my own.  It would delight me to know that one of you wished to undertake this quest, though it would have to be because it was right for you.  It will be greatly demanding for whomever accepts the challenge.


I see on Memeorandum that the Herman Cain brouhaha is in full, frothing flower:
During Herman Cain’s tenure as the head of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s, at least two female employees complained to colleagues and senior association officials about inappropriate behavior by Cain, ultimately leaving their jobs at the trade group, multiple sources confirm to POLITICO.

The women complained of sexually suggestive behavior by Cain that made them angry and uncomfortable, the sources said, and they signed agreements with the restaurant group that gave them financial payouts to leave the association. The agreements also included language that bars the women from talking about their departures.

Before I comment on Cain's response or the merits of the actual accusations, it seems reasonable to define the term "sexual harassment". Because legal definitions vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, I'm going with a generic summary of several standards I've read today. Here are the common elements:
1. Employee is pressured to submit to unwanted sexual attention/advances as a condition of continued employment ("You *do* want to keep your job, don't you honey?")

2. Decisions regarding pay, benefits, promotions, etc. are conditioned upon submission to unwanted sexual attention/advances.

3. Unwanted sexual attention/advances/comments are of sufficient severity/frequency that they create a hostile working environment.

That's the test Cain's accusers would have to meet. So far, we don't have many specifics, so no one knows whether actual sexual harassment occurred or not. Three things about this story strike me:

1. So far, we have anonymous accusations made by two women who (if Politico is to be believed) were paid not to discuss the matter further.

One can't help recalling the NY Times' frequent use of anonymous j'accusations from unidentified Defense Department employees who demanded anonymity because talking to the media violated the conditions of their employment. This is a weighty point against the accusers. Why should anyone believe two women who (by their own admission, if we believe the Politico) took what amounts to a bribe ... and then, having voluntarily accepted hush money, violated a freely given promise not to discuss the matter further?

Because most sexual conduct occurs in private, most accusations of sexual misconduct revolve around the credibility of the accuser. Having already shown themselves to be quite willing to take hush money and then violate the condition they agreed to as a condition of accepting such money doesn't exactly smack of integrity, does it? Which leads me to #2:

2. Because sexual conduct usually occurs in private (and because Politico is still sitting on all the juicy details - not to mention the identities of his accusers - out of a notably one-sided "sensitivity" to the seriousness of the charges), no one - whether on the liberal or rethug side - has any real basis for judging the merits of these claims. First of all, we don't know whether Cain's alleged conduct met any of the conditions specified above. Merely making unwanted sexual advances does not constitute sexual harassment. One could argue that any time a man makes sexual advances toward a woman (and she doesn't leap into his bed) he risks not just rejection but possible accusations of harassment.... all of which are good reasons for management not to proposition the help. But it's worth noting that the law stipulates that unwanted sexual conduct has to be severe and repeated often enough that it creates a hostile working environment.

For all we know, it may have been. Or not. Either way, we don't know enough yet.

3. Trying to dismiss these allegations by playing the race card, bringing up Bill Clinton's serial misbehavior, or referring to high tech lynchings (subtle, that...) are off topic distractions. I have to say that the responses of Cain's campaign staff leave something to be desired here.

Either there's enough here to convince people that Cain is more likely than not to have done what he was accused of (and if he did, that's something voters should know) or there's not enough evidence that he did and that's as much as we'll ever know about the matter. In all likelihood, we'll never know for sure.

Which leaves us pretty much where we seem to be today - with some of Cain's supporters loudly maintaining that there's nothing to see here and some of his detractors pronouncing him guilty without so much as a trial by media. And the rest of us playing wait and see.

Which may be the point of all this. I don't have much brief for premature declarations of either innocence or guilt. We just don't know enough yet. And perhaps we never will.

Arthurian Halloween

Today I will tell you an Arthurian story appropriate to the date.  One of the characteristic features of medieval writings about King Arthur is that they are often built around the liturgical year.  It isn't just that the passage of time is marked by whether they are holding the feast of Easter or Pentecost, but the feasts often have some appropriate function in the story.  This tale is an example of what I mean.  Some appropriate music:

Sir Guingamor fell in love with a fairy lady, and the two had a son whose name was Sir Brangamor.  Sir Brangamor's body turns up in a swan-shaped boat with written instructions to avenge his death -- but failing to mention his name, or on whom vengeance should be taken.  The letter does mention a secret shame that had befallen Sir Gawain's brother Guerrehes, however, so Sir Gawain goes looking for him.

Sir Guerrehes does not wish to speak of this -- remember that in an honor and shame culture, shame is only really significant if it becomes public!  Eventually, though, he admits to his brother (in private) a story about a red city he encountered in a wilderness.  He went in through the window, and found a wounded knight there being tended by a lady.  The wounded knight was furious at his arrival, and called for another knight to fight him.  The 'other knight' proved to be two feet tall -- not a dwarf, but a man perfectly formed, just small.  This little knight beat Guerrehes soundly, and made him promise to return in one year either to fight again, or to submit to being beheaded, or to submit to being enslaved as a weaver in the castle.

Guerrehes doesn't understand what this has to do with the mysterious dead body, so they go and look at it.  Guerrehes does not know the victim, but when he touches the spearhead that is lodged in the body, it falls out, and is perfect and bright.  He has it affixed to the stoutest spear he owns, and agrees to take on the quest of vengeance.

Now we get to the liturgical part.  All this happens right before Easter.  At the Easter feast, Guerrehes is asked by Arthur to sit near him.  Guerrehes is in such a foul mood that Sir Cei notices, and asks Arthur for a boon.  Arthur grants it, and Cei says he wants the story of why Guerrehes is so unhappy.  Guerrehes is angry, but has to confess his shame to Arthur and the whole court.  In one sense he is now fully shamed, because his shame is public -- but in another sense he is free of it, because he does not have to hide it any longer.  He takes horse and weapons, and goes off to quest for the vengeance he has (now quite publicly) sworn to perform.

It turns out that when he goes back to the red city, he is able to kill the little knight without difficulty.  Then the lord of the castle -- the formerly wounded knight -- called for his own weapons to fight Guerrehes.  The two take horses and arms, and Guerrehes selects the spear with the bright spearhead from the corpse.  He and the lord of the castle run together, and the spear penetrates and kills the lord of the castle just where it had penetrated the corpse.

Now the lady who had been tending the lord of the castle came to him, and thanked him for setting her free. She had been enslaved by that man after he killed her lover -- the knight Brangamor, as you will have guessed.  So they return to Arthur's castle at Caerleon, and the swan-shaped ship.

The lady explains to Arthur that Brangamor had to die in this world because he was part mortal, but now he will be able to live in the Otherworld with his queen and with his mother.  The ship is loaded with the corpse and its wrappings, and the lady goes aboard it, and it sails off to disappear.

This occurs on Halloween, the day when the fairy mounds are said to be open.

You can read the original story in William Roach's edition of the Old French Arthurian poems that follow Chretien de Troyes -- you may be able to find this through an academic library, if you have one nearby.  There is an easy English translation is available in John Matthews' The Book of Arthur, although it omits the fact that the final part of the story occurs on Halloween.

The Lowlands of Holland

On the night that I was married
And on my marriage bed
Up came a bold sea captain
And he stood at my bed head
Saying, "Arise, arise, young wedded man
And come along with me
To the low, low lands of Holland
To fight the enemy. 
Now Holland is a lovely land
And on it grows fine grain
Sure it is a place of residence
For a soldier to remain
Where the sugar cane is plentiful
And the tea grows on the tree
I never had but the one __
Now he's far away from me.
Said the mother to the daughter
Give off your sore lament
Oh there's men enough in Galway
For to be your heart's content"
"If there's men enough in Galway
Alas there are none for me
Since these high winds and stormy seas
Have come between my love and me."
I will wear no shoes around my feet
Nor combs pull in my hair
No handkerchief around my neck
For to save my beauty fair
And never will I marry
Until the day I die
Since the low, low lands of Holland
Have come between my love and I.
It's easier to understand if you remember that William of Orange came from the lowlands of Holland.  The Clancy Brothers also sang a little bit 'particular to Armagh, in the Christmastime,' which held:  "Up the long ladder and down the short rope, to hell with King Billy and God bless the Pope!"  And now you know enough, as Tolkien might have said, to go along with.

Ah, we're near the end of fine October.  The best month of the year, unless it be May; and almost gone to winter.  How many more will I see?  Or you either, friend.

The Sith Lords

We are approaching the hours of Halloween.  Let me let you in on a secret, in case you didn't know it.  Do you know what a Sith Lord is?  An American is likely to think that he does.

But perhaps you aren't quite right.
In his manuscript, The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies, Reverend Robert Kirk, minister of the Parish of Aberfoyle, Stirling, Scotland, wrote in 1691:
These Siths or Fairies they call Sleagh Maith or the Good People...are said to be of middle nature between Man and Angel, as were Daemons thought to be of old; of intelligent fluidous Spirits, and light changeable bodies (lyke those called Astral) somewhat of the nature of a condensed cloud, and best seen in twilight. These bodies be so pliable through the sublety of Spirits that agitate them, that they can make them appear or disappear at pleasure.
The word "Sith" is a variation of "Sidhe," immortals living in the fairy mounds.  I say in the fairy mounds, but the word "Sidhe" is distinct from the fae, whose names are liked with the old Latin "fate," and associated with the goddesses of that kind.  They are distinct also from elves, which is of Norse extraction, alfar, meaning "white."  These elves appear to be the honored dead, encountered by us in a shining form.

No, the fae are alien, associated with the order of the universe, and the Sith a subset of these.

The American usage -- "Sith" -- tracks to that ancient Celtic use.  No surprise:  John Williams used one of the poems of Taliesin, translated into Sanskrit, as the background track for a song on the Phantom Menace CD.

So here you have been given a hint as to what the Sith are.  But do you understand what they really are?

Playing Together

Anne Applebaum has an interesting point about the importance of play.
Thirty years ago, this wasn’t the case. A worker in a Detroit car factory earned about the same as, say, a small-town dentist, and although they might have different taste in films or furniture, their purchasing power wasn’t radically different. Their children would have been able to play together without feeling as if they came from different planets.

Now they couldn’t.
Her concept is that this is a good measure of the degree to which the middle class feels united -- that is, the degree to which it really is a class.  She wants to make a point, much like Mickey Kaus does, that Americans care more about social equality than about political or economic equality.  They argue that a very few super-rich (or a very few terribly poor) do not upset the sense of overall social equality, but that the American democratic concept won't work if a large part of the public feels separate from the rest.  

There's a certain irony in this critique coming from the Left, which for many years worked very hard to instill just such a distinction in the minds of the American people.  For a long time the phrase "the working class" was intended by Left-leaning thinkers to convince us to break the Middle Class into two parts, the upper-middle and middle-middle (which would remain "Middle Class") and the lower-middle (which would become "Working Class").  Insofar as they could achieve this, they could convince the "working class" that they had a class interest in Democratic politics, labor unions, and so forth.  Insofar as the lower-middle class remained convince that it was 'Middle Class like everybody else,' those voters would continue to try to better their lot through economics rather than politics.

Nevertheless, the economic collapse of the last few years has achieved what the phrase could not achieve; and if the Left is late to the party of celebrating the general unity of American life, that doesn't mean that they are wrong on the point.  There is a great social stability that arises because the vast middle -- say 80% of us -- think of ourselves as belonging to the same class.  We don't all vote the same way even so, but there is a sense in which we're all more or less the same.  In a democratic society, that's a virtue; so if we hope to remain a democratic society, it's important.

I wonder, though, if there isn't a broader point to be made about playing together.  Robert Putnam wrote a book called Bowling Alone that argues that American adults aren't playing together any more.  The bowling league was once a feature of middle-class life, along with things like the Elk Lodge (a type of society so popular that they were satirized in The Flintstones); now, people almost always bowl alone.  It isn't because bowling is less popular:  bowling is more popular than ever.  It's the community that has collapsed.

I think he has a good point in general, though his research is suspiciously tendentious.  His state-by-state rankings are interesting, as all the Southern states are in the negative territory, and are clustered at the bottom of the list.  The earliest is Virginia, at 33rd; of the bottom ten, only West Virginia and Nevada are from outside the South.  

Does air-conditioning -- or the bitterly hot summers, in general -- cut down on the degree to which we play together?  That might explain the general trend; but it doesn't answer the question of whether our communities are worse.  On the other hand, I notice his sample questions speak of "civic and social" organizations but not "church groups."  Leaving that out is going to eliminate one of the major sources of Southern community, which would also tend to bias the list.

Leaving aside that problem, though, it's an interesting question.  Does the nation that plays together stay together?  If so, is part of the answer to the economic crisis -- or at least, the political crisis attending the economic crisis -- to form more softball or bowling leagues?  To make sure our children play together?  It seems unlikely on its face, and yet I find I can't dismiss the idea.  There is something powerful in play, for men and women as well as for children.