It's not often that I get the feeling of really missing out, but man...

Here in Atlanta we ring in the New Year with the Peach Drop, but fancy being decked out like a Viking and wielding lit torches to burn your Viking long ship – that is how the folks from Edinburgh in Scotland carry out their Hogmanay celebrations. 
Dressed as Vikings in their helmets and warm wrappings, locals carried torches and reenacted traditions for ringing in the New Year to include their Viking past....  
Edinburgh's Hogmanay celebrations featured the longest firework display in the history of the event.  A total of 5.5 tonnes of fireworks, producing more than 15,000 stars, will be let off during the display over Edinburgh Castle.

Well, maybe next year!


Liu Xiaobo is charged by the Chinese government with the “crime of incitement to subvert state power.” He has the honor of being guilty... 
Now that's rightly said.

The Biased Law

Probably several of you saw the recent dustup over the question of whether marriage law has become so unfair to men that it is unconscionable to recommend marriage to a young man today.  There were a number of responses to that, including this one from Catholic Bandita, a woman who has come out on the other side of the ledger.  I am indebted to the lady for this picture, below, which says something I truly believe is right.

Smitty at the Other McCain suggests a return to first principles, and a re-examination of what the institution was for in the first place.  We have just completed such an examination here, in our autumn debate on polygamy, so it is not necessary to do it again; if you want to revisit the discussion, though, Elise has kindly gathered all of my posts and her own into a category.

I do want to say something about the bias in the law, though, because I find this particular bias to be an interesting one.  I think it represents a real challenge to our idea that equality before the law is a goal towards which we should strive:  this seems to me to be a clear case in which equality before the law would be wrong.

First, though, we need to narrow the field a bit.  There are so many different ways in which men and women are treated differently by the law in family matters that it would be wise to choose a couple of clear-cut cases, with minimal ambiguity, so that we don't end up lost in anecdotes.  I can think of two examples that are paradigms of unequal treatment by the law, and that illuminate the problem well.

The first is the law of termination of parental responsibility.  The woman has a legal right to abortion in this country that is essentially unfettered; she may thus terminate her duties at will, and for any reason, up until the moment of birth (and even afterwards, in the case of partial-birth abortion).  The man has no right to demand the termination of the baby; whereas the patria in ancient Rome made the call on exposure and infanticide, in America it is the mother.

There remains some disparity after birth.  In cases in which the child is born, in 49 states and Puerto Rico, it is lawful to abandon the child for adoption at a recognized safe haven.  However, in four of those states only the mother can do it.

That is the first matter.  The second -- a law currently under discussion, rather than actualized, but a good and illuminating example -- is this proposal to restrict mens' right to stop living with a woman they have gotten pregnant if he is doing so to try to compel her to have an abortion.
HB 5882 [CAPA] actually makes it a crime for a man to "change or attempt to change an existing housing or cohabitation arrangement" with a pregnant significant other, to "file or attempt to file for a divorce" from his pregnant wife, or to "withdraw or attempt to withdraw financial support" from a woman who he has been supporting, if it is determined that the man is doing these things to try to pressure the woman to terminate her pregnancy.
What would we get out of equality before the law in the first case?  Something rather worse than what we have now:  a situation in which fathers were either empowered to demand the death of a child they didn't want (as mothers already are); or, failing that, the right to abandon responsibility for a child that they sired, leaving the woman financially alone to raise it.  One thing seemed to agree on with Aquinas' philosophy of matrimony, which we encountered in our discussion of marriage and polygamy, is that the principal end of marriage is procreation -- not merely in the sense of having a child, but seeing that the child is raised to achieve its capacity to fulfill a role as a member of, and defender of, our civilization.  Equality before this law would only further damage that principal end.

The first case is a case in which equality before the law is wrong because the law itself is wrong.  Asking for an equal right to perform an injustice is to ask for more injustice.  That is against reason.

It might be possible to ask for equality in the other direction without violating reason -- i.e., by limiting access to abortion.  However, at least so far the Supreme Court has refused to entertain almost any such limits.  Unless the Court changes its mind, or we change the Constitution, we do not have that option.  We have only the option of asking for more injustice, or accepting inequality before the law.  Of these options, inequality before the law is the wiser, and the morally better, choice.

What do we get out of equality before the law in the second case?  Should we accept a situation in which a man is free to try to force a woman to kill her child by starvation or poverty?  It's the same problem we had in the first case.  Of course it should not be legal to abandon your child or its mother.  Since our country has abandoned the requirement of marriage, naturally this is going to intrude upon those who go about siring children without bothering to marry.

Yet can we ask for equality in the other direction here?  Can we morally state that a woman is not free to leave a man who has gotten her pregnant?  Of course not:  especially if he is furious about the business of the child.  It may put her in terrible danger, and the baby as well.  Her freedom to leave is necessary.

Thus we have a situation in this case in which inequality before the law is actually necessary for justice.  If justice is -- as Aristotle put it -- to treat relevantly similar cases similarly, the sex divide presents us with a very relevant difference.  Inequality before the law is thus necessary for a just result.

But let us return to the image above.  True justice between men and women lies not the in the law, but in chivalry:  in that willful, loving sacrifice of self for the beloved other.  This, at least, is a symmetrical relationship:  both the man and the woman must be ready to give of themselves for the other for it to flourish. When it does, however, it is the glory of the world, and the joy of life.

So, is it right to speak of marriage to the young man?  Surely so, if the boy has the guts for the big game:  for a love that speaks to thunder, and answers the principal end.  And if he doesn't, well, what's the point of living at all?  A man dies soon enough.  Why wrap anyone else up in it, if you don't have what it takes to play for the real thing?

The City of Legions

Once Rome built a fortress in the west of Britain.  It was called Deva Victrix, goddess of victory, and indeed there remains today a shrine to Minerva there.  It was the sometime home of Legio XX, and is located in what is modern day Chester, England.

Some believe that this was the "City of Legions" where Arthur fought his ninth battle, although Caerleon in Wales is a competitor for that honor.  Caerleon also has a significant Roman fortress.  The University of Wales at Newport has built a working 3-D model of the Roman works, which you can explore to get an idea of the scale of the fortifications.

The map is pretty neat, even if one can easily think of significant improvements that could be made -- it would be nice to have some sort of hypertext tagged to the building objects, for example, that would lead to explanations of just what they were and what historical or archaeological sources are at work in our understanding.  A bibliography or a list of recent research into the works would be welcome as well.

Still, even at this early stage, it's pretty nifty stuff.  They're apparently putting one together for the Newport Ship, as well.  That one -- a 3-D model of a fifteenth-century sailing vessel -- should be fun to play with.

Bring the UK into NAFTA?

It's not a bad idea, really.  Alliances should be based not merely on economic interest, but ideally on a shared vision.  If you're going to help make someone rich, why not someone who supports the same basic values that you do?

It would make a certain amount of sense to turn the Anglosphere into an economic free trade zone as well as a military alliance.

La Rotta di Tristano

"Tristano" here is Tristan, the knight who loved Isolde.  This harper has some talent, sadly obscured once the solo ends.  I wouldn't mind hearing the whole piece on the harp only.

Here is a more traditional reading of the same tune.  If you become impatient with it, skip to about 4:30, and you'll find it comes alive when they introduce a pipe.

If Tomorrow Comes

Read this, and let's discuss it.

The Language of Birds

Some backstory on Wren Day, from Peter Berresford Ellis' The Druids (p. 223 in the 1994 edition):

From native Celtic sources comes confirmation that bird augury was widely used.  An Irish version of the Historia Brittonum, by the Welsh historian Nennius, includes an ancient poem which refers to six Druids who lived at Breagh-magh and who practised 'the watching of birds.' ... The name of the wren was given in Cormac's Glossary as drui-en -- the bird of the Druids.  Certainly an Irish name for the wren was drean, and a Life of St Moling confirms the etymology of the Glossary.  The wren has come down to us as a bird of some significance and on St Stephen's Day (26 December) in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man, and even in parts of Essex and Devon, it was hunted and killed by local boys before being carried in procession[.]
This is a subject that has been of interest to me for a long time.  In the old Norse poem Rígsþula, a mortal grandson of Heimdall learns the tongue:
43. Soon grew up | the sons of Jarl,
Beasts they tamed, | and bucklers rounded,
Shafts they fashioned, | and spears they shook.
44. But Kon the Young | learned runes to use,
Runes everlasting, | the runes of life;
Soon could he well | the warriors shield,
Dull the swordblade, | and still the seas.
45. Bird-chatter learned he, | flames could he lessen.,
Minds could quiet, | and sorrows calm;
. . . . . . . . . .
The might and strength | of twice four men.
46. With Rig-Jarl soon | the runes he shared,
More crafty he was, | and greater his wisdom;
The right he sought, | and soon he won it,
Rig to be called, | and runes to know.
47. Young Kon rode forth | through forest and grove,
Shafts let loose, | and birds he lured;
There spake a crow | on a bough that sat:
"Why lurest thou, Kon, | the birds to come?
48. " 'Twere better forth | on thy steed to fare,
. . . . . | and the host to slay.
49. "The halls of Dan | and Danp are noble,
Greater their wealth | than thou bast gained;
Good are they | at guiding the keel,
Trying of weapons, | and giving of wounds.
Hilda Ellis Davidson describes several more examples of Celtic and Norse mythic figures for whom learning to speak the language of birds is a part of the initiation into wisdom that allows for heroic success. (Pages 86-7.)  
Understanding the speech of birds could give a hero entry into the world of ravens and valkyries, where defeat and victory were ordained, or in more everyday terms it could mean an ability to interpret calls and movements of birds and thereby receive warning of future events.  Such aspects of bird lore are referred to in the Edda poems and in the ninth century Hrafnsmal [i.e., "The Tale of the Raven" -- Grim] the stanzas form a dialogue between a raven and a valkyrie.  She is said to account herself wise because she understood the language of birds, and is herself described as 'the white-throated one with bright eyes,' which suggests that she herself was in bird form.  Goddesses, as well as Odin himself, travel in the form of birds, and the same is true of the battle-goddesses of Ireland.  One bears the name of Badb (Crow), while the Morrigan, an ominous figure who encounters Cu Chulainn in various shapes, is called Battle Crow (an badb catha).  Cu Chulainn once sees her as a crow on a bramble bush and takes this as an ill omen:  'A dangerous enchanted woman you are!'...  
A note in a Middle Irish manuscript in Trinity College, Dublin, lists the various cries of the raven which indicate that visitors are approaching, and attention is paid to the number of calls, the position of the bird, and the direction from which the calls come.  Young warriors must have been trained in such skills... Two birds on a tree warn Sigurd against the wicked smith[.]
Thus it appears there are two levels of skill being described here.  One is what you might call a 'Louis L'amour' skill, because it is the kind of awareness of nature that he often uses to endow his own heroes with special success in battle.  This level is the skill of understanding the birds well enough to know what it means that they call when they do, and how they do; to know that noisy birds fall silent when something fearful or strange approaches, say, or that a flock of birds starting from a ridgeline may mean that there is a predator or a man approaching from that quarter.  This is the kind of knowledge the Middle Irish note contains.  This aspect represents a skill that probably was ordinarily taught to the sons of the fighting classes, as Davidson notes, and it's a skill that you can teach to your own sons if you take the trouble to learn it.

The other level is a genuinely mystical ability to speak with the birds and engage their reason in conversation. This is assumed to be a capacity available to gods and valkyrie (who very likely were goddesses themselves in the proto-myth, as the Morrigan is in the Irish myth).  I find this aspect to be interesting chiefly because it assumes that the order of reason extends to crows and ravens, and wrens, at least.  

That aligns with my own investigations into philosophy; if it fact it proves to be true, it ought to expand our view of how broadly consciousness is spread within the universe.  We share a lot of genetic similarities with birds, but they are quite significantly different from us as well.  In order for there to be a common language, even in theory, we would have to be able to work out the rules of each others' games:  and success at that means that we participate in the same order of reason, even if we have different levels of access to it.  We can teach birds to play some of our games, as for example in training a parrot to speak.  How much does it understand?  I don't know, but my father tells the story of a parrot who lived with an old woman he once went to visit.  It watched him for a while, and then said:  "Goodbye!"  After a moment, it said again, "Goodbye!"  A third time it said, "Goodbye!"  After a moment more, it turned to the old woman and said, "He won't go."

Pretty Good, Dr. Gingrich

As I Was Going to Kill And All

...I met a wren upon a wall:

...In the tree, the holly tree, where all the boys do follow me...

Happy Wren Day!

Not very Christmasy

But I couldn't resist posting this picture of this cloud-monster reaching over the horizon to grab us.

Merry Christmas from the Hall

The Hall Skull Bedecked for the Yuletide

A Song of Joy

A Song of Feasting

A Song of Wassailing

A Song of Making Merry