More syne

Maggie's Farm has a terrific punk Auld Lang Syne up, and here's a dixieland rendition:


Flags at Half-Mast

We're about to cross the line between 2012 and 2013. Lately I can't remember a time when I rode by the Post Office or the schools and didn't see flags at half-mast.

I'm tired of this, ladies and gentlemen. More than I've ever been, I'm ready to hear good answers. I haven't heard any lately, so I'm working on my own. Do you have any?

Luck, money, and the indispensable song

In the shape-note songbook, this is called "Plenary" and has gloomier lyrics than I can begin to describe, but I opted for the cheerful New Year's Eve version:

In the bleak midwinter

Not so bleak here, though the house is down to 65 degrees. But this Christmas carol is just the thing for frozen Northerners contemplating the advent of hope. That Holst can really write a harmony.

Oh, You Big-Mouthed Woman!

Johnny Cash and June Carter, singing a song a friend wrote just for them.

Shepherds redux

Here goes again with "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night," a/k/a "Sherburne" in the Sacred Harp songbook, minus the tinny buzzing (headphones!  no feedback!), and this time with the benefit of the alto part, somehow dropped out last time.  Also, I learned how to embed:

This one is from the Episcopal hymnbook, called "They Cast Their Nets in Galilee":

Adieu, C.T.O.U.S.

Today being Boxing Day, we turned our Fists of Righteous Harmony to the task of dismantling the Christmas Tree of Unusual Size and regaining the use of our dining room.  I tried something new this year:  we bought the tree fairly early but left it standing in a pail of water for some weeks after.  Then we brought it in and trimmed it only about three weeks before Christmas, and took it down today before it could become desperately dry.  In other years, I felt an urge to have it up for a long time, but somehow this year it was enough to enjoy it briefly and then let it go.

The job's not over by a long shot, though the tree is in pieces and staged on its way to the area where we're piling brush to compost.  There remains the task of dismantling the stacking bookcase that blocks the hidden Christmas closet upstairs, bringing down all the boxes, stashing the fragile ornaments carefully, humping the boxes back upstairs into the hidden closet, and re-assembling the bookcase.  But at not quite noon the day after Christmas, I feel we've knocked a great big hole in the undertaking.  In fact, I may take the rest of the day for Righteous Harmony and tackle the ornaments tomorrow.  About a dozen overripe bananas, the result of exuberant fruit-basket giving, are calling us from the kitchen, urging banana-bread baking on us.

When do you dismantle Christmas deckings?

While shepherds watched their flocks by night

My husband bought me a "Garage Band" program ages ago, but I only recently figured out that it's possible to record voice tracks on the computer's native microphone, if a little tinnily.  I've spent many a happy hour this week laying down all four tracks of a series of Shape Note tunes, including this Christmas carol.

Even when it's just me singing with myself, it's surprising how hard it is to get all the voices to blend.  I'm going to be practicing for a long time laying down the tracks, trying to keep all the parts together and on the beat.  What could be more fun?  And I'll need a better microphone at some point.  But there are only 45 minutes of Christmas left, so this carol has to upload in its current state.

The Feast of Stephen

You may wonder why Saint Stephen's day is the very day after Christmas. Saint Stephen was a martyr killed quite shortly after Jesus himself was put to death, by stoning and for the same sort of blasphemy against the Jewish tradition that occasioned Jesus' execution. You can read a version of the story here. St. Paul mentions Stephen's murder, having been a witness before his own conversion.
When I had returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance and saw him saying to me, ‘Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about me.’ And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves know that in one synagogue after another I imprisoned and beat those who believed in you. And when the blood of Stephen your witness was being shed, I myself was standing by and approving and watching over the garments of those who killed him.’ And he said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’” (Acts 22:17-22)
We know him best from two songs that have nothing to do with his life or death, but which pertain to his feast day. The more famous is "Good King Wenceslas," which takes place on the Feast of Stephen.

My favorite, though, is the Clancy Brothers' rendition of a song built around an Irish tradition called Wren Day. You can hear their retelling of the tradition starting at about 07:05, followed by a very cheerful song about the sacrificial tradition of wren killings and funerals.

Merry Christmas

Many things attend the feast.

The Second Council of Tours... proclaims, in 566 or 567, the sanctity of the "twelve days" from Christmas to Epiphany, and the duty of Advent fast; that of Agde... orders a universal communion, and that of Braga (563) forbids fasting on Christmas Day. Popular merry-making, however, so increased that the "Laws of King Cnut", fabricated c. 1110, order a fast from Christmas to Epiphany....

Only with great caution should the mysterious benefactor of Christmas night — Knecht Ruprecht, Pelzmärtel on a wooden horse, St. Martin on a white charger, St. Nicholas and his "reformed" equivalent, Father Christmas — be ascribed to the stepping of a saint into the shoes of Woden, who, with his wife Berchta, descended on the nights between 25 December and 6 January, on a white horse to bless earth and men. Fires and blazing wheels starred the hills, houses were adorned, trials suspended and feasts celebrated.... Knecht Ruprecht, at any rate (first found in a mystery of 1668 and condemned in 1680 as a devil) was only a servant of the Holy Child.

The rest of the history is just as interesting: mystery plays and carols, feasts and fires. Through it all, in every generation, we struggle to remember what it was really all about. Sometimes, some of those artists and customs help us see.

Christmas Eve in the DPRK

A rather less enchanted kingdom is a sad reality for millions.
Spare a thought on Christmas Eve for Christians who live in countries where practicing their faith is an act of courage. Nowhere is that more true than in North Korea, where religion is banned....

..."the arrest, torture and possible execution" of Christians, Buddhists and others conducting clandestine religious activity....

23 Christians were arrested in 2010 for belonging to an underground Protestant church. Three were executed and the rest were jailed. The commission estimates there are thousands of Christians among the 150,000 to 200,000 North Koreans incarcerated in the regime's infamous political prison camps.
[D]espite this repression, something is happening that many characterize as nothing short of a miracle: Christianity appears to be growing in North Korea. Open Doors International, which tracks the persecution of Christians world-wide, puts the number of Christians in North Korea at between 200,000 and 400,000.
The courage of the old martyrs still lives with us today. Remember them.

Christmas Eve

Once, Sir Gawain quested through harsh country for a long time. It was on this night he found rest and hospitality:

Many cliffs he over-clambered in countries strange,
far flying from his friends forsaken he rides.
at every twist of the water where the way passed
he found a foe before him, or freakish it were,
and so foul and fell he was beholden to fight.
So many marvels by mountain there the man finds,
it would be tortuous to tell a tenth of the tale.
Sometimes with dragons he wars, and wolves also,
sometimes with wild woodsmen haunting the crags,
with bulls and bears both, and boar other times,
and giants that chased after him on the high fells....
Thus in peril and pain, and plights full hard
covers the country this knight till Christmas Eve

Now he had signed himself times but three,
when he was aware in the wood of a wall in a moat,
above a level, on high land locked under boughs
of many broad set boles about by the ditches:
a castle the comeliest that ever knight owned,
perched on a plain, a park all about,
with a pointed palisade, planted full thick,
encircling many trees in more than two miles.
The hold on the one side the knight assessed,
as it shimmered and shone through the shining oaks.
Then humbly has off with his helm, highly he thanks
Jesus and Saint Julian, that gentle are both,
that courtesy had him shown, and his cry hearkened.
‘Now hospitality,’ he said, ‘I beseech you grant!’...

A chair before the chimney, where charcoal burned,
graciously set for Gawain, was gracefully adorned,
coverings on quilted cushions, cunningly crafted both.
And then a mighty mantle was on that man cast
of a brown silk, embroidered full rich,
and fair furred within with pelts of the best –
the finest ermine on earth – his hood of the same.
And he sat on that settle seemly and rich,
and chafed himself closely, and then his cheer mended.
Straightway a table on trestles was set up full fair,
clad with a clean cloth that clear white showed,
the salt-cellars, napkins and silvered spoons.
The knight washed at his will, and went to his meat.
Servants him served seemly enough
with several soups, seasoned of the best,
double bowlfuls, as fitting, and all kinds of fish,
some baked in bread, some browned on the coals,
some seethed, some in stews savoured with spices,
and sauces ever so subtle that the knight liked.

May you all find good cheer, and warm shelter, this Christmas.


And while they were all standing round them, Merlin came up to them and said, "Now try your forces, young men, and see whether strength or art can do the most towards taking down these stones." At this word they all set to their engines with one accord, and attempted the removing of the Giant's Dance. Some prepared cables, others small ropes, others ladders for the work, but all to no purpose. Merlin laughed at their vain efforts, and then began his own contrivances. When he had placed in order the engines that were necessary, he took down the stones with an incredible facility, and gave directions for carrying them to the ships, and placing them therein. This done, they with joy set sail again, to return to Britain; where they arrived with a fair gale, and repaired to the burying-place with the stones. When Aurelius had notice of it, he sent messengers to all parts of Britain, to summon the clergy and people together to the mount of Ambrius, in order to celebrate with joy and honour the erection of the monument. Upon this summons appeared the bishops, abbats, and people of all other orders and qualities; and upon the day and place appointed for their general meeting, Aurelius placed the crown sepulchre upon his head, and with royal pomp celebrated the feast of Pentecost, the solemnity whereof he continued the three following days.

It's interesting that the old story revolves around Pentecost, almost the right hour for the summer solstice. The winter has begun, and the time of fire now begins its height. It'll be cold tonight. Keep your loved ones close.

On Remarks at the Funeral of Sen. Inouye, Medal of Honor Recipient

It's a sad thing when you don't get much attention at your own funeral.
Someone needs to tell Barack Obama—it must get particularly confusing this time of year—that his own birth is not Year One, the date around which all other events are understood. His much-noted, self-referential tic was on cringe-worthy display Friday when the president gave his eulogy for the late Sen. Daniel Inouye....

Inouye was a Japanese-American war hero (he lost an arm in World War II, destroying his dream of becoming a surgeon), and as a senator he served on the Watergate committee, helped rewrite our intelligence charter after scandals, and was chairman of the Senate committee that investigated the Iran-Contra affair.
Apparently we did learn a lot about the experience of one Barack Obama, however.

Odd Couple

I remember catching this duet on TV about 35 years ago.  It wasn't two guys I expected to see singing together.  The video was recorded only about a month before Mr. Crosby's death, and aired after.

Christmas cheer

I never get tired of these.  This is what crowds are for.

Synchronized dancing in the school-of-fish style makes me happy, too.


Today would be a good day to spend $2.99 and read Heinlein's short story "The Year of the Jackpot," about a statistician who notices that all kinds of cycles are aligning and will trough or crest together in a few weeks.

For those without Kindles or the like, it appears to be available for PDF download for a minor fee here.

Personally, I'm planning the usual solstice preparations to encourage the sun to come back out of the cave into which it has retreated.  It's disappointing that so many people are neglecting this duty in the frenzy of the approaching Mayan apocalypse.

The Season's Upon Us

Locally the kids got out of school today, not to return until the end of the holiday season. That means that we are within the holiday time.


We watched the old Gene Kelly film, set in the Scottish Highlands in a mysterious vanishing village.

It's based on an old fairy tale, but this version -- in deference to mid-20th century American culture -- has been carefully Christianized. Strangely, maybe, that ends up making the story less plausible. I, at least, find it far easier to believe you might meet a fairy lady in a glen than to believe that God would send a village into a kind of timeless mist, under the conditions that they sacrifice their only priest and that, if anyone should leave the village, the whole population would be destroyed. Those wild conditions sound like the Faerie way more than it sounds like God.

On the other hand, Chesterton makes a great deal out of the similarity between fairy stories and the practical facts of reality. Wild conditions do seem to proliferate in both: cross this bridge, and the village vanishes forever; eat this small red berry, and you die.

VDH on Debt Relief

From a column drawing contrasts and parallels between ancient and modern thought:
was thinking of the class strife in Sallust’s Conspiracy of Cataline the other day as well; I used to teach it and the Jugurthine War in third-year Latin. In my thirties I never quite understood the standard hackneyed redistributionist call of the late Roman republic for “cancellation of debts and redistribution of property!” But recently I reread Sallust with a new awareness — in the context of all the talk of mortgage forgiveness, credit card forgiveness, student loan forgiveness, wealth taxes, and new estates taxes.
Perhaps there are some useful lessons to be found there, for those favoring such tactics today. Certainly there are for those opposing them.

"False security is more dangerous than none"

Megan McArdle opposes practically every policy that's being proposed to "prevent another Newtown," quoting Dr. Johnson:
How small, of all that human hearts endure
That part which laws or kings can cause or cure!
She makes one sensible proposal, I think, which is to try to  train people to rush a gunman rather than obeying the natural instinct to run and hide.  Everyone should make like a white blood cell.  (And if many of them are armed, so much the better.  The last place groups of vulnerable children should be is in "gun free zones.")

Tact or cowardice?

Is this man teaching his son the right thing?

Faux fox

My niece's dog, who doesn't normally have black foxlike points on her nose or paws.  She looks pleased with herself, doesn't she?  That was some thick black mud she got herself into.  Obviously she doesn't live anywhere near here, where we have neither black dirt nor, lately, water.

Against all expectations, our monster of a black lab, now almost three years old, has not tried to eat any Christmas tree ornaments or presents.  Maybe she's finally settling down, ready to become a good girl.

A Cavalier Christmas

Up the Cavaliers, and down with Roundheads! A piece from the History Channel on the subject of Christmas:
An Outlaw Christmas
In the early 17th century, a wave of religious reform changed the way Christmas was celebrated in Europe. When Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan forces took over England in 1645, they vowed to rid England of decadence and, as part of their effort, cancelled Christmas. By popular demand, Charles II was restored to the throne and, with him, came the return of the popular holiday.

The pilgrims, English separatists that came to America in 1620, were even more orthodox in their Puritan beliefs than Cromwell. As a result, Christmas was not a holiday in early America. From 1659 to 1681, the celebration of Christmas was actually outlawed in Boston. Anyone exhibiting the Christmas spirit was fined five shillings.

Cookie art

Someone brought cookies to church today that looked exactly like the picture on the right, though I actually got it from the Net.  I'd be inspired to make some myself if they didn't involve marshmallows, which I'd rather admire from afar than actually eat (unless they're toasted).   I'm thinking gingerbread men instead.  I feel the need to decorate some food.

Also, here's my tree in its final glory, or at least most of it:

On the History of Chivalry

In the comments to the previous post on the subject, Douglas asked me to take on a couple of objections he had seen that he didn't know how to answer. I decided the answers were long enough that they deserved a separate post.

First objection: ...that chivalry and civility were essentially the same (or should be) and so the only distinction was the assignment of gender roles.

Chivalry is not the same as civility; in fact it is not even close. Chivalry is a code that is about the kind of man it takes to ride a horse to war. That's really the root of it, and it has nothing to do at base with 'civility' or any sense of the genteel. It has to do with quiet courage, self-discipline, and the ability to relate to others (first and foremost the horse) so that they come to know that they can trust you and rely on you absolutely.

One of the complaints against civility is that it is inauthentic or fake; Miss Manners says that the whole point of the thing is that it is fake, because you don't really want to know what other people think of you! But chivalry is not fake. It cannot be fake, because at base it is about a relationship with a horse: a prey animal that spooks easily and is naturally fearful, but must come to trust you enough to be ridden into a battle. The virtues that inspire trust -- directness, honesty, calmness, kindness -- must be genuine and to the bone.

That is the first nature of chivalry. It is common to other cultures that grew out of that kind of horsemen: the Arabs, for example, have a similar idea about what it means to be a free man worthy of being a rider. These virtues are the same, because they are the virtues of horsemen who are also warriors.

They are also the virtues of soldiers and Marines today, those who must trust each other when they ride to war, and who must be able to win the trust of foreign peoples they are asked to protect. A civil man can be kind, but need not be courageous. Chivalry is about developing the soul. This is the reason that nothing more than chivalry was needed in Aurora. It is a code of warriors. Questions of how and when to kill or die are part of its first nature. It remains terribly necessary to know how and when to do those things.

Second objection: ...a general feeling that the devotion of a man to women was somehow demeaning to the women, who were 'put on pedestals'- in their eyes, objectified.

Chivalry differs from the other similar cultures -- for example, the Arabic -- because it took on an elevated second nature during the High Middle Ages. The great chivalry of Charlemagne had the first set of virtues, but Charlemagne and his son and grandson also sponsored schools and education (as did Alfred the Great, about the same time in England). This tradition began a long evolution of what it meant to belong to the class of warriors who rode horses. These new forms melded with a special sort of praise poetry that came out of the reconquest of Islamic Spain (as well as from French knights who served the Islamic kingdoms as mercenaries, and learned the poetry at court). Poets and scholars became central to court life.

Where we find things that look like 'civility' is around the 1000s, but what we're really talking about is not 'civil' behavior but 'courtly' behavior. It's not a general set of rules for all people. It is a set of standards for being or dealing with the very best kind of people -- the most upright, the most moral, the most honorable. It was built on poetry and legends, especially legends about Arthur and Charlemagne.

I think is very healthy for society to have gender roles, because men and women are quite different. On average, such roles help us relate to each other by giving us forms we can rely upon to smooth our interactions just where misunderstandings are most likely. Nevertheless, I realize that some people object to them if they become too rigid. Let me point out, then, that chivalry is not as closed as people take it to be. Even in the High Middle Ages, these poets were challenging these questions. The feminist scholar who looks deeply at the tradition of Arthurian literature will find a great deal of interest -- indeed, I think most of the scholars writing in the field today are women, precisely because it is interesting to them. Modern America doesn't seem to have much problem making room for women to be warriors, including several good ones I had the honor of serving alongside in Iraq.

Chivalry can take such women on its terms, but it also holds open the position of special honor for women who are drawn to the beauty of the old way, and who help shape a place for the courtly: the kind of woman who makes a special place in the world, a place finer and more beautiful than is common, and who fills that place and invites us to be welcome there if only we know how.

Americans have an interesting relationship with the courtly. On the one hand we officially despise it as elitist and anti-democratic. On the other, we admire it tremendously when it is stripped of pretentious trappings. An American gentleman -- and let us remember what it means to be a gentleman -- can be found in any walk of life, but wherever he is found he is the best kind of American man. Of course he is: he is the one you can trust, the one who keeps his word, the one who does not let you down. In the South, being a gentleman is still held up as the ideal toward which any young man should strive. There is a code of conduct, which I described before as things you must do and things you must never do.

When we speak of chivalry and women, then, the same thing is at work. 'Being put on a pedestal' is not objectification, it's about being held to standards. These are high standards: honor, nobility of character, virtue, and yes, kindness. A woman who chooses not to live these standards will still receive courteous treatment, but she need not worry about being put on a pedestal. Rather, she will be treated well in honor of those ladies who are worthy of love, because we know it pains them to see women treated with disrespect.

If we do this out of respect for their wishes and even when they are not around, it is because we do it from love. A code that teaches men how to love women is good. If it also makes men into the kinds of creatures that are worthy of love themselves, it is better. But chivalry does not just make a man fit for the court: it also makes a man fit for the camp. It makes possible a kind of life filled with poetry and the striving after legend. I know of no better life.

Situational ethics

From Theodore Dalrymple, via Maggie's Farm, a quotation from Golden Harvest:  Events at the Periphery of the Holocaust by Jan Tomasz Gross, about what Dalrymple calls a "transvaluation" of moral values:
The takeover of Jewish property was so widespread in occupied Poland that it called for the emergence of rules determining distribution.  Thus when in August 1941 a certain Helena Klimaszewska went from the hamlet of Goniądz to Radziłów “to get an apartment for her husband’s parents because she knew that after the liquidation of the Jews there are empty apartments,” she was told on arrival that a certain “Godlewski decides what to do with ‘post-Jewish’ apartments.”  She presented her request to him but, she later testified in court, “Godlewski replied, ‘don’t even think about it.’  When I said that Mr Godlewski has four houses at his disposal and I don’t even have one he replied ‘this is none of your business, I am awaiting a brother returning from Russia where the Soviets deported him and he has to have a house.’  When I insisted that I need an apartment, he replied, ‘when people were needed to kill the Jews, you weren’t here, and now you want an apartment,’" an argument that met with a strong rebuttal from Klimaszewska’s mother-in-law:  “They don’t want to give an apartment, but they sent my grandson to douse the house with gasoline…”  And so, we are witnessing a conversation between an older woman and other adults that is premised on the assumption that one gains a right to valuable goods by taking part in murder of their owners.
It's a shift in moral perspective powerful enough to permit its participants to feel genuine outrage at their mistreatment according to the new rules.  "That's not fair" is a cry that always resonates, even among people who deny the power of any traditional system to restrict their own behavior.

What is the Hall's reading list?

Grim has very generously offered to let me put a question before the Hall, and I consider it a great honor that he has extended to me.  In short, I have received a new Kindle (thanks to my lovely bride) and given both my parsimonious nature (I'm a cheap son of a gun) and the fact that there's a world of free literature out there, I have not gone to the electronic book stores to fill it, but instead to sites like Project Gutenberg.  So my question is, what does the Hall recommend?  What are your favorite "classics"?

Better Living Through Science

A company based out of Boston has developed cups that change color if date-rape drugs are introduced to their contents. It's sad that it's necessary, of course, but it's a nice idea all the same!


A friend who adopted a Russian girl about five years ago posts a quotation from Glenn Styffe:  ‎"I used to wonder if I was ready to be an adoptive (or foster) parent, until I realized that children are never ready to be orphans."

Having no children of my own, I often thought of adopting, but we never felt it was the right thing.  I'll always wonder.  I suppose I was influenced by my stepmother's experience:  a childless woman not bonding well with her motherless daughters.  Perhaps it wasn't in the cards for me to be a mother, and it's best that I adopted animals instead.  Is it true that some people shouldn't raise children, or does everyone think that until they do it?

It struck me to the heart a couple of years ago, reading that my friend's adopted daughter's favorite verse from Scripture was John 14:18:  "I will not leave you as orphans.   I will come to you."  Her blog is amazing and worth a read, by the way.  She has been an inspiration to me since junior high.

A World Without Consequences least, for North Korea.
North Korea defied the UN again to launch this rocket, an action proscribed by a sheaf of UN resolutions that Pyongyang has ignored for decades. Will this have any negative consequences for the Kim regime? Almost certainly not....

CNN interviewed a professor of international relations in Seoul to discuss the consequences for Kim Jong-un. It becomes clear pretty early on that the expert wants to argue that there will be some, but can’t think of any.
It's not just the UN. Our own 'smart diplomacy' is a contributing factor.

Joan Jett and the Blackhearts

Instapundit mentions a band I always liked, for reasons that are hard to lay out. They have a stripped-down sound most of the time. I think I first liked it just because the singer was a tough, roughneck girl. When I met my wife, she carried a big knife through the front of her belt and wore camo pants and tank tops. She's a little more sedate now, for a biker girl.

Hey, that was a biker jacket Joan Jett was wearing just there, wasn't it?

The piece the Sage of Knoxville linked to has a little fancier sound, but that's according to the original.

'Give Chivalry Another Chance'

We'll skip over the first part of this article, which starts with the Titanic, ground that Cassandra has more than adequately covered as you will all well remember.

As you know, I'm entirely devoted to the order of chivalry. Naturally, then, I find it appealing to see a magazine as left-leaning as The Atlantic raise the issue of taking it seriously. I don't wish to underrate the achievement; it's going to have been quite hard for the author to have written the piece, and even harder for readers to take her seriously given how baldly the terms violate their assumptions.

Nevertheless, I do wish to point out that she hasn't quite got the thing she's talking about. I'll borrow a few words I've written elsewhere, recently, to clarify just where she is wrong.
Chivalry is about respect. It is about not harming or hurting others, especially those who are more vulnerable than you. It is about putting other people first and serving others often in a heroic or courageous manner. It is about being polite and courteous. In other words, chivalry in the age of post-feminism is another name we give to civility.
Well, if it's just another name for civility -- to paraphrase Flannery O'Connor (excellent article, by the way) -- then to hell with it. Civility is certainly included in the virtue of chivalry, where it is appropriate: but so is defiance, where that is what the virtue demands.

Chivalry is not only about civility. Sometimes it is about dying. A moral order that you cannot die for is not really a moral order at all, because it can contain nothing greater than the individual. But any moral order must be about things greater than the individual, or else it cannot demand that the individual should sacrifice in favor of that moral order.

This is why Hannah Rosin was wrong to say that something 'more' than chivalry was at work in the Aurora theater. Nothing more is entailed, and nothing more is required.

The important thing about chivalry is the understanding that it is a set of chains. Sometimes it is about things you must do. Sometimes it is about things you would never do.

It is a discipline, in other words, one that takes God-given strength and uses it not to dominate but to serve. If it is done this way, with an honest heart, it produces the best and noblest kind of man that humankind has ever learned to produce.

That Depends. Can the Grassroots Take a Punch?

This will be an interesting episode. Dr. Althouse wonders if the unions know something about authority's willingness to enforce the law. Well, there are two things to know about it:

1) The policemen who might be making the arrests are part of a brother union.

2) The fine for simple assault is small enough that the union can readily pass the hat for it, if in fact the law is enforced.

What the unions know, in other words, is the product of more than a hundred years of leveraging violence as part of their politics. They're good at it, and this model once brought them astonishing gains. There's no reason it shouldn't be persuasive again, because people don't really like getting punched in the face.

During the period between the end of the Indian Wars and WWI, the US Army's main business was putting down labor strikes. After that corporations hired private armies to deal with them for a while. Finally, everyone surrendered. By now, the unions control the Democratic Party and the President of the United States is their firmest ally because he knows how important they are to him and his agenda.

I don't think the unions are the least bit afraid of the "grassroots," and why would they be? The grassroots aren't ready to stand up to violence, let alone to employ it themselves as part of a broader political agenda. They certainly aren't prepared to organize along those lines, as the unions have done and been doing for more than a century.

What are you 'grassroots' folks going to do about it? Tweet?

An Argument for the Existence of God, From Morality

This gentleman is a professor of philosophy at Boston College.

I find his argument flawed on two points, but I want to save laying out the second point -- the one I really think is decisive -- until we discuss it in the comments. I would like to talk about the first point, because it touches on an old debate we've had here many times, and it situates Joseph W. and I in strange places.

He argues that evolution cannot be the source of morality, because if it were, moral standards could change in ways that we don't intuitively want to accept. He frames this argument badly, I think, by making it sound like cultural change is an evolutionary process: his example is the current moral norm against slavery, which was not recognized in ancient times. In fact, even in modern times -- in the 1850s, say -- there were very strong advocates for slavery as a positive moral good.

(On the other hand, he treats what would more usually be called "evolution" under the heading "human nature," so what an evolutionary psychologist would say is captured -- it's just captured in a strange place. Furthermore, the point he's making about drifting moral standards holds even in cases of genuine evolutionary change in humanity, should there be any.)

So the problem is that we want to be able to say that slavery is really a moral wrong: and that it is a moral wrong now, and previously, even in the ancient world. The reason we want to be able to do that is that otherwise we can't say that society has improved by banning slavery: it has simply drifted from one norm to another. If it should drift back to slavery, there would be no moral harm to society, because there is no overarching standard against which you can test the proposition.

That lands us in odd places because Joseph W. is a strong advocate for moral progress, but not much given to belief in the supernatural. I have no problem believing in God, but have often argued against the idea that society engages in moral progress: I think that at least most of the time what we take for progress is really just change. Since on any timeline more recent societies are more like us (in terms of ideas about morality and otherwise) than more distant ones, from any perspective you will observe a change from more-distant moral ideas to closer moral ideas to your own moral ideas.

Of course that looks like an arrow of progress! But in fact, it would be true from any perspective. If in a hundred years Americans have decided to re-institute slavery for reasons of their own, they will regard us as further away, the middle-time when the pressures came up that caused the re-institution as a sort of period of progress, and their own time as having the enlightened truth. From their perspective, that is what will look like moral progress.

So one way of answering the mail on this question is to do what the professor does, and hold that it must be that God has given us laws that serve as a firm ground for moral standards. Then we can judge progress fairly, and not become confused by our perspective.

Is there another? I think so, but as I said, I'd prefer to leave it for the discussion.


Big 'un

The ladder is eight feet tall, as is the top of the window frame.  I think this tree is about eleven feet tall:  twice my height.  My husband begged me to be more reasonable next year.


I have begun reading "Complications" by Atul Gawande, a discourse on the fear and confusion inherent in learning to practice medicine, written by a surgical resident near the end of his eight years of training in general surgery.  He describes the agonizing process of learning to insert a central line, something the more experienced residents made look easy:
Surgeons, as a group, adhere to a curious egalitarianism.  They believe in practice, not talent.  People often assume that you have to have great hands to become a surgeon, but it's not true.  When I interviewed to get into surgery programs, no one made me sew or take a dexterity test or checked if my hands were steady.  You do not even need all ten fingers to be accepted.  To be sure, talent helps.   Professors say every two or three years they'll see someone truly gifted come through a program -- someone who picks up complex manual skills unusally quickly, sees the operative field as a whole, notices trouble before it happens.  Nonetheless, attending surgeons say that what's most important to them is finding people who are conscientious, industrious, and boneheaded enough to stick at practicing this one difficult thing day and night for years on end.  As one professor of surgery put it to me, given a choice betwen a Ph. D. who had painstakingly cloned a gene and a talented sculptor, he'd pick the Ph. D. every time.  Sure, he said, he'd bet on the sculptor being more physically talented; but he'd bet on the Ph. D. being less "flaky."   And in the end that matters more.   Skill, surgeons believe, can be taught; tenacity cannot. It's an odd approach to recruitment, but it continues all the way up the ranks, even in top surgery departments.  They take minions with no experience in surgery, spend years training them, and then take most of their faculty from these same homegrown ranks. 
And it works.  There have now been many studies of elite performers -- international violinists, chess grand masters, professional ice-skaters, mathematicians, and so forth -- and the biggest difference researchers find between them and lesser performers is the cumulative amount of deliberate practice they've had.  Indeed, the most important talent may be the talent for practice itself.   K. Anders Ericsson, a cognitive psychologist and expert on performance, notes that the most important way in which innate factors play a role may be in one's willingness to engage in sustained training.  He's found, for example, that top performers dislike practicing just as much as others do.  (That's why, for example, athletes and musicians usually quit practicing when they retire.)  But more than others, they have the will to keep at it anyway.

Film Noir

I remember this band from when they were new. An interview with them asked after their main sources of inspiration, and the one I remember them naming was 1940s film noir. Well, I liked that stuff too.

It's clearly 1990s from the sound, but there is something that harkens back to those movies. Still, it is subtle enough that I'm not sure exactly what.

New reasons to home-school

From Ace, a link to a Telegraph article claiming that new standards applicable to most American states will require 70% of the public school reading curriculum to be devoted to non-fiction.  Not just any non-fiction, though.  Scintillating non-fiction along the lines of "Recommended Levels of Insulation by the the US Environmental Protection Agency, and the Invasive Plant Inventory, by California's Invasive Plant Council."

And they say home-schooled kids are nerds.

The Monkeys Have No Tails

If you've seen the old John Wayne / John Ford movie Donovan's Reef, the lyrics are given "the monkeys have no tails in Zamboanga." I haven't been to Pago Pago, but I have been to Zamboanga, and I did meet a tail-less monkey near there. He belonged to a Catholic priest, who had his collar attached to a steel ring that ran along a cable, so the thing could climb up and down the church.

Nice guy. Pretty brave ministry, there in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. But most of the Republic of the Philippines' special ops guys are Catholics.

Pearl Harbor Day

The Pearl Harbor surprise attack occurred 71 years ago today.  It is an example of the kind of intelligence failure we would most like to be able to prevent in the future:  a violent and severe attack against a critical American target, in a case when there is a pretty good set of reasons to expect an attack sooner or later.  It is not, to use Donald Rumsfeld's old terminology, an unknown unknown:  we must simply accept that we cannot predict those.  It is an example of a known unknown.

Something similar is going on in Egypt today.  Media coverage of the protests seems to be under the impression that there are three sides:  the Muslim Brotherhood, the Army, and the protesters in the streets.  In fact there are only two sides, because there are only two powers:  the Muslim Brotherhood and the Army.

As recently as a couple of days ago, the Army was tacitly encouraging the protests -- sometimes more than tacitly, according to reports.  This was about showing Mursi and the MB that their thugs weren't really capable of standing up to a full-scale revolt.  Mursi has been very successful at out-maneuvering the Army politically, and has managed to win power and control at their expense several times.

It was clear that a deal had been struck in principle when the tanks surrounded the palace to protect it, and Mursi.  Now the outlines of that deal have become clear.

Once the powers have finished dividing the authority between themselves in a way that both find acceptable, the protests won't be useful anymore. Then it will be time for a "whiff of grapeshot."

If I were an Egyptian protester, I would realize that now was the time to get off the streets. There is about to be an example made. The only question is exactly when.

Blood Mountain

There was a lot of rain on the way up to Vogel State Park today, so that by the time I finished the ride up on the motorcycle I was completely soaked.  The soaking meant that everything I was wearing took on extra weight.  My motorcycle jacket in particular seemed to have turned to iron.  Still, it was worth it.

The trail rises 2,400 feet over the course of about five miles.  The reward is this:

Clouds rising, seen from atop Blood Mountain.

A cairn along the trail.

The stone shelter, built by the CCC in the 1930s.  Today two hikers from Maine were resting before the final assault, and had built a fire within it.  The fire was most welcome.

Clouds mounting against the ridge.

Transportation anarchy

More from Maggie's Farm, a link to a blurb about the attempts of the Taxicab Medallion Bureaucrat Industrial Complex to crush the upstart mobile app livery service "Uber."  Being a country mouse, I hadn't heard a thing about this service, but there are lots of articles out there about it now (here, here, here, and here).  You sign up in advance with an app for your smartphone and put your credit card on file.  When you need a ride, you punch in your position and wait far less time than you'd wait for a normal taxi.  While you wait, you can see your driver approaching on the GPS map, which definitely beats the amusing habit of many taxi companies, which claim your driver is on the way when he's really across town with another fare and planning to drive out toward your area sometime in the next 45 minutes or so.  No cash changes hands; even the tip is charged to your card.  Fares are somewhat higher than traditional cabs.  Users report mixed results.

Municipal taxi regulators hate this service, of course, and are doing their best to strangle it.

Forces of darkness

From Maggie's Farm, some legal drafting tips.

You Know Who Deserves More Money? Like A Lot More?

The Atlanta City Council, that's who. Largest increase in the history of the city -- a $20,000 raise this year. Recession? More people on food stamps than ever before? Nonsense, give these people a gigantic raise at taxpayer expense.

My favorite part:
A spokeswoman for Reed said the mayor wants to review the ordinance before deciding whether to sign it, veto it or let it slide into law without his signature.
Let me slide it on you people.

More and more, I find myself biting my tongue really hard.

Rebel Songs

Just one, for now.

Socialism Is About Respecting People's Dignity

After all, if we believe a person is truly dignified, we know they ought to have health care regardless of their ability to pay, and also a place to live.
Holland's capital already has a special hit squad of municipal officials to identify the worst offenders for a compulsory six month course in how to behave.
Social housing problem families or tenants who do not show an improvement or refuse to go to the special units face eviction and homelessness.
Eberhard van der Laan, Amsterdam's Labour mayor, has tabled the £810,000 plan to tackle 13,000 complaints of anti-social behaviour every year. He complained that long-term harassment often leads to law abiding tenants, rather than their nuisance neighbours, being driven out....

The new punishment housing camps have been dubbed "scum villages" because the plan echoes a proposal from Geert Wilders, the leader of a populist Dutch Right-wing party, for special units to deal with persistent troublemakers.

"Repeat offenders should be forcibly removed from their neighbourhood and sent to a village for scum," he suggested last year. "Put all the trash together."

Whilst denying that the new projects would be punishment camps for "scum", a spokesman for the city mayor stressed... "This is supposed to be a deterrent[.]"
It starts as "Hey, let's pay for other people to have the things we want them to have." It ends up as, "Hey, those jerks are costing us a fortune by being irresponsible, and saddling us with costs arising from their bad behavior!" So the solution has to be control of their behavior: and control at a level you couldn't employ against someone you respected.

Thus, a movement that began out of a respect for the dignity of humanity turns those same humans into "scum." It will happen here too.

I Didn't Know God Made Honky-Tonk Angels:

The Obama administration said Friday that it would charge insurance companies for the privilege of selling health insurance to millions of Americans in new online markets run by the federal government.

The cost of these “user fees” can be passed on to consumers.
Those federal exchanges aren't even legal, and already they're talking about you paying for the privilege of using them -- and by you, I mean you, because the cost can be passed right on to the consumer.  It's like a tax, for an illegal service that the government commands you to accept.


An aside: this Advent wreath was made by my wife in about fifteen minutes this evening, because I told her I wanted one this year. I'm really quite impressed with her.

Imperial Overreach

There's a pretty solid argument here from Rep. Eric Cantor, which includes something interesting on the link between the rule-of-law and GDP. We were discussing that recently, in one of the Politics sections, and it might be worth revisiting in light of this piece.

Better Enjoy the War: The Peace Will Be Terrible

So, allegedly, went a popular joke in Nazi Germany. How surprising to imagine that they thought of what the peace would be like! The ideology called for a system that was unlikely to ever produce it. A war of all against all, meant to lead to the ethic domination of one party on all others, seems least likely to produce anything like a peace.

Perhaps they always knew that vengeance was coming. The subject of the article is the question: does peace require vengeance? I suspect the answer is that it does: there are times when the failure to exact a due and dispassionate revenge will prevent you from being respected enough to serve as a new locus of authority.

But so say I; decide for yourselves. It is an interesting story.

The Party of Big Taxes

Which party? The Republican Party, or so advises Mark Steyn:
Any “debt-reduction plan” that doesn’t address at least $1.3 trillion a year is, in fact, a debt-increase plan.

So given that the ruling party will not permit spending cuts, what should Republicans do? If I were John Boehner, I’d say: “Clearly there’s no mandate for small government in the election results. So, if you milquetoast pantywaist sad-sack excuses for the sorriest bunch of so-called Americans who ever lived want to vote for Swede-sized statism, it’s time to pony up.”

Okay, he might want to focus-group it first. But that fundamental dishonesty is the heart of the crisis. You cannot simultaneously enjoy American-sized taxes and European-sized government. One or the other has to go.
So what's the scale of "ponying up"? It's there in the piece: every tax of every kind needs to go up by half, assuming we can prevent entitlements from growing any larger than they are today. Which, of course, we cannot do.

Politics, Book III, Parts V-IX

A few more parts of Book III over the weekend, if you like. Part V asks whether everyone should be a citizen -- that is, to have a share in both ruling and obeying -- or if some orders of those in the city should be ruled only. This is similar to the debate we had a couple of years ago about the extent of the franchise, but this is the ancient take on the question. Aristotle doesn't give a final answer to the question here, but he does answer the question from the last post: are the virtues of the good man and the good citizen the same? Yes, he tells us, in states where all citizens are part of the ruling class.

After that Aristotle takes on the question of forms of government. We'll stop with Part IX because a new big question comes up in Part X, which is where the ultimate source of sovereignty ought to reside: with the people, or somewhere else? That's a discussion in itself.

Tolkien Sings "That's What Bilbo Baggins Hates"

So carefully -- carefully! -- with the plates!

H/t: Lars Walker.

Cheap, ubiquitous solar power

I like the way these young men think.  I wrote about them a few months ago, when they were raising money for their enterprise on Kickstarter, which is now coming along very well.  They almost make me remember what it was like to be young.

Syllogistic Logic

Writing about a recent post encouraging traditional gender roles, a feminist offers a partial concurrence:
But, as time passed — and my 20s became my 30s — I began to realize that when I told men I was independent and didn’t "need anyone," many eventually backed off.
This is not difficult to understand. One of the classic Aristotelian syllogisms was called "Cesare" by medieval logicians. Her problem is an excellent example of how this very basic form of logic works:

I need no men.
You are a man.

I do not need you.

Surely it's no surprise that people who are told they aren't needed eventually go away.

Campus Sexual Harassment

Dr. Jacobson at College Insurrection has a complaint about a sexual harassment case at UVA. I happened to have an opportunity to talk to the woman who is in charge of a similar code governing another major Southern university about how these codes developed.
The Office of Civil Rights’ mandated procedures for investigating sexual assault are tilted heavily against the accused party... [and] judge the student according to a 50.00001 percent preponderance of evidence standard, an approach that mocks even the pretense of due process....

It is remarkable, then, that one such accused student at the University of Virginia was exonerated of the charges brought against him. Unfortunately, what happened next was unsurprising.

The accuser hired an outside attorney–none other than controversial victims’ rights lawyer Wendy Murphy–and filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights. Murphy’s argument, as expressed to, comes close to saying that a failure to convict amounts to an OCR violation. “The preponderance standard is simple,” she told the newspaper. “When her accusations are deemed credible, and his denials are not described with the same glowing terminology, she wins.” But under the UVA system, the investigators (serving as the equivalent of a grand jury) have the authority to deem an accuser’s claims “credible.” For the OCR even to consider such an absurd claim would be highly problematic.
What I did not understand until my recent conversation was how much our campus sexual-harassment environment is the product of lawsuits rather than legislation. It is true that the OCR sees enforcement of these codes as a kind of civil rights campaign, but the actual mandate they are enforcing was largely produced by court cases where students sued the schools for having inadequately protected them. The courts accepted that the schools were liable, and said that they would need to have clear procedures in place to handle these cases. Then, when schools created such procedures, time and again they were found liable anyway, forcing the procedures to become even more tilted.

The most recent comprehensive guidance from OCR is here. Note that the letter is addressed to the colleges, and is all about what standards the colleges have to adhere to in order to avoid liability. They cannot leave investigations to the police, for example, nor defer to the courts. They cannot defer on issues that happened at private homes, or indeed anywhere off campus. They must take immediate action of some kind on any complaint whatsoever. They are required -- by SCOTUS precedent -- to adhere to the preponderance standard. If they do not do these things, they will be liable in court.

This current complaint is thus one in a long series of lawsuits that have pushed the standards a little further by seeking judgment against the school in spite of their adherence to established procedures. Such lawsuits have succeeded fairly often -- that's how we got here. The next OCR letter may well instruct the schools that, based on the outcome of this case, if they want to be safe from a liability judgment in court they must regard the accusation in itself as meeting the preponderance of evidence standard.

What troubles me about this is that we've built a rather terrifying system in such an ad hoc manner. This is one occasion where some legislation would actually be welcome. It would be wise to take this cobbled-together monstrosity and replace it with a carefully constructed, fully-considered law that included adequate protections for both parties to the conflict.

Of course, for that to happen we would have to have a legislature that was capable of producing a fully-considered law on any subject at all, let alone one so fraught as this. Judging from the recent Presidential and Congressional campaigns, it is impossible to imagine that our political system is capable of that.

Politics III, Part IV

In this one section we take up a matter of tremendous import. Are the virtues of the good man and the good citizen the same, or different? In other words, would a polity of good people make up a good state?
There is a point nearly allied to the preceding: Whether the virtue of a good man and a good citizen is the same or not. But, before entering on this discussion, we must certainly first obtain some general notion of the virtue of the citizen. Like the sailor, the citizen is a member of a community. Now, sailors have different functions, for one of them is a rower, another a pilot, and a third a look-out man, a fourth is described by some similar term; and while the precise definition of each individual's virtue applies exclusively to him, there is, at the same time, a common definition applicable to them all. For they have all of them a common object, which is safety in navigation. Similarly, one citizen differs from another, but the salvation of the community is the common business of them all. This community is the constitution; the virtue of the citizen must therefore be relative to the constitution of which he is a member. If, then, there are many forms of government, it is evident that there is not one single virtue of the good citizen which is perfect virtue. But we say that the good man is he who has one single virtue which is perfect virtue. Hence it is evident that the good citizen need not of necessity possess the virtue which makes a good man.
So, citizens have different roles. But because different roles excel in different ways, Aristotle wants to say that the 'good man' -- who is excellent in one way, as a good man -- is not the same as the good citizen.
The same question may also be approached by another road, from a consideration of the best constitution. If the state cannot be entirely composed of good men, and yet each citizen is expected to do his own business well, and must therefore have virtue, still inasmuch as all the citizens cannot be alike, the virtue of the citizen and of the good man cannot coincide. All must have the virtue of the good citizen- thus, and thus only, can the state be perfect; but they will not have the virtue of a good man, unless we assume that in the good state all the citizens must be good.
Here the objection is that all citizens cannot be expected to be good people. Yet insofar as we still expect them to be good citizens, they must be capable of a virtue of a sort. Good argument?
Again, the state, as composed of unlikes, may be compared to the living being: as the first elements into which a living being is resolved are soul and body, as soul is made up of rational principle and appetite, the family of husband and wife, property of master and slave, so of all these, as well as other dissimilar elements, the state is composed; and, therefore, the virtue of all the citizens cannot possibly be the same, any more than the excellence of the leader of a chorus is the same as that of the performer who stands by his side. I have said enough to show why the two kinds of virtue cannot be absolutely and always the same.
This is the first argument again. Here we get different problems, but the same issue: people fill different roles in the state. Some are husbands and some are wives, some police and some policed. How can they have the same virtues?

At this point Aristotle seems to take it as proven that the good citizen and the good man have a different moral structure. That strikes me as an alarming conclusion. He carries on to consider examples -- please read them -- concerning rulership and similar cases.

I would like to say that he goes wrong here. Perhaps you would care to agree; or perhaps you would care to defend him. Where and why, ladies and gentlemen?

Crime Stories

Back in October, Little Ms. Attila wrote a piece chiding networks for having "partisan" crime shows:
This has led to a sort of culture war in our crime shows, and a tendency to categorize them as “left-leaning” -- like Law & Order-- or “right-leaning” -- like the NCIS shows, or Blue Bloods. Relatively few try to split the difference, as does Criminal Minds (when it isn’t descending into gun-controlling preachiness)...

Morality belongs in the public square, but it should be a morality that we all agree with.

And there are moral principles we all agree with, like protecting the innocent and punishing the guilty.
I humbly disagree with the proposition that drama should appeal only (or even always chiefly) to universal moral principles, insofar as any can be discovered. Drama is one of the great areas for exploring moral qualms and questions, conflicts and difficult areas.

It's already difficult to discuss certain contentious moral disputes in politics. If we can't discuss them in drama either, I wonder how we ever shall. All that will be left is shutting up and letting our would-be betters tell us what opinions are acceptable.

That said, when she said she was writing about crime shows, I didn't initially think of the shows that focus on things from the law-enforcement perspective. I thought she was going to talk about shows about criminals. These do demonstrate an interesting perspective, because in making the hero opposed to the state, they show what values transcend the law in our hearts. These are the dramas that explore the distinction between morality and the law.

I'm only familiar with two current television shows at all, and I've only actually seen one of them -- the other one I know of because of the excitement it generates among some friends of mine. That latter is Dexter, on the Showtime network, which apparently skews left. Certainly these of my friends are all very left-leaning, Obama-supporting intellectuals. None of them would ever engage in actual violence of any kind themselves, but they are really into the show.

The premise of the show is that the hero is a serial-killer, who has learned to subject his homicide to a sort-of moral code. The moral code is universalist -- it applies to everyone equally at all times -- and the appeal of the guy is that he can subject bad people to horrendous penalties with impunity, things the law can't do.

The other show is Sons of Anarchy, which Jimbo at BLACKFIVE recommended to me some years ago. Its audience apparently skews right. Here there is no impunity, and there is no universal moral code. What justifies crime and violence is family, which the state cannot adequately protect. The criminals can't adequately protect it either -- they suffer greatly over the years, which is not surprising given that there is an openly Shakespearian cast to the plot. Still, it is a way of protecting the people they love from predatory drug-selling gangs, a stalker in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, racist gangs, street gangs, and those who manipulate the law to their own purpose. They also have a thing against rapacious developers who want to turn their hometown into a place too expensive for them to live anymore.

It's an interesting divide, I think. The one side dreams of setting aside the law to enforce a moral code on people who refuse to live by it. The other dreams of setting aside the law to defend the people and the place that they love. It's the opposite of universal: it's very particular.

The French Foreign Legion

These are men who make sense to me.
It is common at closed social gatherings to hear even young officers... seething at what they perceive as the decadence and self-indulgence of modern French society. In the southern city of Nîmes, home to the Legion’s largest infantry regiment, the Second, a French officer complained to me about the local citizens. He said, “They speak about their rights, their rights, their rights. Well, what about their responsibilities? In the Legion we don’t speak about our rights. We speak about our duties!”

I said, “It angers you.”

He looked at me with surprise, as if to say, And you it does not?
This is a great piece, by the way, well worth reading in full. Why do men join the Legion? It isn't because they are looking for purpose or meaning: the whole history of the Legion is about dying for nothing at all, or at least nothing more than the passing dreams of some French politician. The culture of the Legion celebrates the meaninglessness of their deaths:
An idea grew up inside the Legion that meaningless sacrifice is itself a virtue—if tinged perhaps by tragedy. A sort of nihilism took hold. In 1883, in Algeria, a general named François de Négrier, addressing a group of legionnaires who were leaving to fight the Chinese in Indochina, said, in loose translation, “You! Legionnaires! You are soldiers meant to die, and I am sending you to the place where you can do it!” Apparently the legionnaires admired him. In any case, he was right.
I once went as far as contacting the French consulate to ask after joining the Legion, as a young man, but was unable to reach anyone who felt competent to discuss it. What was I looking for, I wonder, in that culture of meaningless sacrifice and death?

Honor is sacrifice, I have argued: 'to honor' is to give of yourself for something you feel deserves a sacrifice; 'honor' is the quality of a man who so sacrifices. But here is nothing but sacrifice for its own sake. Honor is laying aside rights, and taking on responsibilities. "In the Legion we don't speak about our rights. We speak about our duties!"

The tragedy is France. For what is this extraordinary sacrifice made? For what are these extraordinary duties taken on? A society, and a people, that the Legionnaires rightly despise as decadent and faithless.

Feasting at the Hall

A very merry Thanksgiving to you all.  Here are some photos designed to allow you to share in our feast.

This was my first year cooking the Thanksgiving feast.  I thought the bird came out very well.

Croissants, according to legend, are a thanksgiving food:  although the legends sometimes say they were created to celebrate the defeat of the Muslims at the Battle of Tours in 732, and other times at other battles.  I have also heard that they were really created to fund the First Crusade.  Regardless, they make excellent dinner rolls.  These are filled with apples and cinnamon, but others were plain.

The big challenge on Thanksgiving is not having enough stove-space.  A cowboy solution:  beans and potatoes cook just fine outside.

The main table.  Not show is the sideboard, covered with other dishes and desserts.


I have many faults and lack many spiritual gifts, but one duty I've never found difficult is gratitude.  I know how lucky I am, and how wonderful the life is that I've been born into.

...And Then There's The Other Kind of Punks

InstaPundit, for some reason, has been sending a lot of linkage toward PUA sites who want to comment on General Petraeus. Now, military culture has a hard line against adultery for a reason. Nobody is under the impression that what he did was right.

Still, the commentary at these sites is just laughable. This is my favorite piece.
Mark Rosenthal remembers the first time he saw Jill Kelley and her identical twin in action. It was at a dinner party at then-Gen. David Petraeus' house, and he was appalled. "They took over the whole conversation," he said. While the man responsible for overseeing two wars nodded politely, Kelley and her sister, Natalie Khawam, talked nonstop about shopping and traveling. "To me it was out of line."

If the thousands of emails spent pursuing a younger woman who no longer saw him as useful to her wasn't enough, Petraus's behavior when confronted with a pair of aggressive social climbers seals the deal. The hard bright line separating ALPHA from BETA is how a man deals with female aggression....

An ALPHA would never have permitted those women to rudely dominate the conversation on trivial subjects that no one else cared about, regardless of whether he shut them up with a sly and witty comment or a direct confrontation.
That's right, boys. Commanding the 101st Airborne during the ride on Baghdad, or stripping off your body armor in an Iraqi market to show the people that they didn't have to be afraid of suicide bombers -- that's not the mark of a real man. Not like you guys.

No, as you have correctly understood, the way that you show that you're a real man is how you dominate the conversation at a dinner party.

In the future, you boys should maybe read what you write before you post it.

Songs from Pandora

Once in a while Pandora still finds most interesting things. Here is a band I had never heard of before tonight, called Flatfoot 56:

And here they are doing a gospel piece, which you can tell they really believe in because they talk about it for two full minutes before they get around to singing the song. (I'll forgive you if you skip that part.)

Here's another, without so much talk.

The local high school football band gathers and plays Amazing Grace at the end of every home game. It's a clear violation of the standards that are meant to govern public schools, which I imagine is at least half the point of the exercise. It's a wise administration that can so readily harness teenage rebellion to good purpose.

William Gibson said -- or was it Bruce Sterling? -- that he lost faith in rebellion when he saw how punk rock was so readily digested by the market. But there is a greater magic than digestion in fertility. Long after the market lost use for punk rock here the thing is, planted and thriving in fertile ground.


Our old friend Nassim Nicholas Taleb has a fantastic piece, too good to excerpt. Read it carefully.

The Oldness of the World

How old is Earth? It's an interesting question. What does it mean to be old? It means to have survived long in time. So in order to ask what it means to be old, we must first ask, "What is time?"

Good luck with that question.

Wikipedia, I notice, has taken a highly controversial position on the subject. "Time," it says, "is a dimension... and also the measure of duration of events and the intervals between them." That's not what we usually think of when we talk about time. If it is a dimension -- usually the fourth -- then things within it are static. There is no change in the fourth dimension: everything, past, present and future, is ordered and obvious, like looking at a graph.

That is not obviously right, although some contemporary physicists really like the idea of time as a dimension. Those of you who read my Arthurian novel were introduced to the concept of thinking about time that way: but of course I didn't stop with that approach, whereby there is no real possibility or potentiality, but only a determined single time. That doesn't seem right, and it doesn't seem real. We are aware of unrealized potentials all around us. I know in my heart that I could have had beans for breakfast instead of eggs, for instance. The beans were there. The eggs were there. I was there, and I was hungry. I made a choice.

Traditionally there are several answers to the problem that have made sense to people. Three of the leading answers are Aristotle's, Proclus', and St. Augustine's.

Aristotle's is a reasonable answer: time, he says (in Physics VIII) is the measure of motion. But there are only things and their qualities in Aristotle, which means that every thing must have its own time, each separate and different. Time is a quality that belongs to the thing.

That aspect of Aristotle's theory has been a problem for a lot of people, because our experience of time is that it is the same for everything. An hour for me is an hour for you: that's why we can meet for lunch. How could I have one time, and you another, my horse a third, and so on?

But we learn from relativity theory that there is something to this matter. Time is not the same for everyone and everything. And yet it is not really a quality of the thing, either: it is relative, for example, not to my speed, but to the difference between your speed and mine. So it is, in a way, a quality of mine; but in another way, you are indispensable also. It's a fact about us, even though it is not the same for us. (See here.)

So Aristotle is not right, not quite; but we still aren't there.

Proclus has a theory that time is atomic, in the ancient Greek sense of being finally indivisible. You can divide a minute into seconds, and seconds into parts of seconds, but there comes a time -- he thought -- that is really the smallest length of time that can practically exist. This, I suppose, might be an analog to the Planck length: and that's useful, if we believe as Aristotle did that time and motion are geared together. For those of you who have JSTOR access, there is a good article on the subject here.

Augustine, though, has what I take to be the most interesting account. He points out that the past and the future do not exist in the same way that the present moment does. As much as you enjoyed going to the fair yesterday, it's gone: and as much as you are looking forward to Christmas morning, it's not here.

So what we have is the now. But how long is now? So short that it is gone before you can name it.

That's a problem, because it means that we are doing things with our minds that involve times that do not exist. When we begin a sentence (for Augustine it is a prayer), we are somehow aware of a desire to say something in a time that doesn't exist: and when we are saying it, we remain aware of how much has been said in the past that no longer exists, and how much remains to be said in the time that has not come to be.

If we couldn't do that, we couldn't speak or think at all.

So for Augustine, time is a kind of extension of our soul into the realms of things that do not exist. How we do that is a mystery, but our common experience suggests that somehow we do in fact do it.

Of course one way of responding to the Augustinian answer is to suggest that the past and future do exist -- that they are, as the physicists have it, a kind of dimension whose existence is sustained. But the physicists can't explain freedom; they are left to declare it something of an illusion, even though I am quite sure that I could have had beans and not eggs for breakfast.

So we are back at the beginning of the question. What does it mean to be old? It means to have lived long in time. What is time? Is it the same for all things, and from all perspectives? It seems not to be, though it also seems to sustain a relationship between all things, while managing to be different from different perspectives.

Which means that there is no answer to the question -- no final answer. How old is Earth? It depends on whom you ask, and how they stand in relationship to it. Perhaps that relationship is physical, and perhaps it depends on where they are in their prayer.