The Way of All Beauty

[H]e had searched by the stream by which she had prayed to the stones, and the pool where she prayed to the stars; he had called her name up every tower, and had called it wide in the dark, and had had no answer but echo; and so he had come at last to the witch Ziroonderel."Whither?" he said, saying no more than that, that the boy might not know his fears. Yet Orion knew. 
And Ziroonderel all mournfully shook her head. "The way of the leaves," she said. "The way of all beauty." 
-Lord Dunsany, The King of Elfland's Daughter
Where is Europe going?

The economic argument here is not entirely convincing, but it's also not what interests me about the piece.  What I do find interesting is the way that it lines up into a story with heroes and villains, and the villains are framed in ways that have been persuasive and deadly to Europeans past.  It is a story of Catholic versus Protestant, of the torment of Europe by an oppressive Germany represented by a black eagle.

What we are seeing in Europe is the development of a narrative that will justify the refusal by the Greeks, the Irish and the other debtor nations to submit to discipline.  It is a narrative that has both ethnic and religious justifications; and if that were not enough, it has justifications based on class thrown in as well.  Thus it has all three of the poisons that have led to Europe's great wars:  the poison of religious division that brought the Thirty Years War, the poison of nationalism that brought the World Wars, and the poison of anti-capitalism that brought the Communists to power in the Cold War.

And yet, though the claim is not entirely convincing, it is neither entirely wrong.  The claim that Europe is moving from democracy to 'bank-ocracy' is right in an important sense:  we recently saw a British MP scolding the EU for daring to force democratic nations to replace their elected leadership with those chosen by the central bankers.  The Germans are driving this process; and there is a clash between Catholic and Protestant assumptions at work in the cultural division between the debtor and creditor states.  The narrative is deadly, but it is founded on several truths.

The season has turned, as seasons will; the leaves come, and then they go.  Some day we'll ask where Europe went, and we won't have any other answer than Ziroonderel's.

Philosophy for Everyone

Brazil has apparently hit upon a piece of wisdom.
The official rationale for the 2008 law is that philosophy “is necessary for the exercise of citizenship.” The law—the world’s largest-scale attempt to bring philosophy into the public sphere—thus represents an experiment in democracy. Among teachers at least, many share Ribeiro’s hope that philosophy will provide a path to greater civic participation and equality.... 
"[I]f you want to build a just and democratic society, isn’t it useful to get as clear as possible on what you mean by justice and democracy and to examine if you have good reasons to pursue these?” I asked. “And aren’t your intuitions about knowledge, goodness and beauty worth investigating?” 
Well, perhaps. But first the students had more questions for me. Is it true that Canadian bacon is the best in the world? What do people abroad think about Brazil? How did I get into philosophy? And—still more personally—do I believe in God, a question I encountered almost every time. I tried to get out of it by mentioning Spinoza’s impersonal God. That didn’t mean much to the students and, truth be told, I don’t even believe in the God of Spinoza. “We knew it—all philosophers are atheists!” they would say. When I asked who was a Catholic, who was an evangelical, and who practiced the Afro-Brazilian religion Candomblé (Salvador alone has more than 2000 terreiros, Candomblé’s houses of worship), all students raised their hand at least once. 
I assured the students that until the nineteenth century hardly any philosopher was an atheist.  Plato’s Euthyphro—with its argument about the relationship between ethics and the will of the gods—gets us into a lively discussion. 
I asked them, “Do moral norms depend on God’s will? Would it be fine to murder an innocent child if God says so?” The students found the idea outrageous. 
“But doesn’t God order Abraham to sacrifice Isaac?” I asked. There was a moment of confusion. 
“But Abraham also holds God responsible when he wants to destroy Sodom and Gomorra,” one student replied. That can be interpreted as an independent norm of justice, I admitted.
He goes on to ask whether God can be held to account to an "objective" standard of justice; but the kind of God who is posterior rather than prior to justice is a different kind of God than most believe in.  It's a holdover from the earlier period, when the God of Abraham was one of very many Gods, and not yet the God who is responsible for existence.  Justice is posterior to existence -- that is, its structure of 'what is just?' arises from the nature of that which exists.  If nothing existed, nothing would be just or unjust; and if the world was substantially different, our ideas about justice might be as well.

Since God is the source of existence in Christian, Jewish and Islamic metaphysics, God would have to be prior to justice.  He may very well choose to submit to the standard, but it is not an "objective" standard -- it is God's own standard.

Still, there are other metaphysics, and the important thing is that these kids are wrestling with the big questions.  The article goes on to cite some professional philosophers who mock the effort to teach kids who can barely read and write to think about these things; but that is foolish in the extreme.  Reading and writing are technical skills, and one learns a technique in order to achieve some higher end.  Thus, if you cannot show them a higher end to justify the effort, they will not bother to master the technique.  If you inspire them to pursue a higher end, they'll find their way to mastery of whatever technology they need.

How The FBI Got Hacked

Apparently the window of vulnerability that allowed a secret FBI phone call to be recorded was the hacking of a personal, private email account.  Login information for the call, emailed to the agent's account, thus came into the hands of the hacking community.

Over the last few years, I've talked with a few experts in the field of digital communication security.  The password issue issue is a problem they often talk about; what they usually are aiming towards instead is a way of identifying the particular computer or phone that is in operation.  Then, even if you had the password, you couldn't call in without the right phone as well:  the other phones wouldn't accept your connection.

There's a lot going on in the field, and I think we'll see some pretty major advances over the next year or so.  I doubt it will end the hacking, though:  it will make it much harder, but a lot of hackers are motivated chiefly by the challenge.  Others, of course, like knowing secrets, and still others like to pull pranks on authority figures.  I've met a few good ones, though, whose real interest was just in doing something that was supposed to be impossible.

One fellow I knew got a job with a major corporation as the head of computer security for their nuclear facilities by hacking into their database and scheduling a job interview for himself.  They were very confused when he showed up for it, apologizing that they didn't seem to have any of the usual paperwork on hand, and weren't sure why an interview had been scheduled without the usual process of review.  After he explained how the interview had gotten scheduled, they hired him.

The story reminds me of that of philosopher and logician Saul Kripke, who was hired as a professor of philosophy without any degree in philosophy at all.
While still a teenager he wrote a series of papers that eventually transformed the study of modal logic. One of them, or so the legend goes, earned a letter from the math department at Harvard, which hoped he would apply for a job until he wrote back and declined, explaining, "My mother said that I should finish high school and go to college first." 
The college he eventually chose was Harvard. "I wish I could have skipped college," Mr. Kripke said in an interview. "I got to know some interesting people, but I can't say I learned anything. I probably would have learned it all anyway, just reading on my own." 
While still a Harvard undergrad, Mr. Kripke started teaching post-graduates down the street at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and after getting his B.A. didn't bother to acquire an advanced degree. Who could teach him anything he didn't already know? Instead, he began teaching and publishing. 
 Princeton hired him as a professor, even though their usual standards required a doctorate as a minimum prerequisite.  It was a good decision.


Rough stuff in politics today.  Sometimes you bring it on yourself:
[Mark Steyn said] "For a start, when he says, ‘I am my brother’s keeper,’ his brother is back in Kenya living on $12 a year. That’s what he was living on at the time of the 2008 election. So all the president has to do in terms of shared responsibility is put a $10 bill in an envelope and mail it to Nairobi or Mombasa or wherever and he will double his brother’s salary.”
Sometimes you gripe about being taken out of context, only to discover that your remarks are just as bad in context:
“We now know from Gov. Romney, he joins President Obama. Obama is big food stamp, he’s little food stamp – but they both think food stamps are OK,” Gingrich said. “I don’t think food stamps are a future for America. They’re a necessary bridge back to getting a job and back to being independent of the government.”
Sadly, when you say that you aren't concerned about the poor because of the safety net, you're open to that line.

Of course, sometimes the context that makes you look bad is provided by someone else:

Great ad, except for the last few seconds.  It's a compelling argument against Mr. Romney; but it offers no reason to vote for Mr. Gingrich.

Well, Of Course They Would:

Business Insider wades into a controversy by noticing that the Susan G. Komen Foundation, though no longer willing to associate with Planned Parenthood, is willing to partner with a handgun manufacturer.
This gun is a beauty.  
And a portion of the sale of each P-22 Hope Edition will be donated to the Seattle Branch of the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
So, why would they do this?  Two reasons:

1)  The pistol is a fundraiser for them.  Planned Parenthood was an expense.  An entirely different set of criteria are involved in opting into a program that makes money for your charity, versus opting out of an expense.

2)  It's target pistol -- .22 LR, with interchangable barrels so that it can simulate a real self-defense weapon, or be set up for formal match-style target shooting.  The only people who would find a pink .22 LR pistol threatening are squirrels.  (Squirrels are people too, right, PETA?)

UPDATE:  Looks to be moot now; the SGK Foundation has caved to the pressure brought by the abortion lobby.


There’s an educational video from that time, called “Understanding Asperger’s,” in which I appear. I am the affected 20-year-old in the wannabe-hipster vintage polo shirt talking about how keen his understanding of literature is and how misunderstood he was in fifth grade. The film was a research project directed by my mother, a psychology professor and Asperger specialist, and another expert in her department. It presents me as a young man living a full, meaningful life, despite his mental abnormality. 
“Understanding Asperger’s” was no act of fraud. Both my mother and her colleague believed I met the diagnostic criteria laid out in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition.
No act of fraud?  To say that it was an honest application of the rules of psychology is no defense from that charge.  You would better say that your mother was as taken by the fraud as everyone else.  Say that she was even more a victim than were you, for she gave her life to it.

Flowers in February

The winds in Georgia are coming off the Gulf of Mexico this winter, so that the air is warm.  It's good weather for the road.

We took the bike up to northeast Georgia and western North Carolina.  The mountains are still bare, so that the rocks and waterfalls are easily seen from a great distance.  Nevertheless there is proof of life in the warm winter.

The Methodist Church in Clayton, Georgia.  Clayton is an increasingly fun town, with an outstanding hardware store (featuring archery, guns, camping gear, and the lot), and several good restaurants and bars.  One of the bars is built out of a refinished service station, called "The Universal Joint."  Camp at Black Rock Mountain, a thousand feet above, and you'll hear them rocking down below.

So much for the city.  Beyond, in the Wild, flowers grow.

Georgia Veronica Blue, one of our native glories.

Nandina berries, which are not native but invasive.  "All parts of the plant are poisonous."  It's also known as 'sacred bamboo.'

Daffodils in wintertime.  These broke out on the last day of January this year.

Some Old Posts, Newly Relevant

I find to my surprise that I have a post on Rick Santorum from 2005.  It arises from an article quite critical of him.

Also, chiefly for Cassandra, an old post on Democratic purges and the danger they posed to the party.  I came down on what I take to be her side; but the year was 2006, and the Democrats did well in the next two elections.  Maybe 2010 was the point at which purging the ideologically impure began to harm them; but I doubt it, all things considered.

So, my analysis was wrong:  but why was it wrong?  Do the facts imply that purges were helpful in achieving the wave elections of 2006 and 2008?  Or are they just irrelevant, noise in the face of greater matters?  If so, what are the consequences of that?

Troll Valley Comes to Life

Lars Walker proves prescient.  My favorite scene in Troll Valley was this one, where the prohibitionist is haranguing dissenters in her family by reading pro-temperance newspaper clips at breakfast, and commanding approval of the sentiments.  One morning she read a letter to an editor:
"I would like to relate an incident that occurred on the approach of my youngest daughter's eighth birthday," the correspondent said.  "Upon my inquiring of the innocent what she desired as a gift for the impending celebration, she looked at me with grave, ingenuous blue eyes and said, 'Mother, what I would like most is to see the ratification of Prohibition.'  Think what sorrow was mine to be compelled to inform her that we must await the pleasure of our legislators before this blessing can be ours!  It is apparent to the most obtuse that even the babes in arms are alive to the necessity of the reform of our civilization.  How much longer must they live in fear of the drunkard and his madness?  For our children's sake, we must drive Rum from our shores." 
Mother sighed. "Have you ever heard a more touching story?" she asked. 
Bestefar shook his head.  "I think any child who says she wants Prohibition for her birthday will probably steal as well as lie." 
Mother's cheeks flamed.  "What a wicked thing to say!"
Bestefar was right, of course.  However, the trick doesn't only work on parents longing for the reform of our civilization; it can work on parents of the defenders, too.

Quit Unsettling That Science!

The House Committee on Un-American Activities, that is, the "Forecast the Facts" website, is on a mission to purge the TV weatherman community of dirty denialists and present the viewing public with pure and approved scientific views on Global Climate Whatever. I was surprised to learn that a solid majority of TV weathermen privately harbor heretical skepticism about the role of humankind and/or CO2 in harming Gaia. Almost a quarter of them now are prepared to come right out and call AGW a "scam" in off-the-air polls. This must be stopped! As the creepy blog ThinkProgress puts it:
These climate denier meteorologists are betraying the public’s trust and distorting America’s airwaves with ideological science denial.
The chief meterologist for a Houston TV station explains that more humility is in order:
Operational meteorologists and forecasters are not climatologists. The background education is somewhat similar, but our area of expertise is different. Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop some TV weather forecasters from spouting off on the subject.
But hey, if you believe in AGW, go ahead and spout off. You owe it to your viewers to get the truth out! Activists point out that "when a region is in the midst of a drought or heat wave, it is important to discuss the role climate change plays in amplifying such an event." When a region in in the midst of wet or cold weather, though, apparently it is important to stress that climate is not the same as weather, or to explain that anthropogenic CO2 levels can lead to climate disruption of every conceivable variety, by an undiscovered mechanism that nevertheless is completely settled.

Well, our confidence in the information we get from the TV weatherman could hardly be affected one way or another by the amount of nonsense they spout about the "science" of long-term climate trend analysis. Just the website title "Forecast the Facts" should alert the reader of the odd confusion in the mainstream climate community over the difference between facts and predictive models. Last Friday's document dump included a painful admission from the UK's national weather service, dubbed the "Met Office," that the latest warming trend stopped cold in 1997, apparently as a result of changes in sunspot activity. The Met Office didn't sit still for this politically incorrect interpretation of the stubborn facts, though. It explained that right-thinking scientists understand that a predicted severe drop in the Sun's activity, perhaps rivaling the "Maunder minimum" of 300 years ago, might indeed cause the Thames to freeze over again, but for some reason would likely prove to be a strictly local effect, leaving the rest of the globe to endure continued warming. Remember, don't try to do this scientific thinking at home. Leave it to the experts.

Bloody Gay Pride Parades?

I woke this morning to find the Net all a-twitter over Governor Christie's proposal to place same-sex marriage up for a vote on the New Jersey November ballot. Christie inflamed progressives by suggesting that the Civil Rights movement might have been better served by confining itself to the ballot box rather in favor of physical confrontation:
The fact of the matter is, I think people would have been happy to have a referendum on civil rights rather than fighting and dying in the streets in the South.
Like New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney, Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver erupted in fury over the idea of putting basic civil rights up for a popular vote:
Gov. Christie better sit down with some of New Jersey’s great teachers for a history lesson, because his puzzling comment shows a complete misunderstanding about the civil rights movement. . . . It’s impossible to ever conceive that a referendum on civil rights in the South would have been successful and brought justice to minorities. It’s unfathomable to even suggest a referendum would have been the better course. . . . Governor –- people were fighting and dying in the streets of the South for a reason. They were fighting and dying in the streets of the South because the majority refused to grant minorities equal rights by any method. It look legislative action to bring justice to all Americans, just as legislative action is the right way to bring marriage equality to all New Jerseyans. The governor’s comment is an insult to those who had no choice but to fight and die in the streets for equal rights.

Oliver appears a bit confused about history herself. If it took "legislative action" to address the problem, isn't that closer to a solution by referendum than by violence? Perhaps what she's thinking is that the legislative action never would have happened if it hadn't been spurred by violence. Christie's opposing suggestion is that putting the issue to a popular vote early on might have removed the need for the violence. It's never easy to know when people must burst out of the system into personal rebellion or even violence in order to protect their essential freedoms, as our host so often suggests is our duty. Oliver sounds like a woman who needs to think about that dilemma more carefully.

My guess is that Oliver really is trying to argue that legislative action sometimes has to be imposed from outside the local jurisdiction, because the local majority can't be trusted to vote for justice for an oppressed minority. Or she may be suggesting that legislators are wiser than the unwashed public that elects them. If she were sorting through her issues more thoughtfully, she might even argue that nationwide majorities are not always trustworthy, and therefore legislative solutions must give way to judicial, Constitutional action if proponents of same-sex marriage are to obtain real relief.

In the meantime, does Ms. Oliver really want to argue that gays should take up arms rather than work with the system to obtain the rights they believe are due to them?

A second wave of twittering followed Christie's calling a gay lawmaker a "numbnuts," presumably a hate crime. I like this Christie guy, even if at one time he didn't have any more sense than to believe in non-heliocentric cosmic climate metaphysics, or at least to try to take advantage of the tax revenues it might generate for his strapped state.

Glory and Destiny

The University of Georgia has a long and storied history, being one of the claimants to the title of oldest public college in the United States.  So it is no surprise to see another extraordinary story from that institution, featuring a young lady of wisdom and character.  Also, fairly impressive biceps.
A deeply religious junior exercise and sports science major, Watson was on the brink of a $75,000 fitness-modeling contract that could have set her up for a lifetime career in modeling -- but she turned it down.... A modeling agent wanted her to use Anavar, a legal anabolic steroid to help her gain up to 50 pounds of muscle. Worried about the effects on her body when she decides to have kids, Watson passed.
There stands some discerning judgment, for one so young.  That's glory.

This is destiny:
She can bench press 155 pounds, squat 255 pounds and dead lift 230 pounds. 
I could do more than that the first day I walked into the gym.  That's nothing in praise of me or against her.  Her muscles show a better 'cut' and appearance.  I'm in fairly good shape, but nobody is going to offer me a fitness-modeling contract.  She has clearly developed virtues of moderation, temperance and wisdom.  It's just a fact.

She's spent a lifetime training to develop muscle and strength, and is probably among the strongest women in America.  Nevertheless, there it is.  This is the sort of thing we increasingly tend to ignore when making determinations about military policy, but it's real enough.  As we cut military budgets, especially in ground forces, we'll be less able to compensate for weaker soldiers in other ways.  It's not just about the weight you can lift and carry; there's the injury problem, too.  By the way, Ms. Watson is out of service due to damage to her Achilles tendon right now.

I have a tremendous amount of respect for women and their contribution to society and the military.  I have often written about how much I appreciate the contribution of American servicewomen in Iraq, where I had the honor to serve with some outstanding ones.  In no way do I wish to detract from the glory of a woman who strives to do her best.  We just have to be clear-eyed about this business, because things are going to get harder for our warriors as the money dries up.

Changing A Name

Good to hear Arlo Guthrie is still singing relevant music.

Of course this is the song of his that gets sung most often around here:

"A Miraculous Turnaround"

I am glad to hear that Mr. Santorum's daughter Bella has enjoyed something of a recovery from the pneumonia that afflicted her.  I was not aware of her other, lifelong, condition until the stories of the weekend.  It's extraordinary to see a family accepting such challenges these days, living with them, and finding strength for pursuing and achieving in the broader world in spite of them.

This morning Michelle Malkin declared for Santorum.  She has a fairly thorough listing of her reasons, and considerations both for and against him.  I don't normally read Ms. Malkin -- I saw her endorsement linked on Memeorandum -- but it is good to see one of the big players join in on his side.

UPDATE:  Santorum gave a pitch in Minnesota at which he was asked how he would win among moderates.  That's been a challenge to him raised here, too, so you might be interested in his answer.
Only toward the end did a process question get asked, when a caller politely challenged Santorum to explain how he’d win moderates.  Santorum replied that moderates don’t tend to be issues voters, but respond to enthusiasm and momentum, and that the important task was to rally the base as happened in the midterms.  Neither Romney or Gingrich are consistently conservative enough to do that, Santorum argued, while his record gave the GOP the best chance to stoke conservative enthusiasm.  He also said that he had a track record in Pennsylvania of winning Reagan Democrats, which he would do throughout the Rust Belt and Midwest.  “Will I lose California by a wider margin than Romney?” Santorum asked, and replied that he certainly would — but losing California and New York by a marginally smaller amount won’t do the GOP any good in November anyway.  Santorum insisted that he could do better in the center of the country than any other Republican, and that would make the difference in November.