On Traveling Dragons

Somewhere I came up with a postcard of this piece by Wendy Ellertson, although I haven't been to Boston in ages and I can't recall having seen her work when I was there.

I sent the card to Sovay with the following limerick:

Though traveling a tremendous distance,
Beware of a dragon's assistance.
He may keep his offer
Just as he did proffer --
But he may be seeking subsistence.

Chuck Schumer, Matchmaker

Come on, now, Dr. Althouse: this is surely the best thing we've ever read about the Honorable Chuck Schumer.

The man's only doing what his Jewish faith suggests to him is the most helpful thing he can do. What's wrong with that? What's wrong with an old man advising the young on how to achieve the greatest happiness that life offers, and helping them to find the path? The young find this thing very hard, even mystifying: goodness knows I did.

We've gone a long way from what makes sense if we get mad about something like this. Yes, Republicans who did it would be mistreated; but that doesn't change the fact that it is mistreatment, which those interested in justice ought to avoid rather than repeat. What does anyone look for at that age more than love? What should anyone look for more than true love? That the man has helped so many find it is a mark of an unsuspected virtue in one we more often encounter as a bare-knuckled political opponent.


Since we're talking about Kickstarter programs, here is one I particularly like. It won't revolutionize the world like maybe mini-solar panels could, but it might at least give people some renewed respect for their ancestors.

It's harder than it looks, you know. What you don't know is just how much harder!

The anti-Solyndra

"Kickstarter" is a website where inventors can try to raise money for projects.  I just plunked a little money down on two guys who have an idea for micro-solar panels that can be made locally with easily available materials and will last better than traditional solar panels.  More on them here in Popular Mechanics.  They also have an old idea for project involving membranes that vibrate in light winds and produce very small amounts of electricity without turbines.  Their focus is on wind and solar power that can be produced very cheaply for small households, using devices that can be repaired cheaply and locally:   Just the thing for the zombie apocalypse.

Send $10, and they'll have lunch on you.  Send $35, and eventually you'll receive a Solar Power Kit, though I'm afraid it may not arrive in time for putting it under the tree.  For $10,000, they'll come to your town and put on a big bash.

Just admit it . . .

. . . This makes you say "Awwwwww."  My husband, who has my number, forwards me this image, from Ace, I think.  Sort of a William Wegman* in a marshmallow key.  (*Thanks, Douglas.)

The Wylde Hunt

The use of the didgeriedoo in a Celtic composition may strike you as odd, unless you are aware that it moved into northern European roots music a decade or so ago. I think the first such group to incorporate it was Hedningarna ("The Heathens"). The primal sound of the instrument fits in well with their attempt generate an impression of something ancient.

So that's Celtic and Nordic. How about we round it out with a Saami singer? They turn up from time to time in the Norse sagas, a mysterious people from the uttermost north, possessed of strange magics.

On "Hate Groups" and the SPLC

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has a proud enough history that its current misbehavior needs to be condemned with some care. Even today, it still does good work a fair part of the time: for example, it was the SPLC that had tracked the White Supremacist who ended up attacking the Sikh temple in Wisconsin. When we see them doing something overboard, then, we want to condemn them just that far: not the whole organization or its mission, but just their particular overreach.

A Fair in Dingle

Ah, the autumn is coming. Have you had a taste of the fine air yet? And autumn means fairs.

It's coming, boys and ladies. Just bear the faith a little while longer.

Oh, Yeah, That Makes Sense

Mr. President defends his VP:
"Most folks know that's just sort of a WWF wrestling part of politics," Obama told "Entertainment Tonight." "It doesn't mean anything, just fills up a lot of airtime."
Oh, ok, no problem then. Except... if someone on the right had said anything like that, he'd be forced to resign whatever office he happened to hold. But that's just fair play in a wrestling match, and we accept the handicap because we're suckers.

I mean fair. We're just very fair about these things, considering the history and all.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Harrison

Harry Harrison wrote a number of good books, most of them more fun than serious, but good books all the same. My particular favorite of his works was The Stainless Steel Rat for President, a send-up not only of SciFi/Spy-novels, but also of politics in general. Esperanto never took off, but the Rat is forever.

Thanks for the good work, Mr. Harrison.

Expectations of privacy

In 2010, after James O'Keefe had taped his ACORN sting operation, one of his sorry victims sued him for invasion of privacy.  O'Keefe moved for summary judgment, which a federal judge in San Diego has just denied with this fascinating reasoning:
"ACORN is in the business of providing counseling and support for the community on various matters," Lorenz wrote.  "By its very nature, the organization handles personal matters with individual clients.  Defendants walked into ACORN and asked for plaintiff's help with tax forms.  . . .  Specifically, they solicited his help with setting up an illegal prostitution business with underaged girls.  . . .  Plaintiff, as a worker for an organization like ACORN, reasonably believed that the content of the conversation was sensitive enough that it would remain private." 
O'Keefe duped Vera by asking if the conversation would remain confidential, before he launched into details of the nonexistent scheme, Lorenz wrote. 
Over the course of a 40-minute conversation, Lorenz noted, the three "abruptly paused their conversation" after Vera's supervisor, David Lagstein, entered the office, and continued talking after the supervisor left. 
"Based on the surrounding circumstances, plaintiff reasonably believed that the conversation was private because it was held in his office with no one else present, and he believed that no one else was listening in on his conversation," Lorenz wrote.

Gun Control Report, by Congressional Research Service

Via Steven Aftergood of Secrecy News, it appears that the Congressional Research Service completed and published a report on Gun Control on 3 August of this year. The author is one William J. Krouse, who also authored a piece on hate crimes legislation in 2010.

The only serious problem is the very usual fact that CRS was not authorized to release this report to the public. The report itself is a good thing. Congressmen frequently make badly informed statements about firearms, and some framing of the debate with quality information is beneficial. CRS expects a debate in the next Congress on the subject, so it's trying to anticipate the need for facts. CRS is a good service, and tries to be nonpartisan. The report attempts to outline the basic arguments for and against gun control, and provides what it takes to be the best available statistics (which show, as you will see, a nearly continuous decline in gun violence, gun related deaths, and so forth in spite of an explosion of gun sales over the last twenty years).

There is a lot here that's worth reading if you intend to be involved in the debate that CRS expects the next Congress to have.

Youth Vote Swings Right?

It's a Zogby poll, so who knows if it's right, but it would make some sense. Youth unemployment has been horrid during this recession, while the trillion-plus dollar deficits will be coming out of the youth demographic's paychecks for years to come.

As the ad says, we understand. You wanted to believe. You tried. He tried. It didn't work. It's OK to make a change.

It's Proven By The Science

Headline: "Scientists: Vegetarian cavemen died off."

Meat-eating cavemen? They're your ancestors!

How about the beer-drinking cavemen? Trick question: cavemen didn't drink beer, because the invention of beer was what gave rise to civilization.


Vice President Biden's remarks, today, are surprising on several levels. One of them is that they weren't a thoughtless or careless remark of the sort to which Mr. Biden has been so prone. This is proven in two ways. First, the campaign had a fully-considered response to the predictable outrage by the Romney camp.
A spokeswoman from the Obama campaign defended Biden's remarks, saying there was "no problem" with the accusation. "For months, Speaker Boehner, Congressman Ryan, and other Republicans have called for the 'unshackling' of the private sector from regulations that protect Americans from risky financial deals and other reckless behavior that crashed our economy," said Obama spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter. "Since then, the Vice President has often used a similar metaphor to describe the need to 'unshackle' the middle class.
The use of shackling metaphors is thus quid pro quo, she suggests, as though there were no difference between metaphors of shackling and unshackling. The American mission, though, is built on the very clear difference between the two.

The second fact about the remarks that shows they were pre-planned and intentional is the delivery. Listen to Mr. Biden's delivery. He's just talking at the start, but as soon as he gets to "Unchain Wall Street," he adopts a form that is intended to mimic the feel of gospel church. The following remark is thus framed.

The thing is, if you left off the subtext created by the remarks and the inflection, Mr. Biden is making a point with which I'd be prone to agree. I do want to see Wall Street more carefully monitored and controlled. I do think it's important that the banks be subject to more regulation and oversight. Of course, his administration has been horrible on the subject, but the Romney campaign leads me to believe they would certainly be no better.

The problem with the remarks from a rhetorical perspective, then, is that they poison a legitimate argument with which even your opponents might agree. This is traded for a moment of race-baiting. It's one thing to race-bait when you have nothing else to say -- it's unconscionable, but nevertheless common as a political and rhetorical tactic -- but usually if you have a good argument, you'd press the argument.

I suppose we have to read this as an admission of failure, then. Even here, where ideologically they ought to be on strong ground, the truth is they've done nothing on which they might run. They have no accomplishments to back up their rhetoric, so they must refer us away from an examination of their record.

By the way, these remarks were delivered in Danville, Virginia. That was the town the Old 97 never reached.

Mediscare whom?

Has ObamaCare turned Medicare into an issue that should scare the Obama campaign more than the Romney one?  Yuval Levin at National Review argues yes:
President Obama has put Democrats in the position of being the party that seeks to cut current seniors’ benefits (especially those in Medicare Advantage) and access to care (thanks to the IPAB) while still allowing the program to collapse in the coming years and so watching the deficit explode and bringing on fiscal disaster.  And Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have put the Republicans in the position of being the party that wants to protect current seniors’ benefits and make them available to future seniors while still saving the program from collapse in the coming years and so dramatically reducing the deficit and averting fiscal disaster. 
Whether you’re now a senior and concerned about your health coverage, are younger and worry if you’ll have affordable coverage when you retire, or are most concerned about the nation’s fiscal health and economic future, the Democrats offer you a very bad deal on Medicare and the Republicans offer you a good one.

Rick Perry Says States Can Ban Guns(!)

I suppose one could get that reading out of the plain language Gov. Perry used here, although I don't think that's what he meant. Saying precisely what he meant was not his strong point in the Presidential debates either, so it's no surprise that he may have phrased this the wrong way.
When it gets back to this issue of taking guns away from law abiding citizens and somehow know this will make our country safer, I don’t agree with that. I think most people in Texas don’t agree with that, and that is a state by state issue frankly that should be decided in the states and not again a rush to Washington, D.C. to centralize the decision making, and them to decide what is in the best interest for the citizens and the people of Florida and Texas. That’s for the people of these states to decide.
What he's actually saying is that he doesn't want the Federal government to undertake to enact any gun control laws; if he wants any new gun control laws, he'll pursue them in Texas. Fair enough.

It almost sounds like he's advocating for a 10th Amendment reading, but actually this is one case where the 10th does not apply. The relevant authority is quite clearly mapped elsewhere:
From Article I, Section 8, listing powers Congress shall have:

To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

Amendment Two:

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
It sounds as though Congress has the authority to regulate the "arming" of the militia, provided that such regulation does not "infringe" upon the right of the People to keep and bear arms. There may be several readings here, but this appears to be a case where it actually is the Federal and not the state government that has whatever power there is to be had.

To The Ones Who Understand:

The SEALs were also circumspect about death in a way that only those confronted with it regularly can be.

“I either want to die in combat, doing my job right now, or live till I’m 98 years old and see my great, great grand kids,” one of them told me. “I don’t want anything in between. None of us do. A warrior’s death, you can’t get any higher than that. It’s horrible for the family, they don’t want to hear that, but for us, the guys at our command, we’re okay with it. That is our duty, the highest calling. And if that happens to you, you hope you are in the right frame of mind that you are okay with it. I have seen a lot of people go, not well. Had they been able to do another take on it, they would probably want it to go better. I remember everything else about Adam also, but I will always remember the end. You know, your first impression lasts a relationship, and your last impression is with you forever. Adam died well.”


This site has an unfortunate addiction to exclamation points, but the photos are great. A sample:

Grim Fells a Tree

So this morning I felled an oak, only to have it hang up on a tree about a third of its size.  It looked pretty comfortable.  The wife said, "Hey, I've got an idea.  Why don't you....?"

Great idea, dear.

Some Views on Marriage and Family

I'm going to post three articles on marriage and the family for discussion.

First, Lars Walker has a piece on how marriage and family has changed since the Icelandic sagas. I think he's right on here,* as will not surprise you. What he's talking about here is frith and freedom, topics we have often discussed.
The central political value for the Norseman was freedom (at least for himself and his kinsmen). The defense of freedom is an issue that rises again and again in the history of the age, as an old system based on kinship and traditional law resisted a new system based on central monarchy and imported laws. And the central bastion of this freedom -- the chief counterweight to the power of the state -- was the family. The genealogies in sagas are long because the families were big. The more relatives, the more power and security a man enjoyed, and the more axes he had available to resist oppression.

Marriage was central to that system. Though a Viking woman could not (in theory, anyway) be forced into a marriage, marriages were more the alliance of two families than the union of two loving hearts....

One of the reasons Americans nowadays yell at each other so much over marriage is that we fail to understand this (or understand it and don't care). Those whose idea of marriage looks back to this old model (which is not exclusively Norse, but almost universal in the world in one variation or another) argue with people whose concept of marriage is purely private.

It's my observation that most of us on the traditional side do hear what the moderns are saying, though we disagree. But the other side doesn't hear us at all. The modern idea of marriage makes it purely a private matter. Children are an accessory, and often not an important one.
Quite right. The weakening of the family makes us less free, as individuals, because we have only ourselves and the state. Strong families not only serve as another source of support, but also allow you to counterbalance the state's intrusions into individual liberty. The family can resist as well as support.

The other two articles I won't quote at length, but I leave them here for you to consider. They are of a type: a child of one of the 'new' types of families dispassionately explains what the cost of this type of family was.

The first is "The Child's View of Single-Motherhood," by Michael Brendan Dougherty. His sympathy for his mother -- and ability to see his own flaws as a child -- makes the piece especially worth consideration.

The second one is "Growing up with Two Moms: The Untold Children's View," by Robert Oscar Lopez. He asks both that we understand why this is less than ideal for children, but also for a more sympathetic and respectful treatment from society for those who turn out "weird" because of it. That's surely a reasonable request.

* An aside on the subject of the feud, for Mr. Walker. You write:
My cousin's actions are, by extension, mine. If your cousin killed my cousin, I might just kill you, because one kinsman is pretty much as good (or bad) as another. To us, this seems ridiculous.
I don't think this is right. I've observed the blood feud at work not only in reading the sagas, and Anglo-Saxon history, but also as it is still lived today among tribal groups in Iraq. The idea isn't that one cousin is as good as another, but rather that the feud is an attempt to balance an account of honor.

Let's say that I kill someone very important in your family (perhaps your father). If I am not also very important, you may not be satisfied with killing me. Killing me won't balance the scales. So, you may go and kill my uncle -- who is a better man than me -- in order to create balance.

The problem is that different families value members of their kinship at different rates than do outsiders. I may think that your father wasn't worth half what my uncle was, even though to you it seemed to even the scale. Thus, I think I now have a blood debt to repay: and so I go and kill your cousin. But to you, this upsets the scale again, so now you feel you have a debt.

This is why the reconciliation system in all of these tribal/honor cultures follows the pattern of getting the elders together to sort out a blood price. A group of people who are respected (or sometimes, if he is respected enough, a single judge) decides where the remaining debt lies, and sets a price that both sides accept. This settles the remaining debt so that peace becomes possible.  The hard part is finding a payment -- weregild or diyya -- that both sides agree makes it even.

In other words, the system actually does make sense once you understand the mechanism at work. My killing your cousin isn't irrational, but rather a measured response based on my sense of how important the various people are within the community of honor.

Breaking Stone

I'm told we're in a drought here, but we've had so much torrential rain lately that things are washed out. I've spent the last few days trying to repair the driveway, which (as is common for rural driveways) is somewhat long. The original owner wisely built his house upon a hill surrounded by hardwood trees, with the pastures in the land below. This protects the house from the dangers of flooding, while giving the pastures the benefit of extra moisture from the runoff.

However, it also means that the driveway extends up a hill, and is prone to washing out. Someday I would like to pave it, but for now it is gravel over red clay, and (as is usually true with red clay) quite prone to having whole sections turned into ravines by a heavy storm.

Fortunately there are some spots of quartz stone on the property, which is relatively easy to quarry. So, since Friday, I've been breaking the stone out of the ground with a pick, shipping the big chunks in a wheelbarrow to the ravines, and then breaking them into small stones and gravel with an eight-pound sledgehammer.

Eight pounds doesn't sound like a lot of weight, but swung from above your head with both hands, you will often strike a stone of eighty pounds and see it burst into three or four pieces. With practice you develop an eye for the lay of the crystal structure, so that you can shear off a piece, or cause the whole to shatter into fragments. Sometimes I dig trenches and fill them with larger stones, so as to trap runoff and silt.

In any case it's hard but satisfying work. The next time someone tells me I didn't build the roads I use for commerce, I can answer: "I surely helped."

Vatican Warns of US Threat to Catholicism

So says the headline, anyway. Is that what the Vatican said? Well...

The Ryan Pick

If any of you went back and looked to see what I've written about Rep. Paul Ryan in the past, you found that the answer was "almost nothing." There's a couple of reasons for that:

1) I think his heart is in the right place, but,

2) I think his brain is in the wrong place.

I haven't wanted to be too critical of a man who wants the right things, and who was clearly fighting in the right direction, but I also don't think his famous plan begins to approach the scale of the problem we face. I think I know why, too: Rep. Ryan has spent literally his entire adult life in Congress, and so his framework for understanding the problem is the CBO math. He's clearly familiar with the CBO numbers down to the minutiae. The problem is that the CBO numbers intentionally refuse to take account of the true costs we face in terms of entitlements and Federal pensions.

Thus, Rep. Ryan's critics are right: his plan is entirely inadequate. It fixes the problem as the CBO sees it, though not for fifty years: but it doesn't begin to fix the real problem.

I would not have chosen this as the starting line for the battle we are about to wage. If we end up compromising from here, as we are likely to do given that is the political process, we will be beginning from a position that already fails to solve the problems. The NYT is already blasting Rep. Ryan's plan as Armageddon for everything good and right in America, but the truth is that plan pales by comparison to what really needs to be done.

On the other hand, as mentioned, Rep. Ryan's heart is in the right place. If he doesn't understand the scale, he does understand the stakes. When he talks about these things, he talks about saving the country. That's really what is at stake: if we don't come to a repair on these issues, the tensions will tear us apart. If we get to the crisis point without having fixed the entitlement and pension crisis, our nation will dissolve into factions over the question of who gets cut most. These will be life or death questions for everyone involved, because they will have come to be dependent upon the programs that are no longer viable.

That leads me to believe that Rep. Ryan is educable on the question of the scale. This also provides an opportunity for those who have been following this issue, like USA Today (and Mr. Steyn, whom Tex mentions below), to bring the issue to the level of the national debate.

It's a chance, which is more than we seemed likely to get out of this election. In an hour of grave danger, one must be bold in seizing on any chances that Fate sends.


Mark Steyn favors: "It’s twilight in America: More retirees are falling behind on student debt." He's not happy about the bland Romney campaign. I hope he'll be pleased with the choice of Ryan as running mate.