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.