Songs for the New Year

That one is particularly beautiful. A good song to start the night.

Of course, for many this will be the last night of Christmas celebrations.

By the end of the night, we have returned to the first song, but with different words. Not 'new' words, for these are quite old.

The full lyrics:
The old year now away is fled,
The new year it is entered;
Then let us all our sins down tread,
And joyfully all appear.
Let's merry be this holiday,
And let us run with sport and play,
Hang1 sorrow, let's cast care away
God send us a merry new year!

For Christ's circumcision this day we keep,
Who for our sins did often weep;
His hands and feet were wounded deep,
And his blessed side, with a spear.
His head they crowned then with thorn,
And at him they did laugh and scorn,
Who for to save our souls was born;
God send us a happy New Year!

And now with New-Year's gifts each friend
Unto each other they do send;
God grant we may our lives amend,
And that truth may now appear.
Now like the snake cast off your skin
Of evil thoughts and wicked sin,
And to amend this new year begin:
God send us a merry new year!

And now let all the company
In friendly manner all agree,
For we are here welcome all may see
Unto this jolly good cheer.
I thank my master and my dame,
The which are founders of the same,
To eat, to drink now is no shame:
God send us a happy new year!

Come lads and lasses every one,
Jack, Tom, Dick, Bess, Mary and Joan,
Let's cut the meat unto the bone,
For welcome you need not fear.
And here for good liquor you shall not lack,
It will whet my brains and strengthen my back;
This jolly good cheer it must go to wrack:
God send us a happy new year!

Come, give's more liquor when I do call,
I'll drink to each one in this hall,
I hope that so loud I must not bawl,
So unto me lend an ear.
Good fortune to my master send,
And to our dame which is our friend,
Lord bless us all, and so I end:
God send us a happy new year!
There's a very nice, appropriately rowdy version on this album.

Message and fact

Tom Coburn in the WSJ:
The culture that Mr. Obama campaigned against, the old kind of politics, teaches politicians that repetition and "message discipline"—never straying from using the same slogans and talking points—can create reality, regardless of the facts.  Message discipline works if the goal is to win an election or achieve a short-term political goal.  But saying that something is true doesn't make it so.  When a misleading message ultimately clashes with reality, the result is dissonance and conflict.  In a republic, deception is destructive.  Without truth there can be no trust.  Without trust there can be no consent.  And without consent we invite paralysis, if not chaos.

Red & blue experiments

This Washington Post article is, for the Post, a fairly nonpartisan look at the competition between red and blue states that are pursuing distinct strategies to solve social, economic, and political problems.  The thesis is that the results of experimentation are getting a little clearer now that so many states have vested control of most or all of the state government in the hands of one party.

Protective Coloration, and its Reverse

Schlock Mercenary creator Howard Tayler writes a good review of 47 Ronin. The movie poster is largely misleading. In fact, it wasn't at all what it appeared to be from trailers and advertising:
I sat down and braced myself for a completely plotless swords-and-sorcery romp with a bit of Asian flair. What I got was a retelling of the story of the Forty-seven Ronin.

I'm happy with that.
I had honestly planned to avoid the film just because of those "extra" elements Hollywood apparently thought it necessary to include. The story of the Forty-seven Ronin is one of the great tales of Japan. It needs, and can be aided by, no ornament beyond what those men did.

The studio didn't think you'd like it, so they pretended it was "a completely plotless sword-and-sorcery romp with a bit of Asian flair." They thought you'd only want to see one of their empty formula pictures, so even when they made a decent film they marketed it as if it were just another of their usual crop. That worked well, I see.

On the other side of this, the marketing for the new Hobbit movie almost convinced me to go and see it in spite of my suspicions. As you will recall, I detest Peter Jackson's treatment of Tolkien so much that I could barely sit through the Fellowship movie, let alone the others. When I learned that he was going to treat the Hobbit, a far shorter work intended for children, as a trilogy of movies... well, let's say I expected this:

But the promotional materials suggested that there was hope for it. I became interested in how they would handle the dragon and Laketown. I almost went to see it...

...until I read this piece. That the studio felt it necessary to include an elvish Xena-Warrior-Princess character in a work of Tolkien's is one thing. What is really unforgivable is that the studio decided to introduce an elvish warrior-princess involved in a love triangle with a dwarf.

I might yet go see 47 Ronin.

A Lecture on Theology delivered by a self-declared "Southern Lady," against "White Trash."

I was suspicious at first, I have to admit: usually people who take up against "white trash" end up painting themselves into a very bad position. However, having considered the argument, I think the lady has something to say.

Wren Day

If you've been around here a while, you know the story about St. Stephen's Day. I won't bore you with it again. It's a grand day for merry-making.

But there's this too:

Merry Christmas

The peace of the Hall to all people of good will. Merry Christmas to you all.

The Star of Bethlehem

If you didn't see it elsewhere, here is an argument from an astronomer that the Star of Bethlehem may have been Jupiter. It's fascinating to me that we have computer programs that can reproduce the sky as it would have been on a night two thousand years ago. In principle, there's no reason you shouldn't be able to calculate the positions of various stars and planets a long time ago, assuming we correctly understand their motions today and nothing occurred that would significantly disturb the regularity of those movements. It would take a pretty major event to change the position of Jupiter, certainly.

What I like about the argument is the idea that no one but the highest-placed stargazers of the the day would have recognized it as significant. It is true that Babylonian civilization had astrologers who were even more accurate than the ancient Greeks, for reasons Tex will appreciate: because the Greeks took their data and tried to make models to explain them, which led to occasional inaccuracies in future predictions, while the Babylonians skipped models and simply figured from empirical data. The idea that this famous star may have been one seen as significant only to those steeped in the arcane traditions of the East is rather plausible.

In any event, it's a charming story for the holiday.

Christmas in Afghanistan

Santa delivers.

Good luck, Marines. May your future Christmases be spent with family as well as friends.

Autonomy and community

That might as well be the title to everything I post, so thoroughly does the conflict preoccupy me.  Anyway, I like Jonah Goldberg's take on two fathers of modern liberalism, Burke and Paine:
The Burkean believes government is there to give all of the institutions of society room to thrive and discover what is good through trial and error.  The Paineian sees progress as a society-wide movement, led by government, with no safe harbors from the Cause.  This is why Paine was one of the earliest advocates of a welfare state — funded by a massive inheritance tax — that would intervene to empower every individual. 
President Obama's second inaugural was a thoroughly Paineian document.  In his telling, America is made up of individuals and a government with nary anything in between.  And because "no single person" can do the things that need to be done, "we must do these things together, as one nation." 
The debate over homosexuality and gay marriage is part of a much larger debate that includes everything from Obamacare — particularly its hostility to religious exemptions — to school vouchers, federalism and the "wars" on women, Christmas, trans fats and inequality. 
The children of Burke form the philosophical core of what was called the "leave me alone coalition," a broad group of institutions and individuals who rightly, and occasionally wrongly, rejected a top-down effort to impose a one-size-fits-all vision of society.  The children of Paine, empowered by their sense of cosmic justice, want all of society's oars to pull as one.  And if you don't pull your oar to the beat of their drum, prepare for their wrath.

Tolerance and relativism

Three good posts, all Maggie's Farm links:

The coherency of E.J. Dionne's piece surprised me:
The answer lies in embracing a humility about how imperfectly human beings understand the divine, which is quite different from rejecting God or faith.  This humility defines the chasm between a living religious tradition and a dead traditionalism.  We need to admit how tempted we are to deify whatever commitments we have at a given moment.  And those of us who are Christian need to acknowledge that over the history of the faith, there have been occasions when “a supposedly changeless truth has changed,” as the great church historian and theologian Jaroslav Pelikan put it. 
What distinguishes this view from pure relativism is the insistence that truth itself exists.  The Christian’s obligation is to engage in an ongoing quest for a clearer understanding of what it is.  Robertson would disagree with me, but I’d say that we are going through precisely such an effort when it comes to how we think about homosexuality, much as Christians have done before on such matters as slavery, the role of women and the Earth’s place in the universe.
Matt Walsh is one of the many, many people who have run up against the central argument in C.S. Lewis's "Abolition of Man," which also happens to be a central influence in my views:
Believe it or not, even politically incorrect comments about homosexuality have to be excused if we are to believe that baby killing is a moral act. . . . 
I say all of this because my initial intention was to sit down and write about the couple in Washington who just won a 50 million dollar “wrongful birth” settlement.  Brock and Rhea Wuth sued a hospital because their son was born severely disabled. No, they were not alleging that the hospital caused the disability; they alleged that the hospital (and a lab testing facility) did not run the correct tests that would have detected the genetic defects while the child was still in the womb.  Had they been given the correct tests, they would have known that the baby was “defective,” and then killed it.  Tragically, they were robbed of the opportunity to abort their son, so the hospital must pay for the son’s care — for the rest of his life. 
Oh, but don’t judge them:  they still “love” their child.  They wish he was dead, they wish they had killed him, but they still “love” him.  Make no judgments.  Offer no stern words.  They sued a hospital for not giving them the chance to kill their child, but do not think yourself qualified to condemn such a thing.
And finally, Mark Steyn on making everything mandatory that is not prohibited:
Bob Hope, touring the world in the year or so after the passage of the 1975 Consenting Adult Sex Bill:
“I’ve just flown in from California, where they’ve made homosexuality legal. I thought I’d get out before they make it compulsory.” 
For Hope, this was an oddly profound gag, discerning even at the dawn of the Age of Tolerance that there was something inherently coercive about the enterprise.  Soon it would be insufficient merely to be “tolerant” — warily accepting, blithely indifferent, mildly amused, tepidly supportive, according to taste.  The forces of “tolerance” would become intolerant of anything less than full-blown celebratory approval.

Good advice

I could use all of these tips.

Happiness and Slavery

A Think Progress story on the Robertson drama says:
Conservatives have fervently been defending Robertson’s comments about homosexuality, though they have been noticeably silent about his comments on race and civil rights.
OK, I thought that was curious, so I looked up what he said. Here are those remarks.
“I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person," Robertson is quoted in GQ. "Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field.... They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!... Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”
The article goes on to describe the political subjugation of blacks in the American South at that period of time, which was certainly real. The clear suggestion is that his inability to imagine how unhappy they must have been is clear proof of racism, in spite of his sense of being "white trash" sharing a very similar experience at least on a class level. Indeed, you might even think his class sympathies exacerbate his racial insensitivity: how could he think his experience was in any way like theirs?

I gather from a quick skimming of left-leaning articles on the subject that this is the common opinion. However, I am moved to wonder if it is the right way to think about it. He talks about people being "godly," and it is true that religion and stable families -- both of which were more prevalent in the era -- are often found by studies to be linked with happiness. But that's not really what moves me to wonder. What moves me to wonder is a historical controversy over the slave narratives.

In the Great Depression, the WPA recorded thousands of interviews with then-older Americans who had themselves been slaves before the Civil War. The collection is rightly described as a "peerless" resource, but historians have expressed some suspicion of the views expressed by the slaves in the interviews. The only one that made it into the Wikipedia article is expressed as a concern that having "all white interviewers" may have slanted the depiction of plantation life, making it "too positive." And indeed it is often quite positive as a description of what life was like as a slave.

There are some other theories about why the former slaves had such positive things to say about their lives on the plantation. The one to which I am most inclined is that they were all much older when they gave the interviews, and spoke with the natural nostalgia of the old for the sunny days of youth. Memory paints the memories of those days, in nearly all of us, with rose colors.

But there are other possibilities too. For one thing, economic conditions in the South cratered after the war, so that life after the war was markedly harder for everyone -- especially, as is usual, those on the bottom. The traditional market for Southern cotton was lost, as the English mills had turned to India during the war's blockade. The South's mills were destroyed, so it was relegated to being a producer of raw materials for Northern mills at rates set by Northern banks. The economic system imposed by the North was a brutal colonial-style monoculture built around cotton production, and colonial monocultures are notoriously harsh places to live (here as in Latin America, India, and elsewhere). Until the boll weevil collapsed the cotton economy in the late 1920s, the South was ground down by the usual effects of such economies: the price of the monocultural good (cotton, here) dropped every year, because supply increased every year as those commanding the economy forced ever-greater production of the single cash crop. Under those circumstances, quality of life dropped, again especially for the poorest and those most dependent on agriculture. Naturally those who had been slaves who had only known how to work cotton farms, or who were directly descended of slaves who had, were very likely to be a part of the very lowest agricultural classes tied to the cotton monoculture. They would have endured the worst conditions imposed by the economic system.

So it is possible (indeed it doesn't seem unlikely) that happiness is greatly influenced by economic realities. When the interviews were conducted from 1936-8, the boll weevil had collapsed the cotton economy, and the Great Depression had followed on its heels. While the boll weevil eventually allowed the South to escape the monoculture economy, at first it meant a severe economic depression for the region, which was then followed on by a severe depression worldwide. The former slave speaking in 1937 would be looking back on a life that had, in economic terms, ground ever worse each year of his or her life, capped by ten years' complete economic failure. The pre-war plantations may really have seemed like a better place by comparison to that. They may really have been, if not a better place, a happier place.

I see that Robertson was born in 1946. That means he grew up during the great economic boom that followed the end of World War II. Conditions that had long been terrible would have been improving for as long as his generation could remember, so that they would have grown up among stories of how bad things had been and how much better they were now. Jim Crow, though evil, was at that time a constant: perhaps even lessened in force by the economic success, so that poor whites and poor blacks were not in such cutthroat competition for very limited economic opportunities.

So were people happy? I wasn't there; I don't know. I'm not prepared to say that they weren't, though, because the problem may be our assumption that they couldn't have been. It may be that the slave narratives are really biased by the effect of having white interviewers, in other words; it may be that a very similar effect was causing young Robertson not to see or notice the pain of his black compatriots. I don't dismiss the proposition; but I think we ought to consider carefully whether it isn't possible that economic effects may have been overwhelming for those so close to grinding poverty. It happens to explain both controversies in a way that is consistent with the statements in interviews of the historical figures who were actually there.

Blast Those Christian Radicals

They're clearly behind this atrocity.

MAD About Speech

Everyone understands that the First Amendment restrains only government actions, not social pressures being brought to bear. There is an allied question, however, about those social pressures. The First Amendment uses government itself to restrain government from interfering with free expression. The People, insofar as they are properly thought of as acting through the state, are therefore using an aspect of their common will to restrain itself.

Why shouldn't social pressures be brought to bear against social pressures in the same way? If a group attempts to use social pressure to get someone fired for saying things they find objectionable, shouldn't those people themselves be pursued (and their employers subject to demands that they be fired at once)?

That sounds like a pretty unpleasant place to live. Those calling for civility are doubtless thinking of that. I wonder if the proper analogy, though, isn't to nuclear war. Mutually-Assured Destruction proved an effective restraint, just because a post-war world would have been such an unpleasant place to live.

In the current moment we see not only organizations but ad-hoc movements engaged in a sort of blood-lust, in love with the unrestrained power to destroy. There is no legal recourse against them, because the government only properly restrains the government. It is society that must restrain society.

I yield to none in my respect for courtesy. Certainly I have no desire to live in the kind of world in which our every expression is carefully watched by our ideological enemies in the hope that some public expression of religion, some joke, some interview should produce an opportunity to destroy our lives.

There are only two roads to avoid that world, though, and the first road is to avoid all public expressions of religion, all jokes, or the giving of interviews. The other is to make clear that this is a two-way street, if they insist upon it. Hopefully the cataclysm can be avoided, but clearly it will not be avoided out of the plain goodness of peoples' hearts.

Doctor knows best

Something tells me we're going to be seeing more of this.

That time of year

Time for the "best of the year" lists.  Here are the 30 best quotations from 2013.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

The BBC piece is not always good history -- there are a few real howlers in the commentary -- but I suppose that's part of the charm of television.
Þis kyng lay at Camylot vpon Krystmasse
With mony luflych lorde, ledez of þe best,
Rekenly of þe Rounde Table alle þo rich breþer,
With rych reuel oryȝt and rechles merþes.
Þer tournayed tulkes by tymez ful mony,
Justed ful jolilé þise gentyle kniȝtes,
Syþen kayred to þe court caroles to make.
With Old and especially Middle English, you can often work out the meaning approximately by sounding out the word, remembering that "Þ" or "þ" is a "Th-" sound. The poem will sound archaic, but only a few words have passed completely out of the language. One of these is "tulkes," which is translated as "fighting man" or "soldier." Tolkien gives "tulkes" as "knights," but then translated "kniȝtes" as "lords," probably simply so as not to repeat himself. Tolkien appears to me to have adapted "tulkes" for the name of his Valar of might and prowess, Tulkas the Valiant, who laughed in war so that Melkor fled before him.

Read more about "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" as a Christmas poem, if you like.

Running Late

Last Sunday was Gaudete Sunday.  This is the last hour in which I can thus post this before it's overtaken by events. :)

Getting close now.


"Our bread it is white, and our ale it is brown."

On Cursing

A new book treats the question of obscene words, noting that just what qualifies as an obscenity has changed a lot over the years.  The Medievals weren't shocked by references to bodily functions, including sex, because of the relative lack of privacy at the time; they were shocked by blasphemy, which is why those who wanted to speak an obscenity made some reference to something holy.  The Victorians, who had privacy, made a big deal about words that related to sex or scatology.  

We're no different, she proves:
The real swear words of our time, she notes, are race- and gender-based epithets, which polite society has banned—words that, indeed, almost define polite society by their absence.‘Mother, Wilfred wrote a bad word!’‘MOTHER, WILFRED WROTE A BAD WORD!’
And sure enough, the reviewers (especially the British ones) have gleefully put into print all the once-prohibited words they know for fornication and excrement. Nouns, verbs, adjectives, gerunds, even adverbs—all-purpose bits of grammar that seem intended mostly to prove, among the writing classes, that their users want us to admire them for having broken free from the stultifying strictures of the linguistic past. Then, when they reach Mohr’s discussion of racial and sex-preference terms, they suddenly turn into prissy Victorian matrons, clicking their tongues in disapproval. A little euphemism, a lot of typographical gesturing, some elaborate circumlocution—it takes work to review a book about these modern unspeakables and not actually quote them. 

Mark Steyn:
 Here are two jokes one can no longer tell on American television. But you can still find them in the archives, out on the edge of town, in Sub-Basement Level 12 of the ever-expanding Smithsonian Mausoleum of the Unsayable. First, Bob Hope, touring the world in the year or so after the passage of the 1975 Consenting Adult Sex Bill: 
“I’ve just flown in from California, where they’ve made homosexuality legal. I thought I’d get out before they make it compulsory.”

Once Again, With Feeling

You are all (excepting one of you, our friend the orchestral musician) doubtless bored with my repeated commentary on the unity of beautiful music. I won't expound on it this time. I'll just give you a few videos to watch. You'll be glad you did.

Having Lots of Female Friends

Via this article on GWB, I learned that something called "Thought Cloud" exists.

Via Thought Cloud, I learned that it's problematic for a man to have too many female friends.

Is this right? When I was a boy, my elementary school did something that was at the time actually illegal: it took our standardized test scores on reading and used them to sort us into levels. We had an "advanced" class, a "medium" class, and a slow class (which wasn't given a name). Now girls mature faster than boys, especially in terms of academic work, so as a consequence I spent my formative years in a class with 26 girls and 4 boys, of whom I was one. Since we were sorted alphabetically, I was perforce surrounded by girls all the time except at recess.

From my perspective this has always meant that I learned early how to like and talk to girls, which has been a tremendous benefit. It turns out (boys, I am talking to you here) that girls are interesting, and have markedly different perspectives on life. If you're curious about big-T Truth, it's good to hear what other people with different perspectives have to say. If you're not interested in big-T Truth, you should rethink your life. As Aristotle rightly suggests, the contemplative life is one of the best ones available for our limited time here on Earth.

I think the author is worried about sexuality, which is a fair point. But learning to live with temptation is practicing the virtue of temperance, which is (as Aquinas will tell you) finally at the heart of every virtue. It's a matter of practice ("A virtue is a permanent habit," Aquinas says in his commentary on the Nicomachean Ethics; and habits are formed by practice).

So of course you should have friends who are girls (or, later, women), if you are a boy or a man; and vice-versa. It is wisdom to do so.


For this reason alone, it must be repealed.


OK, Now I've Heard Of Him

I remember Tex posted once about "Phil" Robertson, and without reading very closely I assumed she must be talking about "Pat" Robertson. It appears the two gentlemen share some views.

This is a very ordinary, traditional Christian view with pretty strong Biblical support. It's also a view that has a lot of philosophical support, and not just from Christian or religious philosophers: Kant takes exactly the same view in the Metaphysics of Morals, 6:277-8, all the way down to asserting that the issue is one of a violation of logic (or basic rationality).
Sexual union (commercium sexuale) is the reciprocal use that one human being makes of the sexual organs and capacities of another.... This is either a natural use (by which procreation of the same kind is possible) or an unnatural use, and unnatural use takes place with a person of the same sex or with an animal of a nonhuman species. Since such transgression of laws, called unnatural (crimina carnis contra naturam) or also unmentionable vices, do wrong to humanity in our own person, there are no limitations or exceptions whatsoever that can save them from being repudiated completely.
In the next paragraph, Kant goes on to define marriage as "the union of two persons of different sexes."

You're not obligated to be a Kantian, and I'm not one; you're not obligated to be a Christian either. But it's extraordinary to treat this as if it were a mere expression of hate. Kant, for example, has an argument for what it means to 'respect the humanity in one's own person' that applies here as elsewhere.

Kant is too important to the Left for him to be disappeared. I won't be surprised, though, if it becomes increasingly hard to find copies of his book that don't redact those paragraphs.


Resuming the War

Apparently Carlisle has succumbed to the general madness.
The U.S. Army War College, which molds future field generals, has begun discussing whether it should remove its portraits of Confederate generals — including those of Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson....

It is the kind of historical cleansing that could spark an Army-wide debate: Lee’s portrait adorns the walls of other military installations and government buildings. Two portraits of Lee are on display at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.: In the Cadet Mess Hall is a painting of Lee when he was superintendent as an Army captain. A portrait of Lee in full Confederate regalia hangs on the second floor of Jefferson Hall, the campus library.
There's a good reason you shouldn't, which the article happens upon by accident:
In 1975, Congress enacted a joint resolution reinstating Lee’s U.S. citizenship in what could be considered a final act to heal Civil War wounds. The resolution praised Lee’s character and his work to reunify the nation.
It's a bad idea to undo "last acts of healing." But you do what you want to do.

Singing of Hard Times

Johnny Cash sang this one to an international hit.

Henry Rollins wonders about doing the same thing now.

Yeah, OK. So what does it mean to ride against the order we know?

War, does it not?

Iowahawk on Propaganda

He is mocking the current propaganda, but his early example is striking.

This one is the one I always think of. It's weaker than his example, though: it stops at the horror, and misses the quality of the angelic that follows.

It's a silly place

Ace of Spades can't decide if the post he found about the tragedy of antifeminist computer coding is fake or not.  The obvious answer is that it's both fake and not-fake, and there's no necessary contradiction, unless you're stuck in an andronormative phallo-logical space.

Ace's commenters have fun with appropriate 404 error messages for feminist coding.

Seeing voices

Sign language fascinates me.  In my elementary school, we all learned to signed letters when we read about Helen Keller, and I can do it to this day.  It was with some dismay that I learned as an adult how much more complex true sign language is and how difficult its fluent and expressive practice.  Of course, it's easier just to fake it.  I know you've all seen the stories already about President Obama's fake interpreter at the Mandela funeral, but you may not have seen this video.

Mark Steyn reflects on the security implications:
[H]ow heartening, as one watches the viral video of Obama droning on while a mere foot and a half away Mr. Jantjie rubs his belly and tickles his ear, to think that the White House’s usual money-no-object security operation went to the trouble of flying in Air Force One, plus the “decoy” Air Force One, plus support aircraft, plus the 120-vehicle motorcade or whatever it’s up to by now, plus a bazillion Secret Service agents with reflector shades and telephone wire dangling from their ears, to shepherd POTUS into the secured venue and then stand him onstage next to an $85-a-day violent schizophrenic.  In the movie version—In the Sign of Fire—grizzled maverick Clint Eastwood will be the only guy to figure it out at the last minute and hurl himself at John Malkovich, as they roll into the orchestra pit with Malkovich furiously signing “Ow!” and “Eek!”  But in real life I expect they’ll just double the motorcade to 240 vehicles and order up even more expensive reflector shades.
No doubt Thamsanqa Jantjie was channeling Rowan Atkinson.  My favorite bit is the "$15 million" towards the middle.

Way harsh

A lot of the North Korean press release about the chief nutso's purged uncle didn't come through very well in translation, but this part is clear enough:
[D]espicable human scum Jang, who was worse than a dog, perpetrated thrice-cursed acts of treachery in betrayal of such profound trust and warmest paternal love shown by the party and the leader for him.
Few things fascinate me more than how one crazy guy can dominate a society:  the uneasy web of influence and privilege that keeps his henchmen in power over the populace, and the balancing act that keeps his henchmen from carving him up and serving him for dinner.  The old guard can't much enjoy seeing the kid start picking off members of their own ranks.  They probably have networks he can scarcely imagine, made up of people who must live in a perpetual state of crazed desperation.

Lessons from the food industry

I've never worked in a kitchen, but I've been a waitress in more than one establishment, so I can relate to some of this article about 23 important life lessons from the restaurant world. This one, about how to respond to a particular kind of ugliness, has a much broader application than the food industry: "You just have to get over it and remind yourself never to be like that in your own life." It's similar to advice I received many years ago about slander: "Live so that no one will believe it of you." There's also no disputing the high value of being close to a good chef who's always cooking new things he wants people to try out.


Georgia has now joined South Carolina's first steps toward state nullification of Obamacare.  The four-step process, developed by the Tenth Amendment Center, includes awarding citizens state tax credits to offset any federal penalties, and revoking the state licenses of insurers that participate.

South of the Border

Won't it be amazing if the U.S.-Mexico border stops demarcating a division between an northern economy that functions and a southern one that does not?
On Thursday, Mexico's Congress passed what could be the most transformative economic legislation there in a century.  The members had a few fist fights and some screamed "treason," but the lower House still voted to expose the state oil company, Petroleos Mexicanos, to the free market.  And at 354-134, the vote wasn't close.
It brings to mind the scene in that silly global-warming-causes-catastrophic-freeze movie in which millions of Americans try to pour over the border into Mexico.

A different death spiral

This Forbes article is a helpful explanation of the complicated choices facing insurance companies as their customers embark on a completely different scheme of self-selection from the one that has driven actuarial planning up to now.  It seems that the ACA tried to guard against some kinds of self-selection and their resulting death-spiral dangers by requiring insurance companies to create one risk pool for all of their customers, regardless of whether they purchased their insurance on or off the exchange.  The law's architects did not take fully into account, however, how many insurers might decide to boycott the exchange altogether.  Boycotting insurers are free to price their products on the basis of their own pools.  If I understand the author's argument, this is likely for several reasons to result in a divergence of the risk profiles that will favor the competitive position of the non-exchange insurers even on their ACA-compliant products.

Pricing is only one aspect that may vary sharply between exchange and non-exchange products:  there is already considerable pressure on exchange products to shrink their provider networks and covered drug lists.  I've become interested in Assurant Health, an insurer that decided to boycott the exchanges.  Its prices for a Bronze plan are slightly higher than those of Blue Cross, but its network is the old-fashioned universal sort.  The article cites to a detailed brief on risk pools, including this explanation of why network shrinkage may be a more powerful cost-control issue than I realized:
Prohibiting [denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions] leaves insurers vulnerable to attracting a disproportionate share of patients with poor health risks. This vulnerability might cause them to leave the market or encourage them to use more covert or indirect means of risk avoidance, such as selective marketing or structuring their provider networks to exclude the doctors or hospitals preferred by higher risk patients.
It's not just that excellent hospitals like the Mayo Clinic or cancer centers charge high rates.  It's that they attract exactly the sort of patient that an insurer needs to avoid if it can't tie its prices to the health status of brand-new customers.

"I can't believe they let you do that"

Bill Whittle is terrific.  I can't seem to link directly to this video, so here's a basic PJTV link that, for now at least, takes you directly to his piece describing the pleasures of visiting Texas for Thanksgiving.

How many uninsured Americans are there, really?

Megan McArdle tries to get a handle on just how many people really were uninsured.  Is it more or less than the number of people who were insured before the PPACA hit them like a truck?
A third possibility is that we don’t have the uninsured problem we thought we had.  Most of the estimates we have for the uninsured population are really pretty crude.  For one thing, we tend to treat the U.S.'s roughly 48 million uninsured as if they were part of a discrete group, like Mormons or people who know how to play the tuba.  But in fact, people change insurance status all the time.  If you look at data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, you’ll see that a lot of people are uninsured for at least a month, but if you look at who is uninsured for as long as two years, that number falls by two-thirds.  If you extend the reference period out to four years, just 7.6 percent of the population counts as “uninsured.”  That is not a negligible number, but it is less than half of the 48 million we think of as uninsured.  And it’s heavily skewed toward immigrants and the young. . . .

. . . and to all a good flight

Medieval Warfare, Lego-Style

No female Legos were harmed in the making of this documentary. At least, I assume not, since I didn't see any that were pink.

The one-way compromise ratchet

John Hinderaker at PowerLine wonders why budget "compromise" always results in higher spending.  The best conservatives ever seem to be able to get is decreases in the rate of increased spending.
A number of observers are praising today’s deal as a “compromise.”   Patty Murray set the tone: “‘Compromise has been a dirty word” in Washington, D.C., Murray complained in an evening news conference, but “we have broken through the partisanship and the gridlock.”  But wait! The 2011 Budget Control Act was itself a compromise.  The $967 billion discretionary spending limit was a compromise, just two years ago.  So why should a higher spending number now be lauded as a “compromise”?  How about if we reduce spending by another $50 billion, to $917 billion?  That would be a compromise too, wouldn’t it?  But somehow that isn’t the sort of compromise that is ever entertained in Washington.
Hinderaker also points out the soft underbelly of this and every other budget "deal"--the gambit Republicans fall for every single time:
Republicans did get something in exchange for increasing spending: notably, federal employees will have to increase their pension contributions.  But we can say goodbye to the $2.1 trillion in spending cuts that the GOP trumpeted following the 2011 Budget Control Act.  That is the real moral of the story–long-term budget agreements are meaningless.  Typically, minuscule spending cuts up front are augmented by major cuts in the out-years.  But the reality is that the out-years never come.  No Congress can bind a future Congress, and political will to reduce spending is always in short supply.  Consequently, any spending deal is meaningless, except insofar as it applies to the current year or next year’s spending.  Beyond that, all claims to have cut government spending are fatuous.
Wouldn't it be amazing to see a bipartisan compromise that imposed immediate spending cuts (not merely decelerations) in exchange for unspecified entitlement increases to be implemented in 2024?


Those of us who are well into our curmudgeon years probably have to stop and laugh now and then at our growing tendency to deplore the errors of this new crop of whippersnappers.  It is a pleasure, therefore, occasionally to find evidence that a characteristic error of the age is falling out of favor with the Young Turks:
More than 70 percent of [unionized] teachers on the job less than a decade are interested in changing the traditional salary scale, which rewards educators for longevity rather than performance.  Just 41 percent of more veteran teachers back such reforms, according to a national survey last year by the organization Teach Plus.  The poll documented similar gulfs in opinion about revamping teacher evaluations and pensions.
Unions are under intense pressure from falling membership, in the wake of movements to make their dues-paying membership voluntary.  They're finding that they have to consider what their members think.

My hometown

This five-minute clip from "Good Morning, America" is a brief introduction to the small town we live near.  The accents are interesting.  Several speakers are local, but the mayor obviously is a winter Texan who stayed on.  This time of year the parking lots are full of license plates from Wisconsin and Michigan.

An Outlaw Interlude

Some of you doubtless know the Dallas Moore Band, which has been billed as everything from an heir of Outlaw Country to the torch-bearer for Lynyrd Skynyrd-style Southern Rock.

Whether or not you know the band, though, here's an anthem that you may find useful at times in the next few years.

Steampunk insect act

I like these.

The Pig Bang

From Rocket Science, a report on a pig farm manure pit explosion that killed 1,500 pigs and seriously injured a human worker.  The unusual explosion may or may not have something to do with experimental pig feed or antibiotics.  Kind of makes you wonder what's going on in your gut.  Or maybe it just makes me wonder that, given my curious obsession with the topic.  I have to go give a short talk to some teenagers about organic gardening, so I'm focused more than usual on poop, the cycle of life, and the storage and release of chemical energy.

Most transparent presidential psyche ever

Ace has up a good essay about the press's Hitchcockian treatment of Barack Obama.  Hitchcock's thrillers employed a device he called the MacGuffin: "The thing that the hero has to get, but the audience doesn't care what it is."  He was a skilled enough storyteller not to waste any superfluous exposition on where the MacGuffin came from, how it worked, or what it might do it if got loose.  The audience just wanted to watch the hero be disappointed, hurt, and ultimately successful.  In Nick Lowe's formulation, the MacGuffin is one of the plot coupons the hero has to save up so he can send off to the Author for an ending.

The other day I was participating in an argument that went off in a familiar direction:  my interlocutor demanded to know with what I would offer to replace the splendor that is the PPACA if it were repealed.  My response, as usual, was that there are a number of practical proposals anyone can look up if (as seems unlikely) he's genuinely interested, such as high deductibles combined with HSA's and tax breaks or outright subsidies.  But the immediate point is that the law is proving so obviously and concretely harmful that simple repeal would constitute an improvement without any regard to a replacement.  His entire response was, "Oh, I see. So it's 'Screw you, Obama.'"  Yes, I don't care about health insurance.  I'm just the Villain who places obstacles between the Hero and his MacGuffin.

For too many of Obama's followers, the story is about him, not about his policy or his countrymen.  They think they're in a "Raiders of the Lost MacGuffin" caper, but it's really a science fiction disaster movie in the "You're Meddling with Forces You Don't Understand" line.

Ace carries his theme further with a report on the breathless interest in Obama's reading list and what it reveals about the state of his internal journey.

Tullamore Dew

There are many blessings that come with dismissing television from your life; there are few sorrows. But I expect all of you have seen this before me.

It's a fine piece, especially if you have wasted so much of your life in pubs that you can't help but join in the final verse.

Just-in-time insurance

I've been assuming for months now that the problem with waiting until you get sick to buy the new guaranteed-issue health insurance was that you can sign up only once a year, which leaves you exposed to up to a year's worth of medical expenses before your new coverage kicks in.

I'm hearing now that that's true only if you plan to go through the exchange to buy your coverage, which is necessary only if you want to try to qualify for a premium subsidy.  To my utter amazement, it appears that you really will be able to go to an insurance company at any time and buy coverage, regardless of pre-existing conditions.  The only counterargument I'm finding on any official websites is "We'd really rather you didn't do that."  There's the penalty, of course, but anyone should be able to avoid a penalty simply by not overpaying taxes and putting himself in the position of needing to apply for a tax refund.

Who wrote this thing?  Were they high?  I know it's possible to rack up a big ICU bill in a few weeks, but come on.  What's easier, saving up against that one-time danger, or paying $10K a year in premiums year in and year out?

This is like guaranteed-issue fire insurance you can buy after you dial 911 and while you're waiting for the fire trucks to arrive.  If this is right the law has got to collapse under its own weight.

Shards of Narsil

Bill Whittle is meditating on the Lord of the Rings.

On Vaccines

I assume that most of you are not both (a) of an age to have young children, and (b) struggling with whether or not to vaccinate them. For any of you who are, however, my cousin in medicine writes to recommend this article. She is a young mother herself.

How To Fit In As A Marine Infantrywoman

The satirical Duffleblog is in rare form today.
After finishing check-in late Friday to Alpha Co, 1st Battalion 6th Marines wearing her dress blue uniform, Private First Class Rhonda “Thunderbeast” Williams went down to Honest Pierre’s Used Car Emporium and bought a hot pink Ford Mustang at 46 percent interest....

The final acceptance by the company came on Saturday night, when the entire unit went out in town. After consuming several dozen alcoholic beverages and getting a tattoo of ‘Death Before Dishonor’ on her entire back, Williams led her platoon into the Pink Flamingo, a local gentlemen’s club near the base. At the end of the evening she was seen leaving with a male waiter who she had been loudly hitting on all night.

On Monday, Williams had informed her chain of command she was getting married.

The self-pay patient

This is an incredibly useful article about strategies for dealing with Obamacare without exposing your household to financial ruin.  I look forward to reading the guy's book when it comes out.  There is information about price transparency, cash discounts, exempt healthcare cost-sharing ministries (including for non-evangelicals), exceptions to tax penalties, affordable telemedicine for simple illnesses, and exempt short-term or limited-scope insurance policies.  This is exactly the sort of information I've been looking for from licensed health insurance brokers, two of whom have proved to know very little about the subject.

"Special Government Benefits"

Evil Hobby Lobby! Don't they realize how much they owe the government?
This corporation, which already takes advantage of special government benefits by incorporating as a private business in the first place (entitling Hobby Lobby to tax benefits and liability shelters to which individuals alone are not entitled), wants to use its government-created corporate status with the help of government-run courts not just to express its religion on a poster or what have you but to force its employees to comply with the supposed religion of the corporation’s founders. This is, plain and simple, a corporation trying to contort government to impose the religious views of some onto many. This is precisely what our nation was founded against.
I think the writer and I agree on the issue at stake, but disagree about the Constitutional principle entirely. The issue at stake is whether religious people can form corporations, or whether your ability to practice your religion must serve as a kind of severe economic penalty. If you can't form corporations to pursue economic activities, you are subject not to limited liability but to losing everything you own in the event that your business fails. What the author is calling "special government benefits" are, rather, an international feature of the corporate mode of organization that has made it so powerful in driving economic growth.

What the government wants to do here is to bar religious organizations from corporate status, so that religious people must either abandon their moral principles when they enter the market, or accept an uneven risk of personal financial destruction v. those without moral principles.

As for compelling employees to abide by its corporate religious principles, of course, Hobby Lobby makes no such claim. It doesn't claim any right, nor express any wish, to prevent employees from purchasing birth control. Its owners merely state that they are unwilling to buy and distribute birth control themselves, especially the kind that facilitates abortion.

Should they have to do so? Or exit the market? Or, at least, accept a disproportionate risk of personal financial destruction if they wish to run a business?

A Thoughtful Analysis of the Pope's Recent Writings

Via D29, "In the Spirit of John Chrysostom." The writer is a fan; but see what you think.

A different definition of success

Not so much the Amazon variety, but the sort we can expect for the government:
The administration has given up on success, as it might once have defined it. The object is no longer 7 million people signed up through the exchanges, with 2.7 million of them young and healthy, and the health-care cost curve bending back toward the earth.  It is to keep the program alive until 2015.  The administration's priorities are, first, to keep Democrats from undoing the individual mandate or otherwise crippling the law; second, to keep insurers from raising premiums or exiting the marketplace; third, to tamp down loose talk about the failures on the exchanges; and, only fourth, to get to the place where it used to think it would be this year, with lots of people signed up for affordable insurance.  It is now measuring the program’s success not by whether it meets its goals, but by whether it survives at all.  And all of its choices are oriented toward this new priority.

Isaac Newton and the apple

The apple didn't hit Newton on the head and inspire him with the sudden insight that there's such a thing as gravity.  People had been noodling over the obvious tendency of things to fall just about forever.  For a long time, their views on the subject took the form of theories about how objects might be animated, such as by an innate desire to be reunited with the Earth.  During the Enlightenment, as creatures now known as "scientists" began to emerge, the focus left the supposed interior experience of the objects and trained itself on finding universal, predictable patterns in the movement.

So what was really going through Newton's mind when the apple fell from the tree?  Before Newton was well launched on his extraordinary career, natural philosophers already had adopted the "inertia" model of movement; that is to say, objects tend to keep moving in a straight line unless slowed or diverted by an outside force.  But this was puzzling in view of the evident circular/elliptical movement of heavenly bodies.  There was a strong tendency to find circles "perfect" and "beautiful," resulting in a popular view that lowly straight-line movements characterized earthly bodies while heavenly bodies moved in stately and superior circles.  Were there separate laws of motion on Earth and in Heaven?

Newton's brilliance lay in a unifying theme that would explain why an apple appears to fall straight down while the Moon describes a circular orbit around the Earth.
We have now finally arrived at that idyllic summer afternoon in Grantham in 1666, as the young Isaac Newton, home from university to avoid the plague, whilst lying in his mother’s garden contemplating the universe, as one does, chanced to see an apple falling from a tree.  Newton didn’t ask why it fell, but set off on a much more interesting, complicated and fruitful line of speculation.  Newton’s line of thought went something like this.  If Descartes is right with his theory of inertia, . . . then there must be some force pulling the moon down towards the earth and preventing it shooting off in a straight line at a tangent to its orbit.  What if, he thought, the force that holds the moon in its orbit and the force that cause the apple to fall to the ground were one and the same?  This frighteningly simple thought is the germ out of which Newton’s theory of universal gravity and his masterpiece the Principia grew.
Newton guessed that, if the Moon were motionless, it would fall straight down to Earth the same as the apple.  But the Moon has a momentum that's at right angles to the gravity vector, which always points to the center of the Earth, meaning that the Moon's path is gradually changing in direction as the it "falls" sideways around the Earth.  The same gravitational force could account for the curved motion of the Moon and the straight motion of the apple.

The Principia was published in 1687, after Newton put considerable additional work into his first intuition about gravity, including the critical insight that elliptical planetary orbits result from a force pointing from each planet straight down into the Sun, which is inversely proportional to the square of the distance between the two.  Not that Newton dreamed up either the planets' elliptical orbits or the inverse-square law on his own.  Galileo had noticed in the late 16th and early 17th centuries that gravity acts as a constant acceleration on falling bodies, no matter what their weights. Kepler published his three laws of planetary motion in the first couple of decades of the 17th century, showing that planets move in ellipses of which the Sun is one focus. Between Newton's 1666 "apple moment" and the 1687 publication of the Principia, Hooke and others were inching their way toward the inverse-square law, first realizing that gravity always operated in one direction (earlier theories included the idea that gravity pushed at one point in the orbit and pulled at another), then establishing that its attractive power varied with distance, and finally nailing down the understanding that gravity alters with the square of the distance between the attractive bodies.  Newton's genius was to understand that the inverse-square law, plus the tendency of objects to move in a straight line unless acting on by a force, simultaneously explained the elliptical paths of planets in Heaven and the straight downward fall of an apple from a tree on Earth.

As Richard Feynman used to say, in the old world people believed that angels flew behind planets and pushed them in their circular paths.  Now, in the advanced modern world, we say that the angels are invisible and they push at right angles to what we thought back then.   We still have no idea what gravity is, but we're considerably more adept as describing what kinds of motions it produces, on Earth as it is in Heaven.

Eye contact

Making it personal is a good way to harness people's will to work.  With strangers, we trade.  With fellow human beings, we give.  A handful of Rice engineering students took on a freshman-year project to make a robotic arm for a wheelchair bound teenager with brittle-bone disease.  They found some of the engineering problems unexpectedly tough to crack:
And there was an even bigger problem.  The arm wasn't nearly finished, but the engineering course was ending.  But the team members say the idea of not finishing the project never entered their minds. 
"We had someone who came and sat down in front of us, and asked for our help," says Najoomi.
It took them till the end of their sophomore year, but they finally presented a working gadget to their client.

H/t:  for this and other posts to come this morning, "Not Exactly Rocket Science."

The real "Amazon experience"

I don't think the President and his henchmen really want the true Amazon experience as much as they think they do.
Mr. Stone describes a meeting during the 2000 holiday season when Mr. Bezos tested a claim by Bill Price, his vice president for customer services, who said hold times on Amazon's phone lines were less than a minute. 
"'Really?' Bezos said.  'Let's see.'  On the speakerphone in the middle of the conference table, he called Amazon's 800 number. . . .  Bezos took his watch off and made a deliberate show of tracking the time.  A brutal minute passed, then two. . . .  Around four and a half minutes passed, but according to multiple people at the meeting who related the story, the wait seemed interminable."  Less than a year later, Mr. Price was gone from Amazon.
 Whatever we may think about Amazon's goals, there's no denying that Bezos is fanatically devoted to testing the truth of claims about the progress toward those goals.  It's not an "Emperor's New Clothes" atmosphere over there.


Jeff Bezos is everything I love about modernism and free enterprise.  I don't think the delivery drones are going to make it out to my house in 30 minutes, though.  We can't even get pizza delivered here.

In honor of the brave new world we're going to pull down our house and construct this in its place:

"Based on my poor understanding of history, science, and ethics..."

My favorite part about this anti-politician petition on is that it is apparently being driven by the Left. I heard about it from one of my Left-leaning friends, and the support I can find for it is all built around left-leaning organizations. The by-name exemption of Ph.D.s is suspicious as well -- education is a beautiful thing, but a doctorate is not a substitute for understanding. Hopefully they go together, but manifestly not necessarily.

Good Answer

I don't understand a man who doesn't want a dog, but at least he's got a good comeback.

That's Certainly Been My Observation

Even as President Obama reluctantly granted Americans thrown off their health plans quasi-permission to possibly keep them, he called them "the folks who, over time, I think, are going to find that the marketplaces are better." He means the ObamaCare exchanges that are replacing the private insurance market, adding that "it's important that we don't pretend that somehow that's a place worth going back to."

Easy for him to say. The reason this furor will continue even if the website is fixed is that the public is learning that ObamaCare's insurance costs more in return for worse coverage.

Mr. Obama and his liberal allies call the old plans "substandard," but he doesn't mean from the perspective of the consumers who bought them. He means people were free to choose insurance that wasn't designed to serve his social equity and income redistribution goals.
Dealing with my wife's hospital bills lately, I've been struck by how lucky I am to be handling this under the grandfathered plan than under one of the proposed plans that are available from the exchanges (at least, in theory they are available: I haven't met anyone from Georgia who has mentioned successfully signing up for one). For one thing, the hospital we just happened to be nearest was in-network -- common for the old plan, which has the kind of broad networks Blue Cross normally features, but unlikely to prove true under the new plans. Since it was emergency care, that is a significant benefit.

Second, our deductible -- though I always considered it 'catastrophic' coverage -- is less than the $12,700 that I would have to come up with under the Obamacare plans. There's an individual out of pocket limit, too.

Third, the monthly premiums are about half what the cheapest plans on the exchange purport to cost.

So if I had a plan like his, I'd have had less money in the bank (because I'd have to cover higher monthly premiums), in order to pay for a higher total bill (because of a higher deductible). Plus, my wife might have had to have been carted by ambulance goodness-knows-where to find a hospital that would accept her.

No thanks, pal. Your plans for us are not only not better, they are not acceptable.

"Death in Battle," by C. S. Lewis

A poem, mentioned in passing here, Lewis wrote about his experiences in the first world war for an audience of veterans. This is what he said to them, knowing they might understand.

"Death in Battle"

Open the gates for me,
Open the gates of the peaceful castle, rosy in the West,
In the sweet dim Isle of Apples over the wide sea’s breast,

Open the gates for me!

Sorely pressed have I been
And driven and hurt beyond bearing this summer day,
But the heat and the pain together suddenly fall away,
All’s cool and green.

But a moment agone,
Among men cursing in fight and toiling, blinded I fought,
But the labour passed on a sudden even as a passing thought,

And now—alone!

Ah, to be ever alone,
In flowery valleys among the mountains and silent wastes untrod,
In the dewy upland places, in the garden of God,
This would atone!

I shall not see
The brutal, crowded faces around me, that in their toil have grown
Into the faces of devils—yea, even as my own—
When I find thee,

O Country of Dreams!
Beyond the tide of the ocean, hidden and sunk away,
Out of the sound of battles, near to the end of day,
Full of dim woods and streams.


More unintended consequences:  some bright soul at a hospital figured out it would save the hospital money to buy qualified ACA coverage for their patients and have the hospital pay the premiums itself. After all, these are very needy sick people, just the ones Obamacare is supposed to help.  And they're in dire straits and probably can't afford the premiums.  And it would be very wrong to deny coverage to these desperate patients merely because they're already sick, right?  Why shouldn't the hospital give them money to buy health insurance, if it's cheaper than eating the uncollectible bills?

The Obama administration and insurers are up in arms about the proposal, because it will upset the balance of the risk pools, dumping all those expensive sick people in.

A little burst of honesty

Here's something you don't see every day.  The National Park Service is embarrassed about having cited an OpEd instead of scientific evidence for its statement opposing fracking.  It has requested that its comments be removed from the record.  There isn't even any weasel-talk.

News you can use

How to talk to your progressive relatives at Thanksgiving dinner:  tell them regulators are going to take away their organic kale.

Coming Soon: Ragnarok

The JORVIK Viking Center is a serious operation, so when they put out a press release calling for the end of the world, it's worth taking note.

Fortunately, they are ready with good advice on how to prepare.
‘Following a study published in 2010 that bearded men are more trustworthy than those without, we’re also looking for fantastic displays of facial hair, so that we can identify those with the potential to take us into the brave new world that is foretold to follow Ragnarok,’ said Danielle Daglan director of the JORVIK Viking Festival.
Ladies and gentlemen of the Hall, you are in luck.

(Earlier version of this post accidentally deleted, clearly another sign of the end times.)

Coincidences in the News

The Supreme Court is to consider claims that the First Amendment can't require religiously-founded companies to violate religious principles. If the First is not applicable to corporations, then religiously-founded companies will be limited to single-proprietorships or partnerships: that is to say, they will be able to be conducted only when exposed to full personal liability for losses, which is a significant economic disability. Both in terms of obtaining investors and in terms of surviving or recovering from difficult economic cycles, the effect could easily be to destroy the ability of the religious to operate in the market at any significant level without agreeing to set aside their religious principles.

The Pope has come out with a significant work that refers to the effect of financial markets on politics as "a new tyranny." It doesn't read like he is thinking of Hobby Lobby, though his remarks are on point there as well.

The Obama Administration has decided to close the embassy at the Vatican. Allegedly this is a lesson learned from Benghazi. The similarities are blindingly obvious: they are, after all, operating in a religious environment chiefly protected by mercenaries and militias. If this is how the administration connects dots, Benghazi makes a whole lot more sense.

Medicaid in the spotlight

Stories are mounting about people who are unhappy to learn that they're required to buy expensive insurance that they may not be able to afford without subsidies, and that at a low enough income they can't even ask for subsidies:  they're relegated to Medicaid whether they like it or not.  It's an uncomfortable position for people who've never intended to take a government handout.  It's especially jarring for someone with considerable life savings who simply doesn't have a great deal of current income.  As best I can understand, the recent Medicaid expansion doesn't require the new recipients to spend down their savings before qualifying.

Most of us probably are unaware that there is a complicated system, varying from state to state, for recovering some of the expenses of the Medicaid program from the estate of someone who received benefits after the age of 55.  I suspect this program is going to get more attention now that millions of people with savings but low income may be more or less forced into Medicaid.

Forging an Axe

Smithing is one of those things I wish I had taken up when I was younger. There may someday yet be time, and money, for such things.

Shut up, you silencer

Desperation rules the debate over the health reform policy that will lower the oceans, or whatever it was supposed to do:
“Don’t deploy the very principles of white privilege to silence a black man on the panel because you don’t want to talk about race.  So be quiet,” the hustler screamed at Lewis.
An even more puzzling complaint: the observation that young, healthy people aren't flocking to the exchanges as hoped is "very gendered."   I was hoping for some explanation, but alas.

Part of this week's Friday news dump is the decision to delay the posting of price increases for 2015 policies from October 15 to November 15, 2014.  Nothing to do with the election, of course; there's just a reasonable desire to give insurance companies more time to complete their calculations.  Suspicions to the contrary are gendered.


Everyone probably has heard by now that C.S. Lewis died 50 years ago today. Here is Michael Gerson on C.S. Lewis and myth:
Having found truth in myths, Lewis decided to produce his own -- not as pleasing distractions but as reminders that we actually inhabit a world of fantastical, eternal creatures, with noble quests to perform and stories that do not end.  And when we discover our true citizenship, he says, it comes with a "happiness ... so great that it even weakens me like a wound."

Here's Something You Don't See Everyday

In fact, you've likely never seen or heard it before: an instrument designed by Leonardo Da Vinci, constructed and played for the first time. It somehow combines the effects of a piano and a cello.

Power To The... Central Government

A writer named Richard Kim explains that it would have all been much smoother if the Federal government were in a better position to force the states to heel at command.

That seems unlikely to me, for the reason Tex was citing Warren Buffett explaining not long ago -- which, as discussed in the comments, Schumpeter himself had laid out before. The problem has to do with organizations that rise to a certain level of complexity and scale. They really can't do any better than this. It's ossification: making them bigger and stronger just makes the failures worse and more destructive.

What's With The Scare Quotes?

National Journal deploys them in a strange way.
Obama didn't say that in July 2009—or any time while the program was being debated in Congress. He couldn't. He couldn't stand up before the American public and say that the only way to achieve the program's goals was to reallocate money within the health insurance market. That there would need to be a transfer of wealth—from the young to the old, from men to women, from the healthy to the sick. That to raise the floor, you had to lower the ceiling. To do so would have handed his enemies the kind of weaponry they craved, validation that Obama was indeed some sort of "socialist" who believed in "redistribution."
Fine, but isn't the point of the article that "redistribution" is exactly what the law does? Why are we wagging our fingers over a word agreed to be a completely accurate description?

Now That's Interesting...

Not news: Scientists discover a new genus of bacteria.

News: far found exclusively in NASA and European Space Agency clean-rooms thousands of miles apart.

A Temporary Victory

At least for a while, a Federal court has blocked the ACA from forcing Catholic groups to violate a basic tenet of their faith.

It's interesting that Cardinal Dolan testified, under oath and in public court, that the services in question are "evil." That's the position of the Church, to be sure, but how strange to see it said.

A Moment of Congratulations

I would like to call the attention of the Hall to four young women who have done something remarkable: they have succeeded in surviving the United States Marine Corps' enlisted School of Infantry.

We here have differing opinions about the wisdom of incorporating women into the combat arms, and certainly on another occasion we ought to talk about what the success of these four women -- part of a group of fifteen, the other eleven of whom did not make it -- might mean in the context of that debate. Not today, though.

Today, I just want to take a moment to celebrate the heart and self-discipline it took to volunteer and to succeed against such odds. Well done!

UPDATE: Apparently that number has been reduced to three, because of a leg injury sustained in the final stages of testing by one of the women. Reportedly the fourth will be allowed to graduate with a later company.

Cryptocurrency and rebellion

A old science fiction story posited a country in which the country's chief executive had a free hand in almost every way, with one curb:  three anonymous citizens controlled a radio link to a bomb in his head.  If they unanimously agreed he was screwing up:  a sudden, dramatic impeachment.  Now a self-described cryptoanarchist is setting up something similar with a crowd-sourced bitcoin-financed website that he calls the Kickstarter of political assassinations.

The long view

George W. Bush on Leno:
“You have to believe in what you’re doing, first and foremost,” Bush said. “I relied upon my faith, my family helped a lot, and I had a good team around me, and did the best I could do. I’m also very comfortable with the fact that it’s going to take a while for history to judge whether the decisions I made are consequential or not and therefore, I’m not too worried about it, which I read some biographies of Washington, my attitude is if they are still writing about biographies of the first guy, the 43rd guy doesn’t need to worry about it.”


“Systemic processes tend to reward people for making decisions that turn out to be right—creating great resentment among the anointed, who feel themselves entitled to rewards for being articulate, politically active, and morally fervent.”
Thomas Sowell, The Vision of the Anointed.

Logic in Another Language

This post is especially for Piercello, who is working on a project around human reason. It will also interested Cassidy, though, because it's a long-time subject of interest of hers.

A study of intelligence analysis suggests that we are more rational when evaluating things in our second language, not our native tongue.
The three groups of participants had English as a first language and Japanese as a second, Korean as a first language and English as a second or English as a first language and French as a second, indicating that this effect is replicable within and across language family boundaries.

So why, then, do we make more rational, less biased decisions in our second language than in our first? It largely has to do with the lack of “emotional resonance” that we derive from foreign language text. Literature on second language acquisition unanimously agrees that people perceive messages delivered in their second language as less emotional (and consequently less impactful) than messages delivered in their first language; this concept applies to everything from political opinion to curse words.
Emphasis added.

"Can I help you?"

Not the words this test pilot expected to hear.

Race in REH and Tolkien: A Brief Comparison

Lars Walker has a review of several works by Robert E. Howard related to his character Solomon Kane. It's a review generally pleased with the subject, but he offers a cautionary note about the handling of race:
Something should probably be said about Howard's handling of race. Solomon Kane is not hostile to the black people he encounters. In fact he often acts as their protector, flying into volcanic rage over injustices and violence visited upon them. But he is patronizing in the extreme. The author's view seems to be that Africans are a lower evolutionary form of human being, soon destined for extinction, and that it's the duty of superior whites to look after them.
It might be interesting to compare his handling of the race issue here with the way it is handled in his Conan books, and to contrast how it is handled in Tolkien. Clearly REH was excited by the idea of race as an explanation for cultural differences -- so, it should be said, was almost everyone of a scientific mindset in the early 20th century. The world of Conan reads almost like an attempt to catalog the legitimate races in REH's opinion, and show how their racial characteristics persist over tens of thousands of years.

And so you get (as you do in Tolkien, for reasons he manages to slide out of a race-based concept) a notion of High Men, Middle Men, and Low Men. But whereas Tolkien assumes a kind of basic human nature to which the High Men are always falling, but to which the Low Men might aspire, REH thinks the categories are permanent. Conan is a barbarian but a High Man because his blood is of ancient Atlantis. Tolkien's High Men (also of an island kingdom, Numenor) are High because of their friendship with the elves: only a very few of them have any admixture of actual elvish blood. Their fall -- expressed in terms of a loss of physical height, and length of years, but also in terms of a collapse of knowledge -- is cultural, resulting from a turning away from the elves (who, in turn, are High or Low depending on their friendship with the next highest rank in the Chain of Being, the Ainur, better known as Maiar or, in the case of the higher ones, Valar).

Another way of expressing this would be to say that, in Tolkien, you can rise or fall through friendship: and not just any friendship, but a kind of hierarchical friendship with those who stand in a closer relationship to the divine. When that friendship fails -- and it is friendship, a kind of love, even though one side is meant to guide and the other to be guided in how to actualize the divine order -- the fall occurs. And they have fallen farthest who have fallen under the dominion of Melkor, or later Sauron, powers that utterly reject and defy the divine order. These are sometimes (but far from always, and in fact not usually) black men "from Far Harad." There aren't any counterexamples of "good" black men in Tolkien, but one suspects there might have been: his literary structure is such that they should have improved or fallen on the same terms as others.

That contrasts sharply with REH's vision, but it is worth noticing that REH's vision isn't "evolution," either. There isn't any substantial evolution going on in the races he envisions. The ones that Conan encounters in his analog to sub-Saharan Africa are exactly the same as REH's worst ideas about the blacks down the road in his modern South (who appear in a collection of American stories, in which they are similarly more bestial, and more easily swayed by the darker powers and aspects of human nature than those descended from what REH calls, in his poem about King Kull, "high Atlantis").

Yet friendship is possible, though it brings no benefits to either party. Conan is a great friend to one of the black kings, so much so that they rule for a while together as brother kings of a tribe. In the end, though, the pull of the darker powers of the universe sways the people out from under both of them, so that his brother-king is murdered by his own people and Conan nearly so.

So I don't take REH's view to be that blacks are "a lower evolutionary form of human being," but rather a lower form per se. He believes that race is real, and as immutable by evolution as by any other process.

He still believes that it is possible to be unjust to them, or to befriend them (though it remains perilous to be close to them). It's a permanent condition, a feature of the world that a million years will never change. That's a pessimistic view, neither scientific nor religious, but one he levered for its literary force.

"This Is Aspirational."

Once upon a time, the Atlanta Police Department explained that their motto "Answer the Call!" didn't actually mean that they intended to answer your calls.
[Director Kelly of the APD's foundation] said it didn't help matters when a person was told by a 911 operator to quit calling to report shooting because the caller rang in too much.

"This is aspirational," Kelly said. "The Police Department doesn't want this problem to be there forever. They want to solve that problem."
So when we said 'this is going to be just like Amazon or Travelocity,' well... this is aspirational, don't you see?

Of course, aspirational usually means 'having to do with audible breath that accompanies or comprises a speech sound.'

Who could have foreseen it?

Imagine for a moment we had a press that was reporting on controversial issues. Here's an exchange in 2009 between an Obamacare shill and a skeptical member of Congress:
REP. PRICE: You also mentioned, as other folks have, that the president's goal -- and it's reiterated over and over and over -- that if you like your current plan or if you like your current doctor, you can keep them. Do you know where that is in the bill? 
MS. ROMER: Absolutely. And things like the employer mandate is part of making sure that large employers that today -- the vast majority of them do provide health insurance. One of the things that's -- 
REP. PRICE: I'm asking about if an individual likes their current plan and maybe they don't get it through their employer and maybe in fact their plan doesn't comply with every parameter of the current draft bill, how are they going to be able to keep that? 
MS. ROMER: So the president is fundamentally talking about maintaining what's good about the system that we have. And -- 
REP. PRICE: That's not my question. 
MS. ROMER: One of the things that he has been saying is, for example, you may like your plan and one of the things we may do is slow the growth rate of the cost of your plan, right? So that's something that is not only -- 
REP. PRICE: The question is whether or not patients are going to be able to keep their plan if they like it. What if, for example, there's an employer out there -- and you've said that if the employers that already provide health insurance, health coverage for their employees, that they'll be just fine, right? What if the policy that those employees and that employer like and provide for their employees doesn't comply with the specifics of the bill? Will they be able to keep that one? 
MS. ROMER: So certainly my understanding -- and I won't pretend to be an expert in the bill -- but certainly I think what's being planned is, for example, for plans in the exchange to have a minimum level of benefits. 
REP. PRICE: So if I were to tell you that in the bill it says that if a plan doesn't comply with the specifics that are outlined in the bill that that employer's going to have to move to the -- to a different plan within five years -- would you -- would that be unusual, or would that seem outrageous to you? 
MS. ROMER: I think the crucial thing is, what kind of changes are we talking about? The president was saying he wanted the American people to know that fundamentally if you like what you have it will still be there. 
REP. PRICE: What if you like what you have, Dr. Romer, though, and it doesn't fit with the definition in the bill? My reading of the bill is that you can't keep that. 
MS. ROMER: I think the crucial thing -- the bill is talking about setting a minimum standard of what can count -- 
REP. PRICE: So it's possible that you may like what you have, but you may not be able to keep it? Right? 
MS. ROMER: We'd have -- I'd have to look at the specifics.