Long 'Ere We Came to the Streets of Aberdeen

In the comments to one of Tex's posts, I mentioned having dinner last night with an older gentleman who had been in Iraq as a British soldier just about fifty years before I was there. He is of English origin, but at one point he had spent significant time teaching in Aberdeen. The Scots of Aberdeen, he said, feel about the same way about their English visitors as Southerners do about Yankees.

He told a story to illustrate the point. An Englishman is driving north from Edinburgh toward Aberdeen, when he comes to a fork in the road. The signpost pointing to the left fork reads "Aberdeen, 30 miles," and the sign on the right fork reads the same thing. Puzzled, he pulls off to ponder the situation until he sees an old Scot working his field.

Grim faces a similar dilemma.

The Englishman gets out of the car and steps over to where the Scot is laboring, and calls down to him from the road. "Excuse me, good man," he says, "but does it make any difference which road I take to Aberdeen?"

The Scot ponders the question in a dark silence for a moment. Then he replies, "Nae ta me!"

Kicking the anthill

Minor excitement in my neighborhood this morning as a fellow who was either off the right meds or on the wrong ones gave several people the alarmed creeps over the course of the morning.  He ultimately followed my next-door neighbor right up to her house, making inappropriate conversation, and increasing the "eww" factor by choosing to take off his shirt as they approached the door.  She went inside, locked the door, armed herself, and called for help.  Presently her husband and his co-worker arrived (armed) to block off our "loop" on both ends, while various other neighbors ventured out (armed) to see what was up, the phone tree having reached most nearby households by that time.  Two sheriff's deputies arrived to take him into custody at about the time more distant neighbors started driving up (armed) to look into something they'd heard on the scanner.

Once he'd been hauled off, my neighbor's husband came home to hear the details from her.  When she got to the part about the guy taking off his shirt, her husband's face assumed a dead-eyed expression I'd never seen on it before.  He's normally the most amiable of fellows.  His face made me want to back up a step.

We get the occasional passers-through who irritate us mildly by loitering on our loop for the apparent purpose of drinking a six-pack and dumping the cans before driving home, or perhaps waiting for a chance to ditch an old appliance rather than spend the time or money necessary to leave it at the dump.  We invite them to clear out, but we don't go ape.  This guy didn't do or say anything overtly threatening.  Nevertheless, he punched every button we own, inducing that atavistic reaction of "snake.  Kill it."  The sheriff's deputies were giving his truck and his person a thorough searching the last I saw.  If he was carrying, he picked the wrong way to call attention to himself.

More rituals that bind

A friend's father died a few days ago.  It was not a tragic death; he was very old, had been miserably ill for years, and badly missed his wife of 57 years, who died a couple of years back.  He got a proper send-off yesterday.  A preacher spoke briefly and to the point.  We sang hymns.  The Masons conducted their elaborate, touching ceremony, then an honor guard of Marines from Corpus Christi delivered a 21-gun salute, folded the flag properly for delivery to our friend, and finished up with a very fine "Taps."  The Masons put on a lunch for the visiting family.

Ray Brashears joined the Navy in 1944, then again in 1945, having been ousted the first time when they discovered he was only 17 years old.  He served in the Bikini Islands during the atomic testing there and was one of the few surviving members of that cohort.  He settled in our neighborhood in 1974, which by local standards made him quite the old timer.  He left nine great-grandchildren.

Television News

As most of you know, Grim's Hall has been without television since 2006 -- originally as a cost-saving measure, and later because we found we didn't miss it. I didn't have a lot of time for television before that, and one reason it made so little impact on us was that we were always too busy to watch it anyway. I mostly used it to watch old movies that happened to be on late in the evening as I was winding down for bed, but that can be done more cheaply in many ways. In addition I've often been out of the country, in places where television wasn't necessarily available or in English.

For these reasons I've been largely immune to many of the worst trends afflicting society these last twenty years: reality television, the general decline of standards of obscenity, the general rise of libertine standards on displays of sexuality. But I had thought I was more or less engaged with the news, because I keep up with the news carefully as a citizen ought to do.

These last few days have disabused me of that notion. Visiting a relative in the hospital, I've been exposed to television news as it is now done on both local and cable networks. I am appalled.

We used to watch the news at home when I was a boy, and I remember that it was nearly always bad. But I don't remember the obsessive focus on getting and displaying footage of those whom the overwhelming force of tragedy has momentarily turned to screaming, crying, emotional wrecks. At some point the news has become genuinely wicked, preying on disaster for the pure voyeuristic pleasure of seeing a human being reduced to an animal.

This is horrifying and shameful. I dread to consider what it says about our culture.

All's not lost in the world of architecture

A collection of weird architecture.  Most of these are great. Not crazy about the hotel in Dubai. Two are by Gaudi, just about my favorite architect.



If you've ever raised chickens, you know how long the eggs stay fresh in their shells even without refrigeration.  Some clever people are working on a genetic trick to get vaccines to form their own calcium shells so they can more easily reach remote populations lacking refrigeration.

H/t Rocket Science.

My kind of bishop

I'm amazed Grim hasn't posted about this yet.

Update: Hey, c'mon! No one likes this story? It's got it all: damsel in distress, neighborhood comes together instead of going all Kitty Genovese, and a Mormon bishop is a full-on Ninja hero with a sword. Definitely not what the bad guy expected.

Eric Blair's Problem on Display

A few places, really.


In his ongoing quest to give migraines to Cassandra, James Taranto has written again about women and the workplace. His argument isn't the one that interests me, though, but the one to which he is responding.
The headline is a grabber: "Female Ivy League Graduates Have a Duty to Stay in the Workforce." In the piece itself, Goff actually stops well short of endorsing that position wholeheartedly. She acknowledges that "most sane and fair people can agree that any woman has the right to make whatever choice she believes is best for her family--whether that is choosing to stay home full-time or work outside of the home," but in the same sentence she suggests that "women have a definite responsibility to make choices for the good of all women, such as putting an elite degree to use outside of the home."

Similarly, Goff disavows the belief "that every woman should be made to feel as though [she] must choose between being committed to [her] children or committed to the sisterhood of women's advancement," then in the next sentence affirms that a woman with a Harvard Law School degree who forgoes a lengthy professional career has "wasted" an "opportunity."
What I'm curious about is this assumption by Goff that women in the workplace can be assumed to be, even in part, doing something that advances "the good of all women." That could be true, but why ought it to be assumed?

There are lots of men who get degrees from Ivy League schools, but it has never occurred to me to think that their degrees do me (or men generally) any good. In fact, the opposite is true: men ordinarily think of other men as competition, and so a man obtaining an advanced degree from a school with a high reputation means that my opportunities are in a certan sense going to decrease, not increase. This is because any job that we might compete for he is more likely to obtain, given the respect his credentials will enjoy.

That is not necessarily true, of course: he could use the knowledge gained while seeking his degree to start a business that could employ me, and that would increase my opportunities. But entrepreneurs don't usually require advanced degrees, let alone from famous schools: given the expense of obtaining such a credential, most seekers understandably put it to use in competition for positions in government, finance, or in universities. That's where the big advantages of high starting pay favor them most. So normally, then, a man (or a woman) who gets an Ivy League degree is occupying a space that is then not available for others to occupy.

Of course, there's a sense in which whatever they do (apart from government), they're contributing to an economy whose expansion increases opportunities for everyone. But if you're a man (or woman) who wants a job, the less competition the better -- and the fewer people with Ivy League degrees seeking the job you want, the more likely you will get it.

Now, Goff might be arguing that women have a duty to get into positions to hire and promote women; but of course discriminating in favor of women is illegal, so surely she doesn't mean to advocate for that. After all, a business who made it a policy to hire and promote only or especially men would be in danger of large lawsuits. Certainly she can't be advocating for women who obtain such positions to put their company at risk. That would be a violation of their duty to their employers.

It used to be said that women being present at all in a job opened opportunities for women, simply because getting their first made the point that women could do it. Surely, though, that is at least a generation past: there aren't any jobs left in the economy that women don't do, except the ones they don't choose to do. We haven't had a female President, but not because anyone thinks we couldn't possibly have one: rather, it is only because Democrats in 2004 preferred then-Senator Obama to then-Senator Clinton. If she had won the Democratic primary that year, it is all but certain she would have been elected to the Presidency.

So maybe Goff's assumption is outdated. It could be the mark of a true equality if women began to regard other women with advanced degrees the same way they think of the men who compete with them: as competitors out for their own good, and if hired, the good of their employer. Expecting them to help you is an expectation misplaced. Not only will they probably not, they probably ought not. Their duties in the market lie elsewhere.

Lars Walker's Problem On Display

The very issue that I had wanted to discuss, in Lars Walker's Hailstone Mountain, is on display today in TIME Magazine.

It's an attractive view. An educated and thoughtful man wrote it.
The little girl smiled. "Nobody hurts anybody anymore."

There are worse things than this in the world, I thought.
There are, aren't there?
From Jim Geraghty:

From the Daily Caller: The bill Rubio has been pushing isn't as bad as you might have expected. For one thing:
Congressional Democrats wanted Obamacare exchanges to cover all immigrants.  However, in addition to putting all illegal immigrants who legalize under the same constraints as legal immigrants with regard to benefit-seeking (i.e., they are legally barred from seeking or receiving welfare), the immigration bill also prevents access to Obamacare.  As Sen. Marco Rubio said on Fox News Sunday, “[T]hey don’t qualify for any federal benefits….  This is an important point.  No federal benefits, no food stamps, no welfare, no Obamacare.  They have to prove they’re gainfully employed.  They have to be able to support themselves, so they’ll never become a public charge.”  This is a point on which President Obama was forced to concede, and a make-or-break point from conservatives’ standpoint.

That's what I call visiting the sick

Maybe the greatest morale boost these two ever got.

Update: I forgot to credit Bookworm Room.

Scotty pinwheel

Hailstone Mountain: A Review & Invitation for Discussion

Like several of you, I have purchased Lars Walker's newest work, Hailstone Mountain. I finally had time to finish reading it last night, and after reflection I wanted to offer a review. Since I know that I am not the only one among us to have read it, it's also a good opportunity for us to discuss it in the comments below.

Two things I thought the book did exceptionally well. The first is in the early chapters, when Erling is cursed and must show his heroic nature in a very different way: by struggling to eat though it is painful, and by accepting the shaving of his head. This is done so that he can look like a slave, but with all the connotations of loss of hair -- loss of beauty, loss of identity, and with a nod toward Samson, a recognition of his loss of that physical strength that is characteristic of the hero. These are clear analogues for the kind of courage that is required of those who fall victim to cancer, and other severe illnesses of the body. So much is lost, and so much must be borne. Those who manage to come through this without surrendering their dignity of soul are indeed demonstrating a kind of high heroism, though it is one difficult to portray in a novel of the sort that people find pleasant to read. I thought that was well done.

Even more than that, I liked the way in which Father Ailill struggles with the violence of creation. There's a comforting answer given toward the end, but for the most part the book looks in the face the strength that death has been given in the world. It is a difficult theological problem, and it is good to see a religious figure represented as treating it with the severity of mind that it deserves.

One thing that I wish to raise -- not as a criticism, but as a point of theological discussion, because I think I can see two viable arguments here -- is a point Mr. Walker also raises in Troll Valley. As you remember, toward the end of that book a mysterious figure in town comes to speak before the local Lutheran church, and he speaks on the Pharisees.

"We get a bad picture of the Pharisees from the gospels, but I think we miss the point.... The Pharisees were the best and wisest of Israel. I do not say that in irony.... I do not say Jesus was a Pharisee. But it is a fact that he agreed with them in many things. As to why He condemned them, the answer to that is a hard one. It is found in Hebrews 12:6 -- 'For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth.' Christ wasted little time on the Sadducees. Their souls had long since been sold. But for the Pharisees He had hopes, I think, and so He argued with them, hammer and tongs, for three years. The Pharisees were lovers of the Law.... and like many kinds of lovers, certain kinds of parents... they way they chose to love only smothered the Object of their love." (There aren't page numbers in the Kindle book, but this is 92% through the work.)

So in Troll Valley, Christ argues with those whom he loves best -- even the ones who do not lay down the Law and follow him as disciples. They are wrong, but they are almost right -- they are trying to be right -- and yet that means they are still completely wrong.

In Hailstone Mountain, we have an interesting variation on the same problem. Now the speaker is Christ himself, coming to Father Ailill in a vision:

"Do you know what the greatest enemy of the good is?... [T]he greatest enemy of the good is the almost-good. The thing that is nearly true but not quite. The almost-good brings men to damnation at the least cost."

This is wrapped up with the meditation on how Jesus came to send not peace but a sword, and it is nicely done. The almost-good has managed to bring actual peace and safety to a community. People have laid down their weapons, and children can travel freely and in safety even across the river to hear the popular public sermons. The people don't hurt each other any more. There is real peace.

What Christ wants Ailill to do is to destroy that peace, because it is based upon lies and an unjust bargain. He wants Ailill to restore -- indeed, to very much heighten -- the violence and destruction, so that most of these people living in peace will be killed at war. That is the narrow road.

This is a hard problem, and it is a good problem. Good problems are very good things to have. You can burnish your mind and your soul by rubbing against them.

So rather than taking the problem away from you, I'll ask you to tell me what you think about it. Let's share the problem together.

On Marriage

A commentary on the recent funeral of Baroness Thatcher mentioned that the presiding priest had given an excellent address at the royal wedding. It's about seven minutes long, but it's one of the most insightful brief speeches on the subject I can recall having heard. I trust the young couple was -- as I was on my own wedding day -- far too excited to understand or remember any of the sermon. It was for them in a way, but perhaps it was more for us.

Treasure boxes

From the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica I'm working on now at Project Gutenberg (we're up to the S's!):
SAFES, STRONG-ROOMS AND VAULTS. . . . Although it is practically certain that boxes provided with locks or coffers must have followed closely on the development of locks (q.v.) and been in use in ancient Egypt, yet no examples remain to us of earlier date than the middle ages.  The earliest examples extant were constructed of hard wood banded with hammered iron, and subsequent development took place rather on artistic than on practical lines up to the time of the introduction of boxes entirely of iron.  On the continent of Europe the iron box was developed to a very high standard of artistic beauty and craftsmanship, but with no real increase of security.  Several specimens of these coffers supposed to be of 17th-century workmanship are preserved in the museum at Marlborough House.  Cast-iron chests seem to have been made in various parts of Great Britain in the early part of the 19th century, but the use of wrought iron was probably confined to London until 1820, or thereabouts, when the trade spread to Wolverhampton.
Attention then shifted to making them fireproof, and later to making them more burgle-proof. There were great improvements in both areas, but they were never as beautiful again.