Old-fashioned clean

Remember when your laundry and dishwasher detergents actually worked?  Phosphates weren't doing good things for the rivers and bays that our wastewater gets dumped into, because algae blooms like nothing better than a nice shot of fertilizer.  Municipal systems concentrate on removing pathogens like e. coli and largely ignore nitrates and phosphates.  If you're like me, though, and send your wastewater to a septic tank, all phosphates do is make the grass happier in the south meadow.  So I'm free to add tri-sodium phosphate back into my detergents.  Like magic, the stains are coming out of my cotton t-shirts and my dishes--even that pesky tupperware--come clean without any oily film.  Hardware stores carry TSP, or you can easily buy it online and have it shipped.

Now if only my toilets would flush the way they used to.  Well, it's my own fault for not installing composting toilets when we built here.

New member of the household

My homeless guy gave up and hopped a bus back to San Antonio, but not before leaving his little dog at the shelter.  It's a no-kill shelter, and he thought he was doing right by her rather than making her walk everywhere in the heat, but she's 11 years old, and I didn't feel good about her chances of adoption.  After a sleepless night and fruitless attempts to feel better about her by handing money to the homeless guy and the shelter, I got permission from my peerless husband, the best husband ever, to bring her home.  She's the first little dog I've had, about 18 lbs.  She seems cool with the big dogs.

My young traveller left the phone number of his ex-inlaws with the shelter, so I hope I've succeeded in getting a message to him that she's found a home.  He was pretty broken up about having to leave her.  No more life on the road for you, sweetheart.

You can see why I had to bring her and her human in out of the rain.

On Vegetarianism

Actually, I can think of several reasons why plants might be opposed to vegetarianism.

Muhammad and the Mangonel

It turns out that Islamic Law jurisprudence on the use of human shields begins with an extremely specific example. Once upon a time, Muhammad brought this mangonel into use against a city that had Muslim inhabitants...

Someone tell the Donovan.


Martin Bashir is upset about the recent bloom in anti-IRS sentiment.  He thinks "IRS" is the new euphemism for the n-word (whacka whacka), but anti-revenooer sentiment is nothing new.

Now the revenue man wanted grandaddy bad
He headed up the holler with everything he had
It's before my time but I've been told
He never came back from Copperhead Road

It's a lot older than Steve Earle, too:


Wake up, wake up, Darlin' Corey
What makes you sleep so sound
The revenue officers are comin'
Gonna tear your stillhouse down.

For that matter, tax collectors weren't popular in the Bible.  That seems to have been a function not so much of an unwillingness to pay one's fair share of public expenses as of their unpleasant habit of overcharging for personal gain, but there you are.

I notice that a YouTube search for either "Copperhead Road" or "Darlin' Corey" yields a fair sprinkling of videos touching on the current IRS scandals.  I'd be careful about with whom I tried to associate the IRS in the public mind.

What's an Education For?

On his retirement, Donald Kagan explains the purpose of education as several generations of our ancestors have taken it. It turns out there are some commonalities that regularly recur.
[For the ancients] free men must know something of everything and understand general principles without yielding to the narrowness of expertise. The Romans’ recommended course of study was literature, history, philosophy, and rhetoric....

The seven liberal arts of the Middle Ages consisted of the trivium (grammar, rhetoric, and logic) and the quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music). The discovery and absorption of Aristotle’s works in the twelfth century quickly led to the triumph of logic and dialectic over the other arts.... [For the Medievals] An ambitious scholar could hope to achieve some semblance of universal knowledge. This was good in itself, for to the medieval men God was the source of all truth and to comprehend it was to come closer to divinity. They also placed great value on the practical rewards of their liberal education....

[Renaissance students] thought these studies delightful in themselves but also essential for achieving the goals of a liberal education: to become wise and to speak eloquently....

No more than the ancients did the Humanists think that liberal education should be remote from the responsibilities and rewards of the secular life of mankind. Their study should lead to a knowledge of virtue, but that knowledge should also lead to virtuous action in the public interest, and such action should bring fame as its reward....
That is a surprising degree of agreement! However, with the coming of the modern age, the trouble started.

You can read the rest and think it over, but I suggest you appreciate the strength of the frame Dr. Kagan has built. If you were to ask me what you ought to study, given the costs of education and the need to focus on a particular areas, I would say that some people who are especially good at it ought to study particular sciences where they find they have a great talent; but that most people, and especially those who intend to be men of the world and to act rather than think and experiment, could do little better than to study the Romans' recommended course, plus the most of the Medievals' annotations: "literature, history, philosophy... grammar, rhetoric, logic... arithmetic, geometry, astronomy [one might say instead the sort of physics necessary to understand astronomy], and music."

This provides you with the best rooting in Truth as we have known it [in history, philosophy, logic, arithmetic, geometry and physics], and with the best we have thought about Beauty [in literature and grammar, rhetoric and music, but also in history and philosophy].

At the union of Truth and Beauty is, I think, what Plato called The Form of the Good, or goodness itself; it is where the Medievals thought they would find the divine. You will get all you need to know about men, and -- as Maimonides said of such a course of study -- a chance at a vision of God.

We're all redistributionists

That's according to Matthew Ygglesias, anyway.  Of course, to get there, you have to redefine "redistribution" to mean "any social mechanism by which individuals don't end their lives with exactly the zero material resources they were born with."  Iglesias doesn't see an important distinction between redistribution by a government that takes money by force and parcels it out to favored groups, and redistribution that occurs as a side product of people's decisions to form generous family groups with intimates, or to trade freely with their more distant acquaintances.  In both cases, money starts out in one spot and ends up in another, right?  So why should we care whether the movement is controlled by a central government or by the choices of all the citizens acting freely via non-government institutions and cultural habits?

Ygglesias's conflation of these two ideas leads him to this aphorism:
Patriarchal family structures make it possible to get by without a generous welfare state, and an expansive welfare state tends to undermine women's dependence on men.
I guess that's true, too, if you think the only alternative to a welfare state is a patriarchal family.  But don't we have the option to structure families differently, if we choose?  My family is an excellent alternative to a welfare state, but it's hardly patriarchal.  And does an expansive welfare state really undermine women's dependence on men?  I'd say it just tends to make women dependent on more distant and uninvolved men.  Or does Ygglesias think that people who depend on a welfare state aren't really dependent?

It's hard to understand why so many people believe that the only realistic alternative to a welfare state is a lot of naked savages living alone in forests eating grubs.

None of this is the ostensible subject of his article, by the way.  He's actually trying to argue that Obamacare properly redistributes wealth from rich to poor and from men to women--so anyone who objects to Obamacare loves the 1% or hates women.

The "R" word

When is limiting the amount of purchases of food and other staples in order to stop contraband trading different in some way from rationing?


I know something they could try, though.  The state could assume ownership of the production of food and other staples, and distribute them to people fairly.  Then there would never be any shortages or any inequality.

Mental purity

Glenn Reynolds has it exactly right.  The zero-tolerance approach even to tiny gun-like objects that no one could possibly mistake for a real gun has less to do with physical safety than with the extirpation of dangerous concepts from the minds of children.  Of course it doesn't matter whether the "gun" is an inch long or made of Poptart or formed with a thumb and fingers.  All that matters is the idea.  Soon the word itself will be taboo, if it isn't already.  They'd punish the thought itself if they could read minds.

Children will have to be taught that guns do exist, and are not inherently evil, but that the people who run their schools are incapable of remaining calm if the concept of a "gun" enters their heads, and therefore must be protected from the very thought.  (But cross-dressing and Che Guevara?  Totally OK.)  They can then draw their own conclusions about the value of the other ideas they are receiving from these people every school day.

The Bush Doctrine Pays Off

I have some good friends who are Turks, and they are quite invested in this uprising.  The hope is not necessarily to bring down the government, but to bring to justice some of the worst criminals -- including, of course, the highest officials such as the Prime Minister.

I'd like to ask you to pay attention to it, and if you know people who follow such things, get them interested in it too.  The whole area -- from Turkey to Syria to Egypt, from Syria to Iraq to Iran -- is a highly unstable powderkeg at this point.  In a way that's what we wanted, and indeed just what we expected, when we overthrew Saddam.  There are democratic revolutions in every country in the region.

Too bad we have no leadership with the vision to, well, lead.  We could really use it just now.

What turns out to be in the bill after you pass it

What Oklahoma discovered in the fine print of Obamacare, but is having to sue to enforce:
The ACA contains an assortment of carrots and sticks, the pertinent ones here being the subsidies available for the purchase of health insurance through state-created exchanges, and the penalties for individuals who do not buy insurance and employers who do not provide it.  The employer taxes are triggered when employees use the tax credit, and in some cases the individual taxes are triggered when the credit is available to them.  The tax credits apply only to those using exchanges created by the states.  The federal government can create its own exchanges within states; however, it has no authority under the law to use them to offer subsidies and inflict the accompanying taxes. 
But there was an unforeseen development:  Some 33 states have refused to create those exchanges, Oklahoma among them.  If a state’s residents are not eligible for exchange subsidies, then its employers are not subject to the associated punitive tax.  Contra the administration’s amen corner in the media, this was not a rookie drafting error in the legislation — it was an intentional feature of the bill.  The law is explicitly written to deny subsidies to states that refuse to create exchanges.  The president and congressional Democrats simply failed to anticipate that the majority of states would refuse to create exchanges.


And two recent Jay Leno cracks:  "I know how President Obama can shut down Guantanamo Bay.  All he has to do is turn it into a government-sponsored solar power company."


"Fox News has changed its motto from 'Fair and Balanced' to 'See!  I told you so.'"

Among the Mountains of the Dragon

I return from the Slickrock Wilderness and the Tail of the Dragon, where I spent the last few days. Slickrock Wilderness is among my favorite places in the world, a place of rivers and moss-covered stones, arching trees lush and verdant, and sharp ridged-mountains.

This river is where I made my encampment.  I took the following video so that you could get a sense of what it is like to be there.  Imagine you have just left your camp, with the scent of pine smoke from the fire lingering, until you step down among these stones and the breath of the rushing river sweeps it away.

The Dragon itself is deadly, and provides the adventure to complete the perfection of the scene.  I was joined there by an old comrade from Iraq, whom I had last seen south of Baghdad at FOB Falcon, just before he got on a helicopter after fifteen months in Mahmudiyah and the Mada'in.  We saw that a rider went off the cliffs just ahead of us.  I helped several other bikers and a truck drag the Harley back up the cliff and onto the highway so that it could be evacuated.  What became of the rider, no one seemed to know.

Sunday's ride home was in a heavy downpour, but I hooked up with a motorcycle club headed toward Atlanta for the first way.  One of the members was a veteran and a friend of my friend, and only too glad to have me ride with them through the storm.  It was a great ride, in part because of the severity of the weather, which set the boldness of the company in its clearest relief.

To be numbered among such company and travel between beauty and danger:  it is among the things that are best in life.


I think I've mentioned before how unhinged I get when confronted with a homeless animal: the orphan's panic, which also manifests itself as a lifelong preoccupation with tales about the sudden collapse of human civilization.  Yesterday I received a double-whammy, when a young man and his little dog took refuge at our church from a sudden rainstorm.  How happy we were to get some rare rain, and how ironic that it should be falling on a fellow trying to make a safe home for his pup while living out of a knapsack!  We made him come inside, while he tried to insist he was OK under a large tree.  Then the storm knocked out our power, so we finished the service by candlelight, blessedly free for once from the electric organ I've never cared for.

It developed that our young refugee had somehow become separated all at once from his wife, his job, and his home in San Antonio, some 200 miles away.  Normally, I confess, I am not tremendously moved by the prospect of a life so disastrously disordered; I do what I can without a lot of upset, and then typically disengage.  One of my most frequent prayers, not uttered without trepidation, is that my heart of stone should be melted.   It was answered at least in part this week, but even though I knew how much it would hurt, I didn't really know, if you understand me.  Even at the distance of more than thirty years, I retain the most excruciating memories of being at loose ends between jobs, between apartments, profoundly alienated, and casting about with some desperation for a family or society to be plugged into.  It's not so hard to replace any one of those things at a time, but finding yourself cut loose from all of them at once is a disorienting horror: a shock to the core.  And yet, knowing and remembering all that, it still took the presence of the dog to cut through my defenses.

Our church got the fellow set up for the next week in a modest motel with some cash and some food.   He's already made the rounds on foot to look into the simplest sort of job nearby.  Why am I so gripped by his crisis?  I suppose he's pushing two of my buttons very hard:   it didn't occur to him to abandon the dog and leave town, with the excuse that his life had fallen apart, and it didn't occur to him to find a way to live on public assistance.  Instead, he has humbled his pride and asked for help from individuals in his path.  To my way of thinking, therefore, it lies with me now to figure out a way to help him rebuild a shattered life.  He wants so badly to solve the most basic problem of finding a useful function that will earn him the money for food and shelter.  A home, a job, and his dog for family.  These are the things that make it possible to carry on when everything else is stripped away.

Horseshoes, hand grenades, and pregnancy

More from Rocket Science (it's a good week).  Suppose you've put a lot of time and effort into a research project, and you've chosen for your own reasons to use the arbitrary but time-honored and respectable standard of statistical significance (i.e., p = 0.05, but your results stubbornly refuse to make the grade.  You could instead quote the effect size with a confidence interval, but for whatever reason you refuse to do that.  All that time and effort, with nothing to publish, seems unfair.

Not to worry.  New, substance-free circumlocutions have sprung up to describe how tantalizingly close your work has come to rendering meaningful results.  Psychologically Flawed has published a convenient list in alphabetical order, including such evasive or emotionally charged winners as:
"flirting with conventional levels of significance (p=0.1)"
"inconclusively significant (p=0.070)" 
"narrowly missing conventional significance (p=0.054)" 
"nearly borderline significance (p=0.052)" 
"not absolutely significant but very probably so (p=0.05)" 
"only slightly missed the conventional threshold of significance (p=0.062)" 
"teetering on the brink of significance (p=0.06)" 
"trend bordering on statistical significance (p=0.066)" 
"very closely brushed the limit of statistical significance (p=0.051)"
They coulda been a contenda!  My favorite: "not significantly significant but . . . clinically meaningful (p=0.072)."  I look forward to papers describing results as "longing for significance but thwarted by hidebound, linear, and cruelly normative conventional standards."

Why rape is not like property theft

More from Rocket Science:
When you carefully tuck your high-value portable property under the passenger seat (just kidding, smash-and-grabbers! That's definitely not where my iPad is!), it's because you don't want potential thieves to know it's there.  But draping your vagina in a floor-length modesty frock is unlikely to persuade anyone that don't have one, and therefore might not be worth violating.
Other dissimilarities at the link.

The art of visual communication

What happens when novices, trainees, and experts are asked to draw the same thing?  The novices mimic textbook illustrations, the trainees reproduce images from personal observation, and the experts generate schematics that eliminate detail they no longer consider essential.

H/t Rocket Science.