Phase shifts

One minute the tower is standing.  The next, it's rubble and dust.  Richard Fernandez on the hollowing out of societies before the final collapse:
One reason why Japan recovered relatively quickly after the Second World War was while the massive aerial assault leveled Japan’s cities it did not destroy the cultural and social institutions of Japan.  When the smoke cleared the Japanese were still there and they rebuilt.  By contrast destroying culture is so much more lethal.  Detroit was untouched by the war.  Not a bomb fell on it.  But years of public education worked their magic.  It dismantled the culture and social institutions which once built its factories.  Time reports Detroit had posted the lowest math scores in the history of the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
“These numbers are only slightly better than what one would expect by chance as if the kids had never gone to school and simply guessed at the answers,” said Michael Casserly, executive director of the Washington-based Council of the Great City Schools, which represents large urban school districts.  “These numbers … are shocking and appalling and should not be allowed to stand.”

Scientific literacy

Maggie's Farm links to a horrified article citing a poll showing 1/4 of Americans don't know that the Earth revolves around the Sun.  The author leaps right to the American enthusiasm for creationism science, but I think instead about this kind of article:

Yes, Global Warming can totally produce colder winters.
And again.

That's just the first two pages of Google hits.

Aerial view of Grim's house

I got it off of Google maps.  Or else from Maggie's Farm, where it depicts Gwynnie's family cabins near the Donner Pass.  There are three cabins in the photo.

A man's car for manly men

And while we're on the subject of the place of the American car in the American psyche, here's a terrific Cadillac commercial courtesy of Ace:

It won't do to try to make the ad make sense, but it's very effective if you let that part go.  The important thing to remember is:  effete Frenchmen wouldn't understand.  And it's electric, baby.

'Taint Union Country

At least, not in Tennessee's VW plant.


The WaPo's reporter is pretty unhappy about it, too.  The 53-47 vote was "close" and probably a result of unfair tactics employed by Republic lawmakers and outside agitators.  A vote against the union is an inexplicable vote against Workers' Councils that could cooperate with management in implementing employee ideas!  Though why management couldn't institute and listen to Workers' Councils at any time, with or without a union, I can't imagine.

Another anecdote. Or data point. Take your pick.

The comments are uniformly negative on the police.

Glenn Reynolds posted this item on his site and has over 100 comments last I looked, and they're also uniformly negative.

So what? You might say. Well, I remember a young black stand up comedian, sometime in the 1980's doing a joke about the Los Angeles police--'BANG BANG BANG--FREEZE!" much like the audio suggests in the film, and it all got a laugh at the time, because well, if that was happening, it was happening to minorities in minority neighborhoods. 

The people commenting are basically middle class Americans. The sort that used to support the police. They're not, anymore.

Friday Night AMV

I guess this is appropriate....given the day.

I'm always interested in seeing different culture's takes on other culture's literature/stories/myths/etc...

Although this would work too.

I didn't see the original movie, but I think I'd watch this one.

Coastal valentine

Our Representatives in Washington

Hey, how'd you vote on that bill to spend tons of money?
On an average day, any C-SPAN viewer would know how senators voted in real time because votes are read aloud. (See our post on the six senators who appear to have changed their votes.) But on Wednesday, the clerks did not name names. Instead of announcing the rolling vote tally as the vote went along on the critical motion to limit debate on the debt limit measure, senators were allowed to cast their votes in relative secrecy.
Turns out one of my Senators didn't vote at all. I guess once you announce your impending retirement, it's not so important to get around to voting on the future of the nation.

"Cassandra of the Week"

It's hard for us to recognize any Cassandra aside from our own, but hat's off to an NSA "threat predictor" (presumably their version of the Red Cell) who warned about Edward Snowden. In 1996.

St. Valentine's Day Post

How about a post on the Medieval Spanish debate about the role and status of women? The terms of the debate among modern scholars are kind of strange:
There are also a number of studies on the sources and traditions informing two superficially differentiated currents. The first is defined by a somewhat misogynistic approach, generally described as medievalising and with its roots in the Old Testament. The second is a more progressive one which has been perceived, not without unhealthy doses of presentism and anachronism, as protofeminist, in defence of women and usually linked to an incipient lay and humanist philosophy.
Calling the reference to the ancient Old Testament "medievalizing" demonstrates some unwarranted assumptions about the Middle Ages, especially since the "humanizing" argument was a product of the Medievals in reaction to the ancients and their defenders. We still have defenders of the ancient view in the Modern age, but nobody would call them "modernizing."

In any case, you might enjoy reading about the poem, in this article on "Hugo de Urriés and Egalitarian Married Life." (H/t:

Bread & Circuses, Day V

As expected, the snow that was melting into slush yesterday froze into a solid sheet of ice overnight. My scouting yesterday led me to believe that it would be fine to drive if you could get to the road, so I pulled the van down the driveway and parked it by the road last night before things re-froze.

However, that still meant getting down to the van this morning. Our driveway is a good length for one in rural Georgia, and the house was wisely built by its original owners on a hilltop. As a consequence, there was a length of serious ice to traverse in order to reach the van, and my wife had to go out this morning.

I went with her, and broke holes in the ice for her to walk in. She can't stomp hard with her recently broken leg, which is still healing, although she can now walk again. With patience we eventually reached the bottom of the hill, and she had no trouble getting the van up onto the roads, which seem to be completely clear except in shadowy places. I'd scouted a route to the nearest state highway that should be clear all the way.

This is why I get away with so much the rest of the time.

Bread & Circuses, Day IV

Things are good today. I scouted the roads on foot as far as the state highway, and they're mostly clear after the sun we had today. If you can get down the driveway, you can get where you want. In spite of the ice and snow, we never did lose power. It's been a pretty pleasant interlude, honestly.

How are things for you, Eric Blair?

But of Course

At Washington, DC’s direction, dozens of groups operating as 501(c)(4)s were flagged for IRS surveillance, including monitoring of the groups’ activities, websites and any other publicly available information. Of these groups, 83% were right-leaning. And of the groups the IRS selected for audit, 100% were right-leaning.

In Praise of Georgia's Politicians

Townhall magazine has some kind words for a Republican governor and a Democratic mayor, who pulled it together pretty well for this ice and snow storm. It helped that we had the 'dry run' just a bit earlier, however, to help them work out the kinks.

Bread, Day III

Sent the neighbors another loaf of bread, because apparently their growing boy eats a lot of it. Power and comms still operative as of now. The ice is still falling, and another inch or few are expected tonight, but the winds haven't been as bad as predicted.

So far, all is well.

Well, This Should Be Fun

Nothing bothersome yet, but they've convinced me that tomorrow is going to be a fun day. May be a few fun days before it's over.

Blurred lines

I had very sharp vision in my youth.  In my mid-twenties, I started to get near-sighted and reconciled myself to wearing glasses.  In my forties, I started to get the far-sightedness that is usual for that age, which for a while nearly canceled out my near-sightedness.  Now I can't see well near or far, though my uncorrected vision isn't really that bad:  about 20/60.

I was aware it had been a long time since I'd seen the eye doctor, but was embarrassed to find that their records show it has been eight years.  Strangely, though my vision had noticeably degraded in the last few years, the visual acuity exam suggested the same prescription.  Sure enough, the glasses, when they arrived, were disappointing.  They were great for close-up fine-gauge crochet work, but for things more than about four feet out, there was no difference with them on or with them off.

When I went back in, they tried every explanation in the book, up to and including wild variations in blood sugar--not an issue, according to a recent blood test.  "Well, have you been wearing the glasses?"  Not since I found they didn't make the tiniest difference.  "Maybe you're just not used to glasses."  Oh, come on, really?  I tried them for three days.  The only good explanation I could think of was that I'd never before had my eyes dilated before the visual acuity test.  The eye doctor's personnel didn't seem to think that could be it, but there's no doubt that when they retested me that day, without dilation, the prescription was quite different and they were able to correct me back to better than 20/20, whereas on the first go-round they could achieve only 20/20 in one eye and 20/25 in the other.  In a week or so when the new lenses arrive, we'll see.

In the meantime, I've been trying to read up on whether it's a good idea to dilate the eyes before a visual acuity test.  The answer is proving hard to pin down.  Have any of you guys run into this?

Bread, Day II

The snow today is thick and heavy, the kind of snow that rolls up wonderfully into snowmen or snow-forts. The neighborhood children are off having an idyllic childhood memory.

My wife tells me that our nearest neighbor wasn't able to buy bread yesterday, so I sent them one of the loaves from last night, and made two more.

This is the old way.


The 911 service just put out an automated message warning, in effect, to expect the end of civilization for a few days -- loss of power, impassable roads, etc. So, OK. Possibly don't expect to hear from us again for a while, but don't worry about us. Barring accident, we'll be fine.

Civil Support

Is the least believable part of this National Guard drill that right-wing gun-loving terrorists would stage a biological threat against the government, or that these hard-right crazies would be members of the local teachers' union?

The Tea Party and Aristotle's Rhetoric

Ace accuses the Tea Party of being hostile to considering popular opinion in their positions. For this reason, he considers them "a movement not of politics but of political philosophy." His criticism is not for their beliefs, but rather that their insistence on ignoring popular opinion naturally limits their power, and he wants them to be politically powerful, to maybe even replace the Republican Party.

I have seen first-hand what Ace is talking about. I was one of the organizers for a local Tea Party group, but after the rest of the leadership insisted on ideological purity rather than getting results, I left the movement. To be fair, they thought ideological purity would get the results they wanted. However, while I am sympathetic to the idea that one man and the truth are a majority, elections don't work that way. I could (and still can) see some ways in which Tea Party concerns are shared by the base of the left, and if we could frame things the right way, and cut some deals, we could achieve some important objectives.

Compromise, especially with the left, was not interesting to the rest of the leadership. They wanted all or nothing, believing they could get it all if only they were pure enough. They saw the left as very real enemies who could not be dealt with. Although it was never said, I got the impression that compromising with leftist groups, even if it got results we wanted, would sully the movement and should be disdained. We had to win by outright defeating them; that was the only acceptable answer. Completely outnumbered and believing that to be a destructive, unreasonable attitude, I decided to leave.

In two ways I see this as a failure of rhetoric. First, I was not able to convince them of my position. I knew what I believed, and I still believe the organization I was in would have gotten better results from my methods, but I wasn't able to reach the rest of the leadership. Second, the Tea Party itself has done a very poor job of persuading America of its positions, and its poor use of rhetoric has made it easy for the statist media to label it extremist, and even conservatives who should be sympathetic to attack it.

Since then, I have begun to appreciate the value of rhetoric, as Aristotle conceived of it. Aristotle sees the skilled rhetorician as someone who, in any given situation, knows what would be persuasive. Like the exercise of military power, the exercise of political power depends on momentum. The important thing is to get a mass of people, all at roughly the same time, who support your goals enough to give you power (money, work, votes, etc.), not the purity of that mass's beliefs. In order to build momentum, you need to persuade disparate groups of people that they would rather support your movement over any other that they might have sympathies with. Skill in rhetoric is essential for that.

Aristotle believed that the best use of rhetoric was to persuade people with the truth. A number of other ancient Greeks had written about rhetoric, but Aristotle linked it to logic and dialectic by proposing the enthymeme, a form of syllogistic reasoning, as the basis of rhetoric. A popular audience could not be expected to follow a long train of logical or dialectical reasoning, so the enthymeme was a simpler, looser form of logic. For that reason, some look down on the enthymeme -- it accepts conclusions that a stricter logic would not. But the questions of society are often not amenable to strict logic: there are too many unknowns, or there simply are no accepted truths about a topic from which to form a first premise. It is in these gray areas where the strictest logic cannot get very far that rhetoric can be quite useful.

The main objection to adjusting the Tea Party's rhetoric as well as to compromising with leftist groups is lack of trust. The reason the Tea Party became a necessity in the first place is a long series of betrayals by allegedly conservative politicians. This is a valid point, but I believe the answer is in honesty, not a demand for ideological purity. A rhetorically sophisticated Tea Party could have been, and could still be, much more influential than it is without compromising its ideals. I think the key to that is to be completely honest with everyone all the time about what the movement and its leadership are doing.

Instead of having a hidden agenda, like the left, the Tea Party should declare its goals openly, and then work toward achieving them in stages. Sometimes that might mean allying with political opponents in order to achieve a small step forward. The way to do that and not be a sell-out or look like one is to be honest about what is going on, put it all up on the net, and be willing to walk away from alliances that do not advance the goals. When the rank and file ask, 'why are we working with those dirtbags in the Occupy movement?', the leadership can honestly reply with the specific, previously stated goal they are working together to achieve, why the temporary alliance is valuable, and of course by pointing out that the alliance is temporary: as soon as we achieve X, we'll go back to fighting them. There are times in war when two mortal enemies agree to a cease-fire, a prisoner exchange, or another form of cooperation that benefits both sides. If the Tea Party insists that such a thing is treason, then it has chosen to be of very limited effect, and very possibly part of the problem.

Being part of the solution doesn't mean picking your hill to die on, not for an American. Our way is to let the other side die for their beliefs, whether literally or figuratively. Our way is to win, and winning requires effectiveness. In politics, that means getting good at rhetoric and compromise. Right now the Tea Party is telling the truth in angry, ugly ways that isolate it and strip it of effectiveness. It is essential for them to learn to tell the truth persuasively in a way that invites outsiders join in, a way that builds momentum, a way that actually has a chance of saving this republic.


I think I'll swing by the store and pick up a loaf of bread this evening...

Oh, good. They have one.


State of the Union -- everybody buys out the bread, nobody buys flour and yeast.

Reminds me of a song. Wonder if it's still true?

Bittersweet moments in history

According to the NBC Olympics sports anchors, the fall of the U.S.S.R. was one.  A little girl lets go of her shiny red balloon.

It brings to mind the foreboding with which Tories witnessed the severing of a promising young colony's ties with the British monarchy.  The sad moment when America watched Abraham Lincoln, with the stroke of a pen, consign their old friend slavery to its unquiet grave.  The heartbreaking disillusionment that led Adolph Hitler and Eva Braun to commit suicide in their bunker.  The wistful sighs when Nelson Mandela left his prison cell after decades of confinement.

The glorious experiment in human fulfillment that was the Soviet Union:  a civilization that is gone with the wind.   Where is the totalitarian collectivism of yesteryear?  Big Red Bear, we hardly knew ye.

"The End of Government"

I am strongly reminded of the old Marxist doctrine that, with the coming of Socialism, 'the state will wither away.'

Turns out!

Lying Birds

So I asked a question at the end of the post on lying, which used a bird in the wild as an example.

The question here is: do you think he could lie to you?