The Crusades: A Visual Argument

From Power Line.

On The List Of Things To Avoid

"Rob a man who keeps a sword."

If you want to see some graphic photography of the damage he did, you can do so here. Apparently it wasn't very hard for the police to find the criminals: they just followed the trails of blood.

A Drop of Nelson's Blood Wouldn't Do Us Any Harm

The Fisherman's Friends ...

as an introduction to this BBC special on sea shanties and sea songs.

Question: Does Memory Reside in the Brain?

Answer: Not only.

That might create problems for this head transplant I've been reading about. Or not! We'll see what happens, I suppose.

I'm Going To Go With "Probably Not"

Headline: "Is Iran Deal Part of Obama-3rd-Term Scheme?"

A Literary Moment: Heroic Potential

In a recent discussion, I said to Mike:
My point was more that there's a danger that Americans -- who increasingly live sedentary and TV-bound lives -- are losing an understanding of how virtue is linked to the potential to be heroic.
On reflection, I can think of few examples of writers who do this very well. I wonder if there's a moment in human history associated with the insight. It would be the moment at which the work is no longer ordinary enough to be assumed, but familiar enough to be described and understood.

By far the best writer of adventure stories that explain how the hero develops into someone worthy of being a hero is Louis L'amour. There's a Medieval predecessor tradition that includes Malory, who inherited a tradition that didn't dwell on it much as both the troubadours and their audience was part of a knightly class that knew very well what kind of work went on in the background of developing a knight of prowess. It is generally mentioned in passing, and mostly for the edification of young listeners who might need to undergo that work themselves yet. Malory and a few others in the Grail tradition tried to lay out what spiritual work would be necessary to develop the spiritual virtues to go with the physical ones. They were striving for perfection, which is impossible to reach, and it is clear that they understood just how much work moral perfection would entail. Yet they were already talking about heroes, men like Sir Lancelot, whose education in physical prowess was highly advanced long before they turned to spiritual things. That education gets little description because it was so well known to the audience.

L'amour was very interested in the question. Over and over in hundreds of books and stories -- of which I have read very many, as they were always readily available from dusty trade-your-books shelves in Iraq -- he describes the upbringing and character of his heroes. His heroes differ greatly in occupation and heritage, and in accidents of speech or clothing. Some are miners, some are gamblers, some are cattlemen, a certain number are lawmen -- though surprisingly few, given that his plots turn on defending the weak and defeating the wicked. He clearly is thinking of that as primarily the business of a good man, a good friend, a good brother or cousin, a good citizen.

Whatever accidental differences there are in his heroes, they have an essential core.

1) They work hard and in a self-directed fashion. Whatever they do, they do a lot of it. They are conscientious about their responsibility to be actively engaged in making the world better through some form of productive labor -- even the gamblers work to be good at gambling, and to impart their skills to morally worthy young men. His book The Comstock Lode is a positive ode to hard-rock mining, which the hero does on his own account, with no boss and no schedule, working hard whenever he isn't trying to solve the mystery.

2) They have a love of learning, and self-educate passionately. If there is a mentor figure, he imparts this lesson (perhaps with a favorite book, generally a classic of Western civilization such as Plutarch). Many books mention that the hero, a hard man of his hands, has a private library that he has cultivated whenever the chance has arisen.

3) They take care of their bodies. I don't think I can recall reading any other author who made a point of the fact that his characters did a certain number of push-ups and squats every day. They approach fitness in an engaged way, as an art: if they fist-fight, they probably studied boxing in a careful and serious way.

4) They are moderate in their pleasures. If they drink, it is described as 'Not a drinker: perhaps a drink or two, now and then.' They do not allow themselves to be ruled by their animal nature.

5) Sexually, they are universally moral in character. They never take advantage of a woman. To do so would be to be marked as a villain in L'amour's world. They treat women with respect, and if they love them, they love them seriously. Many marry at the close of the adventure; others never marry the woman they love, but love her faithfully from a life that would not be fit for her.

Many of these stories start with the hero as a boy; others describe his upbringing in flashbacks, or in description. Always, though, we come away with the understanding that he is the hero because he has earned the right to be. It should be easy to see that a hero could dispense with any one of these qualities, but that any such loss would weaken the man. He would not be as fit to be the hero if he fell from any of these standards. Virtue and the potential to be heroic are very tightly linked: as tightly, indeed, as cause and effect.

That's what I think we may be in danger of losing. Heroism is just an accident, now, or perhaps an unearned gift. It's a kind of unfairness, then: everyone should get to be a hero. Everyone should be treated equally, after all, so that a gift given to one should be given to all. An accident of fate should be rectified. It's fine for different heroes to have different super-powers, but no one should be better than anyone else.

The limits of force

Via Bookworm Room:

Right vs. left

Kevin Williamson argues:
We have a tea-party movement, and a raucous and rivalrous gang of independent groups, precisely because GOP leaders cannot exercise the sort of control over their coalition that Democrats do over theirs. Left-leaning PACs and independent groups are a supplement to the Democrats’ machine; right-leaning groups are an alternative to the Republicans’ machine.
Naturally this narrative appeals to me; I'd like to think I support the party that values honest debate over mindless conformity. But I wonder if it's really true? Democrats--even potential donors--do exhibit some fracture lines in their political solidarity. The fulminating fury at left-wing sites about the sell-out DINOs sounds to me remarkably like its counterpart at right-wing sites: indeed, remarkably like the frustration I vent daily over why everyone in power can't be sensible enough to agree with me all the time.

I will say that Democratic leaders in the House and Senate in the last few years have exercised better control than Republicans over their caucuses.


A man's word to anything, even his own destruction, must be honored.  The movie ends well all the same, thanks to General Sheridan.

Knights of the Holy Whatever

My results from a quiz sent by a friend: Which RPG Class Are You?
Congratulations, you are a paladin!

Paladins are knights of great power, prowess, and respect. They are natural leaders and fearless in battle. These fighters are normally very faithful to whatever alignment they follow, unafraid to show their beliefs. This gives them an important advantage in battle, for they know that, whether they live or die, they will die fighting for a cause and will be rewarded in whatever afterlife they expect. This allows them to fight confidently, fearlessly, and with great focus. If dedicated enough in their faiths, they can even gain abilities and power from their alignments, making them even more lethal in battle.

These are fortified, focused, and strong-willed fighters.
"Whatever alignment they follow"? We are getting broad minded.

They're Lucky He Didn't Read Them Out of the Religion Entirely

The President's Easter Breakfast remarks didn't take the ISIS tact for cake-denying bakers, as you might have expected: they are permitted to remain within the broad walls of Christianity, which is a religion big enough to encompass hateful and intolerant people.

Interview with Edward Snowden

John Oliver's not my very favorite, but he did an interesting interview here.

A Question of Political Friendship

Political friendship is a topic we don't discuss very much in American society, but Aristotle thought it was crucial for the stability of a political project. It is very natural to pursue your own interests. It is natural to pursue your children's interests: most parents are happy to sacrifice a great deal of their own wealth and time to see that their children have a chance to do well. It is likewise natural to make sacrifices for your parents, especially if they did for you. What is less natural is to make sacrifices for strangers. Those who aren't bound to us by family ties can only rely on us to make regular sacrifices to help them if they are friends. Since any society requires that we all sacrifice of ourselves once in a while, for the common good that we obtain by having a community, we should strive to be friends as far as possible.

Aristotle thought we couldn't be friends with everyone to the same degree that we can be friends with one particular person: the more people you add, the harder true friendship is to maintain. But there is a posture of mind that is appropriately directed toward members of your society, an analogy to friendship if not true friendship. We should strive to have a polity in which we can think of each other in friendly ways, if not as friends. It is less radical than Jesus' command to love your neighbor as yourself (and even to love your enemy), but along the same lines. Aristotle wants you to love your neighbor in a way, and not at all the same way in which you love your true friends: but if we lose that, we lose the integrity of the political project. Instead of having a common good to pursue, we become divided and hostile.

I mention this because I've been appreciating Conor Friedersdorf's recent articles trying to rebuild a sense of political friendship between supporters and opponents of maintaining traditional marriage as a cultural standard. His first article was aimed at his fellows, who believe as he does that marriage ought to be extended to any two persons who want to claim it. He was asking them to think through the limits of punishment for religious dissenters.

His second argument is intended for both sides of the debate, trying to help them each understand why the other side feels like it is under siege. Now if you are under siege, you are under attack; and if you are under attack, it is by an enemy, not a friend. There's a grave danger of losing what political friendship remains to America as it becomes more diverse. Since we are now diverse enough to lack a consensus on what constitutes a right morality, we could perhaps have a consensus on what constitutes a proper toleration of differences in morality.

In an important way, this refers back to the origins of the American story on religion. Religious tolerance in early America was very much about whether and to what degree variations on behavior compelled by differing religious belief would be tolerated. The answer in Colonial America was usually "Not very much." Many colonies had official religions, especially the ones founded by religious dissenters like the Pilgrims, who were determined not to be overrun in their new home. Others, like the colony of Georgia, were tolerant broadly of Protestants but not Catholics. In Georgia's case this was because it was founded to serve as a buffer for the British colonies against the Catholic Spanish colony in Florida and Catholic French settlers in the west, and was therefore staffed with hardened and warlike groups: Scottish Highlanders who had been in rebellion against the Crown, German Protestants who had been expelled from their homes by Catholics, and men with skills who had fallen into prison through debts. The religious wars were not over in those days, if indeed they are today.

By the early period of statehood, though, religious toleration of dissenters had greatly expanded, and states began to eliminate their established religions. As the states experienced both a successful rebellion against the old crown, and the desire to tighten their ties following the Articles of Confederation, they began to see each other as Americans who could be trusted as political friends in spite of religious differences. The Puritan states in the Northeast held out longest and well into the 19th century, but still not as long as Canada where no rebellion forged a new sense of national unity.

I think that if we are going to get through this new national moral crisis, it will need to begin with making some room for each other -- meaning making some room for dissenters from our own view, whatever that may be. The most obvious way was to allow states to have different laws, as different states had different established religions in early America, but the Supreme Court seems poised to disallow that obvious option. Failing that, protection for religious dissent ought to be formalized so that we can live together without agreement. Let us protect each other's interests, so that we can see each other as friendly even if not quite as friends.

If we fail in that -- if we come to the place where the question really is submission or resistance, so the siege is not merely felt but real -- then I think Aristotle will be proven right. A polity that loses political friendship does not long endure. That last phrase evokes Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, but his Second Inaugural is perhaps more on point. At the end of a bloody and terrible war, Lincoln too was urging his own side's most intense partisans to rethink how to pursue a sort of political friendship with those they hoped to conquer. It was on that basis, Lincoln believed, that a new American birth might succeed.

The High Feast of Easter

My usual prayer is for God to save all those I love, and all I ought to love. Have a grand feast.