The Holiday Season

Officially we have to get through Advent first, but the fine Friar Tuck is prepared to help us see this season through.

UPDATE: I kid, but it is weird how we treat Advent in contemporary America. In parts of the Middle Ages, it was a fast almost on par with Lent: a period of purging and preparation for a 12-day feast. Today, it's a 30-day feast in preparation for a six-day feast. Preparation entails a whole series of holiday parties and spending sprees. By the time the day after New Year's rolls around, everyone's gained 15 pounds.

Friar Tuck does seem to be our guide more than others.

Authoritarian-Loving Statists for Reform

Thomas Friedman is right that we should all be rooting for the success of the Saudi Arabian reform movement. He's wrong about why it might work.
Unlike the other Arab Springs — all of which emerged bottom up and failed miserably, except in Tunisia — this one is led from the top down by the country’s 32-year-old crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and, if it succeeds, it will not only change the character of Saudi Arabia but the tone and tenor of Islam across the globe. Only a fool would predict its success — but only a fool would not root for it.
The analysis of why the 'Arab Spring' movements failed is simplistic, as is his faith that a 'top-down' movement will work better. MBS is smart enough to have sold it to him that way, doubtless knowing Friedman's preferences.

If the Saudi reform works, it won't be because of an authoritarian character. It will be because it is able to appeal to the Saudi people to reject tribal and family loyalty in favor of direct loyalty to the king. Edward I tried something similar in England, with some success -- reforms like the introduction of fee simple feudalism stripped away nests of existing loyalty relationships, streamlining the connection between 'loyalty to the king' and whatever position you occupied. This new approach will be to the disadvantage of a few, all of them rich and powerful rivals of MBS. It will offer advantage of a great many, whose position could be improved by a direct relationship that cuts out the middlemen between themselves and the king.

As a consequence, it has a chance of working. It worked for Edward Longshanks, at least in his own lifetime.

What Hotshot Navy Pilots are For

Sometimes things don't work out right, and you need guys like this.
The US Navy has called off its search for three missing sailors after a C-2 Greyhound aircraft crashed on approach to the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier at sea near Okinawa — but the plane's pilot has emerged a hero for saving 8 lives... As Lawrence Brennan, a former US Navy Captain, told Business Insider, "Greyhounds are not equipped with ejection seats or parachutes." The aircrew's only choice was to chance a landing at sea....

"The Greyhound was landed in the open ocean so that it remained afloat for a sufficient time to allow the majority of the people on board to escape," said Brennan. "The sacrifice, skill, and professionalism that he and his aircrew demonstrated should be considered for recognition by the award of a Distinguished Flying Cross."
Three of the sailors aboard did not survive. It is unclear from the report if the pilot is among them.

UPDATE: The pilot, Lt. Steven Combs, was not among the survivors.

More Evidence of Russian Collusion!

WASHINGTON — The turkey pardoned by President Donald Trump has had multiple contacts with Russian officials over the past year, Duffel Blog has learned.

Grav E. Gobbles, a 4-year-old bird from western Minnesota, received a pardon Tuesday during a ceremony in the Rose Garden. But how Gobbles was able to secure a presidential pardon has come under scrutiny, sources say.

According to sources, Gobbles met privately on multiple occasions with Russian officials over the past year ...
They've got him now, eh?

I'm grateful for many things this year, but near the top of the list is that Hilary Clinton is not president.

Happy Thanksgiving

Antiquated Norms vs. No Norms at All

A piece at RedState argues that Republicans should abandon their "antiquated" sexual morality in order to forward otherwise promising candidates.
As we’ve learned the hard way, not a single piece of the conservative agenda can be implemented—or even pursued—without solid control of all three branches of government. Still, some believe that these crucial majorities are less important than the moral character of individual candidates and office holders. We need Republicans who will do what is necessary to get elected and keep Democrats from holding office.... Unreasonable litmus tests are being applied to candidates by some Republicans, as if marital fidelity or refraining from soliciting sex with children were reliable indicators of whether a politician can be trusted to vote in a way that gives his party political victories.

...the GOP still foolishly squanders political potential still in its prime all for the sake of an antiquated obsession with honor and virtue. This is why even when Republicans win, they lose. The desire to be represented by honorable people who practice what they preach is... naive and unrealistic.... Republicans should all be focused above all on winning elections over Democrats and winning legislative victories even if the results don’t match their campaign rhetoric. Instead, many Republicans inexplicably choose to live in a fantasyland where truth and decency are considered more important than victory.
I am pretty sure he's joking, but not completely sure. The argument has a kind of pragmatic validity, and there is some reason to think that Republicans are in fact doing this.

The problem is that the old standards are the only clear standards. By age, by sex, and by nationality, there is no agreement on where the line is. "[F]emale respondents were much less tolerant of men looking at women’s breasts than their male counterparts were: among Americans 64 and older, for example, half of women but just a quarter of men said they would consider such ogling sexual harassment.... [A] quarter of French women under 30 believe that even asking to go for a drink is harassment, whereas almost none of their counterparts in Britain and Germany share that view."

Among Americans, more men than women in the 18-30 bracket feel that asking a woman out for a drink is sexual harassment. It's a quarter of young men who fear to make the request lest they be guilty of a moral crime, and only a fifth of young women who are prepared to feel harassed by being asked out for a pint. Young men and women do seem to agree, one in three of each, that it's sexual harassment to tell a woman that she's attractive to you if she's not your girlfriend or wife. But that leaves two-thirds of each who disagree.

Mike Pence's solution was widely mocked at first, and continues to be warned against as a viable option. Well, I agree that there could be some problems arising from the "Pence rule" as well; and I don't wish to adopt it myself, nor do I feel it is necessary to do. I'll bet we won't be hearing that Pence is guilty of this kind of bad behavior, though. His standard may well be antique, but it is at least a clear and bright line that keeps him out of trouble. Those are thin on the ground these days.

My guess is the real danger isn't that we'll adopt the Pence rule anyway. The real danger is that we'll learn both that (a) powerful men have indeed behaved horribly on both sides, but also that (b) neither side's voters are willing to punish them for it as they prefer victory to morality. The end result of this moral panic over sexual misbehavior by powerful men then is likely to be, ironically, a new license to engage in sexual misbehavior if you are a powerful man in politics. Powerful men in corporate life may be punished for it, but politicians may find that their voters won't; and if the voters won't, the donors won't; and if the donors won't, Laissez les bons temps rouler!

The Judiciary vs. the President

1) A Federal judge rules that the President cannot cut Federal funding to cities that refuse to enforce Federal laws. The argument is that Congress has approved the spending, and therefore the money must be spent! I'll grant that there's a kind of legitimacy to the Article I argument being made here, but it is surprising to learn that the executive -- who swears to 'take care that the laws be faithfully executed' -- is forbidden from taking action to try to see that laws are in fact faithfully executed rather than ignored.

2) A Federal judge ruled that the administration is forbidden to refuse to pay for sexual reassignment surgery for transgender troops. I can't tell from the article what the legal reasoning was here; as presented in the article, the judge apparently accepts that this is a 'harmful consequence' of Trump's policy, and therefore(?) it must be stopped. I suppose no soldier has ever suffered a harmful consequence from a President's policy? Stop-loss, for example?

3) That judge and another Federal judge both ruled that the President cannot restore the policy on transgender troops that the last President maintained until his final year in office, which policy every previous President maintained throughout their entire term in office. The argument is that the policy that was universally practiced until last year "shocks the conscience."

This is an aggressive set of rulings, all from just the last couple of days but of a piece with the judiciary's highly aggressive approach to this administration. I wonder if they won't regret it in the long term.

KISS Patriots

This isn't my usual thing, but I ran across it while wandering through the intertubes tonight and thought, "Well, that's interesting."

The Vikings in Medieval History

This is episode one of a 36 episode course. The scholar is from Tulane, which is a good school in New Orleans. They draw some good people, including a friend of mine -- not this fellow -- and one of America's leading Kantian scholars. There's no reason not to think this might be worth listening through if you aren't familiar with the history and would like to be.

Prosecutions That Will Never Happen

What do you think -- is it less likely that the International Criminal Court will be able lock up US soldiers for 'war crimes' in Afghanistan, or that Bill Clinton will be prosecuted for these four new sexual assault cases?

My guess is that neither of these ever results in anyone going to jail, no matter how good the evidence is. That's just now how the world works.

Slave Markets in Libya

Ironically, President Obama's Libya policy has led to the restoration of slave markets, where West Africans can be bought and sold for a few hundred dollars. (It was really his Secretary of State's Libya policy; but 'the buck stops here.')

Not that I expect to hear anyone from the recent administration accepting responsibility for their role in this outcome, of course.

Germany Teeters

Western democracies are at a strange moment, both here and internationally, in which the existing solutions no longer seem plausible but people are strongly divided about what should come next. Brexit but then May's failed snap-election; Trump (barely) but then a Democratic wave in 2017's November elections; Merkel, again, but she can't form a government. The Marxists are doing far better in this environment than their history gives them any right to do: they've captured British Labour and are on the verge of capturing the Democratic Party here. The Greens, who are pretty much Marxists too, are holding cards Merkel needs.

Outlaw King

A new movie is being made about Robert the Bruce. I guess it's just part of our cultural moment that it's going to 'feature some of the bloodiest scenes in cinema history,' although the period was quite brutal in its application of violence.