A Quiet Day in the Country

So today I went out to a farm that raises fallow deer and emus, as well as horses, and enjoyed a nice walk. Later the wife and I went to a leather shop to look at hides and plan some Christmas gift projects -- she's quite talented at many sorts of making, including leatherworking. Following that we had a dinner of home-made chicken soup.

A very quiet, uneventful day. Did I miss anything?

Not Quite My Grandfather's Story, but Close Enough (Plus, Tchaikovsky)

The funny thing here is that, although I think country music like this best tells the story of his life, my grandfather was never really a country music fan. While he didn't go to college and lived much of his life out in the sticks, he mostly listened to classical music. He'd probably rather I play Schubert or Tchaikovsky in his honor. Here's something he might have enjoyed more than the Alan Jackson I've been playing.

(The story the 1812 Overture tells is of the Russian defense against Napolean's invasion, an interesting read in its own right.)

Uranium One

A signature proves that a deal was made.

Harvard Law Profs Explain Conservative Dislike for Elite Colleges

Continuing the evening's trend, here's a WaPo article by two Harvard Law professors about why conservatives dislike elite universities. They offer four reasons:

First is the obvious progressive tilt in universities, especially elite universities ...

Second, the distinctive progressive ideology of elite universities is relentlessly critical of, to the point of being intolerant of, traditions and moral values widely seen as legitimate in the outside world ...

Third is the rise of anti-conservative “mobs,” “shout-downs” and “illiberal behavior” on campus ...

Fourth is the public contempt of so many university academics for those who fund their subsidies ...

Not bad.

Stanford Student Sam Wolfe: "Yes, Congress, Tax Stanford's Endowment"

Notable mostly because the Stanford Review published it:

After the Presidential election cleaved the country in two, pitting Trump’s “poorly-educated” deplorables against Hillary’s college-educated elites, it was probably only a matter of time before Republicans went after their tribal opponents. To this end, both the House and the Senate have proposed tax plans that include a 1.4% tax on the investment income of college endowments. ...

The Republicans have announced no serious rationale for this plan. With college campuses becoming increasingly liberal and the college-educated leaning more heavily Democratic than ever, it is a fairly transparent attempt to hit their opponents where it hurts. The justification that it treats colleges in line with private foundations, which currently face a 2% tax on investment income, rings hollow given that the proposed tax will only apply to about 140 institutions. The plan has faced backlash from liberals and conservatives alike ...

But please, Congress, pass it anyway.

Most income is taxed in some form, whether it be salaries hit by income tax, business revenues that face corporate tax, or private investment earnings slugged by capital gains tax. By failing to tax Stanford’s endowment at all, the government is effectively handing us a large subsidy (in addition to the government funding we already receive). The government is implying that it is happy to tax working Americans more than it otherwise would in order to give Stanford students, and their endowment, a free ride. In light of the damage that elite colleges do to the world, there’s really no excusing this.


The rest is Wolfe's justification, put in terms of simple economics and the left's own arguments for distribution of wealth. Worth reading.

Update: Or maybe it's not so surprising the Stanford Review published it. The Review claims to be "Stanford's Independent Newspaper" and some current headlines there include:

It's Time to End Net Neutrality
Rally Against Islamophobia Exposes the Double Standards of the Campus Left
Stanford Students Pretend to Support Free Speech, Stumble at Final Hurdle
Why America Still Needs Guns

Wolfe's article seems to be typical. Nice to know.

At the Harvard Crimson: "100 Years. 100 Million Lives. Think Twice."

Nothing new to us here, but the fact that this is currently the second-most read article at the Harvard Crimson might be news.

Laura A. Nicolae, an undergraduate in applied mathematics at Harvard, writes:

In 1988, my twenty-six-year-old father jumped off a train in the middle of Hungary with nothing but the clothes on his back. For the next two years, he fled an oppressive Romanian Communist regime that would kill him if they ever laid hands on him again.

My father ran from a government that beat, tortured, and brainwashed its citizens. His childhood friend disappeared after scrawling an insult about the dictator on the school bathroom wall. His neighbors starved to death from food rations designed to combat “obesity.” As the population dwindled, women were sent to the hospital every month to make sure they were getting pregnant.


Roughly 100 million people died at the hands of the ideology my parents escaped. They cannot tell their story. We owe it to them to recognize that this ideology is not a fad, and their deaths are not a joke.

Last month marked 100 years since the Bolshevik Revolution, though college culture would give you precisely the opposite impression. ...

Worth reading the whole thing just for her perspective. It's short and to the point.

Also, I didn't realize the English translation of The Black Book of Communism was published by the Harvard University Press.

The Feast of St. Andrew

Most of St Andrew is still [in Italy] today but bits of him have been moved over the years to Scotland.... Legend has it that St Andrew’s first bits ended up in Scotland thanks to St Rule or St Regulus, a Greek monk who had a vision in which he was told to take the bits to the ends of the earth for safekeeping. His journey took him to the shores of Fife, which is easy to mistake for the ends of the earth.


This evening I got a call telling me my grandfather had passed away. He plowed behind a mule as a boy, learned to drive in a Model T, served his country in World War II, farmed and welded and did odd jobs to support a devoted wife and a bunch of great kids, told some pretty good stories, and kept working long past the days he needed the money, well into his 80s. I will never be as good a man as he was.

Not the Worst Idea

We all know that the Founders crafted a Constitution that expected imperfect leaders. All the same, character still does count. Virtue is properly honored, and the honors of political office are unwisely given to the vicious. These things were true in Aristotle's day, and they remain true in our own.

An Unwanted Companion

I'm not too surprised to see the news about A Prairie Home Companion maestro Garrison Keillor. Exactly like Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, he is a physically unattractive man whose talents located him in a position of controlling access to show business. Both men really were talented in their way, and both appear to have succumbed to the temptation to use their position to obtain more sexual pleasure than they'd have gained if they had relied upon their physical charms.

Keillor's show had many sublime moments, but it was also marked by nearly continual (and not always at all subtle) mockery of the traditional culture that the show allegedly celebrated. The sophisticates didn't see the value of the old walls, and urged them be swept away. Now we hear that there is no shelter from the wailing wind, and that new walls are needed against it. Plan them well, I suppose, if you are able.


The NYT's Opinion page finally throws away its last shred of pretense to objectivity. This Rubicon was crossed so slowly that you may not even notice that we've finally reached the opposite shore.

What if There are Too Many People?

Fertility rates continue to plummet in the developed world. There are lots of questions about why, and what the long term effects are.

I've thought about this for years, but lately I've begun to rethink my views. Maybe the problem isn't fertility crashing, but overpopulation. The argument for maintaining a larger up-and-coming population than the existing population turns on the need to support the elderly: 8 grandkids can more readily support 2 grandparents than can 2 grandkids. But with automation and robotics, increasingly we won't need people to do the work; and if they become cheaper goods the way other sorts of durable goods do, then we won't need to tap the vast income of the 8 grandkids as much to provide caretaker robots or other things that the elderly need.

Meanwhile, overpopulation has its own set of problems. You don't have to be a crazed environmentalist to see that massive traffic jams don't contribute much to human happiness. In a way, that's not fair: each of the people in the cars in those traffic jams is going somewhere for reasons of his or her own, presumably in pursuit of some individual vision of human happiness. At the same time, any individual one of them would be happier if there were fewer of them doing it.

We should figure out why fertility is declining so rapidly, if we are able. If it's some chemical disorder or disease, that's a problem. But if it's just people making choices to have fewer children, well, maybe lower population is manageable at this moment in technological history in a way it would not have been before. That could be all right.

Mike Pence and Public Broadcasting

It may be counter-intuitive, but Vice President Pence once won the Champion of Public Broadcasting award.
“Governor Mike Pence is a highly-respected conservative who jealously guards taxpayers’ interests, believes deeply in limited government, values the public service mission of public television, and has recommended an investment of State funds in support of that mission in Indiana,” said APTS president and CEO Patrick Butler. “We are profoundly grateful for his support of our work in education, public safety and well-informed citizenship, and we are honored to present a well-deserved Champion of Public Broadcasting Award to one of the most principled and talented political leaders in our country.”

“The foundation of a free society is an educated and informed public,” said Governor Pence. “For decades, Indiana’s public television stations have enriched and engaged the Hoosier public and reflected the state’s values. I am grateful for their service and that of the Association of Public Television Stations in furthering the knowledge of viewers across this great nation every day.”
There are reasons to question whether the public interest is best served by a government-run news agency, which will of course be operating in the interests of the government -- not necessarily the same as the interests of the public. Still, the recognition of the role that journalism plays in creating an educated and informed public is striking compared to the current administration's rhetoric towards news even of the market-based sort.

A Lucky Man

Headline: "Successful actress Meghan Markle to wed former soldier."

Objectification and Empathy

Two of the biggest assumptions in our current culture are these:

1) Objectification of people is what allows you to treat them badly.

2) Empathy is the answer, as it prevents this objectification.

Both of these assumptions are certainly wrong as simple statements. Objectification is absolutely necessary to the process of thought; you can't consider another person even as a presumptive subject without making them an object of your conscious thought. As the article under the first link explores, there are a number of other ways in which objectification is either not bad, proper, or sometimes simply non-problematic. The real issue is more fundamental. If rationality leads to better solutions, well, objectification is a necessary condition for rational thought. You can feel about someone without objectifying them only because the feelings are really your own: you aren't feeling what they feel, but what you feel. If you are going to think about them, you're going to have to freeze them in your mind as an object for analysis.

Meanwhile, as the author goes on to point out, frequently cruelty doesn't arise from objectification at all: it is just because the other is recognized as a human capable of suffering humiliation or pain that the wrong is done to them. If only the evildoer saw them as merely an object, without subjective capacity, there would be no point to the cruelty.

Empathy, as the second link explores, is not an unalloyed good. Being empathetic means experiencing an emotional response, which may not be entirely coherent with applying reason to a problem. For example, feeling a strong sense of empathy for the victim of a crime may make you less rational about administering punishment in vengeance for that crime. It is important to be rational there, though, if only to be sure that the person you think you've caught is really the guilty party.

Good to see these basic assumptions beginning to be challenged. Both of them preference feelings over reason in moral decision-making, a preference at odds with all of the great moral philosophy.

Romance, Post-Tolkien

In an essay called "Out of the Shire," Hillsdale College scholar Bradley J. Birzer wonders where we go next.
As I list what to read “After Tolkien,” I must make two caveats. First, almost no one has reached the literary quality of Tolkien’s writings, whether in his clever children’s stories, such as The Hobbit, or in his high fantasy, such as in The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion. And, second, no one has reached the imaginative quality of Tolkien’s writings, either. For better or worse, these two must be givens as we consider “After Tolkien.” And, these two might be givens for the next several centuries.
Perhaps, but it is not certain. The earlier, allied genre of Sword & Sorcery enjoyed its great master in the form of Robert E. Howard; but his near contemporary, Friz Leiber, flourished and in some respects went beyond him. Tolkien is a high bar, though, because he had a degree of learning that is itself a high bar. You would need to find someone as creative, as romantic, and as capable of sustaining those things through the dreariness of acquiring all that academic learning. The last of those might be the hardest of the lot, but without the depth of scholarship you cannot do what Tolkien did.

Samizdat: An Amusing Bit in the Wikipedia Entry

The introduction for the article "Samizdat" is as follows:

Samizdat (Russian: самизда́т, IPA: [səmɨzˈdat]) was a key form of dissident activity across the Soviet bloc in which individuals reproduced censored and underground publications by hand and passed the documents from reader to reader. This grassroots practice to evade official Soviet censorship was fraught with danger, as harsh punishments were meted out to people caught possessing or copying censored materials. Vladimir Bukovsky summarized it as follows: "Samizdat: I write it myself, edit it myself, censor it myself, publish it myself, distribute it myself, and spend jail time for it myself."


You're all familiar with Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, which argued that government regulations and taxes could be used to subtly influence individual decisions to attain preferred outcomes. There are a number of reasons to object to the model, one of which is its imagery: a shove, however gentle, is a form of assault and battery even if it is a shove 'in the right direction.' Another is its arrogance, which presumes that government and not the individual is best placed to determine which is 'the right direction.'

In any case, it looks like the GOP tax bill would slash some of these 'nudges.' Unfortunately it does not eliminate them, but it does at least improve upon them. Naturally, the effect of this is described as murderous: a sort of intentional killing of the innocent by the lowering of their sin taxes.
As alcohol-linked deaths continue to rise, the Senate is expected to vote on a tax bill this week that would exacerbate this public health problem. Tucked away in the Senate’s tax bill is the “Craft Beverage Modernization” provision, which would cut federal excise taxes on alcohol producers, particularly small brewers. A recent Brookings Institution report estimates that this legislation would “result in between 281 and 659 additional motor vehicle fatalities… (relative to a baseline of 37,461 deaths [in 2016]) and 1,550 additional alcohol-related deaths” per year.
They would have you believe that higher taxes are literally good for you.

The real intent of the bill is to streamline alcohol taxes in such a way as to eliminate some unfair advantages enjoyed by major producers, as opposed to the smaller 'craft beer' producers who are flourishing now. Those outfits are producing some really fine beer, too, which improves our quality of life in a much more obvious way than does the paying of taxes.

How Perseus Came to Make a Rash Vow

'I am Pallas Athene; and I know the thoughts of all men's hearts, and discern their manhood or their baseness. And from the souls of clay I turn away, and they are blest, but not by me. They fatten at ease, like sheep in the pasture, and eat what they did not sow, like oxen in the stall. They grow and spread, like the gourd along the ground; but, like the gourd, they give no shade to the traveller, and when they are ripe death gathers them, and they go down unloved into hell, and their name vanishes out of the land.
'But to the souls of fire I give more fire, and to those who are manful I give a might more than man's. These are the heroes, the sons of the Immortals, who are blest, but not like the souls of clay. For I drive them forth by strange paths, Perseus, that they may fight the Titans and the monsters, the enemies of Gods and men. Through doubt and need, danger and battle, I drive them; and some of them are slain in the flower of youth, no man knows when or where; and some of them win noble names, and a fair and green old age; but what will be their latter end I know not, and none, save Zeus, the father of Gods and men. Tell me now, Perseus, which of these two sorts of men seem to you more blest?'
Then Perseus answered boldly: 'Better to die in the flower of youth, on the chance of winning a noble name, than to live at ease like the sheep, and die unloved and unrenowned.'
Charles Kingsley, Heroes

Chainmail: The Stuff of the Future

NASA thinks so, in any case.

The Bear Returns

Exciting news, from my perspective.


A recording of an interrogation of a 22-year old teaching assistant for her thought crimes.