A king without free subjects is nothing worth

At Gutenberg this week, I'm formatting a biography of Alfred the Great by Charles Plummer (1902).  In the war-torn and squalid late 9th century of England, Alfred stood out for the noble and energetic qualities of his mind and character.  After preserving Wessex from the Viking menace, Alfred translated a number of Latin works into the vernacular, including Boethius on the Consolation of Philosophy, though the loose editorial standards of the day leave some doubt how much of his translation is faithful and how much expresses his own fine instincts.  Here are some maxims from one of his translations:
[that] reward should not be looked for in this world, but should be sought from God alone; that a good name is better than any wealth; that true nobility is of the mind, not of the body; that an honest purpose is accepted, even though its accomplishment be frustrated; that a king without free subjects is nothing worth; that no one should be idle, or wish to live a soft life.
Alfred traveled to Rome as a child. As king, he sent emissaries at least to the Holy Land, as perhaps as far as India, no small achievement for his time.

Math = Privilege

Gutierrez says evaluations of math skills can perpetuate discrimination against minorities, especially if they do worse than their white counterparts, Campus Reform reported.

“If one is not viewed as mathematical, there will always be a sense of inferiority that can be summoned” because the average person won't necessarily question the role of mathematics in society, she writes.

According to the website, Gutierrez adds that there are so many people who “have experienced microaggressions from participating in math classrooms… [where people are] judged by whether they can reason abstractly.”
Here's one truth about math skills: if you don't start developing the best ones you can early, many fields of study will be closed to you in college if you follow the traditional path of starting college shortly after High School. These include well-remunerated fields such as engineering, and cutting edge fields like physics.

You could always go do something else for a while, and develop the skills you need during your time away. But if you want the privileges that come from being a successful engineer, say, you're going to have to do the work. Teachers telling you something else to make you feel better about yourself isn't helping you. Since wealth is inheritable, it isn't helping your children either. A teacher who helps you feel good about not overcoming shortcomings in mathematics may be putting generations of your descendants at a disadvantage.

Economists hardest hit

Remember Paul Krugman after Trump's election?

Something similar is shaking out of Brexit, which failed to result in the Brexodus of capital from Great Britain. 
'As we know from Project Fear, the main function of economists is explaining why their last forecast was wrong.'


Is this a peaceful path out of Venezuela's failed experiment?  Or will Maduro start massacres to prevent the humiliation?

Never underestimate the power and value of functioning price signals.  Lies win for a time, but they can't last. As Oskar Matzerath said, "All's lost, but not forever. Poland's not lost forever."

The Feast of St. Thomas of Beckett

He is also known of St. Thomas of Kent, where he died, as memorialized in Ivanhoe.
“By my troth,” said the knight, “thou hast sung well and lustily, and in high praise of thine order. And, talking of the devil, Holy Clerk, are you not afraid that he may pay you a visit during some of your uncanonical pastimes?”

“I uncanonical!” answered the hermit; “I scorn the charge—I scorn it with my heels!—I serve the duty of my chapel duly and truly—Two masses daily, morning and evening, primes, noons, and vespers, ‘aves, credos, paters’—-”

“Excepting moonlight nights, when the venison is in season,” said his guest.

“‘Exceptis excipiendis’” replied the hermit, “as our old abbot taught me to say, when impertinent laymen should ask me if I kept every punctilio of mine order.”

“True, holy father,” said the knight; “but the devil is apt to keep an eye on such exceptions; he goes about, thou knowest, like a roaring lion.”

“Let him roar here if he dares,” said the friar; “a touch of my cord will make him roar as loud as the tongs of St Dunstan himself did. I never feared man, and I as little fear the devil and his imps. Saint Dunstan, Saint Dubric, Saint Winibald, Saint Winifred, Saint Swibert, Saint Willick, not forgetting Saint Thomas a Kent, and my own poor merits to speed, I defy every devil of them, come cut and long tail.—But to let you into a secret, I never speak upon such subjects, my friend, until after morning vespers.”

He changed the conversation; fast and furious grew the mirth of the parties, and many a song was exchanged betwixt them, when their revels were interrupted by a loud knocking at the door of the hermitage.

Did Historical Jesus Really Exist?

On December 18th, the WaPo published an article challenging the historical evidence for the existence of Jesus by Raphael Lataster, a historian who claims Jesus didn't exist. It seems an interesting topic for discussion.

Lataster's main claims about the historical documents are:

The first problem we encounter when trying to discover more about the Historical Jesus is the lack of early sources. The earliest sources only reference the clearly fictional Christ of Faith. These early sources, compiled decades after the alleged events, all stem from Christian authors eager to promote Christianity – which gives us reason to question them. The authors of the Gospels fail to name themselves, describe their qualifications, or show any criticism with their foundational sources – which they also fail to identify. Filled with mythical and non-historical information, and heavily edited over time, the Gospels certainly should not convince critics to trust even the more mundane claims made therein.
The methods traditionally used to tease out rare nuggets of truth from the Gospels are dubious. The criterion of embarrassment says that if a section would be embarrassing for the author, it is more likely authentic. Unfortunately, given the diverse nature of Christianity and Judaism back then (things have not changed all that much), and the anonymity of the authors, it is impossible to determine what truly would be embarrassing or counter-intuitive, let alone if that might not serve some evangelistic purpose. 
The criterion of Aramaic context is similarly unhelpful. Jesus and his closest followers were surely not the only Aramaic-speakers in first-century Judea. The criterion of multiple independent attestation can also hardly be used properly here, given that the sources clearly are not independent. 
Paul’s Epistles, written earlier than the Gospels, give us no reason to dogmatically declare Jesus must have existed. Avoiding Jesus’ earthly events and teachings, even when the latter could have bolstered his own claims, Paul only describes his “Heavenly Jesus.” Even when discussing what appear to be the resurrection and the last supper, his only stated sources are his direct revelations from the Lord, and his indirect revelations from the Old Testament. In fact, Paul actually rules out human sources (see Galatians 1:11-12). 
Also important are the sources we don’t have. There are no existing eyewitness or contemporary accounts of Jesus. All we have are later descriptions of Jesus’ life events by non-eyewitnesses, most of whom are obviously biased. Little can be gleaned from the few non-Biblical and non-Christian sources, with only Roman scholar Josephus and historian Tacitus having any reasonable claim to be writing about Jesus within 100 years of his life. And even those sparse accounts are shrouded in controversy, with disagreements over what parts have obviously been changed by Christian scribes (the manuscripts were preserved by Christians), the fact that both these authors were born after Jesus died (they would thus have probably received this information from Christians), and the oddity that centuries go by before Christian apologists start referencing them.

He has some other things to say, and a number of links within the above text as well to other authors, but that's the gist of it. This is a new argument to me, though I've heard rumblings of it before. I've heard Christian apologists make the opposite claim that, while clearly the miracles and any supernatural parts can be disbelieved, that the case that Jesus was a historical figure is clear for all to see. I actually haven't looked that much into it, though. Any have any good sources on this? Any thoughts about it?

The Penny Post

In 1836, Rowland Hill was tasked by a Member of Parliament to propose a reform of England's cumbersome and expensive postal system.  He examined it systematically and concluded that postal customers were overpaying for useless aspects of the post.  For one thing, most of the resources of the system were eaten up by armies of clerks engaged in a finicky counting of pages; Rowland proposed to substitute a simple weighing of each missive.  Rowland also concluded that the differences in distance of travel were such a trivial part of the cost of each letter that they didn't justify the time spent calculating differential charges.  Finally, he advocated getting the Post Office completely out of the business of collecting a fee for postal services after the fact, by the simple expedient of charging up front.  Up to this time, the cost of postage traditionally had been borne by the recipient, who sometimes would refuse delivery rather than pay.  What's more, over 12% of mail traffic was delivered cost-free to customers with "franking" privileges, particularly members of government.  The result of Hill's improvements, enacted by Parliament over howls of protest, was to permit a wholesale revamping of the Post Office in which a standard letter could be sent anywhere in the country for a penny.

About time we took another fresh look at a creaky old system.  When systems go on long enough without the discipline of competition, they take on barnacles:  good, government jobs that are doing no earthly good for anyone except the clerks receiving the benefits package.

Anyone can play

Newsweek establishes a winning formula:
Trump’s rhetoric differs from that of Nazi Germany’s, most notably because he has never advocated genocide. But Trump’s talk about Christmas coexists with re-emerging white identity politics. . . .
This has broad usefulness.  [INSERT A]'s rhetoric differs from that of [INSERT B], most notably because he has never advocated [INSERT C]. But [INSERT A]’s talk about [INSERT D] coexists with re-emerging [INSERT E] politics.
    1. Nancy Pelosi
    2. Rosie O'Donnell
    3. George Soros
    4. Paul Krugman

    1. the Khmer Rouge
    2. the New York Times
    3. the Southern Poverty Law Center
    4. the Man-Boy Love Association

    1. income inequality
    2. diversity
    3. cultural appropriation
    4. spelling reform

    1. child pornography
    2. mandatory sensitivity training for bakers
    3. forcible gender reassignment
    4. book burning

    1. "woke"
    2. New New Left
    3. deficit-hawk
    4. intellectual malfeasance

Ancient Greek with Joe Bob Briggs

No, really. When he drops the act, he proves to be a man of great intellect and education. No wonder he covers that up! It must make people terribly uncomfortable.

The article is a meditation on the meaning of Christmas, with a substantial bit of history in addition to the textual analysis.

The Feast of Holy Innocents

Today we are reaching back to 2014 for my favorite memorial post, with an Arthurian connection.

The Feast of Christmas

It was less merry with my father gone and my mother moved away to be with my niece and my sister, but we did our best. I can tell that my people here around me understand me, as they arranged for me a feast of elk steaks and a local award-winning mead.

May you all be merry and warm.

In the Last Hours of Anticipating a Birth

G. K. Chesterton:
“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”
This is part of a chapter of Orthodoxy called "The Ethics of Elfland." It reminds me of how much we still live in the morning of the world, although it is no longer morning for me. Christmas is the morning, and joy cometh in the morning.