Vive La France

Notes from the brink

Craftiness obsesses me at most times, but never more than at this season. It's amazing what you can find if you dig into a craft box you haven't opened for 30 years. And the instructions for folding these pretty strips of paper into Moravian stars were still available on the internet! Now I'm in search of a source of much wider and longer strips so I can make stars about 10 inches wide instead of these tiny things. The tiny ones will go on my tree, the big one on my Church's very tall (regrettably artificial) one.

Proof of concept:  you can, in fact, tape strips of ordinary typing paper together and make a bigger star.  Now I'll have to experiment with a nicer-quality paper with tape joints in different locations.  This 1-1/2-inch strip makes a star about six inches wide, almost as big as what I'm aiming at.

And here are the final products.  I can get a strip of 2-1/8 inches in width and 11 inches long by cutting an 8.5x11 sheet in quarters and taping four strips end to end to make a strip 2-1/8 by 44 inches long, about the right proportions.  Four of those make a star.  That's the size of the largest star, on the right.  The two tiny stars are made of strips 1/2 inch wide.

Yule Tree

The Hall’s tree. It’s not decorated to compete with Tex, but it is twelve feet tall. Second highest tree I’ve ever mounted, but of better quality I think. The other one was 18 feet, but a short needle pine. This one is a spruce.

Hypothesis Affirmed

Shooting the cops in this case is dangerous—they may send a SWAT team to kill you—and in many places it's illegal. But it is nevertheless morally permissible, indeed heroic and admirable.

This Time

An album from Waylon that found its way online.

One... MILLION Dollars!

The state of New York has an idea to reduce gun ownership: make every gun owner carry a million-dollar insurance policy.

Well, it's not a new idea. We've talked about this before, both here and at the now-defunct Winds of Change. Then as now, gun-haters were sure that the expense of such a policy would cripple interest in guns. The truth is, if such policies were widely offered, they'd be pretty cheap.

I have a million dollar liability policy as part of my homeowner's insurance. The cost of this policy is a few tens of dollars a year -- on the order of thirty bucks. I spend more on coffee, monthly, than I do annually on this policy. And that is in spite of the fact that this covers a wide degree of risks, everything from 'slipped on the ice on your walk in the winter' to 'chose to climb a tree on the back 40 and broke my leg.' It covers you if you get burned on my fireplace, or if a roofbeam should fall on your head. Lots of stuff is covered.

The gun policy they're proposing only covers one thing: if I should shoot someone and get sued for it.

Let's run through that in very round numbers to make the math easy. Now there are 300,000,000+ guns in America, owned by around 100,000,000 households. There are just around 100,000 gun injuries or deaths a year. Two-thirds of gun deaths are suicides. Those that are intentional homicides wouldn't be covered by insurance policies because they are crimes, and you can't insure yourself against the consequences of intentionally committing a crime. Only the rare accidental shooting (489, or about half of one thousand in 2015), or a lawful self-defense that resulted in a successful lawsuit, would be covered.

So we've got around 500 annual accidents in a nation of three hundred million guns; assuming all guns were equally likely to cause that injury, and a 100% probability of the insurance company having to pay a claim over it, then the probability that your insurance company has to pay a claim is about .000016. Add in estimated defensive gun use, and there's another group of guns you'd have to insure, but again it's divided over 300,000,000 guns owned by 100,000,000 households. Estimates for how often guns are used defensively vary widely, but the low side numbers are all from the gun-control side; if they believe their own numbers, it's going to be a vanishingly small number of incidents that need to be paid out.

It's a million-dollar policy, but the average cost of a gunshot wound is only $150,000. Assuming that adding in the defensive uses to the accidental shootings fully doubles the number of payoffs, then we've got $150,000 x 1,000 incidents, or $150,000,000 in annual payouts. Divide that by 300,000,000 guns, and we'll need about fifty cents a gun to cover that.

So, if you own six guns, that's three dollars a year. Of course it'll be a bit higher, because the insurance company would have operating costs. But it's not going to break the backs of the firearms injury, even if it survives constitutional review.

'The Virgin Mary Couldn't Consent'

An argument from a Satan-loving professor in Minnesota.
“The virgin birth story is about an all-knowing, all-powerful deity impregnating a human teen. There is no definition of consent that would include that scenario. Happy Holidays"

Another Twitter user called the professor’s claim into question, noting that the Bible states that the Virgin Mary did, indeed, agree to God’s plan for her.

“The biblical god regularly punished disobedience,” Sprankle rebutted. “The power difference (deity vs mortal) and the potential for violence for saying ‘no’ negates her ‘yes.’ To put someone in this position is an unethical abuse of power at best and grossly predatory at worst.”...

Sprankle also decorated his Christmas tree with Satanic decor, as shown in another tweet he sent this past weekend.
The Bible makes a surprisingly large amount of God's desire for human consent, when you consider the power differential. God doesn't need human consent for anything. Like Eru Ilúvatar in the opening act of the Silmarillion, an all-powerful God could readily rework even the most rebellious dissent into a new harmony. So he could respect your free will without cost to himself or his designs. In point of fact, on this model, it's only because of his choice that any of us have free will at all. A god like Ilúvatar could have built mindless machines to execute his designs.

One of the interesting things about the Bible, then, is just how interested God seems to be in humanity's willful compliance. It's true that God punishes bad behavior sometimes. It's also true that God forgoes punishment where there is reform, sometimes. But the central fact of Jesus' mission in the Bible is the search for individual choice -- consent -- on behalf of each and every soul. Jesus does not compel, he argues in favor and leaves it to his listeners to decide what to do with what he says; ultimately, what to do with him.

It's an unreflective pose, this professor's. One ought to think more deeply when one is supposedly wed to the life of the mind.

Language Like a Free Market

Several of us seem to be interested in language, so I thought I'd post a link to editor and language columnist for The Economist Lane Greene's thoughts on the descriptivist / prescriptivist divide and the ways in which language operates like a free market.

Some quick excerpts:

Decades before the rise of social media, polarisation plagued discussions about language. By and large, it still does. Everyone who cares about the topic is officially required to take one of two stances. Either you smugly preen about the mistakes you find abhorrent – this makes you a so-called prescriptivist – or you show off your knowledge of language change, and poke holes in the prescriptivists’ facts – this makes you a descriptivist. Group membership is mandatory, and the two are mutually exclusive.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. I have two roles at my workplace: I am an editor and a language columnist. These two jobs more or less require me to be both a prescriptivist and a descriptivist. When people file me copy that has mistakes of grammar or mechanics, I fix them (as well as applying The Economist’s house style). But when it comes time to write my column, I study the weird mess of real language; rather than being a scold about this or that mistake, I try to teach myself (and so the reader) something new. Is this a split personality, or can the two be reconciled into a coherent philosophy? I believe they can.


Descriptivists – that is, virtually all academic linguists – will point out that semantic creep is how languages work. It’s just something words do: look up virtually any nontechnical word in the great historical Oxford English Dictionary (OED), which lists a word’s senses in historical order. You’ll see things such as the extension of decimate happening again and again and again. Words won’t sit still. The prescriptivist position, offered one linguist, is like taking a snapshot of the surface of the ocean and insisting that’s how ocean surfaces must look.

Be that as it may, retort prescriptivists, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying. ...

Read on for a discussion of changes in English in the Great Vowel Shift, the evolution of the word buxom, the loss of Old English case endings, and the ways spontaneous order does its work in a language, much like it does its work in an economy.

But Is It Conscious?

And how would you know?

There are some standing answers, such as the Turing test, and Sebastian Rödl's test for self-consciousness. These are 'just to be sure' tests, though; they're arguments that we have reason to treat these as thinking beings, as conscious beings, and no reason not to do so. To be sure we aren't exploiting them, then, we should do so.

But consider the arguments from the Aristotelian discussion below, and think about the problem. Are these things somehow programmed to mimic consciousness, or are they becoming conscious? How could you tell?

Solstice tree

Different Definitions of Racism

Over at The Federalist, David Marcus writes about the problems America has because of the starkly different definitions of "racism" progressives and conservatives have. He suggests ways we could compromise on action without compromising on principles. I generally agree with his points, but I don't think the left wants to compromise on actions. I could be wrong, of course.

Here are the definitions and some key points about them:

There are two basic definitions of racism in the United States, one roughly associated with progressives and one roughly associated with conservatives. The former describes racism as the failure to acknowledge and seek to redress systemic discrimination against select disadvantaged minority groups. It is very broad and captures everything from unconscious bias to white supremacy. The latter views racism as making assumptions about, or taking action towards, an individual or group on the sole basis of their race. It is narrow and generally requires belief, intent, and animosity.

These definitions don’t simply differ; to a great extent they actually contradict each other. Much of the contradiction stems from the fact that the progressive definition of racism requires that an advantaged individual or group must be attacking the less privileged. The more conservative and narrow definition of racism requires no appeal to power structures, only to bias, and can be committed by anyone towards anyone.

There is a double standard here that progressives don’t actually deny. It is, in fact, baked into their definition of racism. Under their rubric, the definition of racist has a double standard precisely because society has double standards that they argue overwhelmingly disadvantage the less privileged. It is internally logical and consistent in a way a lot of conservatives don’t quite understand.

On the other hand, those on the left are often shocked when polls show that majorities of white people believe that they are discriminated against in the United States. They will point to economic data, political power, and cultural representation and say, “You people are crazy.” But under the narrower definition of racism, it makes perfect sense. These white people are reacting to the fact that they can be attacked on the basis of their race in ways others can’t. In addition, whites — and increasingly Asians — look at programs like affirmative action as inherently racist.

I think he's done a good job in teasing out the definitions and why conservatives and progressives misunderstand each other on this point.

What to do about it is another thing altogether.

Sign Me Up for Not Signing Up for That

The UN has an idea: give voting rights to migrants. Immediately.
Hidden amongst the 38 jargon-laced pages, the compact affirms the “entitlements” of migrants and refugees; including but not limited to additional job training, diaspora “trade fairs,” assistance sending money to their countries of origin, and a commitment to “educating” native communities on the benefits of multiculturalism and increased immigration.

The document insists it is based on “human rights law” and “upholds the principles of non-regression and non-discrimination.”

This means a nation-state is agreeing to not alter its own internal immigration policies after signing up to the compact. What supranational governmental organizations call “pooling sovereignty,” and what the rest of us call “giving up sovereignty.”

The document demands migrants get the same rights as natives, immediately, including but not limited to voting rights and access to welfare.
Even if I were in favor of higher levels of immigration, which currently I am not -- I think we need at least a generation to culturally absorb the ones we have already -- I would not be in favor of assigning the franchise to people immediately. You need to be here long enough to learn how we do things, and just why, before you should be voting.

We had a long series many years ago now on the franchise. The universal franchise makes some sense, and ultimately we didn't come up with anything better. But you shouldn't assign votes to children too young to have been educated in the proper way that the system works; nor too young to make dispassionate decisions in the light of reason; nor to people too recently arrived to understand fully what is going on.

These days I'm thinking that means that the 'proper education' requirement might disbar very many US citizens, even natural born ones, and that 'too young to make dispassionate decisions' might require raising the voting age to 35. I'm certainly not inclined to believe, from my observations, that we should be even more eager to enlist first-time voters who don't really understand America, how it works, or what its value might be.

Things Aren't What They Used To Be

A meditation at The Federalist.
As I write in my new book, “I Used To Be Conservative: Confessions Of A Conservative Who Used To Be A Conservative Who Used To Be A Liberal,” “I could no longer be a conservative, because being a conservative could no longer be an option.” How true that is.

Sometimes you reach a point—usually when you have something to promote—when what you once thought no longer is what you think now. That point has arrived for me. It’s quite painful, as I’ve said on several CNN programs and YouTube interviews.

The conservatism of today is not the conservatism it was when I was younger, nor is it the liberalism it was when I was middle-aged. I can no longer sit idly by and pretend that what I once believed is what I believe now, or that anyone else should believe it. Or not.

Was Mueller Worth It?

Vanity Fair just published a 'Trump-Hater's guide to Mueller skepticism.' Objectively, the fines extracted from Paul Manafort have more than paid for the investigation, so it's certainly been worth it for the government financially.

And, too, it has been enlightening to watch Mueller make a lifelong public servant plead guilty to a charge of which he wasn't even suspected -- Flynn plead to lying to the FBI, in spite of the testimony from the agents who interviewed him that he was truthful and forthcoming. If he's willing to do that, well, we know that nothing he produces can be trusted without substantial supporting evidence. It's good to realize just how corrupt the government is, and Mueller himself in spite of his sterling reputation.

Mueller caught Flynn on a violation of working for Turkey without registering, which required altering the enforcement of the law governing those practices. Until recently, you could register after the fact; now it's a thing that you have to follow the law and register if you're lobbying the government on behalf of a foreign country. I suppose that's good, but it's interesting that the conviction required changing common practice.

Flynn eventually lost his house and his job and his security clearance, but even with the guilty pleas he extorted Mueller didn't have enough to ask for even a day in jail. So far the sentences faced by those he's haunted have ranged from two weeks to a month. Manafort will probably get hit harder, but not for anything he did with Donald Trump; and even there, I notice that Mueller mostly made him plead guilty to the charges that he couldn't convict on in court. Mueller's record of actually proving things is pretty weak.

I think we have learned from this that the Department of Justice is entirely corrupt at the top, and should be disbanded and replaced. That's an important insight, well worth the price of an investigation that -- as mentioned -- paid for itself.

So sure, it was worth it. Or will have been, if we follow through on punishing the corruption that it has revealed.

A Big Day for Aristotelians

A plant 'cyborg' has proven to have the capacity to move itself around to seek better light. We all know that plants can detect light, and can engage in some limited movement of their leaves in order to maximize exposure. Scientists have figured out how to translate that into an ability to let the whole plant move itself, determining where it should sit.
The idea is reasonably simple—place sensors that listen to the electrical signals generated by a plant and then convert those signals to commands carried out by the motorized wheels. The result is a plant that can respond to changes in light direction by moving itself closer to the source.
If you are an Aristotelian thinker, this is really an interesting development. Aristotle argues (in De Anima) that the human soul has three parts, the rational, the motive (or animal), and the nutrative (or plant-like). Humans, plants, and animals contain the capacity to take nutrition from the world and put it into our own order: to rebuild our cells, say, with proteins taken from outside us. All of us do that, and it is the distinction between living things and things like rocks that are not alive.

The difference between plants and animals, he thought, was just this capacity to move one's self in order to obtain food. The motive soul was a higher level of soul because it required an ability to distinguish things distant from yourself, rather than simply to absorb things that you came into contact with accidentally. Hans Jonas, in The Phenomenon of Life, argues that this capacity requires a self-conscious mind: a hawk must be able to distinguish that it is different from the rabbit. That isn't necessarily clear, though; there needs to be some sort of process by which the hawk finds the rabbit's presence actionable, but it might not be a conscious process. Still, it makes sense to say it is: certainly, in us, we recognize ourselves as different from the hunted animal. There is no special reason to assume it is otherwise for the hawk, there is just no proof that the hawk experiences consciousness.

(Although, speaking of birds, I think it's at least suggestive that crows not only display advanced problem solving in spite of having brains that contain none of the structures we think humans use for it, they also seem to be able to recognize people who have been mean and to communicate that to others in their murder. But we don't know what their experiences are like, or even if they 'have experiences' at all.)

So anyway, it turns out that plants have the ability to process the information they would need to move around; they just don't, naturally, have the capability to move around. For Aristotle, the soul is the perfection of the thing according to its own nature. Wouldn't the plant be more perfect if it could move, just as an animal would be more perfect if it could reason (as, it seems, crows can)?

If the answer is yes, then we come to another Aristotelian dictum, this one from the Physics: it is the role of art to perfect nature. That is to say that the human soul, which is rational in its highest part, can see where the natural has failed to actualize all of its potential. We can, through art, improve nature by bringing it more fully to its complete perfection. The art of medicine is essentially this, or has been up until now: the eye should see, and see well, but does not, and so the doctor works to try to restore or perfect the sight.

So the question to ask is this: are we perfecting the plants' nature, and if so, does that mean that they really do have an animal (motive) soul that has only existed so far in potency? If so, do they have rational souls in potency as well? We have more reason than Aristotle had to think that animals can reason, at least some of them. Perhaps all animals have rational souls that haven't been fully actualized; perhaps, with art, they could be. Plants as well.

That leads to another ancient view, more Plato's than Aristotle's.

Dod Yn Ôl At Fy Nghoed

A Welsh poetic insight into human nature.
[Robert Macfarlane] credits his parents and his grandfather for passing on to him an abiding love for wild places. “I remember seeing a golden eagle for the first time and was amazed that a bird could be so big.”

Macfarlane believes passionately that all children should have the chance to form such memories. Does he think the Government should do more to increase available green space near to home for all children? “Absolutely. I would really like to see nature and environmental well-being in Section 78 of the Education Act so that nature and our relationship with it becomes a part of life, a part of behaviour and ethics.” He mentions the Welsh phrase dod yn ôl at fy nghoed, which means “to return to a balanced state of mind”, but literally means “to return to my trees”.


Songwriter on this one was Kris Kristofferson.

A Second

I'd like to second AVI's recommendation to read this Virginia Postrel essay on culture. This is something we've been talking about for years here at the Hall, but I agree with her assessment that conservatives still have no better ideas about what to do about it. It's as much a magic box for us as economics seems to be for the socialist left.

My best suggestion from a few years ago was to work to introduce the young to old movies. There was a golden age of cinema in Hollywood that celebrated America and its values, in forms variously sweeping and romantic (like The Alamo) or thoughtful and introspective (like The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance). Our left has already worked out a countermeasure, though: they've taught the youth to search out 'problematic' structures in every older form of art, and then to shun it lest they be contaminated by these poisonous ideas.

It's tricky. In principle engaging older forms of art -- not just Hollywood as it was, but Shakespeare or Homer, Malory or the artistic books of the Bible -- still has the potential to awaken and enlighten. Perhaps philosophy is still a valid entry point; you can start them on Plato, and then suggest that they should probably read Homer in order to better understand the references. Then you could say, "But, you know, it's going to be different from what 'we' think today. Part of the exercise is coming to understand a world outside of your own, which will in turn give you a new platform from which to criticize the world you live in today."

Indeed, that is ultimately the whole point of the exercise. Many academic disciplines today only teach a system of thought, which you are simply to apply to everything you encounter. The outcomes can be predicted in just the same way that the outcomes of a sausage-making-machine can be predicted. It doesn't matter what you put in the one end, what comes out will look like sausage, because it is the function of the machine to ensure that sausage is produced from whatever you put in it.

At 20-something, and even the early parts of 30-something, this can feel like knowledge: 'I've learned to understand the world in a systematic and coherent way!' Yet you haven't learned to understand the world at all; you've learned to force the things you encounter in the world into a meat grinder. What comes out looks exactly as you expected it to because of the function of the systems you've been taught to apply. To really learn something, you'd need to be able to step outside the system and criticize it independently.

You can only do that, though, when you have somewhere else to 'stand.' You need the perspective that comes with distance. In other words, you need to be able to think in a different way, which means thinking from a different place. You need an opposing discipline or, alternatively or additionally, you need an older world. Coming to see things the way an ancient Greek might have seen them gives you an option. You can look at the system from outside, and see if you still like what it's making.

So too the learning of other ancient ways of thought: Catholic, Jewish, and yes, Islamic; Buddhist, Viking, Hindu, Anglo-Saxon. Read Medieval poetics, if you find that you like them; study the 19th century novels. Anything to get you outside your system, and give you another place to stand.

Disgusting Contradictions

A 28-year-old dominatrix in England has decided to use her power to convince white Tories to vote socialist.
Maybury, aka Mistress Rebecca, is a self-styled political dominatrix. She plays “with concepts of humiliation”, using words and mind games rather than whips and costumes to cut her cohorts down to size. “I’m interested in men’s aspirations, how they feel confident and how vapid that confidence often is... The kind of job titles they want, the car they drive, the women they say they’re attracted to publicly, but not privately… I have an application form I make them fill out so that I can find out their favourite leader, their favourite band and film. Once I sweep away the capitalist achievements, then what remains are their real desires. Most men never even consider what their masculinity is based on, which is the frightening thing. All masculinity, when we look at it from a historical point of view, is to dominate women.”
Yes, well, no, but let's leave that for today. What I really want to get at is this business of stripping away 'capitalist achievements' in order to get to our real desires. Let's follow that thread.
One client claimed “he was a ‘female supremacist’ and a Tory. I found that such a disgusting contradiction, I couldn’t let him get away with it. Submissives often say that all they want to do is make their mistress happy, and what could make me happier than him becoming a socialist?”
What indeed could make you happier than socialism? By the way, how socialist are you personally, Ms... er, "Mistress" Rebecca?
[She] has since developed her dominatrix work into a unique type of performance art. “I just realised I can use my job as a dominatrix to be a version of a corporate creative, like an art director, where the interns do all the work. The idea is they make the work for me and then I make the money from it when it is sold.”
Marx would be so proud.


In his essay The Monsters and the Critics, Tolkien mentions a phrase used by the Beowulf poet: "Haeledh Under Heofenum." He says this might be variously given as 'heroes under heaven' or 'mighty men on the earth' (as the earth is what is under heaven). But it's curious to me that there's no obvious descendant for the word "haeledh." "Hero" isn't it; that's of Greek extraction.

In fact, I began to wonder if any related word had survived, as the lost word "frith" is a cognate of the modern "friend" and "freedom." (For good reason! See the sidebar for a whole section of relevant links.) It looks as if there was an article by Kathleen E. Dubs that was highly relevant, but I don't seem to have access to that journal.

In a bit of research, I found a few potentially useful links, but they themselves lack important context. One is this old "glossography" of the original languages of Britain and Ireland. It mentions the word in an interesting context, but its comparative language is almost all clearly Norman impositions (e.g., 'frank' really does mean, 'having the (good) manner of a Frank,' and was brought from France by the conquest).

Here, similarly, is a French-language source that gives the reference in comparison to several warrior-related terms in French, e.g., guerrier. I find it fascinating that this Anglo-Saxon word was once well-enough known to Francophones to serve as a useful reference for them. But it also suggests that a close cognate for "healedh" may be "to hold," which would make it "those who hold."

So looking into that, it appears to be correct: the West Saxon version of the root word is "haeldan."

And now it makes sense. "Holders of the earth" or "Those who hold, under heaven," does imply the power associated with heroism in the ancient context. To take hold of a part of the world, to hold it against others, to hold the order of the land together in the face of dangers from both nature and other men -- and even against dragons, if you are Beowulf.

Fusion Power Breakthrough

A major engineering challenge seems to have been overcome.


And then there's Krampus.

In Central European folklore, Krampus is a horned, anthropomorphic figure described as "half-goat, half-demon", who, during the Christmas season, punishes children who have misbehaved, in contrast with Saint Nicholas, who rewards the well-behaved with gifts.... The origin of the figure is unclear; some folklorists and anthropologists have postulated it as having pre-Christian origins....

Europeans have been exchanging greeting cards featuring Krampus since the 1800s. Sometimes introduced with Gruß vom Krampus (Greetings from Krampus), the cards usually have humorous rhymes and poems. Krampus is often featured looming menacingly over children. He is also shown as having one human foot and one cloven hoof. In some, Krampus has sexual overtones; he is pictured pursuing buxom women. Over time, the representation of Krampus in the cards has changed; older versions have a more frightening Krampus[.]
Maybe your elders weren't so easily frightened.

The problem with charity

Have you ever wondered why it does no good to point out to leftists that conservatives give more to charity than progressives?
One page after the champagne ad [in the New Yorker], we see a photograph of a smiling older white man, with the caption, “He loves helping kids. So he gives.” He calls on the reader to “give something back to the world.” My blood pressure rises when I see ads like this, because it goes to the larger problem of charity in America nowadays. If the system worked as it should, and if rich people paid their fair share of taxes, then the rest of us wouldn’t need to beg them to peel off a piece of their income and toss it back to the people.
Why count on people to give when you can just take?