Hymn of the Northmen

Ok, it's advertising, so I apologize for that, but- wow!  It's perhaps the best 'commercial' I've ever watched, and the advertising is of things I'd very much like (though can't afford, alas)- things made with the wisdom of tradition and the care of the fine craftsman.  I actually got led to this through a video on timber framing (and I think my dream vacation just changed because of it).  It happens rarely, but sometimes the algorithms get one or two right.


Belated good luck and prosperity

A neighbor brought this cabbage-slaw-blackeyed-pea dish to a next-door New Year's Eve Party, to fulfill the traditional requirement for greens and peas.  I tried to reproduce it last night from a general description, and it was as good as I remembered, though I see now I left out the green onions.   It doesn't sound like it would be that great, does it?--but it was a big hit at the party.  Just be sure to salt the peas appropriately and don't overcook them.


Johnny Cash and Bruce Springsteen both covered this 1996 Sting song, but unaccountably changed its interesting 9/8 time signature to a standard 4/4.  The beat is odd, one-two-THREE-four/one-two-three-FOUR-five with some other variations like ONE-two-three/ONE-two-THREE-four-FIVE-six, and the tune is syncopated on top of that.  The lyrics, in contrast, are a simple old-fashioned cowboy morality play, along the lines of "Long Black Veil."

Now You're Talking

Schumper: Trump threatened to keep government shut down for 'years.'

The jobs numbers are amazing. What better time for former government employees to find work in the productive part of the economy instead? Congress might have to eventually compromise, but even if we could keep it going for six or eight months, a lot of people would be forced by the long furlough to go find a job in the private sector. But we've got two years to play with, minimum.

OK, there are problems with that -- especially an inability to pay people like soldiers and Border Patrol agents. The biggest problem is that we've classified as 'essential' or 'entitlement' all the things that are really dispensable, while things that are actually essential -- protecting the country from invasion, say -- are classified as dispensable. All the same, think about it. Maybe a long, long shutdown is just what we need to get some priorities straight.

Letter of Recommendation: Old English

On the same topic as Pidgin BBC news, here's a letter recommending that you try Old English.
It’s written in a slightly different alphabet to the one we have now, with the extra characters æ (said like the a in “cat”), þ (like the th in “thorn”), ð (interchangeable with þ) and ƿ (which sounds like w). It sounds musical, guttural, dark and rich, the aural equivalent of a peaty Scotch or a towering cumulonimbus cloud.

Old English became my favorite thing about college. The grammar is easy, so it’s not difficult to learn. And enough early medieval words survived into modern English that the vocabulary seems to unlock as you learn it — the Old English word is unlucan — like a long-stuck door to a hidden room in your own house. It feels like receiving a message that has looped around the entire intervening mess of modernity to find you.
If it still seems daunting, Middle English is even easier: if you can read Shakespeare, Middle English will only require a modicum of work. I recommend the Norton Critical Edition of Le Morte Darthur, which provides plenty of footnotes to help you work through the relatively few words that don't have cognates in Modern English. One of the delights, though, is being able to read it just as Malory wrote it with increasing smoothness and ease.

And once you have Middle English, you're almost a thousand years closer to Old English. It's a major change -- the biggest one ever in the English language -- but you'll be as well-placed as possible to leap backwards over the Norman Conquest with its introduction of the French and Latin roots.


A new Justice Ministry regulation taking effect Sunday will make it mandatory for women to be notified by text message when a court issues their husbands divorce decrees, Saudi lawyer Nisreen al-Ghamdi said.

Currently, some men register divorce deeds at the courts without even telling their wives, al-Ghamdi said by phone from Jeddah.

"The new measure ensures women get their rights when they’re divorced,” she said, referring to alimony. “It also ensures that any powers of attorney issued before the divorce are not misused."

The Wisdom of the Ancients

Well, pre-Columbians, anyway. They were originally contemporaneous with the Viking Age, but still being practiced as the Renaissance was well under way.

How Long to Live Somewhere?

It's a worthy question, actually. We make foreigners reside in America for at least seven years before pursuing citizenship. Should states be required to grant it at once?

The case touches on liquor laws in Tennessee, but there's a similar issue with pistol permits in North Carolina. If you move to North Carolina from another state, even though you may have had a license to carry firearms in that state that North Carolina would recognize as valid, your permit to carry is immediately invalidated by the move. But your right to purchase a pistol in North Carolina is subject to a year's delay: North Carolina insists on a pistol purchase permit for every such firearm, issued by the sheriff, and these permits may not be issued to someone who has been resident for less than a year.

There's a loophole in the latter case, as you can apply for a NC concealed carry permit and, if granted it, purchase pistols using it instead of having to apply for a permit to purchase a pistol. However, this doesn't obviate the issue, since concealed carry permits take a while to obtain too: they're shall-issue with a mandatory 45 day window, except that NC interprets that as meaning "45 days from the completion of all relevant background checks and paperwork," so it might be 3-4 months. In other words, you lose your rights from your old state citizenship immediately on moving, but you don't obtain new rights (or privileges) pertaining to new citizenship for some time.

I imagine there are a number of similar examples, especially as pertain to goods such as alcohol and firearms that our betters have wanted to ban us from owning. It would be nice to have limits set on the power of government to do that, especially in 2A cases.

Why Not Totalitarianism?

As China rises, with its 'social credit' monitoring of every aspect of human life, we see a new kind of totalitarianism: not one pointed at an ideology, such as Communism, but totalitarianism for its own sake.

It has all the downsides for human expressions of religion as the liberalism ascendant in America, coupled with the state actually inserting agents into your home to monitor religious expression, and sending you to concentration camps for reeducation if they don't like what they see.

Should we believe that this will remain confined to China, or at least to its sphere of influence once it is done with its intended expansion? Perhaps not, since the Chinese have made use of the American tech elite as partners in effecting their totalitarianism. Coincidentally, perhaps, these same giants -- Google, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube among them -- have all decided to suppress American conservative speech.

Nor is it only China that is interested in this project. The European Union has enlisted these same tech giants to suppress what they call 'extremist' speech. And, of course, our own IRS has admitted to targeting conservative nonprofits for extra scrutiny under the Obama administration, a clear attempt to prevent political organization on the right.

The cultural power being wielded against our traditions is immense. I wonder what limits, if any, our opponents are prepared to accept on their accumulation of power over us?

A Least-Sexist Industry

Would you be surprised to hear that a major American industry is now primarily led by women? Would you be more surprised to learn that it was the military-industrial complex?
From the executive leadership of top weapons-makers, to the senior government officials designing and purchasing the nation’s military arsenal, the United States’ national defense hierarchy is, for the first time, largely run by women.

As of Jan. 1, the CEOs of four of the nation's five biggest defense contractors — Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics and the defense arm of Boeing — are now women. And across the negotiating table, the Pentagon's top weapons buyer and the chief overseer of the nation's nuclear stockpile now join other women in some of the most influential national security posts, such as the nation's top arms control negotiator and the secretary of the Air Force.
The women interviewed have mostly positive things to say about their experience working in what one might have thought of as the epitome of male-dominated fields, that of weapons and war. So the question the article gets to, which is the most interesting question, is: do women do weapons and war differently? In other words, have we gained or lost anything by the transition?
How is their approach to leadership different than men's? In many ways, both subtle and not so subtle, whether in solving problems or questioning deeply held assumptions, they say.

Panetta, who says she is often asked about the benefits of women in leadership, tells the story of soldiers in the desert using pantyhose to keep sand out of sensitive equipment. “Do you think a guy thought of that?” she asked. “For the longest time, these male-dominated organizations missed half of the population’s perspective on an issue or on an approach.”

McCaffrey also said women are less "wedded to ‘we’ve always done it this way.' Sometimes women are a little more willing to question that.”

She ticked off several other ways defense companies and national security agencies can operate more effectively with women leading the way.

For one, women are shrewd negotiators. “I’ve known women who were good negotiators because they were underestimated,” McCaffrey said. “The key to negotiating is making sure you know what other peoples’ priorities are. Women tend to do that really, really well.”

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson — the third woman to hold the job since the 1990s — told lawmakers last year she believes it's perfectly natural for women to play a greater role in defending the country.

“If I ask everyone in this room to think about the most protective person you know in your life, someone who would do anything to keep you safe, half the people in this room would think about their moms,” she told the House Armed Services Committee. “We are the protectors; that’s what the military does. We serve to protect the rest of you, and that’s a very natural place for a woman to be.”
That's a pretty unimpressive set of arguments, I think, but perhaps that's to the good. It indicates that there hasn't been radical change in how things are done, because the clearest paradigm isn't 'We decided this-or-that category of weapons was inhumane and stopped building them' but 'we started using pantyhose as a filter, which shows how radically different our perspective is.' Maybe women are better at understanding people's priorities, but maybe that's just another stereotype. Certainly being underestimated can be an advantage in negotiations, but not necessarily so; if a committee is united in underestimating you, they may simply steamroller your objections because they don't take you seriously. (Nor, for that matter, is it true that women are universally underestimated anyway: some of them are overestimated, and others are quite forceful enough to prevent underestimation.)

The interview does end on a sour note.
“I think this is great," added McCaffrey, "but not if 10 years from now, these women are gone and we’re back to having all white men in these positions."
That's disappointing, as it undercuts all the earlier talk about how 'finding the best person for the job' was what this was all about. The sex and class resentments, which white men must have been at the forefront of yielding up since they're the ones who had all the power not long ago, are roadblocks to attaining the goal of promotion by merit alone. I don't know if that goal is attainable, but the persistence of the resentments is not encouraging.

Virtue Ethics vs. Character?

Mitt Romney published an editorial claiming that Donald Trump lacks the character to be President. Will Chamberlain offers a kind of opposing argument, although one based on far too few examples to be decisive, that "character" in Romney's sense is at least unrelated to successful performance as a President.
The two most decent, polite, cooperative, and empathetic Presidents I can think of (from the last fifty years) are George W. Bush and Jimmy Carter.

They were also arguably the worst two presidents of that time period.

No - who were the Presidents with the worst "character" of that time period?

I'd say - Kennedy, LBJ, Clinton.

All three were adulterers, liars, narcissists. Kennedy and Clinton were more well-liked, while LBJ was just a raging narcissistic asshole.

Did that translate into making their presidencies "failures"? Hardly.

Kennedy and Clinton are both lauded - and LBJ is a Dem hero for his legislative accomplishments. They all had relatively successful presidencies compared to Carter and

At a minimum, it's pretty clear that "character," in the "are you a polite, decent, empathetic human" sense is just not that useful a way to predict the success of.a President.

What is, then?

A few years back Jack Donovan wrote a fascinating book - The Way of Men.

In it, he outlined what he called the "tactical virtues" - strength, courage, mastery, and honor. He argued that these virtues made one "good at being a man."
Trump isn't strong, and his mastery is somewhat open to question. I would have argued, however, that his most significant problem was with "honor." However, this is one of those occasions when the issue turns out to be that the writer has stipulated a definition of the term that is at variance from the usual one.
Donovan used honor in a narrower sense than you might anticipate - it loosely translates to "in-group loyalty," as the context for all these virtues is the ethos of the gang.

Trump had an advantage on every GOP politician by aligning himself HARD with the base.
So really, what is meant by honor here is 'can we count on you?' It isn't the issue of understanding what is worthy of respect, and acting so as to show proper amounts of respect to the worthy and to the unworthy.

That, I think, is what Trump tends to get wrong: he shows respect or disrespect transactionally rather than out of a grasp of what is worthy of respect. If you show the President respect, he responds with respect. If you show him disrespect, he reflexively shows disrespect back. There's a kind of game theory justice to that, especially since he offers occasional forgiveness if you come back: 'tit for tat plus forgiveness' is one of the best game theory strategies.

However, it's how he gets sideways in cases like McChrystal and Mattis, and even the Khan family back during the campaign. Once you understand what is worthy of respect per se, it is unjust to assign disrespect in those cases. The negative reactions he gets from the broad American culture when he does this are healthy rejections of this basic injustice. Of great interest to me is that this shows an American sense of honor that is broad and deep, and crosses party lines: for the most part, even committed Republicans hate when Trump speaks disrespectfully in these cases.

This understanding of what is worthy of honor, and the actions to show proper honor in proper cases, is fundamental to Aristotle's capstone virtue of magnanimity. Ultimately the magnanimous does what is most worthy of honor in every case, to include showing proper honor to others according to their virtues. Getting it right gets everything right, Aristotle argues. But it requires complete virtue to do this, as virtue is what is most worthy of honor and you must have it to 'know' it well enough to recognize it. Note that this adequately solves for 'polite, decent' qualities -- those are both about showing respect. The only one it doesn't solve for is 'empathetic,' which I suspect is not really a virtue; that kind of emotional attachment warps one's fairness of mind in the manner that Aristotle describes as 'distorting the ruler before you use it to measure.' It makes it harder to understand what is justly worthy of honor, in favor of honoring that which or those to whom one is emotionally attached.

Magnanimity and honor, then, are where I think Donald Trump goes wrong, but the point about LBJ or Clinton stands. There are effective approaches that are not respectful and not honorable. Sometimes you can get a long way with low cunning and a two-by-four approach to disagreements.

"Conservative Democracy"

I found this argument at First Things fairly persuasive. It may be slightly too strong on the Biblical aspects -- Jefferson would have thought so, certainly -- but it's not too strong in most respects.
I find it difficult not to see the Western nations disintegrating ­before our eyes. The most significant institutions that have characterized America and Britain for the last five centuries, giving these countries their internal ­coherence and stability—the Bible, public religion, the independent national state, and the traditional family—are not merely under assault. They have been, at least since World War II, in precipitous ­decline.

In the United States, for example, some 40 percent of children are today born outside of marriage. The overall fertility rate has fallen to 1.76 children per woman. American children for the most part receive twelve years of public schooling that is scrubbed clean of God and Scripture. And it is now possible to lose one’s livelihood or even to be prosecuted for maintaining traditional Christian or Jewish views on various subjects.

Add to this the fact that the principal project of European and American political elites for decades now has been the establishment of a “liberal international order” whose aim is to export American norms and values to other nations, and you have a stunning picture of what the United States has become—a picture that in certain respects resembles that of Napoleonic France: an ideologically anti-religious, anti-traditionalist universalist power seeking to bring its version of the Enlightenment to the nations of the world, if necessary by force.
As strongly worded as that is on first face, I think it's appropriate. When I reflect on the 'bake the cake' court cases, or the lawsuits brought against groups like The Little Sisters of the Poor, or the Senate confirmation hearings in which membership in the Knights of Columbus is treated as a problem -- well, "anti-religious, anti-traditionalist, universalist" sounds more or less correct.

Given the strenuous objections I feel myself, too, how much stronger must those objections be among those against whom force has been used to effect this agenda. These people are completely convinced of the rightness of their cause, and that their opponents are motivated by simple racism or xenophobia or hatred of some similar sort. They do not see, and do not understand, how their project is experienced by those who are experiencing this project as finding their faith, traditions, and nations under assault.

Hogmanay and the End of Yule

Happy New Year!

The Torch parade in Edinburgh.

An Exception to AVI's Title Rule

AVI has stated a general principle that the titles of satirical articles generally are much funnier than the actual articles. Not so this time: the title is simply, "Opinion: We were winning when we left."

Pope To Tear Down Vatican City Wall

Well, no. Not really. Just everyone else's, if he can.
Pope Francis urged political leaders on Monday to defend migrants, saying their safety should take precedence over national security concerns and that they should not be subjected to collective deportations....

Calling for “broader options for migrants and refugees to enter destination countries safely and legally,” he said the human rights and dignity of all migrants had to be respected regardless of their legal status.

“The principle of the centrality of the human person ... obliges us to always prioritize personal safety over national security,” he said.
That's a principled argument against armies, too: nobody should put themselves in a position of being personally harmed to protect an unfeeling thing like 'a nation.' Right?

Well, no. It turns out that national security implies a greater degree of personal security than otherwise. The reason to have a nation is that it protects -- it protects citizens and their rights. If the nation fails, the rights are endangered and the citizens are in danger. They might be oppressed by anyone who comes over the horizon with a strong force and/or bigger guns.

The nation provides this security, and in it a kind of human flourishing becomes possible that is not possible without that security. That's why, Aristotle argues, the state has a kind of priority even over the family (let alone the individual). It is why nations were long thought, and in many places are still thought, to have a right to draft citizens to serve or even die in defense of the whole if necessary.

A more sophisticated solution is needed here. The principle of the centrality of the human person isn't a bad principle; it really is individuals who suffer, not collectives. But the other problems don't go away just because we recognize that fact; and a lot more individuals may end up suffering, for that matter, if their nations are allowed to fail.

Government Somewhat Less Unconstitutional Than Previously

Thanks, against everything you'd expect from the normal news sources, to the Trump administration.


As the year draws to a close, and with the new year looming before us, it's a time to try to gain a little perspective on ourselves and our place in the world.  I've always been interested in issues of scale and how to better understand (and communicate) these ideas.  Things like the classic Charles and Ray Eames movie "Powers of Ten" which portrayed the sense of scale from human to the universe and then back down to the microscopic in jumps of powers of ten (at 10 to the 24th meters- 100 million light years across- "this emptiness is normal, the richness of our own neighborhood is the exception"), and "The Paper Clips Project" which was a middle school project which sought to collect six million paper clips to give a sense of the scale of what it meant when one said the abstract words "six million Jews died in the Holocaust", have fascinated me.  Of course, I was one of those kids who believed that when you rode "Adventure Through Inner Space" in Tomorrowland at Disneyland, you really shrank! - well, at least until my brother reached out and touched the giant "snowflake" and said "It's not even cold!".

I found a couple of things more recently that give some interesting bases for scale that might offer some slightly different perspectives than we usually consider around this time.

"If the Moon Were Only 1 Pixel" is a fascinating webpage that has the solar system to a "tediously accurate scale" with the Moon being = 1 pixel.  Worth remembering that our solar system is actually a fairly dense space relative to interstellar space (which is the majority of the universe).  Don't cheat and use the planet shortcut at the top of the page- scroll manually or you'll miss some amusing commentary and more importantly, the fuller experience of scrolling your way through the vast spaces between the brief encounters with something in our solar system.

"10,000 Year Clock" is the website for an interesting Earth art project that has set out to reframe time a bit to something outside the normal human scale.  I think this project is fascinating, and not least because I think if we had a better feel for the length of time it really takes for things to change, we'd learn to not worry so much about radical change in the short term, and focus on the smaller changes we can more effectively do ourselves in the time and space local to our lives.

So here's to a year past, hopefully one of growth- and to a year ahead- one of promise and opportunity.  May we see our place and make the most of it while we are there.

Songs for New Year's Eve

May God keep you for the next year to come. Not that there are any guarantees on this night, or any night.

But if you're a good drinking man, well, it's a fine night. Let's have some music from when I was... well, very young indeed.

It was 1973 when Waylon Jennings grew his beard; he'd been clean-shaven before that. Everyone was, who was of any account. 1973 was when it started to shift from the consensus. There still hasn't been a President with a beard, not since Benjamin Harrison.

From the same year, Johnny Cash sang a piece about the family coming together after death is transgressed:

AVI's recent post on a song of a similar age reminded me of how much better -- demonstrably, positively better -- the old music used to be. Even the stuff I don't especially like is head and shoulders above what is popular today. Not as a matter of opinion, but one of fact: for the people who did things I don't like in the 1970s nevertheless knew how to do them. They didn't just show up at a studio without talent or skill, trusting the computers and the engineers to clean up their ignorance.

Old Willie Nelson, for example:

The recently deceased Roy Clark:

But a completely different song, on the same thing, from the noble Clancy Brothers:

Drinc Hael. Waes Hael. Happy New Year, brothers and sisters.