The 1949 Mann Gulch disaster

A Song of a Man Who Died Well

His name was Blaze Foley. He had a strange life; much of it he was homeless. Like many who could not maintain a home, he was unable to trust many, and unable to do the basic things that would have enabled his stability. He was important to the Outlaw music scene in Austin, Texas, but he never attained much success in his life.

All the same he died well. Few do, and perhaps there is nothing in life more worthy than a good death.

Why weep for them who will weep no more


This weekend my county is engaged in a number of two-year anniversary events marking the still-incomplete recovery from Hurricane Harvey.  I took a screenshot of this radar picture showing the landfall.  It's usually hard to tell what the underlying geography is, so I photoshopped a bit, adding green outlines around the inhabited peninsulas (the southern one being Rockport/Fulton proper, and the northern one being ours, Lamar), and black outlines around the uninhabited peninsulas (including the Aransas Wildlife Refuge, home of whooping cranes in the winter) and the barrier islands.  The "X" is about where our house is.  This picture still gives me goosebumps, remembering the sense of a huge wave about to break over us.  Metaphorically, I mean; we weren't overwashed, but the radar pictures we got before we lost our signal looked like a 40,000-foot atmospheric breaker about to crash.

On Dual, and Multiple, Loyalties

I realize that accusations of 'dual loyalty' have a fraught history for the Jewish community especially, and thus that the remarks earlier this week around 'disloyalty' were upsetting to many. Acknowledging that, however, I want to frame a principle in political philosophy in universal terms: not for Jews, or Jewish-Americans, but for all of us everywhere.

The principle is as follows: It is the mark of a healthy political system that it accepts that its members have many other claims on their loyalty, and can negotiate such claims insofar as they are natural or otherwise legitimate. It is the totalitarian system that demands that children turn in their parents to the state for disloyal thoughts, not the healthy system. It is the totalitarian system that demands that religious orders direly violate their conscience, as informed by centuries of theological arguments and developed doctrine, in order to conform to some new fashion in law.

A natural loyalty to one's parents, as well as to those who have taken special interest in one and helped one along, is right and proper. A healthy state neither needs nor ought to command disloyalty to such things in preference to itself. Loyalty to friends, to community organizations, to principles, these things are not undesirable. It is Mussolini who said that the ideal should be 'everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.' The system he was describing literally was fascism; other systems that aim at the same ideal, to include the recently-mentioned People's Republic of China, are actively evil rather than healthy modes of human politics.

To return to the specific case, it is also true that loyalty is a two-way street. I think it is only natural to feel a kind of loyalty -- a degree of loyalty -- to a state that declares itself to exist for the specific purpose of providing you and your kin a safe haven if all else fails; to welcome you whenever you come, and even to welcome you home if you choose; and that has shown a willingness to risk lives in the defense of those like yourself who have fallen into danger. It would be a strange sort of character that did not respond to such a display of loyalty in at least some reciprocal way. I do not suggest that anyone has so responded, and certainly do not name anyone as having such feelings, but I would certainly understand if someone from that particular community did feel that way.

To speak again to the universal, I would say that this is a fit principle for judging the validity of any human state. If it cannot accept natural and otherwise legitimate loyalties that may contravene its designs, the state is overweening. Such a state is suffering from a kind of hubris, which produces tragedy and sometimes a great fall. It is unworthy in spite of whatever other claims it has to glory, as the great Greek tragic heroes were found unworthy in this way in spite of being heroes.

Negotiation may sometimes be necessary in the hardest cases: it is one thing to say that a parent who discovers a beloved child engaged in a great crime might ought to inform the authorities; it is another to say that the parent should not, in that process, hire lawyers to protect the child's interests against the state, or that the parent must disown the child and disavow all sense of natural loyalty to them. These concerns may arise in the hardest cases, I agree. Nevertheless, the principle holds true.

"Hereby" and Orders

As the President should have learned during his attempt to ban trans* servicemembers by Tweet, comments on Twitter do not constitute a lawful order even when you have otherwise lawful authority. On this occasion, I'm not at all clear on the degree of lawful authority that exists via more formal processes. Probably there is some sort of authority, held over from World War II and/or World War I, to issue orders even to privately-held American companies in a time of war. Of course, we are not in fact at war.

Here again, as with the birthright citizenship stuff and for that matter the trans* servicemember ban, the President may be broadly right on the desirable policy. I'm reasonably sanguine about a trade war with China. It will hurt, but it will hurt them more, and they can less afford it. It may expose the structural faults in their economy, which are much more severe than anyone really wants to admit. If so, it may cripple Chinese power designs via mass investment projects like the "New Silk Road." Even if not, it may weaken their hand to undertake new oppression against Hong Kong, and may limit the resources they have for their ongoing cultural genocide against the Uighur in what they like to call their New Frontier ("Xinjiang"). This may be the most we can do for the freedom fighters there, given China's powerful nuclear umbrella. Possibly even some of the longer-term positive effects may come to pass that the President, and some others, have decided can be gained on this road. I'm agnostic about that; but breaking totalitarian China is worth the candle. Humanity may long thank us for once again paying the price to break another totalitarian system of authority that has been creeping out further and further.

President Trump still has to be held to constitutional and legal limits on his power. Even if one trusts him (which not everyone does, to put it mildly), the forms exist to restrain the ones you don't trust who may get their hands on that power later. That might come any day, as health is uncertain for anyone, and he is engendering enemies both wealthy and powerful with these moves.

Fun & Games

Socialist gives new Socialism game a bad review.

Cortez and the Aztecs

As a partial antidote to the NYT's "1619 Project" (which attempts to portray everything exceptional about America as a product of slavery, in order to de-legitimize America as a whole), The Federalist has published an article called "The 1519 Project: How Early Spanish Explorers Took Down A Mass-Murdering Indigenous Cult."
The Aztecs brutal system depended on a steady supply of prisoners of war and human children collected from the empire’s subjects as “taxes.” The scale of the murder one could find in just a single outlying Aztec city was astounding. Abbot relays, “they witnessed the most appalling indications of the horrid atrocities of pagan idolatry. They found, piled in order, as they judged, one hundred thousand skulls of human victims who had been offered in sacrifice to their gods.”...

Cortez ended the grotesque practice of human sacrifice and, according to Abbott, “treated the vanquished natives with great courtesy and kindness.”

Cortez was no saint. He lusted after women, gold, and adventure—so much he missed his first chance at battle due to injuries sustained after falling from a great height trying to sneak into the bedroom of a villager’s daughter. As Abbott concedes, his “love of plunder was a latent motive omnipotent in his soul, and he saw undreamed of wealth lavishly spread before him.”

Cortez will never satisfy a 21st century standard of human rights, and many not even be an exemplary leader. Nor did he set out to liberate anyone. Yet, regardless of his motives in Mexico, the outcome must be conceded: Cortez toppled a mass-murdering cult with the assistance of the oppressed.
Chesterton wrote of this moral conflict in The Everlasting Man.
[T]here are the remains of civilizations in Mexico and South America and other places, some of them apparently so high in civilization as to have reached the most refined forms of devil-worship.

Now it is very right to rebuke our own race or religion for falling short of our own standards and ideals.... There is a very real sense in which the Christian is worse than the heathen, the Spaniard worse than the Red Indian, or even the Roman potentially worse than the Carthaginian. But there is only one sense in which he is worse; and that is not in being positively worse. The Christian is only worse because it is his business to be better.
I wonder how well that idea will hold up to the examination it's being put to today.

The father of her child

I was actually looking for good versions of the Child Ballad "Tam Lin" when I stumbled on "The Dark Island" and got distracted.  But here's an unusual Tam Lin, drastically shortened from the traditional version, leaving out the Queen of Fairies and the wild Halloween ride, and concentrating on the central drama of the unsanctioned pregnancy.  These lyrics get set to a lot of different tunes, this version being close to one of the more common ones.  The "Willie of Winsbury" tune also is common, perhaps because of the similarity in narrative themes; another is the tune that Steeleye Span used.

Something else I stumbled on is a 1970 Ava Gardner movie with an amazingly young and callow Ian McShane called "The Ballad of Tam Lin," which I'll have to watch now.  I assume the movie will concentrate more on the Queen of Fairies and her captive never-aging human lover/ghost.

A more traditional version of the lyrics:

“I forbid you maidens all that wear gold in your hair
To travel to Carterhaugh, for young Tam Lin is there

None that go by Carterhaugh but they leave him a pledge
Either their mantles of green or else their maidenhead”

Janet tied her kirtle green a bit above her knee
And she's gone to Carterhaugh as fast as go can she

She'd not pulled a double rose, a rose but only two
When up then came young Tam Lin, says, “Lady, pull no more”

“And why come you to Carterhaugh without command from me?”
“I'll come and go,” young Janet said, “and ask no leave of thee”

Janet tied her kirtle green a bit above her knee
And she's gone to her father as fast as go can she

Well, up then spoke her father dear and he spoke meek and mild
“Oh, and alas, Janet,” he said, “I think you go with child”

“Well, if that be so,” Janet said, “myself shall bear the blame
There's not a knight in all your hall shall get the baby's name

For if my love were an earthly knight, as he is an elfin grey
I'd not change my own true love for any knight you have”

So Janet tied her kirtle green a bit above her knee
And she's gone to Carterhaugh as fast as go can she

“Oh, tell to me, Tam Lin,” she said, “why came you here to dwell?”
“The Queen of Fairies caught me when from my horse I fell"

And at the end of seven years she pays a tithe to hell
I so fair and full of flesh and fear it be myself

But tonight is Halloween and the fairy folk ride
Those that would let true love win at Mile's Cross they must bide

So first let pass the horses black and then let pass the brown
Quickly run to the white steed and pull the rider down

For I'll ride on the white steed, the nearest to the town
For I was an earthly knight, they give me that renown

Oh, they will turn me in your arms to a newt or a snake
But hold me tight and fear not, I am your baby's father

And they will turn me in your arms into a lion bold
But hold me tight and fear not and you will love your child

And they will turn me in your arms into a naked knight
But cloak me in your mantle and keep me out of sight”

In the middle of the night she heard the bridle ring
She heeded what he did say and young Tam Lin did win

Then up spoke the Fairy Queen, an angry queen was she
Woe betide her ill-far'd face, an ill death may she die

“Oh, had I known, Tam Lin,” she said, “what this night I did see
I'd have looked him in the eyes and turned him to a tree”

The lyrics are said to have been printed in broadsides as early as the 16th century; the story echoes Peleus's capture of Thetis, the mother of Achilles.

Limited Powers of Government

My guess is that an Executive Order is insufficient for this plan.
Speaking outside the White House Wednesday, Trump told reporters he plans to do away with the Constitutional right, which he called “frankly ridiculous,” through an executive order. This isn’t the first time he’s made that claim: In 2018, he told Axios he had plans to issue an executive order preventing automatic citizenship for the children of non-citizens, including undocumented immigrants, but nothing came of it.

“We’re looking at that very seriously, birthright citizenship, where you have a baby on our land, you walk over the border, have a baby — congratulations, the baby is now a U.S. citizen.”
That's not a terrible idea, but the power of the pen is not unlimited -- and good that it's not.

Dark Island

Apparently everyone knows this beautiful song but me.  I've never heard it before today.

A Primer on Gory Sounds

It turns out that the horrifying noises accompanying some of the goriest video games come from vegetables. Bell peppers are particularly useful.
A lot of non-gamers might not be aware that Mortal Kombat is still being produced. In the early 90s, the game was at the edge of realistic, digitized violence, and the franchise was so controversial that Congress held hearings about it. Believe it or not, the series has only gotten more violent since then....

The unsung heroes of Mortal Kombat might really be the sound designers who sit in a room for hours, trying to smash household objects, fruits, and vegetables together in a way that sounds like a convincing disembowelment.
I find the irony that these horrible sounds are created by perfectly ordinary salad preparations somewhat amusing, although we might have to rethink just how ironic it really is. Trees have feelings, you know.

Merle Haggard is Cool Again

According to Whitey Morgan (and the '78s). He may be right. I heard a live act do this same bit just Friday, although they weren't hipsters. Whitey does it better though.

Mild language warning for those of you watching this from an office, just at the beginning when he's talking about the hipsters of East Nashville. After that, it's just a solid rendition of "Swinging Doors."