The Rök Stone

Jackson Crawford explains the news that you may have seen this week about an alleged Viking climate prophecy.

Good on him

What is food?

I have to wonder sometimes what most people think "nutrients" are. This peculiar Guardian article tries to discuss the thorny question whether eating meat is a good nutritional strategy, but can't resist the impulse to quote bizarre statements about what kind of nutrition we might expect to find in fruits and vegetables. Supposedly they've somehow been "drained of 50% of their nutrients" in recent decades. It has something to do with selecting for uniform shape and color, and the resulting loss of vitamins and "electrolytes" (which, as we know, are what plants crave).

If you spend any time reading popular literature about diet strategies (I recommend against this), you'll find people trying to argue that a healthy diet requires eliminating carbs, fats, and proteins.  They honestly seem to believe there's some other source of calories, or that calories have become optional in the post-modern world.  This is what happens when we forget what famine is and start telling each other, "It doesn't matter what I eat, I still put on weight!"--as if the process were magical.

Soon we will be reduced to blood-letting and cupping to counteract the Man's destruction of our precious bodily nutrients.

Hans Jonas, Call Your Office

Scientists could use some advice from a philosopher this time. Jonas (see first comment) has written great work on what it means for something to ‘be alive’ or not; to be an animal, or not; and how the development of these capacities drives what he thinks of as a rising consciousness. We have also discussed older traditions here.

How would you distinguish “lifelike materials” with these characteristics from “life”? Purely because they were artificially created? What are the downstream consequences of that standard? Why would you assume them to be non-conscious, once they can seek light and food, and self-organize what they eat into themselves?


Life in Iran must be unimaginably hard right now. I give the Iranian government and people credit for reversing course on their denial of responsibility for the airliner their security forces shot down. Speaking the truth can be deadly at any time, but in that tinderbox it takes tremendous courage.

The other Middle East revolution

As Legal Insurrection says, "while you were focused on Soleimani, Israel became an energy superpower." And Turkey is torqued.

An Ironic Tale From Home

Of the great Georgia prison escape of 1980.

“Let A Hundred Flowers Bloom”

Nancy Pelosi channels Mao.
‘Absolutely total cooperation,’ Pelosi told reporters Friday when asked about the support she’s received from Democrats for withholding the articles. ‘We have 1,000 flowers blossoming beautifully in our caucus.’
Given what Mao did to the flowers after they blossomed, if I were one of her caucus I’d be reaching for my Buck knife.

A New Whistleblower

Most interesting, if true.

Starting to Get Right in Russia

Russian journals retract hundreds of scientific papers. Sure, it's easy to mock them and talk about all the ways in which they got so wrong; but the point is that they're trying to get right. Are American academics in our mock disciplines -- sociology, say, or political science, or that most popular of all majors psychology -- trying anything similar?

Smiles, tears

Are you wondering why we should care about the New York Times endorsement for president?  Jim Geraghty explains the appeal:
Elizabeth Warren was more or less engineered in a laboratory to appeal to the Times editorial board. If she doesn’t get the endorsement, it’s a bad day for her.
And no matter what the editorial actually says, people will read certain meanings into the choice. If the Times endorses Joe Biden, it will be seen as a sign that the Times editorial board doesn’t have faith that the rest of the field can beat Trump. If the Times endorses Buttigieg, it will be seen as a sign that the Times editorial board wants the formula that worked for Bill Clinton and Barack Obama — the young, smart, well-spoken rising star. If the Times endorses Bernie Sanders, it will be seen as a sign that the Times editorial board wants to lead the Socialist Revolution from the offices of a skyscraper in midtown Manhattan.
As for me, I hope that the process begins with each candidate first individually pouring his or her heart out, directly to a camera, talking about their hopes and dreams and what they feel they can offer the editors of the Times that the other candidates can’t. I hope they say what the endorsement means to them, and how it could be the start of something life-changing and unforgettable. I want to see an edited montage of each candidate talking with the editors, hopefully showcasing a wide range of moments showcasing their entire personality — impassioned, laughing, solemn. Then I want all of the candidates to come out in a group, dressed in their finest, and then deputy editor Kathleen Kingsbury comes out with a single rose, and they sort this out like on ABC’s The Bachelor — lots of heated competition, crying, and broken hearts.

When gentrification isn't the worst threat

A Guardian article moans that San Francisco residents don't have gentrification to kick around any more.  Instead they have something more like Detroit.
In 2017, about one in every eight storefronts here was empty, and more businesses seem to have vacated since then. The diner was first to go: in 2015 rent suddenly went up, the diner’s owner refused to pay, and Sparky’s was no more. Our usual ideas about gentrification suggest neighborhood standbys get replaced by fancy boutiques and brunch-centric eateries. Instead, after Sparky’s came … nothing. Elsewhere, too, long-term leases timed out, rents increased, and the old neighborhood hangouts disappeared. Aardvark Books, which stood on Church Street for nearly 40 years, until 2018, is now a hollow storefront.
The culprit? If you guessed the insane public policy common to deep-blue bastions like San Francisco and Detroit, the Guardian assures you you are mistaken. It's actually capitalism's fault.

Enter the Stone Age

What I find interesting about this claim is that, if it’s right, survival plays no apparent role in the change. In this way it is more like Chesterton’s view of cultural evolution — that the sacred comes first, and alters our physical culture — than like the standard account of natural selection as driven by survival. It’s compatible with a random change that may or may not prove to survive if it doesn’t add to survivability, though; except that it isn’t ‘random’ in the sense of mutations. It is a thing they somehow decided to do together, in a socially-specific way.

UPDATE: This is the passage I was thinking of, from Orthodoxy; Chesterton was talking about social contract theory rather than evolution, but the idea that the sacred came first holds in spite of the move from critiquing the one theory to the other.
The eighteenth-century theories of the social contract have been
exposed to much clumsy criticism in our time; in so far as they meant
that there is at the back of all historic government an idea of
content and co-operation, they were demonstrably right. But they really
were wrong, in so far as they suggested that men had ever aimed at
order or ethics directly by a conscious exchange of interests.
Morality did not begin by one man saying to another, "I will not hit you
if you do not hit me"; there is no trace of such a transaction.
There IS a trace of both men having said, "We must not hit each other
in the holy place." They gained their morality by guarding their religion.
They did not cultivate courage. They fought for the shrine, and found
they had become courageous. They did not cultivate cleanliness.
They purified themselves for the altar, and found that they were clean.
Now we do not know how this will turn out, and it may take longer than any of us are around to find out. We can readily imagine, though -- with Robert E. Howard as much as with Chesterton, as Howard describes this occurring over and over in his Conan stories -- these apes on the road to a rise to civilization, having found the necessary first step.

Harsh but fair

Speaking of the Tim Cook of terror--the best shorthand I've heard in a long time for second-rate pseudolegacies--here is Kurt Schlichter's assessment of the Democrat presidential field.  He thinks the nod definitely goes to Biden, but is less sure of the VP slot.
[M]aybe Biden will pick him for VP – if so, I’ve got $10 that says Smart Joe will get caught on tape at a rally explaining to disappointed feminists that, “Well, a gay guy counts as a woman, right?” You know that will totally happen.


John Podhoretz ponders whether killing Soleimani is a fundamental change, or only the usual opportunity for a leadership rotation in terrorist circles.  He comes down on the side of change:
It may be true that if you kill one terrorist mastermind, another will rise in his place. But the fact is that masterminds like Soleimani do not grow on trees. If you think of him as the Steve Jobs of state-sponsored terror, then it seems plausible to likely that he will be followed by a less creative type — the Tim Cook of terror, say.
I hope he's right. There's no doubt Soleimani had stiff competition in the eel-brain department, but as an effective leader maybe not.

As Podhoretz argues, deterrence isn't peace, and deterred enemies aren't friends.  By the same token, enemies don't become friends when you cozy up to them and offer appeasement.  Trump seems adept at using the carrot and the stick, which makes his foreign policy more coherent than the usual run of American deep-thinkers.

Thinking Too Much of Ourselves

A criticism of criticism. The fellow is from Brookings, which is institutionally suspect on Middle Eastern issues because it receives vast funding from Qatar; however, I see little wrong with the major point he's making on this occasion.
Those who said there will be war may not have realized there already was war.... Iran... may find new ways to escalate, but Iran had already been escalating. The regime of the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, with its Iranian patrons, led by Soleimani, has been waging a brutal assault on Syrians for more than eight years. War, in short, has been happening—costing hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians their lives—since long before Donald Trump ordered the drone strike against Soleimani.

In the aftermath of the strike, critics of the Trump administration’s foreign policy, particularly on the left, have described the move as one more rash American intervention that’s sure to further destabilize the region. Yet this formulation gives U.S. policy, for all its flaws, too much credit. Not everything is America’s fault; others are sometimes to blame; and no one, not even the weaker parties, are devoid of agency or freed of responsibility. The burden of de-escalation does not fall entirely on the United States; Iran, too, can choose to de-escalate.
Actually, his minor point is pretty good too.
There is also the problem of Trump himself. Because killing Soleimani was very much his decision—reflecting the impulsiveness and disarray a decision by him implies—it seems fair to assume that one’s view of the president will affect how one interprets the fallout from Soleimani’s killing. Correcting for subconscious bias isn’t easy, but at the very least, observers should be aware of the Trump effect.
Well, indeed. One might begin trying to correct for this particular one by examining how one responded to President Obama's very regular targeted killings -- or whether you felt like the War Powers Act was being openly flaunted by Team Obama in its decision to overthrow Libya for no apparent reason.

Maybe Major General Solemani was higher profile than most of Obama's victims -- though he was a Major General out of uniform, operating in a foreign country while under UN travel sanctions and US State and Treasury designation as the terrorist head of a terrorist organization that is itself a subset of a terrorist organization. He wasn't a higher profile victim than Qaddafi, though; and President Trump didn't overthrow a whole country just to get at him.

Speaking of which, Turkey is apparently moving forces into Libya to try to quell the remaining fires of the civil war Obama kicked off nine years ago. They have, of course, chosen to back the wrong side; but it's also the side Obama had picked, quite a few of whom were al Qaeda affiliates in the grand days of that movement. The Trump administration doesn't seem to care about Libya one way or the other, and will likely let the Turks decide the issue if they are able. Trump, at least, doesn't share the opinion that America is indispensable to these conflicts.

Stuck in the last war

Jim Geraghty chronicles the state of the MSM reportage on who exactly it was that bombed the Saudi oil facilities several months ago.  The early reporting included hostile suspicion of all Trump administration attempts to pin the responsibility on Iran.  That went on for several months, until a magically quiet revolution reversed the story without any acknowledgement that the early reports were flat wrong.
Yesterday, Reuters: “Yemen’s Houthi group did not launch an attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities in September, according to a confidential report by U.N. sanctions monitors seen by Reuters on Wednesday, bolstering a U.S. accusation that Iran was responsible.”
Also yesterday, a New York Times article declared: “with tensions between the United States and Iran at the highest level in four decades, the unexpected success of the September strike on the Saudi oil facilities is a stark reminder that Tehran has an array of stealthier weapons in its arsenal that could pose far greater threats if the hostilities escalate.”
Somewhere along the line, the American national news media either decided or realized that Secretary Pompeo and the U.S. government were not lying, were not making this up, and were not using shoddy intelligence to hype a threat from an authoritarian Middle Eastern regime. The declaration that Iran was responsible stopped being controversial, disputed, or unproven. It just became a fact, one that can be cited in an article about how dangerous the current moment is and the high risks of the president’s actions.
This is all leftover guilt about the Iraq War, isn’t it? So many of the people in foreign affairs journalism imbibed the “Bush lied us into war” rhetoric so deeply that they’ve concluded that American officials must be treated with way more skepticism than officials in secretive and serially dishonest authoritarian regimes. They say generals are always fighting the last war; apparently journalists are always covering the last one, too.

Clean Air

In LA, better school air filters raised test scores — a lot.

On Marriage

Or at least, on my marriage.  Yesterday was a special day for me.  January 7th wasn't a birthday, or anniversary, or indeed any particular date of note in and of itself.  But January 7th, 2020 marked the day where I had been married to my wife longer than I had ever been single.  Yes, I counted.

And while on one hand it represents just a statistical oddity, and was marked by no great fanfare, it was nonetheless important to me.  And it struck me as the sort of thing that Cass would have marked on VC back in the day.  And moreso, she would have some valuable insight into the institution of marriage, or time, or the relationship between men and women that would have sparked an interesting discussion.  As I said, I've been reading my way through the archives (currently I'm on September of 2013), and I decided that since she's not posting about this sort of thing at the moment, I'll do my best to channel the inner Cassandra and find something interesting to observe.  I can't promise I'll be successful.

Official fictions

I am as usual very confused about international military strategy; the American people can count themselves lucky that I'm not their chief executive.  Still, I've been impressed with Lee Smith's reporting on the appalling Russian collusion story to have some confidence in his ability to sift through propaganda and outright lies, so I thought I'd give his Iranian analysis a try:
The Iranian revolution was evidence to our ruling class of how much their fathers had gotten wrong—and thus proof of their own virtue.
* * *
U.S. policymakers preferred the fiction that Hezbollah was a homegrown product because it supported both their emotional needs and their policy goals: The West had earned the righteous anger of the natives, and there was nothing to be done except atone by way of offering human sacrifices.
* * *
Six U.S. administrations were complicit in turning Iran into a regional power. In that context, the Obama administration’s decision to flood Iranian war chests with cash and recognize its right to build a nuclear bomb was the logical culmination of the rot eating away at the Beltway for four decades. It was perhaps to be expected that an outsider who often doesn’t know when to keep quiet, and can’t stay off Twitter, would be the one to sing out like the boy in the fairy tale. It’s true, the emperor has no clothes. The rules have changed but that doesn’t mean the Iranians won’t be looking for revenge.

BB: Methodists Split Over Remaining Christian

Apparently a tough choice.
“There was just no way to reconcile differences,” said Rev. Lloyd Patrick, one of those dismayed by the recent push by traditionalists to follow the Bible instead of each person’s own heart. “A lot of people still want to follow Jesus -- a person from 2000 years ago who made no statements about pronouns and thus has no relevance today -- which is just silly since we all know so much more now and have a better grasp on morality than a bunch of ancient people.”

The Altai Band - Jingle Bells

Greek Helmets

North of the Black Sea, for the first time.

A Carol to Celebrate the Epiphany

Just thought a carol would be appropriate to celebrate today, the Epiphany.  Allison Kraus and Yo-Yo Ma doing the Wexford Carol, for your enjoyment:

Success and Killing Your Children

An article against the proposition that is necessary.


I almost thought it was Spring, with all the anti-war Democrats emerging.  It's seems like only yesterday, that Smilin' Joe Biden went on record saying that if Iran attacked any American facility it would be considered an act of war and warrant "any" retaliation.  I think Iran is way past due.


Something else to investigate

From the Spectator:
Why, you may ask, is the Obama shadow government continuing its efforts to resurrect the atrocious and inexplicably deleterious Iran nuclear deal? The answer to that question may lie in the following May 8, 2018 Tweet by one Raman Ghavami (@Raman_Ghavami) which was made following Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal and imposition of trading sanctions. Citing the senior adviser to Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif, Ghavami’s Tweet reads in full as follows:
H.J. Ansari Zarif’s senior advisor: ‘If Europeans stop trading with Iran and don’t put pressure on US then we will reveal which western politicians and how much money they had received during nuclear negotiations to make #IranDeal happen.’ That would be interesting.
Can this be true? Were western politicians — including members of the Obama administration — paid by Iran to enter into the idiotic and dangerous Iran nuclear deal? Could this also explain why, as found by the Senate Permanent Committee on Investigations, the Obama administration lied to Congress to gain approval of the deal while it worked behind the scenes to allow Iran access to U.S. financial markets? Could it be that officials of the Obama administration were and continue to be motivated by Iranian payoffs to sell out America?

That explains it

Presidential candidate Joe Biden makes a hash of answering the question whether he was lying when he claimed people could keep their plans under Obamacare, or simply didn't understand the legislation he was advocating.
No, look, the fact is that what I’m talking about now is that when – because I get asked the question – since, what I do is I’d add a public option to the existence of Obamacare, meaning that a Medicare-like option is available if in fact you – but there’s 160 million people out there who’ve negotiated a health care plan with their employer that they like and they don’t want to have to give up like Medicare for All requires. It says you have to give it up. You cannot have any private insurance.
* * *
But the fact is that when something’s taken away, when you – people didn’t know. I used to say to President Obama, “Mr. President, why don’t you take a victory lap? You got this passed. Let people know exactly what’s happened.”
…And he’d say, “We don’t have time to take a victory lap. We have too many things we have to do.” So people didn’t know, and we lost the House of Representatives after that passed. And people attributed to the fact that Obamacare passed and that was one of the arguments made, whether it’s true or not.

Continental drift

One of the best things about YouTube is its animated timelines for human or geological history. This one shows the movement of continents from the beginnings of large, organized life almost 550 million years ago. (Simpler life apparently started billions of years earlier, but left much more ambiguous traces.)

One of my favorite parts is the subcontinent of India shooting off towards Asia like something shot out of a sling. That's some impact. It started about 50 million years ago, which was before people, but after dinosaurs. India was hanging around down near Madagascar when it got caught on a fast conveyor belt that was getting sucked under Asia. It looks like a floating raft headed for a storm drain, but too big to fit. Australia is still on a collision path with Asia, though a much slower one.

This video was embedded in an interesting article from Watts up with That, summarizing the hot and ice ages over the last 550 million years, the point being that Earth's heating and cooling during geological eras is affected by the predominance or scarcity of continents in the tropical zones. We are currently in a 30-million-year-old ice age, a condition encountered only about a tenth of the time over geological timescales, but because we evolved during it, it strikes us as the way things ought to be for "life." In fact, however, we're in a geological brief interglacial period within a much more severe ice age. Humans wouldn't care for the more severe manifestations of a typical ice age.

Why are there ice ages? There is an interesting, but far from settled, link between the Sun's orbit through the Milky Way Galaxy and the typical 150-million-yearish cycle of ice ages.

Food on the vine

This was fun. I'd seen some of these crops growing, like pineapples and brussels sprouts, but not others.

Sex Differences in America: A Partial List

It’s one-sided but it’s also AEI. The data is thus probably accurate, even if it is cherry-picked to make their point.