Or, an essay on the hapax

Saint Stephen’s Day

Here’s the Wren Song

UPDATE: For dinner tonight I made a variation on Beef Wellington, using the eye of the standing rib roast instead of a proper fillet. I suspect that it will not receive many complaints all the same. 

UPDATE: No complaints. The whole thing was devoured. 

In Defense of the Swastika

Obviously there is nothing to defend about the ideology of Nazi Germany, nor would I undertake such a defense. Yet I think our friends -- Sen. Cruz, for example -- got this one wrong. This was a matter of honor, and we have failed it.

The news story predictably and characteristically fails to explain the side with which it disagrees, if it bothered to try to understand it in the first place. You are left with the impression that there was one side that was clearly and authoritatively correct, and no other side but hate.

Yet that is not the case. The only reason there ever were Nazi swastikas on those grave markers was that the United States signed a treaty governing the honorable treatment of prisoners of war. This treaty required us, by our given word, to bury prisoners of war who died in our custody with all ranks and honors they were entitled to by their own national laws. This was not for reasons of 'preserving history,' because it wasn't history at the time: it was a matter of ongoing action, at a time when we had soldiers being held as prisoners of war by the Nazi regime as well. Our word was given for the succor of our own, and we should have kept it as we honor our own.

Nothing should make one regret standing over a Nazi's grave in any case. There is no more fit place for a swastika, or a Communist sickle-and-hammer, than on a tombstone. If anything, we have too few such tombstones. 

Really clear user instructions

From James's "I don't know, but...." site, a wonderful little explanation of the Pfizer vaccine mRNA code and, while it's at it, of genetically coded protein synthesis in general.
The people that discovered this should be walking around high-fiving themselves incessantly. Unbearable amounts of smugness should be emanating from them. And it would all be well deserved.

The High Feast of Christmas


That is a duck and bacon Great Pie in the Medieval style, spiced with cinnamon, mace, and cloves. Also a standing rib roast with an herb butter crust. And trimmings. 

I hope your feasting was good, but more that you each found spiritual wealth and divine goods on this holiest day. 

UPDATE: I usually post videos with favorite carols, but I continue to have trouble with Blogger. I tried Brave, but although I like it it seems equally incapable of accessing the HTML editing function without crashing Blogger. Also, now Firefox -- which worked last week -- is incapable of making the switch without crashing. Whatever is wrong is spreading to the other browsers I'm trying to use as a workaround.

So here are some links, which I can still do.

Dog and hearth

Merry Christmas to the Hall!

Christmas Eve

A wintry, White Christmas here.


 But inside the Hall, it is bright and warm.

 I added my sister's glasses to the holiday decorations.

Extract or Die

"We'll be better off without you, but it would be criminal of you to leave." It's the classic beef of people who don't understand where prosperity comes from, and think they can lock the producers up on a plantation--but, as always, more vivid and unhinged in its peculiar California manifestation.

Plato's Laws V 3, Christmas Edition

Some advice that might be relevant to the holiday:

Ath. "Of all evils the greatest is one which in the souls of most men is innate, and which a man is always excusing in himself and never correcting; mean, what is expressed in the saying that 'Every man by nature is and ought to be his own friend.' Whereas the excessive love of self is in reality the source to each man of all offences; for the lover is blinded about the beloved, so that he judges wrongly of the just, the good, and the honourable, and thinks that he ought always to prefer himself to the truth. But he who would be a great man ought to regard, not himself or his interests, but what is just, whether the just act be his own or that of another. Through a similar error men are induced to fancy that their own ignorance is wisdom, and thus we who may be truly said to know nothing, think that we know all things; and because we will not let others act for us in what we do not know, we are compelled to act amiss ourselves. Wherefore let every man avoid excess of self-love, and condescend to follow a better man than himself, not allowing any false shame to stand in the way. There are also minor precepts which are often repeated, and are quite as useful; a man should recollect them and remind himself of them. For when a stream is flowing out, there should be water flowing in too; and recollection flows in while wisdom is departing. Therefore I say that a man should refrain from excess either of laughter or tears, and should exhort his neighbour to do the same; he should veil his immoderate sorrow or joy, and seek to behave with propriety, whether the genius of his good fortune remains with him, or whether at the crisis of his fate, when he seems to be mounting high and steep places, the Gods oppose him in some of his enterprises. Still he may ever hope, in the case of good men, that whatever afflictions are to befall them in the future God will lessen, and that present evils he will change for the better; and as to the goods which are the opposite of these evils, he will not doubt that they will be added to them, and that they will be fortunate. Such should be men's hopes, and such should be the exhortations with which they admonish one another, never losing an opportunity, but on every occasion distinctly reminding themselves and others of all these things, both in jest and earnest."

Whom should you follow? For those of you who are Christians -- the majority of you, as far as I know -- tomorrow's holiday perhaps provides an obvious answer. The Athenian is of course not thinking of that answer. However, one of the parts I did not quote from the Laws has to do with the proper ordering of the gods, which exist in a continuum with men. (If you want to read it, scroll to "heroes" at this link; note that 'demons' is a mistranslation by Jowett, a minister, who did not distinguish the Greek daemon from the evil Satanic spirits. Plato was not urging you to include demons in your prayers, but suggesting the right place for honoring the divine being that guards your family and lends you personally power and protection.) 

That is, it was thought possible that the best of men would rise into the lower levels of the divine; and of course, gods could mate with mortals and produce half-godly offspring, whose children would themselves have part of the divine in them as well. Likewise, your ancestors were to be honored in the same way as the various ranks of gods, though at a lesser rank themselves; and you, too, in time should be honored by your descendants as a member of that rank.

Certainly in my case, the best non-divine man I can think of to follow is my father. He is gone these last four years, but continues to set a good example in memory. He always loved Christmas; all our Christmases were good while he was around to make sure of it. It is right and proper to remember him on this holiday.

The Athenian is on pretty good ground with all of the recommendations in this section. I like the inclusion of the role of jesting in reminding each other playfully to do what's right. In this way we help each other, and as a community of friends we do better than any of us might do alone. Cf. the sidebar links regarding the Anglo-Saxon concept of frith, which is a similar concept: friendship makes us free, and provides us with strength.

Rain and Snow

For us the Christmastide begins early: we are all in for a period that will exceed the beginning of Christmas, and may exceed its end. My wife has been laid off from her work due to new COVID restrictions, which could easily pass the 12 day holiday. We have our food and fuel, and have 'pulled up our ships ashore,' as the Vikings would in making winter camp. There is now no reason to leave for a good long time to come. 

So the tides go in and the tides go out, but for us, Christmastide is now. 

UPDATE: I actually did have to go back out, as a package thought lost turned up unexpectedly at the Post Office. It was from my mother and sister out west. Opening it, I laughed and called my sister on the phone. "By any chance," I asked, "have you been looking for your glasses for two weeks or so?"

America as Griswolds


Plato's Laws V, 2: Snitches Get Stitches

Plato's account of who deserves honor in society continues, with a claim that is striking:

Ath. "Truth is the beginning of every good thing, both to Gods and men; and he who would be blessed and happy, should be from the first a partaker of the truth, that he may live a true man as long as possible, for then he can be trusted; but he is not to be trusted who loves voluntary falsehood, and he who loves involuntary falsehood is a fool. Neither condition is enviable, for the untrustworthy and ignorant has no friend, and as time advances he becomes known, and lays up in store for himself isolation in crabbed age when life is on the wane: so that, whether his children or friends are alive or not, he is equally solitary.-Worthy of honour is he who does no injustice, and of more than twofold honour, if he not only does no injustice himself, but hinders others from doing any; the first may count as one man, the second is worth many men, because he informs the rulers of the injustice of others. And yet more highly to be esteemed is he who co-operates with the rulers in correcting the citizens as far as he can-he shall be proclaimed the great and perfect citizen, and bear away the palm of virtue."

It is important to remember the hypothesis in which we are operating here, i.e., that we are talking about a just state whose rulers are genuinely virtuous in the sense Plato has spelled out before. These are not busybodies making rules out of the wish to appear to be 'doing something.' They are preservers of a state that enables the greatest happiness for humankind:  a true community that shares fellowship, beliefs, festivals and honors. 

This state is also much smaller than one we would imagine. Everyone in this state will know each other, so there is a kind of organic community that is impossible in the sort of states we occupy. This proposition is much more akin to not hiding from Grandfather and Grandmother that Uncle is involved in secret drinking that we might all need to talk about, rather than informing a secret police of the "wrongdoings" (or suspected disloyalties) of fellow citizens. 

You might think of it as akin to belonging to a club, with an elected leadership that you know personally and trust. One of your members is having a problem -- maybe stealing a little from the treasury to cover it, too. Should you keep that secret, or should you bring it forward so that the club is not harmed and the problem can be addressed? 

It's a point of genuine division between Plato's world and ours, because outside of small community organizations like clubs we can no longer expect to live in such conditions. We are permanently alienated from the systems that govern us, which have grown so big and so distant that they know us not, nor we them. The mechanisms they employ to govern are more machine-like, less human, and therefore inhumane and generally destructive. Government really has become a necessary evil, in a way that Plato hoped it never would.  (Well, if in fact it is really necessary.)

As long as we cannot organize but in these massive political structures, our every encounter with government will be of evil being done to us in one way or another. Cooperating with the government to enable it to do evil to your fellow citizens more efficiently is thus not virtuous, and not praiseworthy, in a way Plato would have assigned only to his worst tyrannies -- not to the virtuous government he hoped to develop.

Yuletide Food

Cimmerian... er, Scottish meat pies. 

UPDATE: After an afternoon of hiking and mountain climbing, a kitchen-sink calzone. 



Christmastide to begin in four days. Happy Solstice and Good Yule. 

All Right, Let's Try This...

So this is done on Firefox, a browser I've never used before, which I will earnestly try to avoid allowing to be contaminated with either Google or Microsoft products -- since both of them seem to be at fault, if you've been following the technical discussions below. If this works, there should be an embedded YouTube video below (that being one of the things Blogger doesn't support in its Compose view, but which requires HTML code).

Plato’s Laws V

This section opens with an account of honor, and what it means to rightly honor one's soul and body. Plato does not use the word "honor" in the same way that I do;* in fact he does not use it as Aquinas** or Kant use it, both of whom are also using it in different ways that are distinct from my own concept. For Plato (and Aristotle, but not Aquinas), honor is merely a helpmate to reason. To honor the soul means to do what reason tells us is best and most worthy; honor helps us do that by adding a kind of glory (or sometimes a rhetorical weight) to reason's dictates. 

This is important because Plato believes the soul is divided into three parts, each of which has its own core motivation. The rational part of the soul should rule, motivated by reason. However, there is also a spirited part of the soul, which is motivated by glory and honor; and an appetitive part of the soul, which is motivated by pain (like hunger) and pleasure (like sating hunger, or getting drunk). Very often the core motivation of the appetitive part is directly at odds with the dictates of reason. Thus, it is crucial to enlist the spirited part on honor's side, so the two parts can out-compete the third. The discussion of what is rightly honored, then, helps motivate us to do what we know via reason to be best, but which might be painful or require us to forgo desired pleasures. 

In the Republic, Plato divides society into three classes depending on which of these three motives predominates in an individual. However, there too, all three are present internally: the Guardian class is just one in which the rational part of the soul happens to be especially strong. The Auxiliaries are motivated especially by glory and honor, which means they can be won to supporting the Guardians in enforcing law on ordinary people by appeal to honor. 

Note that here in book five of the Laws, though, Plato is trying to do the same work by appeal to internal factors rather than external compulsion. The Athenian mentions honor 'for the Legislator,' but honor is really due first -- he says -- to the divine, and then to the soul. The Legislator is only important in helping our internal soul's rational part to understand what honoring our soul entails. The Legislator is not due more honor than our soul; honoring our soul is the second most important thing after honoring the divine. The Legislator is just there to help us understand our duty to ourselves. 

And look at what that duty entails! My Scoutmasters of old would have come up with a list nearly exactly similar. 

  • Young men should be humble and listen to guidance from their elders.
  • You should take responsibility for your errors, and recognize how they cause your own problems, rather than blaming others for the evils that have befallen you.
  • You should not indulge in wanton pleasures, but should avoid excess, instead adhering to the limits set by the Legislator.
  • You should do your duty and your work, even though it may be painful or difficult.
  • You should not fear death above dishonor.
  • You should not prefer beauty to virtue.
  • You should never accept dishonest gains, but treat fairly with others, for virtue is to be valued more than gold. 
  • Be upright that you may become more like good men; avoid evil, so that you may not become more like bad ones.
  • Follow the better and avoid what is worse in all things. 

The Athenian cautions that most of us make the mistake of thinking we are honoring our soul because we misunderstand what is really honorable. Thus, for example, a young man thinks he is honoring himself by assuming he should be vocal about his opinions about everything; the right way of honoring himself is to be humble and open to correction by his elders, who have already made the mistakes he believes in so strongly, and can help him do better. By honoring them, you honor yourself by adopting advice and examples that will help you grow stronger and better.

The old man believes he is honoring himself by demanding respect and submission from the young, but he really would be better honoring himself by forcing himself to set a good example for them always in all matters. Practicing virtue constantly, so they can see it done, is the right way to honor himself; after all, it is virtue that is worthy of honor. By training yourself, you also set an example that is the best way of training the young. In that way, by honoring yourself, you do honor to them by providing them with what they really needed to become virtuous themselves.

Because the structure of the soul is supposed to mirror the order of society, these things are mutually reinforcing. In the best sort of person, the Legislator is unnecessary: the soul's rational part will identify what is right, which is also what is worthy of honor on this view of honor, and thus enlist its two parts to control its third. Yet if you are not fully worthy internally, the external reinforcement may help you attain virtue. You may be more motivated by respect or by glory, but you find you will only be honored if you do right in the eyes of others. Thus you do, and eventually you will become like them by practice. 

For those who are capable of internal regulation, the Legislator turns out to be unbothersome because he is only ruling that they should do what they were going to choose to do anyway. For those who are not, friction with the virtuous society will work to their benefit. In time, as they adapt themselves to it, they will become virtuous themselves. 

* If anyone wishes to read a dissertation on the topic of honor by me, let me know. I'll send it to you. 

** Aquinas differs from Aristotle, even while deriving his position from Aristotle's, because of Aquinas' ideas about God. Plato and Aquinas are actually closer than Aristotle and Aquinas, as you can work out from today's reading with a bit of care:  what is the role of the divine vis a vis reason? Honoring the divine means obeying what reason can work out about its dictates; honoring the soul means doing what reason works out is best for it. Honor, reason, our eternal soul and the divine are thus all aligned in a way. When you can say exactly what that way is, you will have understood how close Plato and Aquinas are, and just how they are different.