New family member

This lovely 5-ish-year-old dog languished in my county's animal shelter for a full year. For some reason they couldn't get anyone interested in her, but she lives with me now. A seemingly mild-mannered affectionate creature, she's getting along with my two dogs just fine so far.


The little town of Waynesville has an annual celebration of world cultures called “Folkmoot.” It includes a pleasant street festival. 

There was world music, from Jamaican drums to big brass bands. Fun afternoon. 

D&D vs. Theology

It’s not new for Christianity Today to worry about Dungeons & Dragons, but this take is novel. We should stop fantasizing about a more heroic life, and embrace that this life is meaningless and empty: for theologically, meaning can only be found in the life to come. 

Tolkien would not be impressed with this argument. He argued that fantasy was a kind of escape from a bad modern world, one that should be pursued in the way that a soldier captured by the enemy has a duty to escape. It’s also the case that this life can be heroic, as surely the life of a priest or a paramedic often has the opportunity to be. Maybe the problem really is the world that makes so many of us into “Dave from accounting.”

UPDATE: A parallel complaint about superheroes, which for some reason strikes me as much more plausible. 

The Pursuit of Happiness in the Founding Era

Some of you might be interested in this book. To quote from a review by Christopher S. Grenda in the Journal of American History (volume 107 issue 1):

In The Pursuit of Happiness in the Founding Era, Carli N. Conklin seeks to disclose the original meaning of the phrase "the pursuit of happiness" in the Declaration of Independence. She maintains that the phrase was neither a synonym for private property or public spiritedness nor a foreshadowing of latter-day notions of personal fulfillment. Rather, Conklin argues that the authors and editors of the Declaration of Independence—Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin—as well as those who debated and approved the document in the Continental Congress understood the "pursuit of happiness" to mean the pursuit of virtue, the striving to live according to natural law.

Forgotten American in Russian Prison

Today it was announced that the American government is apparently offering to trade a major arms dealer for a women's basketball player who smuggled dope into Russia. She's important, you see, because she's a women's basketball player and they are important symbols in the war against America. They are not important because they play basketball. Nobody cares about women's basketball: even the feminists won't make time to actually watch it, as Bill Burr points out (strong language warning, but it's worth it).

As the Washington Post points out, however, she's not the first or only American to fall prey to Russia's strict laws on marijuana. If you're an important symbol to the left, we'll move heaven and earth for you and trade away dire felons to secure your freedom to come home and lecture us about how awful we are. If you're a nobody, well, you're a nobody.

UPDATE: Heh. Apparently this basketball player's "fight for freedom" -- which entails begging Biden to move heaven and earth for her specifically even though she has confessed to being guilty -- is now the cover story of TIME Magazine

Green on Green

 An American ally was killed today. She was a famous Kurdish commander who saved American lives in the war on ISIS (one of the relatively few in the 'W' column lately).

Her killer? An American ally -- indeed a NATO member-- the Turkish government.

Like You Need One More Thing to Worry About

Buried deep in this article about Scotland's oldest distillery is the fact that there are serious attacks on the use of peat in the making of whisky.

Glenturret is now introducing up to 14 new whiskies every year. But as for the peat? That may be on its way out as whisky producers increasingly come under the hyper-critical lens of sustainability. The use of peat as a natural marshland resource is coming under fire, Laurie says, even for a relatively minimal peat-user like Glenturret. So the pressure is on to find some kind of sustainable peat replacement. 

“Though you know what will happen — you can bet that that will only drive up demand for the last of the real peat-based stock,” he adds. “That’s the thing about whiskey, people want the real deal.” 


Play Me a Song


"They are Preparing for War"

This piece is from back in March, but just came across my desk yesterday. It seemed interesting in light of the recent polling we've seen on the question of large-scale violence. It's an interview with a lady who studies civil war, originally for a program run by the CIA.
Originally the model included over 30 different factors, like poverty, income inequality, how diverse religiously or ethnically a country was. But only two factors came out again and again as highly predictive. And it wasn’t what people were expecting, even on the task force. We were surprised. The first was this variable called anocracy. 
What you'll notice immediately about this is how subjective this 'variable' is. Calling it a variable makes it sound like it's a mathematical quality, and indeed they do assign numbers to it, from -10 to +10. The Center for Systemic Peace probably feels like they have objective standards for how those numbers are assigned, but the examples they give show that they have genuinely incomparable countries and cultures grouped together. In the most negative category is North Korea -- fair enough, a paranoid prison state run through brainwashing, starvation, and abuse -- and also Saudi Arabia. I realize there are a lot of people with complaints about shariah law, as applied in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia or Iran or under the Taliban. Putting it in the same category with North Korea is bonkers, though. For one thing high numbers on either side are supposed to show political stability, in this case through autocracy. 
...what scholars found was that this anocracy variable was really predictive of a risk for civil war. That full democracies almost never have civil wars. Full autocracies rarely have civil wars. All of the instability and violence is happening in this middle zone.
The Saudis barely have control of most of the country, paying off tribal warlords for nominal loyalty but not control; even now they're facing a low-level insurgency from the Howitat tribe over the place where they want to build a model city. 

Meanwhile, compared to the DPRK or even the PRC they aren't very autocratic. Saudis travel freely all over the world if they want to do so, and people from all over the world travel there to go on Hajj. While their government occasionally kills a citizen if he goes too hard against the ruling regime, so does ours. We were in the top category at the time.

Indeed, the sudden drop of the USA from a +10 to a +5 (in the zone of potential violence) during and only during the Trump administration gives away how subjective this standard must be. The US government changed almost not at all during the Trump administration. The same people were in charge of it; it did the same things. There was almost no turnover in the bureaucracy. While Trump did provide a brake on some features, such as the growth of the regulatory state, nevertheless the state still continued to grow. Spending continued as recklessly as ever before. (Likewise telling is their history of the whole United States, which gives more time to Trump than to anything else that ever happened.)

So there's only two variables, and one of them looks like social-science bunk. What about the other one?
...the second factor was whether populations in these partial democracies began to organize politically, not around ideology — so, not based on whether you’re a communist or not a communist, or you’re a liberal or a conservative — but where the parties themselves were based almost exclusively around identity: ethnic, religious or racial identity.
Now I would be surprised to see data that confirmed that organizing around communism wasn't predictive of civil war, but in part that's because the Soviet Union and Communist China seeded such wars as an act of foreign policy. Maybe after the Cold War ended this stopped being as highly predictive as it would once have been. 

So, arguendo let's say this is correct. This is the point that I really started paying attention because we have indeed seen a lot more organizing along racial lines in the last few years. The clearest example is the BLM movement, but more to her point are the militant groups like the New Black Panthers and the 'Not F--king Around Coalition' [sic]. And not just to protest, but to riot and to engage in violent acts against the government -- for example, the weeks-long nightly attacks on the Federal building in Portland, Oregon. Antifa is not as good an example on her terms, being ideological and looser-organized, but it is a good example of what she says is the most dangerous sort of insurgency in the contemporary area: the 'leaderless insurgency.' 

So I read carefully to see how she would address these things, and of course the answer is that she does not mention them at all -- is not thinking about them at all, as far as I can tell. 
[W]atching what happened to the Republican Party really was the bigger surprise — that, wow, they’re doubling down on this almost white supremacist strategy. That’s a losing strategy in a democracy. So why would they do that? Okay, it’s worked for them since the ’60s and ’70s, but you can’t turn back demographics. And then I was like, Oh my gosh. The only way this is a winning strategy is if you begin to weaken the institutions; this is the pattern we see in other countries. 
Anyone who believes that 'our institutions' are being weakened by hostile action needs to take a second look at the facts. They are doing it to themselves. Partly this is the natural process of ossification, where ever-larger bureaucracies create ever-more layers of rules and decision-making bodies that have to be dealt with in sequence. By the time a problem comes all the way up and a decision comes all the way down, the problem has changed and the bureaucracy now has a different problem to report back up. Partly, too, the money is so great now that corruption is inevitable; and partly those things coincide, so that identifying and rooting out corruption is just one more problem the bureaucracy can't solve. As they become more corrupt and more irreparable, they become less competent at solving the problems assigned to them. A collapsing faith in them is fully warranted by the facts alone.

Still, if you want to talk about a conspiracy to weaken an institution, how about "Defund the Police"? How about the recent media full-court-press on delegitimizing the Supreme Court because it now issues some conservative rulings? How about bypassing state legislatures to enact election laws in an unconstitutional way, which did more to undermine trust in our election system than anything I've seen yet? How about ordering the US Army to conduct a retreat and withdrawal operation in such a blinkered and unprofessional way as to make it appear that we were driven out of Afghanistan by the Taliban, and then refusing to hold anyone at all accountable for it? 

So she is blind to the most obvious examples of what she is citing as a major concern, both in terms of what groups are organizing along racial lines to fight the government and in terms of who is undermining our institutions. What is she worried about? Veterans.
Here in the United States, because we had a series of long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and Syria, and now that we’ve withdrawn from them, we’ve had more than 20 years of returning soldiers with experience. And so this creates a ready-made subset of the population that you can recruit from....
What we’re heading toward is an insurgency, which is a form of a civil war. That is the 21st-century version of a civil war, especially in countries with powerful governments and powerful militaries, which is what the United States is.... They use unconventional tactics. They target infrastructure. They target civilians. They use domestic terror and guerrilla warfare. Hit-and-run raids and bombs. We’ve already seen this in other countries with powerful militaries, right? The IRA took on the British government. Hamas has taken on the Israeli government. These are two of the most powerful militaries in the world. And they fought for decades. And in the case of Hamas I think we could see a third intifada. And they pursue a similar strategy.

Here it’s called leaderless resistance.... Do not engage the U.S. military. You know, avoid it at all costs. Go directly to targets around the country that are difficult to defend and disperse yourselves so it’s hard for the government to identify you and infiltrate you and eliminate you entirely.
I end on that note to remind everyone of the point raised earlier, which is that there is a clear example of this operating today in the Antifa movement. Nor are they shy, for that matter, about claiming words like 'insurgency' or 'revolution,' or to argue that the United States has to go, to be replaced by some better kind of thing they imagine in the future. It's not on her radar, though. 

The thing is, there's no parallel movement on the right to Antifa. The random militias that exist in Michigan and wherever are not going to overthrow the government; most of them seem to be thoroughly-infiltrated by the FBI in any case. I suspect many of them were set up by the FBI as mousetraps to draw in the small number of actually militant people out there. The infamous Klan is now not even a shadow of itself, just a few kooks spread widely across this country. The Proud Boys aren't a celebrated movement among conservatives, who in general don't like street violence or thuggery. There's no money, either: there's nothing like the archipelago of funding sources available to the political left from microgrants to general funding vehicles from government institutions or universities. 

What I do see people on the right doing is preparing for collapse: not to wage war, but to pick up the pieces when this system falls apart. That turns out mostly to be an exercise in strengthening local government institutions through direct participation, and developing useful skills like hunting, carpentry, and gardening. In a way that should be scarier: a judgment passed that the system cannot be saved, should not be saved, and is disposable with proper precautions. If we neither need it nor want it, if it is increasingly frightened of and baleful towards us, why pay all these taxes?

Don't Go to Prison in Georgia

Not exactly new advice -- prison in the Deep South has been a good thing to avoid since at least the 19th century, and was the subject matter of many dramas including Cool Hand Luke. It sounds like it's still pretty miserable, though.

"In one instance, prison staff had to borrow a razor blade from a prisoner to cut the ligature suspending a prisoner who had hung himself in his cell," [Sen. Jon] Ossoff said, referring to the BOP's documents....

...a crumbling physical structure infested by mold and rats. Regular sewage back-ups often left standing pools of human foot waste a foot deep....

... unmanaged flow of drugs that persisted for years contributed to a rash of suicides.... "so many rats" in the inmate dining hall and other areas that staffers often left the doors open to allow cats in to catch the rodents....

Repeatedly pressed about his lack of knowledge of the conditions in Atlanta, [Bureau of Prisons Director Michael] Carvajal said the agency appeared to be "stuck" in information silos.

"This is clearly a diseased bureaucracy," Ossoff said.

After the hearing Carvajal fled to a freight elevator to avoid reporters, who crowded in after him to ask questions anyway. So, he likewise fled the elevator and ran down the stairs

FBI Turns 114

 I had not realized the Bureau was quite that old. And indeed it turns out they aren't: they were founded in 1935 under J. Edgar Hoover as I had thought, not in 1908 as their tweet claims; although there was an earlier Bureau of Investigation that was rolled together with the Bureau of Prohibition in 1933, which then became the root stock of the present bureau.

They're in the news today for the usual reason -- corruption -- but only of course in certain parts of the news media.

The FBI and Justice Department have been accused by “highly credible whistleblowers” of burying “verified and verifiable” dirt on President Biden’s troubled son Hunter by incorrectly dismissing the intelligence as “disinformation,” according to Sen. Chuck Grassley.

The ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee made the explosive claims Monday in an official Senate letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray and Attorney General Merrick Garland.

He insisted the allegations were so serious, they would prove — if confirmed — that both offices were “institutionally corrupted to their very core.”

You can read the Senator's letter at the link.

Judicial Temper

We've talked a bit about the way in which DC courts are being used to ensure that cases against J6 defendants are tried in front of juries who will assuredly be aligned against them politically. It's not clear to me that it's possible for them to get a fair trial in DC, but the judges have refused to budge on moving the cases elsewhere. Many of these people are guilty, of course, but a less partisan jury pool -- and a pool less likely to be directly attached to the government as an income source -- would present the image of a fair trial whose outcomes could be relied upon as just. Instead it has the strong look of the law being deployed as a weapon of partisanship, just as it does when a DC jury in a DC court refuses to convict a Clinton partisan who was in fact plainly guilty.

Today Judge Tanya Chutkan showed another issue: the judges themselves are biased and partisan. 
A federal judge said Monday that there “have to be consequences” for the Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 and raised concerns that members of the mob were getting off light.... “There have to be consequences for participating in an attempted violent overthrow of the government beyond sitting at home,” Chutkan said Monday. “The country is watching to see what the consequences are for something that has not ever happened in the history of this country before,” Chutkan said. While Mazzocco was far less culpable of many others who participated in the riot, he was proud of what he did, Chutkan said.

“That mob was trying to overthrow the government,” Chutkan said, and “showed their contempt for the rule of law.” She rejected comparisons between the protests of the summer of 2020 in support of civil rights and the attack on the Capitol, which she said was “no mere protest.”

She again today handed down a sentence in excess of the government's request, this time over five years in length. It ties the longest sentence yet issued for the riot, which she insists on seeing as an 'attempt to overthrow the government' -- a charge not actually alleged by the prosecution, but for which she is issuing sentences as if it had been charged and proven.

But sure, this is about the "rule of law." The law, that is, as defined and practiced by them. 

Shifting Goalposts

The trial balloon of changing the definition of 'recession' didn't fly, so today the NYT is instead claiming that the recession will be global -- and thus beyond the control of the leader of any one country. Today's morning newsletter began with a note that inflation is worse in the Eurozone than in the US. It helpfully pointed out that this means that it can't be Biden's fault, noting that the causes of the inflation differ there: it's more about the war in Russia and Ukraine, and less about massive deficit spending by a profligate government.

I take the shift from 'this is transient' to 'this is global' to mean that rough weather is definitely coming, and expected to stay a while.

Another Major Violence Poll

Different results from the UC Davis poll last week, but perhaps more worrisome ones.
Two-thirds of Republicans and independents say the government is “corrupt and rigged against everyday people like me,” according to the poll, compared to 51 percent of liberal voters.

Twenty-eight percent of all voters, including 37 percent of gun owners, agreed “it may be necessary at some point soon for citizens to take up arms against the government,” a view held by around 35 percent of Republicans and around 35 percent of Independents. One in five Democrats concurred.

The Davis poll asked mostly if people thought other people might start a war; this one asked if you thought it might be necessary to fight one. They only got about half as many 'yes' answers, but those are answers to a much more pointed question.

It's bad news, too, when a majority of the group in power thinks the system is corrupt and rigged against them. It is, of course, which is why the number is so high; but that represents a dangerously high degree of self-awareness against partisan interest. 

Weekend Repairs: Good, Bad, Ugly

This Saturday the Fire Department called a work detail to rebuild the very rickety staircase that leads up to the department meeting room and offices above the garage. The stairs were bad, but now they are good. 

Old stairs ripped out, landing held on by wall attachments and ground braces so we could replace the foundations of the 4x4 posts as well. Those turned out to be nothing more than a piece of flat wood they were set upon, then buried into the ground so the foundation could rot at the same speed as the posts.

We cut the rotted wood off and replaced posts as necessary. I did the concrete foundations myself, along with the fire chief and deputy fire chief. The woodworking was directed by three members of the department who are carpenters. These foundations are now concrete pads five inches below, and extending three-four inches above, the 4x4 base.

Finished stairs. All screw construction with no nails, four stringers, each reinforced and braced so they can't flex. Steps each a single piece of wood with no internal joints. 

Today, on Sunday, I encountered the ugly. I was merely planning to change the front tire of my motorcycle. While carefully removing a disc from the front wheel, however, one of the bolts snapped off inside the bolt hole in spite of the fact that I was doing everything by hand and with plenty of Mopar rust penetrant. Now it'll have to be drilled and tapped out and a new bolt ordered before the bike can be put back into service. "Every easy job is one snapped bolt from becoming a three week ordeal."