Two Views of Winter Trenches

I have no idea of how typical these two videos of the Ukrainian and Russian armies winter diggings-in are, but to the extent they are at least a little representative (I suspect they're actually extremes but  that they do indicate essential differences), they indicate why a Ukrainian winter offensive would be highly successful, whereas a Russian offensive would...not be.

A Ukrainian trench:

From a Russian surface camp:

The Russian text claims that, at the time the video was taken, it was -25 outside. Omsk is about 65 mi from Kazakhstan, so it's not an entirely fair comparison, but if this is typical of the preparation the Russian soldiers are getting enroute to the Ukrainian cauldron, I don't see how they can be effective.

Hence the barbaric assault on the Ukrainian civilian infrastructure, in an attempt to deny Ukrainians the fuel, power, and food necessary for winter survival.

Eric Hines

Drunken Poet's Dream

It takes some courage, as a poet, to substitute for a rhyme what is really an identity (as it does to substitute a near-rhyme, or a not-very-near one). I love that he acknowledges it in the text of the poem. 

The Reverend Horton Heat chose to rhyme gas-oh-leen with sev-uhn-teen, which would have worked for mesk-ah-leen just as well. RWH has the standing to defy petty conventions. 

If you are drinking tonight or this weekend, have one for the soul of Master Sergeant Craig Zentkovich, whom I knew a good while in Iraq. I hear he died in his sleep last night; I have heard no more. [UPDATE: Here is a GoFundMe link provided by Douglas in the comments.] Kenny Rogers said that was the best we could hope for. Those of you inclined to prayer might remember him. 

Agency and Determination

The Orthosphere hosts a philosophical argument that skips an important step.
We theists recognize two general categories of causation: mechanistic (i.e., “cause-and-effect”) and agency (“ground-and-consequent”). Most people, including most God-deniers, will initially agree that these two categories are real, and distinct, and unbridgeable … until they see where the argument is going.

From recognition of the unbridgeable distinction between mechanism and agency, I argue that agency cannot “arise” from mechanism – this is what the God-deniers who haven’t denied agency from the start will then deny and this denial can then be shown absurd and thus false – and thus that agency is, and must be, fundamental to [the] nature of reality.

The important step is the proof that agency cannot arise from mechanism (as he puts it); it is not obvious that this is true, and the fact that people might 'initially agree' to it doesn't establish it as more than an unchallenged assumption.

(By the way this frame is older than monotheism in the West: Aristotle explains causality in just this way in the second book of the Physics.)

Consider that, as far as we can tell, atoms have no agency. An atom of carbon or of hydrogen or oxygen seems to decide on nothing; it joins into bonds, such as hydrogen and oxygen forming water, for purely chemical and physical reasons. This is 'mechanistic' determination on the Orthosphere's model.

Yet water has properties that its components, hydrogen and oxygen, did not. Both of these are gaseous at room temperature, for example; water is liquid at the same range of temperatures. Water has the property of 'wetness,' then, which has somehow arisen from the bond between the things that both lack that property. We can say some things about how and why this happens, but that it happens is clear enough. New properties emerge from combinations that happen mechanistically.

Why, then, should not agency be a property that emerges from things that happen mechanistically? Other properties, even complex ones, seem to do this. The carbon joins into long protein chains, the water is joined with it, and (skipping a long discussion) eventually you have DNA. This has a new property -- the capacity to order things it encounters mechanistically into a design that is not random but follows a kind of 'intention.' This ability to take from the world and put things into the order that is also 'you' is called life (as explained by philosopher Hans Jonas).

If this kind of proto-intention can arise from what appear to be mechanistic actions, why not a real intention? Why shouldn't it be true that living beings of certain kinds have the property of agency, even though none of their components had it before they were joined and ordered into that form? 

This is, by the way, a good reason to reject materialism: it is not merely the material that matters. All the same material -- all the same atoms of oxygen and hydrogen and carbon, etc -- if not ordered in this way lack the properties of life and agency. These only seem to arise when the right order is brought to them. Thus, the form -- which is not material, but the way in which the material is ordered -- exists and is causally important, and not only the material. Reality is not materialistic but hylomorphic as the ancients said.

This is not an anti-theistic argument or a theistic one; you can make both arguments from this ground. Perhaps a God is then unnecessary, and being unnecessary should be excluded according to Occam's Razor. Yet what explanation is there for reality having this strange quality, such that thinking agents can and do apparently automatically arise from deterministic material processes? Why should reason and decision be inherent in a material that does not need them, existing whether or not agents do? Occam's Razor is only a tool for gamblers, not a proof; and here it seems clear that unnecessary things do exist, because we experience being one of those things all the time.

Perhaps, then, reality has this order because the order was wanted; and if it was wanted, there must have been someone who wanted it. Someone who had the power to set this basic structure of reality, either through design or through will, or possibly merely through longing. 

The AARP on Pineapple Express

I don’t think most of us who were involved are quite old enough for the AARP, but they have a personal and compelling story from Scott Mann, a Green Beret who was at the center. His book on the subject is soon to be published. 

In fact it’s the same book that was coauthored by James Gordon Meek, the journalist who disappeared abruptly after an FBI raid on his house. He has been seen in the last two weeks, so I guess he’s not in GitMo, but there are still no answers to the questions produced by the raid. 

On Football Celebrations

I do not watch the NFL. I never understood the appeal of professional sports compared to collegiate ones, for one thing. A college team has roots in the community, made up of students from your state and possibly your town or county. A professional team is merely mercenary: the players usually have no real connection to the state, county, or city in which they are located, and they move about either as they are traded or later as free agents. 

The NFL's culture has also changed dramatically since I was young. Some of these changes are humane, and others are merely cultural shifts. For example, another friend sent this parody video of the growing culture of celebrations in the NFL.

Now I haven't watched an NFL game in years, so there's no reason they would care what I think about that, but apparently it does closely follow what the real celebrations are starting to look like. 

When my father was alive, he used to complain about this sort of thing regularly. He sounded a lot like the voiceover in the parody video. This may be a thing like AVI's discussion of 'uptalk,' a cultural change of no real significance which is going to happen just because things change and that's that. Or it might be, as dad used to say and the announcer conveys, that it marks the decline of real virtues like sportsmanship and civility, replaced by real vices like grandstanding and egoism. 

It could also be a combination of the two, some of it being merely cultural and some of it representing a larger cultural shift towards egoism. I'll leave that for the discussion in the comments.

From the Past

A friend I was close to in the 1990s sent this video, which is a cover version of a song that was popular during the middle of the decade. 

I don't remember the band or the song, actually, though perhaps I knew it at the time. Here is the original.

A Blind Gift to Republicans

As 'your favorite President' announces his intention to run for office in 2024, Democrats and their allies in the press are trying to push a narrative that the 14th Amendment bars him from office. 

It is not obvious that these claims hold any water. The idea is that Trump 'led' an 'insurrection,' which he certainly did not do in person -- the case they are citing is of someone who actually entered the Capitol during the J6 event, which is not really plausibly 'an insurrection' in my opinion anyway. It was a riot, and riots are illegal, but an insurrection would generally require an actual plan, weapons of some sort, and other conditions that don't seem to be met. (It also shouldn't be a mousetrap: there are good questions about the FBI's role here.) 

It should be obvious that the whole thing is a gift to Republicans, and that whether it succeed or fails. If it fails it will be one more show of powerlessness against The Mighty Trump, which will encourage and invigorate his followers; if it succeeds, it will clear the decks of the Republican most likely to lose in '24 due to his sky-high personal negatives, while infuriating his supporters into doing whatever they can to defeat Democrats that year. 

The whole project is encouraging to me, actually. It suggests that the Democratic Party doesn't believe that it can pull the rabbit out of its hat in '24 that it pulled in '20: all that 'fortifying' of 'our democracy' may have been a trick that could only occur under the unique conditions of the pandemic, which made the population willing to accept the mass-scale illegality by the government in the conduct of the elections. Four years on, with Republican legislators at the state level pushing for more election accountability successfully in some key states, it might not be possible to do all that again. That would be very good news, and reason for renewed confidence that the election might be legitimate this time (or at least more legitimate).

A Strange and Striking Logic

My original home state was Georgia, though both of my parents were from mountainous East Tennessee, and I grew up with Georgia's particular take on the American political system. Today a judge overturned (at least pending appeal) a six-week abortion ban that was passed by the legislature and signed into law by the governor, arguing that the law was unconstitutional -- "was" as in "not now, but at the time it passed."
Judge Robert McBurney of the Superior Court of Fulton County said the law was void at the time it was passed in 2019 under the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade ruling, which established a federal right to abortion in 1973.

McBurney said the state would have to pass the law again now that the Supreme Court has overturned Roe for the ban to be valid. The 2019 law was "plainly unconstitutional when drafted, voted upon, and enacted," McBurney wrote in his opinion.

Now I would think this logic was correct if the reason for the change in what 'was' constitutional had been a constitutional amendment. Let us say that you passed a law that said that no one could vote until age 28, as apparently some particularly ignorant journalists think is being discussed somewhere. That's clearly unconstitutional: the Federal Constitution determines that the voting age is 18. Such a law would be unconstitutional and therefore void, and like all unconstitutional laws it would have no legitimate force from the moment it was enacted. You'd have to amend the Constitution first, and then pass the law later.

A Supreme Court ruling is not like that. The Supreme Court did not change the Constitution; it only stated that earlier courts had misunderstood it when they said it meant X, and that the correct interpretation is Y instead. The Constitution was therefore the same all the time; our judges just didn't understand it correctly for a while. 

Too, the whole reason the Supreme Court was asked to rule on this was that there was a controversy about what the right meaning really was. It was not 'plain' what the constitutional stance was; lots of people disagreed, for decades, and eventually the court came to see it their way.

Thus, I think the logical position is that the constitution never barred this law, and that it is valid as enacted. Nobody changed the Constitution. The Supreme Court does not have that power.

Railroad Nation

Partly because the Russians were never able to establish air superiority, Ukraine's on-time railroads remain the backbone of the nation and its war effort. Trains running on-time would normally make easy targets for bombing runs, but Russia's military strategy did not prize air superiority the way the American way of war has done. As a result, the Russians are unable to cut these flourishing supply lines; for the same reason, they are vulnerable to the artillery we have been supplying to their foes. 

The war entered a new phase last week, between the retreat in the south, the advance in the center covered by a wave of missile strikes, and the big diplomatic push that is being made to end the war. The later is a good cop - bad cop approach, I think, with Ukraine in the role of bad cop. They can't continue the war without external support, however, both in funding and weapons; so the West can pretend that the bad cop holds the reins, but in the end Russia knows that the 'good cop' can cut them a deal.

The Violent Gods

Via Arts & Letters Daily, a review of a new translation of Ovid.

One day in the thirteenth century, James I of Aragon, not only a great conqueror but a king famous for his powers of memory, made a revealing slip: "We got to our feet and we began with an authority from the Sacred Scripture that says: Non minor est virtus quam quaerere parta tueri."

“It takes no less talent to keep what you’ve got than to acquire it”: for a crusading medieval monarch, what more convenient justification for territorial consolidation could there be than “Sacred Scripture”?

The problem is that that line of Latin doesn’t appear anywhere in the Bible. It comes, rather, from a notoriously risqué book of poems, published during the reign of the Emperor Augustus, whose narrator doles out advice on how to seduce women—preferably married ones.... That these lines of Roman erotic verse had become indistinguishable from Scripture by the Middle Ages isn’t really all that surprising. More than those of any other poet of ancient Rome, the works of Publius Ovidius Naso—we know him as Ovid—have insinuated themselves into the mind of Europe, influencing its literature, art, and music.

The translation is of the Metamorphoses, a long poem that introduces new twists to what were already old stories. For example, the story of Medusa was ancient even then; Ovid's new variation turns the goddess Athena ("Minerva" to the Romans) into a bad actor, who executes the transformation of a beautiful young woman into a monster in order to punish the woman for having resisted a divine rape by Poseidon ("Neptune," of course, for the Romans; (or, given that Athena was a virgin goddess, it may have been that Medusa failed to resist the rape; there is some scholarly debate about exactly what it was that offended Athena, the sex or the mortal defiance of a divine will).

That doesn't turn up in the review, but a lot of similar stories made the book.

Above all, Ovid’s presentation of Jove—the king of the gods and the obvious counterpart of Augustus himself—is almost uniformly disparaging in its contempt for the god’s use of his power. The Metamorphoses often reads like a catalogue of Jove’s violent offenses: Jove transforming himself into a bull in order to abduct Europa, Jove becoming a swan to get at Leda, Jove taking the form of an eagle in order to snatch up Ganymede....

In the Arachne episode, Minerva weaves a tapestry that celebrates her victory over Neptune, her uncle, in a long-ago contest for possession of Athens—an egotistical bit of divine P.R. Arachne’s weaving, by contrast, depicts nine rapes committed by Jove, six by Neptune, a few by Apollo and Bacchus, and one by Saturn, Jove’s father. 

The new translation abandons 19th and 20th century habits of euphemizing what exactly these gods were doing.  Numerous chapters are, the reviewer notes, titled in the form "X Rapes Y." The translator, Stephanie McCarter, writes:

The inclusion of so many stories of rape in the epic suggests, in fact, that Ovid felt such violence was worthy of critical interrogation. . . . To read Ovid with an eye toward his full complexity—his beauty and his brutality—allows us to scrutinize our own thorny relationship with the past and with the ambivalent inheritance we have received from it. To wrestle with the unsavory aspects of ancient literature is to do the hard work of self-examination.

A fair point. Ovid arguably used this not merely to play with violence, but to criticize his (very dangerous) political overlords. Who could object to being likened to a god, and the highest of gods in your pantheon, no less than Jove himself? When Ovid celebrates Augustus as being like Jove, he is not -- or not merely -- paying a compliment. 

That’s a Bold Move, Cotton

As a love song strategy, I’ve heard plenty of “hey pretty lady you’d better be sure, because I am dangerous.” I don’t think I’ve heard anyone put the case against themselves quite so front-and-center. Points for honest communication in a relationship!