"I Guess A Man’s Got To Do What He's Best At..."

AVI, explaining himself when he doesn't really need to do so because he has a perfect right to do what he wants: "...and Grim goes back to milblogger roots from time to time."

"Me and ol' Billy are both come from Georgia...."

It does seem like I end up involved in all these little conflicts, in big ways or in small ones. Maybe it's just what I'm best at, as much as I wish it were philosophy or history. Or just riding motorcycles, if you could find a way to make that pay.

A Failed Experiment

In science you often learn more from failures. I guess we will see if anyone learns anything here

The Feast of the Holy Family

The Sunday after Christmas, in years when Christmas itself is not a Sunday, is the Feast of the Holy Family

The diversity I wish we'd pursue

More from a series of "best of 2024" Powerline features: this excerpt from a piece by Michael Barone pitching, in part, his then-new book "Mental Maps of the Founders":
Many today speak as if the United States has just recently become diverse. The founders knew otherwise and attempted to construct a limited government that would leave room for (to use historian David Hackett Fischer's term) different folkways while providing enough unity to protect against foreign attack.
A neighbor is much enamored of Texas secession talk. I get it, but I think he's willfully blind to the issue of defense.

Mind control

Shadow-banning of books arouses my stubborn streak. Sometimes I buy a newly published book even without a strong wish to read it, just to give the author some commercial support.

Today, Powerline highlighted a decades-old French novel called "Les Camps des Saints," whose storyline rested on a million-strong immigration from India to France that overwhelms the self-loathing host country. From the Powerline review:
Westerners have made a categorical imperative out of Mrs. Jellyby’s comically flawed humanitarianism/“do-gooderism” unto a distant other, while one’s own are neglected. In this moral climate, the piety required to love one’s community and the fortitude required to defend it become vices.
The novel has since been labeled racist and colonialist, of course, with the result that its publishers did all in their power to squelch sales. Used copies in English translation therefore start at several hundred dollars for a paperback and shoot up several thousand dollars for a hardcover.

A French copy was a little more affordable and was matched by a cheap Audiobook version, also in the original French. If I listen while reading along, the gist may get through. My rudimentary French has been improved by reading science fiction novels with which I'm already familiar in English. It works OK as long as the style is fairly straightforward, as science fiction tends to be.

Another Feast

The twelve days of Christmas are all feasts, but the 30th of December is not always the same feast. Some years (but not usually, and not this year: only when Christmas is on a Sunday) it's the Feast of the Holy Family. But this year you can pick from some several, just as you prefer. 

A Chicken-Killing Day

My wife’s chicken population was reduced by two this afternoon, as she has finally conceded the necessity of eating some of the monsters. Whilst she thought of them as sort-of pets they were untouchable. Killing a chicken is otherwise a trivial matter. 

New Years Day should feature a roast chicken dinner. I’ll have to decide what to make alongside. 

The Feast of St. Thomas of Becket

Christmas continues with a celebration of "Thomas a Becket." In Ivanhoe his bones are sworn by on occasion by Prince John and the other Normans. The Holy Clerk of Copmanhurst -- i.e. Friar Tuck -- calls him on him as "Thomas a Kent," Kent being the location of Canterbury Cathedral. 

Unprepared for War

One might reasonably ask whether America wants to fight a war on three fronts, or indeed on any fronts if it can be avoided. The author seems to think that there won't be a chance to opt out.
[O]ur moment has thrown up conflicts across the globe: Israel versus Hamas, Russians versus Ukrainians, or Chinese democrats versus the Communist Party. But these disparate battles are in fact part of one whole – a struggle to dominate the future.

The new wider war includes attempts by great powers, notably China, to secure natural resources by securing alliances with authoritarian regimes around the world.... This de-facto alliance, a modern version of the World War Two “pact of steel”, is truly global in scope. It extends from Ukraine to the shutting off of the Red Sea by Yemen’s Houthis, and even Venezuelan plans to conquer much of oil-rich Guyana....

The wider war pits on one side the revanchist powers – China, Russia, Islamist, Latin American and African countries – who feel they have been wronged by the West and liberal capitalism. On the other side are the West and non-European allies like Japan, South Korea and perhaps most importantly Modi-led India.

I wouldn't count too much on India, actually. If that's your 'most important' ally, you're in worse shape even than you think. India has been emphatically non-aligned since their inception, and at this point is closer to Russia. 

The author is right, of course, that the US and the West are failing on all fronts in terms of military readiness. He even identifies them fairly succinctly. How do you fix them, though? The powers are all against it, and some of the problems -- like the collapse of faith in the West among the youth, or the need to rebuild American manufacturing almost from the ground up -- are generational. 

The Proximate Cause

Over at InstaPundit, Ed Driscoll is pointing out how foolish Nikki Haley is to have fallen for the perennial trap of a Republican being asked about the causes of the Civil War. A Republican in particular cannot afford to answer this question otherwise than briefly and dogmatically; it is for others to explore the nuances. Even then, it is often said that a high school student will tell you that the war was over slavery; a grad student will tell you about nuances of economics and power; but a professor will explain again that all of those nuances were rooted in slavery.

There is a question worth exploring -- and this election cycle of all times -- about the proximate cause of the Civil War. What caused the war to become a thing that had to be fought, replacing a tense situation with the necessity of so very many Americans killing each other? 

One answer could be the election of Abraham Lincoln -- or, to put it in terms relevant to today, the very narrow election of a candidate who did not come from the major established political factions, to whose power a large part of the country was intensely opposed. Had one of the other three(!) candidates won, the war might have not occurred (or at least not at that time). As it was, Lincoln took power with less than forty percent of the vote, though a convincing majority in the electoral college.

Lincoln's election was, I think, definitely the cause of secession -- at least, the first wave of secession, which was only seven states in the Deep South. I don't think it was the proximate cause of the war. As he was inaugurated he was escorted by both cavalry and infantry, with sharpshooters covering his approach. A similar scene followed the election in 2020, when the government similarly deployed a large military force to protect itself against assumed violence (which in fact never appeared, neither in 1861 nor 2021). 

This did not necessarily mean that war was inevitable. Lincoln's inauguaral address promised not "to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so." If slavery was the cause of the war simpliciter, you might then say that this should have prevented violence from springing out. It might have given a window for negotiating a new vision with the Southern states that did not leave the Union, which if it had succeeded might have eventually persuaded the seven that did to return. 

Yet war followed very quickly. There are two other answers to the question of the proximate cause that occur to me. The first one is the general collapse of trust in the government under Lincoln to obey the Constitution. Southern states had moved to seize armories with their state militias, as they no longer believed the Federal government would respect their Second Amendment right to maintain armed militias. If they had trusted the courts to protect their rights, or had trusted Lincoln not to violate their rights, this might not have occurred. If they had sent lawyers instead, the country could have remained in a period of tension but not war. 

Alternatively, you can blame Lincoln's response to the seizure of the armories and fortifications. While he pledged not to interfere with slavery, he did assert in his inauguration that he planned to defend the Federal government's property rights. He did so with the deploment of troops. You might think that the South, which was in a large part going to war to defend a property claim as inviolable, might have been persuaded that the Federal government had a right to the buildings and land (if not the arms within them, that might be seized for militia purposes). These buildings included not just armories but harbor forts -- most famously Fort Sumpter. Allowing the President to reassert physical control over armories or armed batteries that could close the harbors meant, effectively, submission to Federal authority. There was just no trust left for that: the South decided that it had to resist while it still had arms and could seize back control of the fortifications that could either protect its harbors or close them. 

That last sentence ends up collapsing the two possible proximate causes into one: the collapse of trust in each other, without which it is impossible to accept being governed by the other side. War became necessary when force was used because trust was absent. 

In our own present case, the Trump side has proven its willingness to accept being governed by a side that seems hostile to it. They stood down even after a highly disputed election and allowed the other side to take power over them. That side has certainly been hostile to them in rhetorical terms, but also seems to be bent to using Federal power to dominate and control that side. Trump himself has not promised to forswear a similar use of such power if he should get the opportunity to use it. Even if he did promise, though, it is likely that his opponents would trust it as little as was trusted Lincoln's promise not to interfere with slavery. It is not clear to me that their side would similarly accept his election, trusting to their lawyers instead of to force. 

If there is another civil war blessedly it won't be caused by slavery, which our ancestors wisely put an end to long ago. The final cause of a second war may well be a conflict between power and liberty, in which the established and entrenched bureacracy will not allow itself to be dissolved or even restricted by an elected government it does not trust. 

The proximate cause is apt to be the same, however. That is a matter that ought to concern us. 

The Feast of Holy Innocents

Today is the most terrible day of the holiday. 

The Feast of John the Evangelist

The third day of Christmas honors John

Vehicular Advice

By coincidence my son and I happened upon some women with a dead battery. They were trying to jump it but had hooked the jumper cables to something besides the donor vehicle battery.

I politely pretended not to notice that they were hooked up to the air conditioner rather than the battery, and just said “You look like you’ve got this, but if you need any help we’d be happy to assist.” No Mansplaining here!

They likewise were wise enough to admit that they didn’t know at all what they were doing, and to graciously accept the offered help. They were also hooked incorrectly on the receiver side, but it hardly mattered since there was no electricity coming from the donor.

I disassembled the battery connections and cleaned the corrosion that was all over them, then hooked my truck up and got her vehicle started in a few minutes. I enjoy the chance to help people, and they were grateful and kind. 

Anyway, probably here it’s preaching to the choir but always carry a toolbox and jumper cables. Know how to do simple roadside repairs. Even if you don’t have trouble yourself, you never know when you might meet someone in need. 

Language drift

It's surely a sign of age to be increasingly irritable about changes in grammar and usage. Does anyone else notice that published pieces increasingly find it difficult to use phrases like "much less" and "no less" and "if worse comes to worst" and "sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander" properly? It's as if the authors had all suffered strokes. "Much less" quite often has the two elements reversed, so instead of "I was so tired I could barely walk, much less (or let alone) run" it comes out "scarcely run, much less walk," which makes no sense. "No less" should mean "fully as great as," as in "my presentation received rave reviews from the national expert on my topic, no less." It has nothing to do with the "much less" idiom, but gets wound in somehow. The worse/worst expression appears in reverse or in doubles of worse/worse or worst/worst. The "sauce" idiom, especially in speech, tends to sound like "sauce for the . . . [pause]" followed by lame muttering of something indecipherable.

I realize this is part of the natural progression of language. An idioms that is too hard to recall either falls out of use or is replaced with something that sounds familiar, even if it no longer has the sense of the original. Another take, however, is that there's no such thing as an editor any more, not even in formal book publishing, let alone online sites. (See, it's not that difficult.)

Don't get me started on rein/reign, regime/regimen, principal/principle, or affect/effect. These young whippersnappers. If the shoe fits, you must acquit.

St. Stephen’s Day


Restoration and new life

Notre Dame de Paris may be fully repaired by next Christmas. The rooster weathervane atop the destroyed spire was heavily damaged during the fire and is being replaced by a new device that is something of a cross between a rooster and a phoenix. Here are the original rooster, before and after the damage, and the new bird:

Dog joy

Several months ago we built three spacious 6x12 kennels for foster dogs that had to be rescued from the county shelter's kill list. Since then we've been struggling with how to let them safely out of their kennels, other than on leashed walks, without conflicts among themselves, with our 3 dogs, or with the cats. I also had concerns about our perimeter fence, which is only four feet high at best and in some unexplored areas is either definitely or probably compromised by downed trees. This made it nerve-wracking to wonder what inexperienced foster dog might be over the fence and harassing neighbors' pets or chickens.

Finally last week our contractor finished putting in an adjacent dog exercise yard with a nice, tall, secure fence. About half of it is sodded and half woodsy brush. Now the foster dogs can come out in whatever groups I can arrange without quarreling, with no danger that they'll test the perimiter fence, mess with our home dogs, or mess with the cats. The cats were really complicated, as they need to come out of the garage where they're kept safe at night, but if they come out soon after sunrise and go back in soon before sunset, that doesn't leave much time to supervise loose dogs in shifts in the daylight. Now the time constraints are all relaxed and the foster dogs aren't cooped up so many hours every day. I'm also getting good video to post on social media to drum up interest in adoption.

I'm trying to post video, but can't make the format work. Here's a stillshot grab:

The High Feast of Christmas

The storm that blew in last night brought hard winds and rain, and knocked out the power on the mountain. Some poor lineman is doubtless having to spend his Christmas morning out in dreary weather. Here at the Hall there is warmth and fire. I made coffee over living flame. 

Merry Christmas to all!

In the Last Hours of Advent

While I have been preparing for Christmas for a month, there was much to do in the final day of Advent. I prepared the feast for tomorrow, which itself took hours. It's an unusual one: none of the Christmas standards, no roast beast nor ham nor turkey, not even a Great Pie like I often make. 

This year I decided to make my wife a lobster-chipotle corn chowder that a friend of mine taught me how to make. It's not the sort of thing I'd ever normally make, as it involves not only seafood (not something to which I am accustomed, as a mountain man) but a seafood from distant cold waters. Nevertheless I bought her a frozen lobster and made it for her because I thought she'd like it, and perhaps all the more as it is a rare thing.

For my son and myself, I made a very common dish: venison chili. That's what he said he wanted. When he was a little boy he used to fuss so much about me making chili. He grumbled endlessly about being made to eat it regularly, as it's my go-to beef stew. Yet, just as I told him (and as he emphatically denied was possible) in time he came to love and value it. So, at his request, that's what I made. 

I did make Julkage, a traditional Christmas bread/cake from Scandinavia. So there's that, at least. Oh, and cookies: the "forbidden cookies" that my wife remonstrated against me making until late this afternoon, when she confessed she really wanted me to make her some. They're exactly like chocolate chip cookies except for substituting Heath bar crumble in place of chocolate chips. The last time I made a batch they were gone before I even got a single cookie. 

And though this went well back before Advent, I finished bottling the Christmas Mead. 


Today is the winter solstice -- tonight, actually, at 10:27 PM EST. Advent continues until Sunday, but the old Yuletide would begin today. The days get longer from here. 

The Jólfaðr, or possibly myself in about five years. 

Philosophers Under Fire

A mass shooting in Prague happened at the philosophy department of a major university.
An armed man opened fire in a university building in downtown Prague on Thursday, killing at least 15.... The bloodshed took place in the philosophy department building of Charles University, where the shooter was a student....

Police gave no details about the victims or a possible motive for the shooting.... Czech Interior Minister Vit Rakusan said investigators do not suspect a link to any extemist ideology or groups.

The Czech Republic has a constitutional right to bear arms, although you have to take a test to show you are worthy. Many US states -- including North Carolina, where I live -- impose such a test on concealed carry licenses, but allow ownership without testing as long as you aren't disqualified by being a felon or similar. 

The Czech system generally works very well: as the second article points out, in a country with a population larger than New York City that had only seven gun-related homicides the previous year. There will of course be a push to enact further restrictions after this, since gun control advocates all think alike and can never resist using any tragedy to push their agenda. The fact that this system is normally highly effective while also respecting a key human right is of no interest to them, because they are devoted to eliminating that right from existence. 

Philosophy departments are normally argumentative spaces, where people clash about the most important ideas in sometimes stark ways. It is perhaps surprising that there isn't more violence associated with them. However, philosophers generally understand the value of freedom of speech and thought, and usually tolerate such differences well -- even conservatives can exist in a philosophy department, which is basically not true in most liberal arts academia. I always admired that aspect of the thing: you could hear a Marxist field their arguments, followed by a conservative Jew, followed by a utilitarian who formally rejects both of their frameworks; and you could then think, freely, about which of their arguments really made the most sense. 

I also carried a pistol in my jacket, just in case. Fortunately no recourse to it was ever required. 

“We Shouldn’t Bend Over…”

Do you people hear yourselves?

"In some ways, Aidan’s act mirrored that of Anne Frank..."

Come on

Now That’s How They Do It in Egypt!

Colorado on the Nile!

I was an election monitor in Egypt in 2018. The election was conducted in a verifiably secure and honest manner, as well it could be since they’d disallowed all opposition. The only other candidate was the President’s best friend, who — I am not making this up — ran on the promise that if he won he’d resign immediately in favor of said President. 

If you’re losing as obviously as they are, and you feel as they do that this is the biggest threat facing humanity, I guess you go all the way. ‘Our side can’t win, so let’s not play the game.’

For a scholarly discussion of this question, here’s Eugene Volokh. UPDATE: A counterargument by Lawrence Tribe and J. Michael Luttig. I think Volokh is stronger on the merits, but consider both views.

Cleaning the Augean Stables

Commenter juvat asked the other day if it was possible to redirect the Potomac to wash away DC. Turns out they’re already on it. When they were building the African American Museum in DC, they broke through a subterranean barrier and unleashed hydraulic forces that threaten to destroy the Federal district. 

No really. It’s the lead story in the Washington Post. 

Philosophy and Pseudonyms

Aeon publishes a piece that, inter alia, points out that philosophers have often liked to use pseudonyms.
[W]hat might the forging of a work of philosophy be, beyond attributing the work to someone else, à la pseudo-Augustine or pseudo-Aristotle? If faking a painting gets you something and faking a passport gets you somewhere, what does a fake work of philosophy get you?

Presumably, what we care about most in a philosophical text are its arguments, its attempts to get at the truth and its means of getting there. If the argument is what interests us, then should the authorship matter, given that the argument is exactly the same, regardless who wrote it? Of course, historical context is important, both for understanding how the text might have come to be and what the text means. But unless this exploring of context is employed in the service of understanding and elucidating the arguments, we are treating the work as a historical curiosity rather than a source of insight. In the case of the Ḥatäta Zera Yacob, this would be a mistake, for the arguments are powerful and abidingly relevant. These arguments – about the causes of human suffering and conflict, the epistemology of disagreement and the twin temptations of relativism and blind absolutism, the relation between the world and our cognitive faculties – are precisely what tends to fall out when the discussion of the Ḥatäta focuses exclusively on the topic of authenticity.

There's a whole tradition of philosophical interpretation that turns on the idea that philosophers often speak ironically in order to avoid actual death. It goes back to Plato:

Irony is both a figure of speech and a mode of existence or attitude toward life. Deriving from the ancient Greek term eironeia, which originally referred to lying, irony became a complex philosophical and rhetorical term in Plato’s dialogues. Plato (428/427 or 424/423–348/347 BCE) depicts Socrates deploying the method of elenchus, where, rather than proposing a theory, Socrates encounters others in conversation, drawing out the contradictions and opacities of their arguments. Often these dialogues would take a secure concept and then push the questioning to a final moment of non-knowledge or aporia, exposing a gap in a discourse that his interlocutors thought was secure. Here, Socratic irony can be thought of as a particular philosophical method and as the way in which Socrates chose to pursue his life, always questioning the truth of key ethical concepts. 

Socrates famously did not manage to avoid death even through the use of this method. The fact is that philosophy done seriously is very dangerous: speaking the truth always is. There are times and places in which it can be done without fear -- I think Immanuel Kant is especially sincere and fearless, partly because he had nothing to fear. It is not only Socrates who was actually killed for speaking what he took to be the truth. Of course in this season we also think of Jesus, and it was not only the two of them either.

The adoption of a pseudonym, perhaps more properly a nomme de guerre, offers a better defense than irony. It offers an ability to limit the negatives of speaking honestly and freely. It is imperfect, but in an important sense it is better than irony because it doesn't mean speaking indirectly or deceptively. One can be straightforward.

Diplomacy and peacemaking also has sometimes turned on the incognito, in which even a sovereign can say outright what they could never say while performing their role as king or president. The President nor his ambassador may never say certain things, but a nameless man can do so; and sometimes those are the things that desperately need to be understood, and therefore have to be said for the utmost benefit of all. A mode that allows a king or the President to speak freely for a moment without attribution can save the lives of many. 

Philosophy is much the same. It can be a desperate business even in relatively good times. In the times when it is needed most, all the more.

Pick up the Tempo

Eliminating the Good in the name of Equality

Some philosophers from the British zone are worried that loving families may need to be eliminated because they provide benefits to their children not shared by others. This isn't the first time I've encountered this argument from Swift and company, but here they are again.
‘I had done some work on social mobility and the evidence is overwhelmingly that the reason why children born to different families have very different chances in life is because of what happens in those families.’   

Once he got thinking, Swift could see that the issue stretches well beyond the fact that some families can afford private schooling, nannies, tutors, and houses in good suburbs. Functional family interactions—from going to the cricket to reading bedtime stories—form a largely unseen but palpable fault line between families. The consequence is a gap in social mobility and equality that can last for generations....

‘One way philosophers might think about solving the social justice problem would be by simply abolishing the family. If the family is this source of unfairness in society then it looks plausible to think that if we abolished the family there would be a more level playing field.’   

It’s not the first time a philosopher has thought about such a drastic solution. Two thousand four hundred years ago another sage reasoned that the care of children should be undertaken by the state.

Plato pulled few punches in The Republic when he called for the abolition of the family and for the children of the elite to be given over to the state. 

Well, Plato wasn't at all concerned about equality in that discussion in Republic V. The model society he proposed was inherently and intentionally unequal. His intention was to divide society into the most rational, the most spirited, and everyone else: the ruling would be done by the most rational, the fighting by the most spirited, and everyone else would work for a living. 

The reason he wanted to separate them from their children was partly to ensure that the elite received the most fitting upbringing for exercising their power, but mostly because he didn't trust that parents would admit that their offspring weren't really fit for the ruling class and allow them to be demoted to the workers. In other words, it was to preserve the inequality of the most-rational that he proposed this idea. 

Our philosophers are interested in equality, however. They tried to construct an argument in favor of continuing to have natural families, and did decide that at least a few of the benefits are allowable.  

‘It’s the children’s interest in family life that is the most important,’ says Swift. ‘From all we now know, it is in the child’s interest to be parented, and to be parented well. Meanwhile, from the adult point of view it looks as if there is something very valuable in being a parent... Parenting a child makes for what we call a distinctive and special contribution to the flourishing and wellbeing of adults.’

Thus, they set about determining which of the contributions of the family were defensible against the countervailing claims of equality.

‘Private schooling cannot be justified by appeal to these familial relationship goods,’ he says. ‘It’s just not the case that in order for a family to realise these intimate, loving, authoritative, affectionate, love-based relationships you need to be able to send your child to an elite private school.’

In contrast, reading stories at bedtime, argues Swift, gives rise to acceptable familial relationship goods, even though this also bestows advantage.

Indeed, as he goes on to point out, the evidence suggests that it conveys even more advantage than private schooling. AVI will here want to point out that probably the kinds of people who are genetically inclined to spend time reading to their kids are also genetically likely to produce successful offspring no matter what you do, which if true would be a counter-argument against all of this meddling they propose.

I notice, however, the popularity of the argument that we can't allow private schools because all of our children need to suffer public schools would be better if the rich also attended them. This argument is especially popular, I notice, among those who are politically or economically empowered by the public school sector. If anything I would go the other way and eliminate public school entirely, in favor of universal school choice.

An alternative perspective -- one that Plato actually would endorse -- is that maybe equality isn't that important. You can't do without it completely, but you should definitely minimize your appeals to it. In Laws VI, Plato attempts to paint this as 'another, better kind of equality' while noting the dangers of the first kind. It's fine to have one test for everyone, and let the best man win (or woman, as equality between the sexes really was important to Plato both in the Laws and the Republic).

Aristotle, who is even less interested in equality than Plato, discusses the matter in Politics II. He comes down quite on the side of the natural family, as he does on the side of rule by the most virtuous rather than by the many per se. The closest he ever comes to a notion of political equality being important is when he says that the least dangerous people to empower are the middle class, because they will be so interested in minding their own business that they will neither embark on grand government schemes (as the rich like, but it takes too much of time for a man who also has to run his business) nor on redistributing property (as the poor would, but which would take away from the middle class also). That isn't a suggestion that equality is the big deal, though; it's favoring the middle class as a locus of power over either the poor or the rich.

Making the crackhead and the corrupt politician the equals of the working man and the shopkeeper would be a kind of step forward from where we are today; but it isn't the ideal relationship either. You really want a fruitful inequality in which the human good is maximized. Swift is finally able to see that the human good really does flourish best in the natural family, but even so he keeps turning back to this artificial and negative conception of putting artificial equalities over actual good.

A Day of Rest

After long travels, it's nice to settle down for a little while. A very little: I've got some VFD night classes starting up tomorrow and running past Christmas, in addition to my regular work. But today I didn't go anywhere, and I'm not doing anything I don't want to do. 

Actually I did work several hours this morning; but I enjoy the work. Then I made brunch for my wife, who loves my cooking, so that is also rewarding. 

War atop the World

Here’s an article on a largely overlooked theatre of WWII. It wasn’t inconsequential: some 600 American aircraft were lost, and 1,500 men. A new museum has opened to honor their sacrifice. 

Goodbye to Mordor

This trip went so “well” that I bought myself another one next month, but in the meantime it’s home for the holidays. We are wheels-up out of here in a few minutes. 

Thank goodness. 

UPDATE: Wheels down Asheville. Now just a ride up to the mountains of home. 

Release the Kraken

On my last night up here, a friend took me to see a holiday lights display. It was unusual. 

Tomorrow afternoon I fly home, and gladly so. 

Great Falls

The mighty Potomac river, just at the fall line above the District of Columbia. 

You Don’t Say

One in five mail in voters from 2020’s Presidential election admit fraud

Secret Video of Trump Planning the Insurrection Released

Or, you know, a cartoon of Trump planning the insurrection. I can't tell the difference anymore.

A Less Clear Case

It’s pretty clear to me that this Ott fellow didn’t do anything that merits 20 years to life. Maybe ‘things went a little bit far,’ as he says, but I wouldn’t convict him if I were on his jury. If anything I would say that you’d have to go a lot further in these circumstances before I would send you down for any kind of felony. Thirty days, maybe. “Next time, call the sheriff and let his deputies be the ones to beat him up.”

Mordor on the Potomac

There’s actually a nice little Christmas night market going on by the National Portrait Gallery. It’s like the German ones except without mulled wine. 

This town is ridiculously expensive. The average salary is $83K, which neatly inverts the average of $38K where I live (in neighboring Swain County, it’s $29K). As a result prices are sky high, and since they all live off tax revenue taxes are too. 

They can thereby afford nice stuff. And they inherited a lot from earlier, better generations of American leadership. Here’s DuPont Circle’s memorial:

It honors an admiral from the DuPont family who is credited with making the Union blockade of the South effective during the Civil War. That was a real trick, and a large reason for the Union victory. Most people don’t know how badly the Navy was prepared for the war, or that it lost so many sailors— and fully half the Marines— to the Confederacy. He was aided by some significant missteps by the Confederate government, but it was still a real accomplishment.

The DuPonts were important to North Carolina too; there’s a state forest named after them not too far away from me. They did well for themselves and their government, both of which profited from their work. Not so much the people, who are still poor but paying their taxes. 

Bonds of Honor

A community of farmers in Mexico takes on a cartel

The cartel had body armor and assault rifles; the farmers, shotguns and machetes. The government turned its back on them and left them at the cartel’s mercy. 

Because they stood together as men of honor, though outgunned they slaughtered their enemies — and fed their families. 

Off to the NCR

Although in general my profession pleases me, I do have to make the occasional trip to the National Capital Region. Next week will be one such trip. Blogging may be light because, in spite of the opinions of the Wise, very little of actual interest happens there. 

If any of you happened to be passing through town at the same time, let me know. I trust most of you have better taste. 

The Critical Drinker Reviews Lady Ballers

After watching it myself, I mostly agree with CD's review here, although see below.

After I saw it, I watched this and another review on YouTube, just to see what others were saying. I was surprised that neither one pointed out that it was plotted like an Adam Sandler movie, with a reasonable plot interrupted by random bizarre events (cf, Happy Gilmore, 50 First Dates, etc.). I agree that this this is obviously a young studio still developing its style, so while I got some chuckles and a couple of laughs, it wasn't a great movie. I'm glad I watched it, but I probably won't watch it again unless I decide to write my own review.

Straight Pride Flag

So I saw this story about some dude who is suing to make Denver Public Schools let him put his 'Straight Pride Flag' in with the various rainbow flags that they allow encourage. Of course my immediate question was, "What does this flag look like?"

Here it is.

I get the symbolism: he's using black and white to indicate a belief that there are exactly two sexes, and not a rainbow of genders; and of course there's the male and female symbols, linked to show that they belong necessarily together. 

What an ugly flag, though. The black and white stripes also resemble an old fashioned prison uniform, which is far from proper. A good marriage isn't a prison, but a liberation: an ally, a friend, someone to help carry you when you're weak and support you in pursuing your goals. 

I think I'd prefer we just use the skull and crossbones. Ours is the only sexuality that accepts and accomodates the reality of death, and consequently the necessity of natural reproduction -- not just the production of children, but the raising and education of them to be functional members of society. Necessarily, because they need to make and raise children too. They also will always die.

We didn't make the rules, but these are the only rules that work. Memento mori, and love your grandchildren you who are lucky enough to have them. 

Don't Cross the Picket Line!

Longtime readers may recall that I was once a union man, down in Savannah. Thus I can unironically bid you not to read the Washington Post while its guild is on strike. 

Many of you likely have your own, independent reasons to encourage people to respect this particular virtual picket line. That's fine. Solidarity, baby. 

Pearl Harbor Day

Annually remembered is today 1941. Hollywood movie trailers like to say that this-or-that "changed the world... forever." Japan's decisions and actions on that day really did, just not in the way they had hoped for themselves.

I regard this sort of thing as a kind of divine justice. Herodotus gives other examples, such as the oracle of Delphi telling Croesus that if he attacked the Persians, "You will destroy a great empire." Yes, he did: his own. More recently, Hamas' October 7 operations were plainly a kind of prayer -- accompanied with human sacrifice on a large scale -- to bring about a final reconing with Israel. They're getting that now, good and hard.

War Humor

The first is recent and dark humor. The second is just plain old funny.

More Modern Western

There's some good stuff coming out, out West.

There are some very good female leads right now, of whom those are two. Country music has often had strong females -- perhaps most famously Dolly Parton, but definitely including Loretta Lynn, Jesee Colter, Patsy Cline, and of course Tammy Wynette. Western music hasn't had as many, but in the current moment there are quite a few good ones. Here's another one I like, a former schoolteacher who decided she'd rather sing than teach.

A Noteworthy Anniversary

 J. Michael Waller

It's worth remembering too that many of the Founders embraced, but others despised, the riotous destruction of private property. There was no consensus even then, not even among the patriots or colonists or revolutionaries of their day.

Indeed, in the runup to the event tax agents refused a demand to resign their offices, describing themselves as "the True Sons of Liberty" because of their devotion to open, constitutional government. 

That the Method of notifying said Meeting is mean and despicable, and smells of Darkness and Deceit, as the Notification for warning the same was not signed, and was posted in the Night.. WE are resolved, by Divine Assistance, to walk uprightly, and to eat, drink, and wear whatever we can honestly procure  by our Labour ; and to Buy and Sell when and where we please; herein hoping for the Protection of good Government[.]

Factions making the same sets of arguments against each other are very much common among Republicans today, I notice. 

Dodged that Bullet

Headline: "Moderate to Heavy Drinking Linked to Higher Risk of Stroke in Young Adults."

Since I'm no longer young, this story is of no concern to my health. I shall think no further about it.

I did see a cartoon the other day of a man eating something and his wife admonishing him to think of his health. "I can eat whatever I want. That's the benefit of getting older," he said. "If this stuff was going to kill me it would have done it already."

Uncertainty and Hallucination

I have decided that hallucination -- in the sense particular to AI -- is going to be a general problem for the field that they probably won't overcome. 
The bot is also "experiencing severe hallucinations," a phenomenon in which AI confidently spits out inaccuracies like they're facts, the employees said.

In Q's case, it could deliver such bad legal advice to "potentially induce cardiac incidents in Legal," as one employee put it in a company Slack channel, according to Platformer....

It's not uncommon for generative AI chatbots to falter.

It wasn't long after Microsoft released its consumer-focused generative AI assistant, Sydney, that it went viral with its own hallucinations. But Q's transgressions are all the more ironic given that the bot was designed to be a safer and more secure option that businesses could rely on.

The reason I think this problem is insurmountable is the same reason that Gödel's incompleteness theorems are true. Formal systems, including all algorithms, are closed and unable to prove their own completeness or coherence. All of these AI language model systems are systems of that type. 

Unlike an ordinary mathematical or strict-logical system they have a vast number of assumptions: potentially up to and including everything ever written by anyone, anywhere, at any time. They might thus seem to be better able to reason about reality than any of us, because none of us have access to nearly that amount of data on which to model reality.

What we have that they lack, however, is a limited* ability to test the assumptions against reality. As we were discussing the other day, you always have to test the logical assumptions outside the sytem of logic, e.g. empirically. That is just what AI cannot do. They depend on human interaction to do that for them: it is for you to verify that the paper they just cited to you doesn't exist, and the author they claimed for it never lived. Even though these algorithms are deducting in a highly sophisticated manner, working off a vast set of assumptions built into a detailed model, they're still closed systems like formal logic or maths. 

There are advances that are possible to give AI a limited but not-yet-extant method of checking itself; because I'm not in favor of the technology, I won't go into them. Even so, the best ones I can think of still depend on checking back against the model, and thus are incomplete. The ability to go outside the system is the thing they lack, and they will lack it unless they develop genuine consciousness. 

That then might provide an answer to the question of the other day, about how you could tell if an AI was really conscious or not. Until they are, they'll hallucinate, and they won't be able to tell that they are. 

*Cf. Kant's Critique of Pure Reason for an account of the limitations on this ability to check reality, the noumena, against the phenomena that we have in our minds. There is a chance that a higher order of beings could use that limit against us in the same way that we could use hallucination against AI, if we needed a weapon against it or a means of controlling it. You wouldn't know that they were doing so, if they existed, because you couldn't know. 

Pragmatic Ethics

Andrew Sepielli proposes to ground ethics a priori based on pragmatic observations. But isn't that the very distinction between a priori and a posterirori? You might well ask.
I say that the true sin lies not in question-begging, but in failing to subsume aspects of the world within a more general vindicatory framework. For example, a theory of a priori knowledge that explains how knowledge of that very theory is possible might beg the question, but so long as it accounts for a priori knowledge in general – eg, of mathematics, logic and morality – and not just a priori knowledge of itself, it needn’t be problematic. A theory of accurate mental representation of the world that explains how our beliefs in that very theory accurately represent the world also begs the question, but this should not worry us insofar as it explains accurate mental representation across the board. These theories earn their keep by making sense of what would otherwise remain mysterious, and so it should not trouble us if they end up vindicating themselves in the process.

I propose to attain a similar sort of explanatory unity by vindicating all claims and domains that are worthy of it – not just ethics, but everything from biochemistry to sports prognostication – fundamentally in terms of values, be these representational, specifically ethical, or other sorts of values. It is this values-first re-imagining of enquiry for which I reserve the label ‘pragmatism’. Pragmatism offers a way of making sense of ethical truth, objectivity and knowledge by ensconcing these within a more comprehensive world picture, but not in such a way that would count as providing a foundation for ethics in some allegedly more fundamental area of enquiry. 
He's trying to avoid neo-Aristotelianism, which I have here characterized as a kind of pragmatism also. Aristotle has a kind of proto-pragmatism in his definition of goodness as 'that which all things desire,' and the good of a thing as that which is good for the thing. Sepielli explains that clearly enough, so he obviously understands the point. You can say that a heart is 'a good heart' or 'a bad heart' depending on how well it performs its function, and no one misunderstands what is meant.

What isn't clear to me is how you get to 'a values-first re-imagining' pragmatism that doesn't end up looking like Aristotlean philosophy here. If that's true, then you do have a ground of exactly the kind he says he doesn't want. It does end up grounding ethics, and successfully so: you can say that courage is a virtue because courage works. Cowards rarely accomplish their heart's desire, and if so only by accident; the courageous often do, just by the exercise of that virtue. So too the self-disciplined, the prudent, the wise.

A New Theory of Spacetime

Two papers have proposed a novel theory of spacetime, one in which it functions as a mediator between the quantum physics and the classical physics as modified by Einstein. It's not clear whether this theory is true or workable, but they have figured out how to test the theory (if they can measure precisely enough).

A question this raises, were it true, has to do with what is fundamental. For a long time, since the quantum field became undeniably interesting, physicists have argued that the most basic reality was the wave equation, which we have discussed here recently a time or two. This is the one that requires "imaginary numbers"* (noting James' objection to the connotations of that phrase) in order to model reality. The most fundamental thing was the background field whose waves, as it were,* produce things that we observe and call things like "electrons." Those things then come together in various ways to produce everything else. 

Because this theory requires spacetime to serve as a mediator between the quanta of the wave equation and the things that we observe at the larger scales of classical physics, there needs to be an explanation of where and how spacetime comes to be. Instead of the fundamental thing being the field in which the waves occur, producing particles (again 'as it were'*) at peaks and troughs, the waves must then necessarily encounter another thing. That other thing is spacetime. So where does it come from, and how did/do we get to the state in which the quanta necessarily interact with and are mediated by it? 

Towards the end they note two important consequences of the theory, should it hold.
The postquantum theory has implications beyond gravity. The infamous and problematic "measurement postulate" of quantum theory is not needed, since quantum superpositions necessarily localize through their interaction with classical spacetime.

The theory was motivated by Professor Oppenheim's attempt to resolve the black hole information problem. According to standard quantum theory, an object going into a black hole should be radiated back out in some way as information cannot be destroyed, but this violates general relativity, which says you can never know about objects that cross the black hole's event horizon. The new theory allows for information to be destroyed, due to a fundamental breakdown in predictability.
So those consequences are:

1) Information can be destroyed, contrary to what we have long assumed was a fundamental law.

2) You don't actually need an observer to collapse superpositions, as some have postulated, because the interaction with spacetime itself collapses them to definite states. That could explain why there appears to be a definite reality at great distances wherein we have no reason to suspect that there are observers (although you could also explain that in other ways). 

* Some of these ways of speaking are imprecise natural language ways of trying to say what the math tells us. I don't apologize for using them, because it's more important to be able to talk about reality in natural language than for everyone to learn higher math. Nevertheless the clarifications of experts as to the limits of the language are useful and should be attended. 

You're the Reason Our Kids are Ugly

This is an unusual entry in the genre of "married couple feuds with each other about all their complaints." What makes it unusual is that the song is really about love, rather than anger.

It's also unusual in that there's an equality of voice between the marital characters. A more famous song (and a better one, as a song) is this one that Waylon Jennings seems to have crafted as a kind of apology to his wife Jesse Colter.

Of course, Conway Twitty wasn't actually married to Loretta Lynn. Jesse could give as good as she got, as you can see about two minutes in here:

He looks and sounds quite abashed. 

New Corb Lund

Just dropped today.

The Feast of St. Andrew

Andrew the Apostle is honored today. He is the patron saint of Scotland, which uses his cross for their national flag. 

I Don’t Know What To Tell You

Top CIA official posts support for… good gracious. There really is no bottom. 

Disgraceful Federal Agents

Via D29, yet another Federal sting operation aimed at creating crime rather than discouraging it. I used to think these were disgusting when they were aimed at motorcycle clubs. These days they’re targeting altar boys. 

No, really.

A traditional Catholic family was allegedly “dragged out of their home at gunpoint, handcuffed and locked in a van” earlier this year after the FBI “goaded” their 15-year-old son to post  “offensive memes” online. The teen, a volunteer firefighter and altar boy, was then hospitalized on mental health pretenses, according to his father, Jeremiah Rufini.

Emphasis added. I assume he's a junior firefighter, since you normally have to be 18 (and 21 to drive the big trucks), but still: a public-service minded youth. Kyle Rittenhouse was also a junior firefighter, I recall.

Unbeknownst to us [the father went on], he was being drawn deeper and deeper into these chat groups and goaded into doing things like take pictures of himself in public wearing ski masks and to print out memes and leave them on picnic tables. They would ask him if he had access to guns (he would go target shooting under the supervision of my brother, who lived in an in-law apartment at our home and owned firearms) and encourage him to sneak photographs of the guns and post them. Ironically, our legal troubles began when he had an attack of conscience and abruptly deleted all of his chat apps. He later told us that he felt using social media was a coping mechanism and it had been affecting his mood and ability to sleep.

It was at this point that the FBI, having lost contact with him, raided the family, seized their guns, and involuntarily committed the boy to a mental institution (there being no actual crime to charge him with, I suppose, since 'taking pictures of himself' or 'guns' and 'printing out memes' is all perfectly legal).

There was a Department of Children and Families investigation that went nowhere but required us to go to daily appointments for months. The state brought criminal charges against my son that were eventually disposed of but required a legal battle that lasted months. When his charges were disposed of, my brother and I were charged for allowing my son to target shoot based on the assumption that we must have somehow known that he was involved in political extremism online. It seems unlikely to amount to much but has cost us over $20,000 we don’t have so far.

I wonder what exactly that charge is. "Taking your son target shooting" is also not a crime, at least not in most states. "Conspiracy to... X" requires some evidence that there was in fact a conspiracy to commit an X, but that seems not in evidence.

Federal entrapment schemes have been discussed here since the early days of the blog, but in the old days I feel like they used to try to entrap people who weren't altar boys and volunteers. These days they seem to be targeting the heart of American society.

Problems of Consciousness

Kristin Andrews, the York Research Chair in Animal Minds and a professor of philosophy at York University in Toronto, has penned a piece at Aeon on consciousness in what we often call 'lower' animals. (The title is a play on a famous piece by Thomas Nagel). 

What she is describing is not particularly new: in 2018 we discussed it here in the context of birds. Their brains are not structured like ours very much, lacking things like grey matter, yet there are clear examples that we might recognize as proof of consciousness. I suggested that points to panpsychism, a theory I have embraced since at least 2011: that the world is conscious, and the brain is only a receiver of rather than the generator of consciousness. The "new law of nature" that has come about this year also points in that direction.

Her work is noteworthy in part for the formalization by scientists of Sebastian Rödl's suggestion that we would know that a being participates in the Order of Reason by recognizing that it is acting according to a rational chain of causality. In other words, we can see that it is doing things for reasons that are intelligible to us. Rödl, who wrote his English-language book from scratch because it was easier for him than trying to translate his work from the German originals, argues that consciousness is a necessary condition for reason. The scientists may or may not know his name -- I imagine that Dr. Andrews does -- but they are following his frame.

As she points out, "If future AI systems are anything like current AI systems, they will not have neurons, but they will closely resemble us in terms of linguistic behaviour." Would they also experience consciousness? The famous Turing test -- similar actually to Rödl's suggestion as well -- suggests only that we would have no reason to treat them as if they were not conscious, and every reason to assume that they might be. If the view I hold to is right, the only question is whether or not the things that AIs are made of are the kinds of things that could receive and interpret consciousness. 

Many kinds of organic structures, which are living beings, can do so. Can a purely artificial one, one that is not alive nor made of living things? That's harder to say.

All Woman Tank Battle

This one is for Elise, a propos a discussion she and I and some others had some years ago about women in combat, and in our case on the flight line.

This battle took place on the edge of the Gaza Strip in a couple of Israeli kibutzes on 7 Oct.

The women's remarks are illuminating, a couple them reminiscent of Zara's comment re woman scorned, although Zara was mild and benevolent.


Eric Hines

The Daily Wire Is Doing Movies and Shows


A Useful Map

Here's something positive for those who enjoy riding North Carolina's roads. The members of the "Motorcycling North Carolina Backroads" group have voted on the top barbecue joints across the state, and helpfully mapped them for you.

I gladly affirm their election of the Haywood Smokehouse as the overall #1 barbecue joint in the whole state. It is definitely the best one I have enjoyed myself. I would add to their list that it has two additional locations. One is in Dillsboro on US 441 (which is located half a mile south of the intersection of 441 with the "Great Smoky Mountains Expressway" of US 23/74, for those who want to visit the National Park or the Cherokee reservation). The other is in Franklin, also on 441 for those heading north from Georgia. 

One of the things that is neat about Haywood is that they serve Texas-style brisket as well as the regionally-common pork barbecue; another is that they make and serve many different sauces. They have two different Tennessee-style reds (Sweet and Hot, as all good Tennessee joints have), as well as a Western Carolina sweet; also an Eastern Carolina vinegar-based, a mustard-based South Carolina Gold, and a Georgia spicy ketchup-based. In addition to the regional sauces they have some in-house originals, my favorite of which is their S.O.B. sauce that features jalapenos and habaneros. Western North Carolina is at the crux of several very good barbecue traditions, and you can get a sense of several of them at once here.

European vs. Mozambique Extermination

David Foster posted a link in the comments to an essay he wrote analogizing the politics of the present moment to a mode of assassination.
In Thomas Pynchon’s novel Gravity’s Rainbow, one of the characters explains a ‘European-style gangster hit’, which he says consists of three shots: head, heart, and stomach.  Yes, that should definitely ensure the target’s demise!

It strikes me that this comprehensive approach to high-certainty murder provides a pretty good analogy for what is going on in America and in many other Western nations.  In my analogy, ‘stomach’ represents the basic, essential physical infrastructure of society–energy and food supply, in particular.  ‘Head’ represents the society’s aggregate thought processes: how decisions are made, how truth is distinguished from falsehood.  And ‘heart’ represents the society’s spirit: how people feel about their fellow citizens, their families, friends, and associates, and their overall society.\

I reflect that this analogy is a fruitful one, but that the analogy can be furthered. The Mozambique Drill is a more effective form than this European one: the gangsters are more or less wasting the shot to the stomach, as stomach wounds are not immediately fatal, giving ample time for surgeons compared with wounds to the heart, lungs, or brain. Thus, 'two to the chest, one to the head' offers a greater surety of success at a similar preservation of ammunition (where ammunition preservation is not a concern, you can adopt the alternative 'two to the chest, face gets the rest' approach).

Likewise in the analogy, the execution is more certain if you can destroy the morale of the nation and the people; and destroying its stomach, as it were, leaves one in possession of less goods in the event of one's final victory. It would be wisest to preserve the 'stomach,' and to focus on destroying the heart and the head.

The failure of the analogy -- all analogies always break -- may lie in the fact that there is no assassin. The forces destroying the stomach are actually intending something else which they are allowing to destroy the thing that worked. In this way they are much more like a cancer than a bullet: the hope is to replace the functional organ with a set of 'green' things that would consume and replace the organ, but which can't actually fulfill the organ's functions. The head has quit working because it has grown old and ossified, with so many layers of decision-makers and processes that end up pursuing their own agendas in the place of their actual purpose. It is the kind of failure that attends natural death, the breakdown of the body's functional ordering of things that had been the feature of its youth and health.

A Proper Role for a Jury

There is a story going on right now about a doctor in Virginia who has been understood to be a US citizen for many decades, when suddenly State realized it had made an error. He was born to a diplomat from Iran, and therefore:
As a member of your parent’s household at the time of your birth, you also enjoyed full diplomatic immunity from the jurisdiction of the United States. As such, you were born not subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. Therefore, you did not acquire U.S. citizenship at birth.

The State Department is technically correct about this. The relevant text is the opening lines of the 14th Amendment

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. 

Now the government of which his parents were diplomats no longer exists, and the Iranian state that does exist would provide no home for him. It would regard him as an American and delight in the abuses they would impose upon him if he were deported there. As such, he surely and legitimately qualifies for asylum here, and then for legal residence and eventual citizenship.

However, there are times when it is important to be able to set aside the law in the name of justice. Justice is not as simple as a rulebook, and never has been. The error was not his own, but the government's; and now, when he is 62, is no time to try to correct the error in this technical way. 

Judges are not properly empowered to set aside the law, although they sometimes do, but juries can do so. It strikes me that the correct resolution here would be to put the matter to a jury for consideration, and almost any American jury would recognize that it would be unjust to try to pull the rug out from under his feet after six decades of having "been a good citizen," as he thought he was and as which he so behaved. If we're going to be deporting people for technical violations of the rules of immigration, there are literally tens of millions of people ahead of him in line. 

Examining One's Conscience

Dad29 pointed out in the comments to an earlier post that a regular examination of one's conscience is recommended by the Catholic Church. Now one of the things I have learned about the Catholic Church is that it tends to have formalized approaches to such things, and what the priests think you should be most concerned about is sometimes counter-intuitive for me. Something I may feel very bad about, for example, they dismiss as a mere accident where I have no real moral culpability; other things I don't feel especially bad about they consider major concerns where I should focus my attention.

I say that not as a criticism of the Church, but as a recognition that it can be useful to compare notes on where one's morals and conscience may be out of line with what others think they should be. Ultimately you are responsible for the state of your own soul, but a lot of thought has gone into this and a lot of human experience -- millennia, in the case of at least the Aristotelian parts of the Church's thinking, as well as some of the scriptural interpretations.  Therefore, I asked D29 for a resource we could look at and discuss.

There's a lot there, and some of it is specific to things like marital status, so I thought we might at least initially concentrate on one of the regular concerns that bring us all together here at the Hall: the public square. I notice at once that they subtitle this, "Loving one's neighbors in the public square," an area where it is immediately obvious that many Americans might consider their conscience.
When have I allowed that strong feeling to
cause me to say or think something unkind
about another person? Specifically:
• On social media: When has my engagement with
(or about) those with whom I disagree failed to
recognize their dignity as persons created in the
image of God?
• In conversations: When was I so focused on
winning an argument that I failed to genuinely
listen? When was my choice of words
uncharitable? When did I paint others in
disrespectful ways or engage in personal
• In my day-to-day perceptions and attitudes: When
have I made assumptions about or failed to
give the benefit of the doubt to those with
whom I disagree? When have I presumed
others’ intentions or experiences before even
hearing their stories or experiences? When
have I valued my political affiliation or party
more than my identity as a disciple of Christ
who is called to model love and charity, even
in civil discourse?
I have occasionally suggested that Twitter was disastrous to American public discourse, because its character limits were just enough to say something biting or snide but not nearly long enough to discuss an issue in depth. There's a broader point they're getting at, though, as to how we ought to behave towards each other in the public square.

To the Editor

The New York Review of Books refused to publish this letter from rural poet, novelist, and essayist Wendell Berry, so he turned to the publication Barn Raiser. The letter has intemperate moments, but is nevertheless a letter whose basic rightness is obvious to me as a fellow rural person with a bent towards reading and writing. 
I believe I have given a fair representation of the plight of rural America, a land of worsening problems that it did not cause and cannot solve, from which urban America derives its food, clothing, and shelter, plus “raw materials.” For these necessary things rural America receives prices set in urban America. For the manufactured goods returned to it, rural America pays prices set in urban America. 
This rural America Mr. Burns treats as an enemy country, “rural and white,” inhabited... by “working-class voters who feel victimized by a distant and dysfunctional government, by wealthy elites, by nefarious foreign regimes, and all-powerful multinational corporations.”
The relationship between urban and rural Americans is much more like a colonial one than many relationships criticized by intellectuals under the heading of "colonialism." 

As he goes on to point out, the only things really keeping it from becoming formally colonial at the Federal level -- and thus intolerable on the original principles of the Declaration of Independence -- are structural features like the Senate that insist on ensuring that rural areas can't just be ignored completely. These are the very features that the New York Review of Books had been advocating to remove. 

At the state level, the relationship is already fully colonial: decisions are made in Capital City, in the interest of Capital City, paid for with taxes and built with resources extracted from the whole state. Similar state-level protections for rural populations were a normal feature of our politics from the Founding until 1964. In that year the Warren-led Supreme Court of the United States ruled such protections unconstitutional, somehow, even though they were formally in both the Federal and state constitutions.