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. 

Threat Estimation

What is the biggest danger to the world? Some people might reasonably claim that it was Artificial Intelligence, especially since the Pentagon and probably other more secretive militaries seem intent on letting AIs autonomously decide to kill human beings. I would accept "AI" as a plausible answer.

Many people would probably claim that Climate Change is the biggest threat, and if you are one of those who is persuaded by what they call the "consensus" narrative that is also a plausible answer. Skeptics (including myself) are unpersuaded by this one; but if you're not a skeptic, the claims look pretty terrifying. I could accept "Climate Change" as a plausible answer coming from someone who was on the consensus side.

Nuclear war? It was a longstanding answer, and in an era in which Russia and China are both acting punchy -- while Iran is acting like it already has the bomb, and Israel definitely does -- I could see how this was a good answer even today. So, sadly, "Nuclear War" is a plausible answer.

You may have other suggestions, but you can see what kind of threats might reasonably fit in the frame of "X poses the biggest danger to the world in 2024." The Economist, however, thinks the answer is... well, you can probably guess. The Washington Post is at least a little more circumspect, listing him as only one of two threats that together imperil not the world but merely democracy. The New Yorker suggests that we must "survive the Constitution" in order to face this threat.

Elite opinion is clear, I guess. It just isn't plausible.

UPDATE: Related.

A Scatological Fact about China

This is not dinner-table fare, so I'll put it past the jump. I trust your judgment about whether or not you would enjoy reading such things.

On the Examined, or Unexamined, Life

AVI mentions a preference for the former (a la Socrates):
I think it best to weight heavily the opinions of those who read/hear their opponents' arguments and answer them....  [Mentioning a cautionary but unnamed example], I do not regard this as an intellectual failing, but an emotional one.... This is simply a cautionary tale that even later in life, after you have avoided many varieties of foolishness, such things (social and emotional rather than intellectual reasoning) can still hunt you down and make you stupid. 

In spite of the fact that philosophy's most famous figure clearly comes down on one side of this, there is a contemporary debate about whether it is to engage in examining your life. (Also in psychology, where the consideration is not whether it is good but whether it is healthy.)

According to Jamison, not only is an unexamined life worth living; the rigorous examination of life should not be encouraged due to its possible negative effects on the participants and the entire society.2 In Jamison’s view, a consistent and unregulated examination of human life produces a feeling of ecstasy (a specie of spiritual feeling) in those who engage in it. The feeling, if allowed, could endanger both the thinker and the entire society. For Jamison, “once you get a taste of this kind of thing, you do not want to give it up”.3 Someone who engages in self-critical examination eventually becomes entangled with it. Socrates became entangled in dialectics, became unpopular, was accused of corrupting the youth and eventually sentenced to death....

As a matter of fact, Jamison’s position has a lacuna. He (Jamison) never rejects the method of self-critical examination. He recommends a form of social regulation whereby only a very few individuals are allowed to embrace the method. In his words, “there is no doubt in my mind that it is important for a community to have members that engage in critical thinking, and the examined life, but I also think it important to point out that it is not good for a community to have too many members doing this."

Like a lot of contemporary philosophy, we jump immediately to elitism: it's not good for 'too many' people to be examining their own lives.  Society would be more stable, and the goods of a stable society more enduring, if people would just stop doing that (engaging instead, as the psychology article suggests, chiefly with sports, fashion, and the like).

Now -- on the other hand, in the spirit of "[considering] their opponents' arguments and answer them" -- there is a non-elitist form of this argument that might be persuasive. It comes from Joseph Schumpeter, most famous as the economist who showed why Marx's predictions for capitalism had failed. He nevertheless expected the downfall of capitalist society, precisely because it educated too many of its youth. 

Schumpeter believed that the enormous productivity of capitalism would easily churn out the goods needed for basic consumption, freeing up labour from the fields and factories to enjoy a leisurely life in the new modern intellectual class of academics, journalists and bureaucrats. This class would be so separated and removed from the actual process of entrepreneurship and production, they would turn against the very philosophical foundations and institutions of the economic system that made their lives possible. Not understanding the roots of their own condition, they spend their daily efforts deliberately working to undermine the systems of private property, private contracting, decentralized decision-making, entrepreneurship and voluntary exchange. They condemn capitalism as a foregone conclusion and view any pro-capitalism position as crazy and anti-social.

I think the appropriate counter is that very few of these many are really engaged in self-examination, neither of their own lives nor of the systems of thought into which they have been inculcated. Critical theory in all its forms contains a basic structural problem that I have never heard anyone but myself describe, and certainly none of its advocates. I say that it is a problem, not an error, because it is necessary for the sort of enquiry it proposes. 

The problem is this: in order to engage in critical theoretical enquiries, it is necessary to make an assumption about society and treat it as if it is true, but in order to get to true answers, the truth of the assumption has to be verified independently. Strict logic likewise can derive from assumptions to conclusions with truth-preservation, but you have to verify the truth of the assumptions outside the system of logic. Thus:

Assumption: A or B
Assumption: Not A
Conclusion: Therefore, B.

The conclusion is true if and only if the assumptions are both true, and logic won't tell you whether or not they are in fact true. You have to go look and see if, e.g., it is the case that "not A." 

Critical Race Theory, currently the most famous, ends up providing strong evidence against its basic assumption: "Assume that, in spite of evidence, all of our social, legal, and economic institutions are really designed to ensure white supremacy." If you make that assumption and treat it as true, well, human beings are fantastic storytellers. You can tell all kinds of stories about how this or that thing really is about white supremacy. I'm not even against doing this, as it sometimes provides useful insight into ways we could reform some institutions to be fairer to people regardless of race. However, the fact that we are often motivated to institute such reforms is itself evidence against the truth of the assumed proposition.

If you went back to the Jim Crow South, for example, and pointed out that the grandfather clause had the apparently unintentional effect of disenfranchising Freedmen, no one would be interested in your proposal of reform. In an actual such society, no such reforms would be desired. The fact that we engage in the enquiry with the intent to reform is evidence against the proposition; the fact that we actually do reform could even be said to disprove it. 

Yet people get so caught up in the stories that they were telling that they miss this. They end up motivated socially, as AVI says; but also emotionally, as he says. They fall in love with the stories they have crafted, and don't get as far as enquiring as to whether or not the exercise doesn't itself disprove the assumption. It may still be a useful exercise, if it generates helpful reforms that improve the decency of society. Yet the motivation of decent reformation proves, if anything, that the critical assumption was false. 

Obviously I am inclined to Socrates' view, and Plato's, and Aristotle's; that is the real motivation behind this two-decade-long blog. I don't think the problem is that too many people are taught to be intellectually critical of society; I think it's that too few of them are taught to do it well and thoroughly.