A Flattering Afternoon

Today I went to the Asheville Celtic Festival to see Albannach. The Festival has a mini-Highland Games out back, and many of my Strongman friends participate. I knew my friend Noel would be competing so I went out to see him on the sidelines. He hugged me and introduced me to the other competitors. 

While we were talking, the announcer saw me with him and started announcing to the crowd, “I see the stonelifters have started moving in! I don’t know if there’s a connection between lifting stones and ugliness, but if so it’s in full effect today!” Then he came over and hugged me too. 

Finally one of the Master Strongmen came over and asked me how old I was. I told him, and he said, “Dude, you’re thick as ****! You should be competing!” Noel explained our friendship and that turned into a nice conversation. 

I love the Strongman community, which dovetails with the Scottish Heavy athletics. It’s a great community of mutual respect, support, and friendship. 

Cognition tools

A Vagueness Problem

There's a longstanding debate about what it means for music to be "country music." Country music is a genre unto itself, with several sub-genres, and unsurprisingly there is a vagueness problem about some of the fringe cases. That is to say, there are plenty of clear-cut cases where nobody would argue that it's not country -- Johnny Cash doing Folsom Prison Blues, George Jones singing The Grand Tour (saddest song ever recorded, if you ask me), plenty of these. 

Likewise, there's plenty of stuff you can stay definitely is not country music, like The Cure or Beethoven. It's music, and Beethoven at least is great music, but without question it's not country music.

Vagueness problems come in when there's movement along the substratum between X and not-X. At first you have a clear-cut case of X and you know that it's X; later, you may be aware of some things that are not-purely-X in a case of X; later still, you may no longer be sure the thing is X at all. After a while, you'll be pretty sure it's not-X, and eventually totally sure. The problem lies in those cases where the vagueness blurs the categories in a way that can make knowledge of the truth uncertain. (That model of vagueness, and for that matter of knowledge, is philosopher Timothy Williamson's).

We are presented this week with a vagueness case, as the pop star known as Beyonce has released what she is pleased to describe as a country song. The question of what makes a song "country music" is thus relevant again.

I have not heard the song. I don't think I've ever heard a song by Beyonce; she's ordinarily operative in a part of the music world I actively dislike (which is not to say that I actively dislike the musicians or people involved: it's just the music I definitely don't like). Regular readers are aware that I think popular music is significantly degraded over the last few decades, replaced by a kind of publicity stunt without the merits of earlier popular music. An occasional topic of this blog is finding the better music that is being produced but not publicized. 

Beyonce is one of those acts that is the product of a contemporary publicity machine. For example, apparently this song was announced by an advertisement on the Super Bowl, itself a publicity machine product, which would have cost millions of dollars. It was accompanied by a photo-shoot designed to move eyebrows -- I mean eyeballs -- which was also placed in a tweet that was pushed by journalists across many outlets. You could be forgiven for thinking that prima facie this won't have much to do with country music's traditional themes of hardscrabble rural life, for example.

As country music outlet WhiskeyRiff puts it, however, the vagueness problem isn't limited to her anyway.
And while I know there will be, and already have been, complaints about the fact that this “isn’t a country song” and Beyoncé “isn’t a country artist,” I’d say the vast majority of what’s heard on country radio isn’t exactly that, either, so this really isn’t any different in my opinion.

As a side note, she’s also been rocking a cowboy hat pretty regularly since the Grammy’s, if that gives you any indication on the marketing aspect[.]
That's a very fair point. Given what Nashville is pushing, why not Beyonce? Dolly Parton has even suggested it, having just done her own adventure into rock music.

Given that it's Friday night, after the jump I'll include some videos playing with the question of what is and is not real country music, as well as another vagueness case by the Rolling Stones.

A Note of Sanity

This is a unique moment as far as I can recall, having followed this debate for decades: a sane and salient point on the viability of mutual defense by the citizenry, coupled with an admission that the very vast majority of guns are kept responsibly. 
Didn’t you feel a twinge of something deeply gratifying — and inspiring — in the way ordinary crowd members chased down a suspected gunman and collectively smothered him? They undertook momentary personal risk and sacrifice and then found greater safety in numbers, as helper after helper piled on until the suspect disappeared under their collective weight.

That’s real authority, and it didn’t come from a law or a cop.


There is no easy resolution to the gun debate. It’s estimated that there are about 398 million guns in the United States, and about 397.9 million of them are kept peaceably and responsibly for home protection or sport. Maybe gun haters need to start talking to those gun owners as allies rather than enemies.

The author apparently is a sports journalist rather than an opinion columnist as a rule, and that may be why she is able to see the issue more clearly. Those reared to produce commentary on this topic have been taught clear lines, but her fresh eyes are far clearer.  

Recycling Deceptions

Our county has "staffed recycling centers" where you can bring your trash for free,* provided that you have separated the recycling. Recycling has to be separated into aluminum/steel cans and plastic bottles. I've always suspected this was a scam of some sort -- aluminum is the only thing that is really cost-effective to recycle, but it's easily separated from the steel with electromagnets. 

Turns out it's a bigger scam than I realized.

* "At no additional charge in addition to your substantial taxes." Nothing is free.

Doon in th’ Borders

The town of Jedburgh is having its ball game today.
The Jethart Ba', which looks like a game of street rugby, dates back hundreds of years. It's believed to have been derived from the game of football - and is said to have originally been played using the head of an Englishman.

There aren't too many rules!


The word February comes down to us from a Latin word for a purification or a means of such. Apparently the Latin spelling was reintroduced in English in the 14th century, alongside the Hundred Years War with France, driving out the French spelling that had been standard until then. 

But what is a febrvvm? Apparently it could be almost anything. 
According to Ovid’s poem Fasti, pretty much anything that people used to purify something else was known as februa (the plural form of februum). Houses were purified with “roasted grain and salt,” land was purified with strips of animal hide, priests wore crowns made of leaves from trees, and so on.

This is the date of the purification festival Lupercalia, which was the racy precursor to St. Valentine’s Day in the same way that the Saturnalia was the racy precursor to Christmas. 

Open Source

Waiting to fly out of AVL airport today, I saw an F-22 launch from this non-military field. The airport bartender said she’s been seeing a lot of them just lately. Even more Chinooks. 

That is suggestive. Not definitive, but suggestive. 


I'm taking a short trip to Texas tomorrow. I don't know that any of you regulars are in Dallas, but I'll be in town for one night only if you are. 

The Usual Gaslighting, Please

A woman brought an AR-15 to a megachurch and opened fire, fortunately not apparently knowing how to use the thing very well. The Washington Post reports:
Moreno’s motive remained unclear Monday[.]
That is interesting, because the rifle is supposed to have been equipped with a "Free Palestine" message. That didn't make the Washington Post's reporting. We may never know why this troubled woman would randomly carve those words into a rifle she was intending to turn into a murder weapon.

They did report on Texas' gun laws, which they don't even know if she broke.
She had previously been convicted or pleaded guilty in the Houston area to misdemeanor assault, fraud and drug charges, records show.

Some misdemeanor convictions bar people from legally buying guns in Texas, but it wasn’t immediately clear whether Moreno’s convictions would have. The state has few restrictions on gun purchases, with no firearm sales registry, no required waiting period to buy a gun and no red-flag law guarding against mentally ill or violent people having weapons.
So, really, they were basically asking for it. 

The Post did come up with this, at least: 
Moreno at times used a male first name, Jeffrey, and listed her sex as both male and female in records. It was not clear whether Moreno identified as transgender.

It's probably also unclear if she -- as the Post identifies her -- was using any drugs as "therapy" for this issue. By tomorrow we'll be assured that is a non issue even if it were so, assuming anyone is still even reporting on the case. Those Texas gun laws, though...

UPDATE: Vice is on schedule


Abyssus Abyssum Invocat. 

A Partial Revision

A recent post was titled "The Uselessness of International Institutions." It turns out, however, that the UN did manage to be useful in a way: as a shield for one of Hamas' headquarters, which turns out to have been located physically beneath their own headquarters in Gaza. 

Another thing to consider when evaluating these institutions' condemnations and judgments. They turn out to have taken sides in the conflict they are presuming to judge, indeed are so committed to one side that they were willing to serve as human shields to protect its nerve center.

Experencing Eternity and the Divine

James put up a post a few days ago that I think is very worthy, as is AVI's comment there. I did not myself comment upon it at the time, but it dovetails with a work of philosophy I am rereading after several years. You should read both James and AVI before continuing with this one.

Hans Jonas was a German-born American philosopher, and his classic is The Phenomenon of Life: Towards a Philosophical Biology. He lived at the time of the second world war, in which he fought in both Italy and Germany. He wrote on Gnosticism and what is called existentialism; in fact, I think he derived a Neoplatonic metaphysics for himself without appearing to realize it. 

The early parts of the book are already concerned with theology as well as biology, disposing of the "god of the mathematicians" as inadequate because such a god would have no reason to favor life over death and indeed no capacity to recognize that something was alive instead of dead.* He is very much concerned with the problem James and AVI are concerned with, in other words: the ability of the divine and the mortal to encounter each other, to conceptualize each other, to interact.

This problem has a long history in philosophy. It also works both ways. It is proven by Aquinas and others that humanity cannot fully comprehend the nature of God; in fact, here as elsewhere, they were following Avicenna's arguments, who was following Aristotle's. The question of how a god that exists on Aristotelian lines could even know us is a real problem in any theology that starts with Aristotle's concept of actuality versus potentiality; it is likewise in theologies (like Nicholas of Cusa's) that try to reason about the relationship by analogy to the infinite and the finite. (Nor is it clear that this is the right way to speak about a divine creator, whose work provides the ground for both the finite and all the infinities, who governs their relationships and makes possible their interactions in defiance of Zeno's objections). 

In his eleventh essay, Jonas -- who has come to view symbolic myth as 'the glass through which we see darkly' -- returns to the relationship between ourselves and the eternal, meaning God. Here he derives, apparently independently, both a Neoplatonic view of our relationship to the divine and of our "higher selves" that somehow exist in eternity but yet still in relationship with ourselves as finite and mortal creatures engaged in activity in time. 

The bridge he comes up with is the now. Now doesn't seem to have finite boundaries: it isn't extended, with a beginning and an end. It just is, and it always is, but the now that was just now is not now any longer. When we decide and act, we do it in the now. This unextended time -- which is the only real time in the sense that it is the only time in which we can and do actually exist -- is like eternity in its neverending existence, and unlike the past and future that are extended and measurable. This is the ground where, he argues, mortal and divine meet. 

From this he goes on to derive a positive ethics, by which I mean that his work is not existential after all: our essence comes first, and is derivable from what it means to be a living, conscious organism with freedom of action and this relationship with the divine. What we do in the now is written in eternity, perfects or mars our noetic selves -- the image of us in the eternal -- and this gives us a real ethical duty to do right and not wrong. 

Jonas' thinking will not fully satisfy anyone here. He believes he has disproven any sort of immortality for mortals beyond this capacity to write on eternity, or to exist as an idea in the mind of God. As a way of getting at the problem of how mortals and God can conceive of each other and interact, however, it is a thoughtful and novel approach.

* In this same essay Jonas explains something critical about the organism, that is about life, and why life is different and special. I have cited this before as a fundamental proposition in philosophical objections to abortion, discussions of agency, as well as in my commentary on Plato's Laws. It is one of the more important philosophical ideas I have encountered, and yet it emerges almost as an afterthought because what he is really interested in here is the right conception of God.

The "3Fs"

Janet left an interesting closing comment on our discussion below, which discussion was itself also I think of interest. I had not heard of 'the 3Fs" before.
They propound the "3Fs": "F*** it" (willingness to act and low concern about consequences), "F*** that" (unwillingness to ignore problems and issues), and "F*** you" (insistence on social equality with everyone, regardless of credentials, etc.). That means that problems get dealt with (maybe by brawling, but they're dealt with), ideas get implemented (sometimes stupid ideas, but not always), and incompetents don't get a free ride (maybe, again, by brawling). Hence, America moves forward in a way that other countries just can't attain. Is that Disneyworld? Well, America invented Disneyworld, didn't it? 

It did, as a matter of fact. That reminds me of a post from 2015 when I mentioned how much I hate "soft tourist versions" of things like biker bars. It was Pigeon Forge rather than Disneyworld on that occasion that had stood up a "biker bar" right across from the Pigeon Forge Harley dealer that was all fake and full of Yuppies in khaki shorts. On the other hand, that bar is still there! Just because it doesn't please me doesn't mean that it isn't after all very popular; not too far away is a fake touristy version of the Titanic, as well as the infamous Dixieland Stampede (apparently recently renamed "Dolly Parton's Stampede" in deference to the cultural revolution).

People love that stuff, as Johnny Mercer pointed out in "I'm an Old Cowhand." Even in 1936, "The buffalo roam around the zoo... and the old Bar X is just a barbecue." 

Now if you want to go to a real biker bar, there's one not too far away. I've never seen a fight there, or in any such place actually. Another couple of "Fs" are understood in such places, which are commonly given by the acronym "FAFO."