The Sacred Band of Thebes

I wasn't planning on any 'Pride Month' observations, but the Washington Post managed to come up with one that I don't mind to forward
The Battle of Tegyra in 375 B.C. proved that the legendary Spartan army could be defeated.

A thousand Spartan soldiers, trained for combat from the age of 7, were returning from an expedition when they stumbled on a much smaller force from the rival city of Thebes. Rather than retreat, the Theban infantry charged, pulling into a close formation and piercing the Spartan lines like a spear. The Spartans turned and, for the first time ever in pitched battle, fled.

The most fearsome military force of its day had been defeated by the Sacred Band of Thebes, a shock troop of 150 gay couples.

This is almost true. The only thing that isn't quite is the description of the homosexual pairs as "gay," which is definitely a modern phenomenon that had nothing to do with their particular expressions. Plato described the ethic, though he was not speaking of the Sacred Banders but of an imaginary force.

Thus numerous are the witnesses who acknowledge Love to be the eldest of the gods. And not only is he the eldest, he is also the source of the greatest benefits to us. For I know not any greater blessing to a young man who is beginning life than a virtuous lover or to the lover than a beloved youth. For the principle which ought to be the guide of men who would nobly live at principle, I say, neither kindred, nor honour, nor wealth, nor any other motive is able to implant so well as love.
Of what am I speaking? Of the sense of honour and dishonour, without which neither states nor individuals ever do any good or great work. And I say that a lover who is detected in doing any dishonourable act, or submitting through cowardice when any dishonour is done to him by another, will be more pained at being detected by his beloved than at being seen by his father, or by his companions, or by any one else. The beloved too, when he is found in any disgraceful situation, has the same feeling about his lover. And if there were only some way of contriving that a state or an army should be made up of lovers and their loves, they would be the very best governors of their own city, abstaining from all dishonour, and emulating one another in honour; and when fighting at each other's side, although a mere handful, they would overcome the world. For what lover would not choose rather to be seen by all mankind than by his beloved, either when abandoning his post or throwing away his arms? He would be ready to die a thousand deaths rather than endure this. Or who would desert his beloved or fail him in the hour of danger? The veriest coward would become an inspired hero, equal to the bravest, at such a time; Love would inspire him. That courage which, as Homer says, the god breathes into the souls of some heroes, Love of his own nature infuses into the lover. 

The concept here is not necessarily homosexual at all; the idea is that since your lover would be watching you, you would not do any base thing like flee or throw down your arms. You would strive for honor, because you would want to be seen at your best while your beloved was watching.  The beloved could be heterosexual just as well, but in the world before firearms women generally were not going to be effective on the field of armed and armored combat. Yet the basic concern was one of pursuing the heights of honor and avoiding anything dishonorable, which pursuit we know from Aristotle's description of magnanimity to be the capstone of virtue. 

Unconsidered by Plato is the danger posed to unit cohesion by pairs of lovers who are loyal to each other in a way they aren't loyal to the rest of the band. Likewise, of course, the disruptive effect of introducing sexuality into a close unit like an infantry squad, where competition to be the beloved of an especially desirable soldier could tear the unit apart. (This has been a much bigger problem with the heterosexual soldiers since the introduction of women as well as gays to the military, simply because a single woman attracts almost all the male soldiers, whereas a gay soldier is mostly unattractive to the other males). 

The Sacred Band contested the latter problem by recruiting established couples rather than a free-for-all 'singles' environment. They had an impressive battlefield record, eventually being destroyed by Alexander the Great's forces.

A Diplomatic Embarrassment

The President of the United States announced what he described as an Israeli government proposal for a permanent ceasefire; today the Prime Minister of Israel said the proposal was a nonstarter. 

Either there was a significant misunderstanding, or one of the governments is outright lying. Whichever, it’s an embarrassment that will significantly undermine American diplomacy across the world. 


Approximations of Justice

The only sense in which the outcome in the New York trial represents a sort-of justice is that it is an occasion in which the courts are treating a rich man as shabbily as they normally do with poor men. A rich man can't be forced to plea bargain by a poverty that prevents him from mounting a legal defense; as such, he has to be granted the formality of a trial. However, it can be a show trial. 

I'm sure you've all read lists lists of the extraordinary lengths the judge went to in this case to bring about the outcome he got. Now we have to reckon with the spectacle of 34 "felonies" that are really disputes about whether a declared expense should have been categorized in the books as "a legal expense" or "a campaign expense." This isn't even a bright-line issue; paying a lawyer to settle a dispute out-of-court in a way that produces an NDA is the sort of thing that would very regularly be a legal expense. It's the most common of common practices. They might also be campaign expenses, but it's definitely not obvious that they aren't legal expenses. 

So these are debatable even as the misdemeanors the law actually makes them out to be; but they were charged as felonies. On what justification? Because they were supposedly the basis of a conspiracy to commit some third crime. The prosecution didn't bother to say what that crime was for sure. The judge told the jury that they didn't even have to agree on what crime had been conspired, so long as each of them thought that one or another crime had been. 

Based on the word of a convicted perjurer, with the judge suppressing expert testimony to the contrary, the jury has decided to convict on all charges. What is the appropriate penalty for such a mass of felonies? I asked a couple of progressives I know what they thought, and they said, "A couple of nights in jail" or "I would prefer that he be prohibited from running for office, and no jail (or a couple days)." 

For 34 felonies

The lack of justice is a sort of justice only because it now applies to at least one rich man as it so often does to the poor. It's almost fair if no one gets any justice, and fairness per Aristotle is one of the two aspects of justice. 

Of course, the other aspect was lawfulness, and that's clearly gone here.

Right of Revolution

In a good but brief post today, Glenn Reynolds quotes the Tennessee Constitution. 
Note the first two sections of the Tennessee Constitution, which dates to 1796 and which Thomas Jefferson praised at the time:
Section 1. That all power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority, and instituted for their peace, safety, and happiness; for the advancement of those ends they have at all times, an unalienable and indefeasible right to alter, reform, or abolish the government in such manner as they may think proper.

Section 2. That government being instituted for the common benefit, the doctrine of nonresistance against arbitrary power and oppression is absurd, slavish, and destructive of the good and happiness of mankind.
This was unremarkable at the time of the Framers, when badges of office did not possess a talismanic power.

Quite right.  

God-Given Rights?

I recently read and heard some commentary that used the phrase “God-given rights.” In each case, the commentator was referring to the idea that the origin of our political rights stem from God rather than government. This is not a new idea. In fact, this concept is eloquently asserted in the second paragraph of our Declaration of Independence which states that we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights. However, with all due respect to Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration, is this an accurate statement regarding the origin our rights?

If it is, I find no sanction for this idea in the Bible, certainly not in the New Testament. I find no endorsement or explanation of rights that civil society is required to observe or respect anywhere in the teachings of Christ or his Apostles. In fact, 1 Peter Chapter 2, verse 13 specifically tells Christians to submit to every human authority. Slaves are to submit to their masters, even if the masters are cruel.  

This is not surprising because Jesus was clear that his Kingdom was not of this world. Christ is concerned with the state of our soul, not temporal political or legal concerns such as rights. Consequently, I think it is mistaken to think of our rights in society as originating with God.

This does not mean that I believe our rights are a gift of the government, to be removed or restricted as government officials see fit. Rather, our rights came into existence over time through the influence of societal variables such as history, experience, tradition, legal precedent and any number of phenomena that shaped our cultural values. Our rights are a product of our shared societal experience rather than something that was divinely granted. They are a cultural inheritance to be protected.

What is the value or impact of this observation? If rights are the product of a particular cultural experience they will differ from society to society. Different societies will understand and express rights in different ways. That being the case, it is futile if not illegitimate to try to force a particular understanding of rights on another culture. This is one reason why our attempt to force Western notions of rights on Afghanistan and Iraq failed so miserably. Consequently, foreign interventions to enforce a specific rights regime, or remake countries in our image is not only wrongheaded, it’s bound to ultimately fail.          

Some Western Swing

Gringo's been pretty patient with all the Outlaw Country. Let's do some of his favorites.

I like this live recording because it gives a sense of the style of the band at play.

An instrumental of a classic piece, with swing elements.

You may have heard of the Fallout television show, which has become a breakout hit. I think it derives a lot of its force from its use of this kind of classic American music -- including Western Swing -- which is just objectively better than what the kids are used to hearing. It's not even nostalgic for them, because they've never heard it before. The real trick is this: they've never heard anything like it. 

C'est Dommage

The US "relief" pier to Gaza collapses in high seas. The sad thing is that they're going to put it back up.

On the Birthday of Patrick Henry

We were just discussing Patrick Henry in the context context of the flags; today was his birthday. 

In addition to his well-known sentiments in favor of revolution and liberty, he was also a staunch opponent of establishing a strong central government that would overwhelm the states. Jefferson saw the federal government's role as 'looking out' while the states 'looked in,' so that the Federal government would deal exclusively with foreign affairs or disputes between two or more states. Henry realized that it would, instead, form a competing power that would tend toward domination
The fate of this question and of America may depend on this. Have they said, We, the states? Have they made a proposal of a compact between states? If they had, this would be a confederation. It is otherwise most clearly a consolidated government. The question turns, sir, on that poor little thing — the expression, We, the people, instead of the states, of America. I need not take much pains to show that the principles of this system are extremely pernicious, impolitic, and dangerous. Is this a monarchy, like England — a compact between prince and people, with checks on the former to secure the liberty of the latter? Is this a confederacy, like Holland — an association of a number of independent states, each of which retains its individual sovereignty? It is not a democracy, wherein the people retain all their rights securely. Had these principles been adhered to, we should not have been brought to this alarming transition, from a confederacy to a consolidated government.... It is radical in this transition; our rights and privileges are endangered, and the sovereignty of the states will be relinquished: and cannot we plainly see that this is actually the case? The rights of conscience, trial by jury, liberty of the press, all your immunities and franchises, all pretensions to human rights and privileges, are rendered insecure, if not lost, by this change...

Emphasis added; there is a great deal more to the speech that is worth review. 

As is well known, objections such as his gave us the Bill of Rights, which has been an insufficient but necessary defensive measure. On some occasions it has been successful, and on many occasions it has provided a part of a successful legal defense. 

He also talked about the danger posed by a central state to the physical defense of liberty. Even today his words bear consideration.

My great objection to this government is, that it does not leave us the means of defending our rights, or of waging war against tyrants. It is urged by some gentlemen, that this new plan will bring us an acquisition of strength — an army, and the militia of the states. This is an idea extremely ridiculous: gentlemen cannot be earnest. This acquisition will trample on our fallen liberty. Let my beloved Americans guard against that fatal lethargy that has pervaded the universe. Have we the means of resisting disciplined armies, when our only defence [sic], the militia, is put into the hands of Congress?... Whither is the spirit of America gone? Whither is the genius of America fled? It was but yesterday, when our enemies marched in triumph through our country. Yet the people of this country could not be appalled by their pompous armaments: they stopped their carer [sic], and victoriously captured them. Where is the peril, now, compared to that? Some minds are agitated by foreign alarms. Happily for us, there is no real danger from Europe; that country is engaged in more arduous business: from that quarter there is no cause of fear: you may sleep in safety forever for them. 

I likewise think that America is not ripe for conquest by a foreign power, certainly not a European one but not any one; and it is so not because of the fact that the central government has a strong army and has managed to turn the state militias into a National Guard it can federalize at will, but because the people remain heavily armed and capable of independent action. 

Indeed, this is the chief thing that has kept all of that centralized Federal power from becoming a true tyranny. The lines they wish to cross and do not remain uncrossed because they are cognizant of the limits of their power to control the ordinary people's ideals given the ordinary people's arms. 

That is a partial answer to his concern about whether we have the means to resist disciplined armies given the lack of a disciplined force loyal to each of the states. Like the Bill of Rights, however, it is not a complete defense even if it is a necessary one. 

Advising the Virtuous Youth

I got in last night about seven. It was a 533 mile ride from Arlington back home. Of course I made the same ride in reverse going up, but my thoughts were focused on the events to come. On the ride back I had time to reflect on the ride itself. 

I left Arlington by the George Washington Parkway, then took I-66 west all the way to I-81 in the Shenandoah valley. After that, I rode the Shenandoah valley and then the New River valley to the city of Bristol, which bestrides the border between Virginia and Tennessee. From there I continued west and then south to Johnson City, south to the high wall and crossed into North Carolina there. 

The great rivers I crossed yesterday were the Shenandoah, the Roanoke, the New River, and the French Broad. Lesser rivers include the Watauga and the Tuckasegee.

While I was stopped at the Tennessee Welcome Center, I met a young man who had just purchased his first motorcycle, a Kawasaki Ninja. He was learning to ride and came to me to seek advice. He had bought the bike exactly one month ago, having talked his young wife into accepting the idea of him riding in spite of her concerns. 

I advised him as I did with my own son: to be sure to take the safety course, which would help him develop crucial skills like emergency braking without laying the bike down, and defensive driving. Also, I suggested, he might want to avoid any roads with nicknames like "Snake" or "Dragon" for at least six months to give himself time to build those skills and turn them into internal habits. 

To assure me that he was practicing diligently, he turned his bike on so I could see his odometer. It read 495. "I just bought this bike a month ago," he told me.

I told him, "I'm riding further than that today." That got his attention, so we discussed the ride and then I reaffirmed the importance of him seeking the safety training. I hope that the conversation will encourage him to seek it out. 

Motorcycles are wonderful, but if any young people are reading this and thinking about doing it as well, please do get the training first, and then do the practice necessary to internalize it into habit. As Aristotle says, developing virtue only begins with understanding what the right thing to do is in a given circumstance. Virtue isn't knowledge, he says, but habit: you have the virtue only when you have practiced doing the right thing to the point that you can do it without having to think about it again. 

It might seem odd to describe skill at motorcycle riding as a sort of virtue, because the Christian inheritance tinges 'virtue' with a moral quality that is absent in the case of motorcycle riding. That isn't true in the Greek, though: the Greek word is arete, which means "excellence" and 'the ability to excel' at any practical thing. The moral virtues are like the practical ones, and the analysis holds for all of them. You practice moderation by moderating yourself until it is habitual to do so; you practice horsemanship by riding horses. Here as there, the skill of learning and then developing a virtue is a thing you can learn, and then you can apply that skill across your life. It will help you in everything that you do.

Across Tennessee

The statuary at the welcome center from Virginia on 81, a place which unsurprisingly plays excellent music. 
Looking back at Tennessee from the high wall at Sam’s Gap, the border with North Carolina. 

Riding Back

It’s 8 AM. I left DC at six. I have crossed the Shenandoah and put a mountain range between me and the city. 

I’m stopping for breakfast at a truck stop on I-81.

Prayers answered

This has been a busy dog-rescue week. I had no business taking in another dog, with 3 of my own and 3 fosters already, but the local rescue group took responsibility for a dog in my neighborhood whose "owners" couldn't keep him once he got flea infested and severely irritated their landlord, who didn't allow dogs in the first place. The young couple casually let him stay for the last 9 months after he wandered in during a storm, but I guess they don't know much about dogs. He's shockingly emaciated, every rib standing out, and has heartworms. After the current possessors relinquished him to the local rescue group, they took on the cost of his food and medical care, including plans to treat his heartworms, but won't have a place for him until next week, so I'm keeping him briefly. Lovely dog with lovely manners, no trouble at all.

On Friday, having posted a picture of him, we got word from a woman in a nearby town that she was sure he was her dog. She'd given him away two years ago to a friend of her son-in-law who had a large property and said he could give the dog a better life. Then the son-in-law's friend abruptly disappeared without a forwarding address. The rescue group, which has custody now, is deciding whether the original owner is an appropriate adopter, having once given him up so fecklessly. That owner really would like him back, and I hope she'll persuade the rescue group that she's a safe bet now. She has convincing pictures of him as a puppy and an adult. The dog, a Catahoula-Leopard-Chocolate-Lab mix, is down to 58 lbs. from the 120 lbs. he weighed when the original owner had him.

Also last week, what looked like a Labradoodle was spotted in my neighborhood but not caught up at the time. Word circulated on NextDoor, and because someone in town had found an eager foster mom for him [her, as it happens], I felt comfortable encouraging everyone to bring him [her] to me if he [she] could be induced to be confined. Early Friday morning, a neighbor jogging by my house encountered him [her] and slipped him [her] in my gate. Sadly, I didn't see the neighbor's text message until several hours later, and never caught sight of him [her]. I was afraid he'd [she'd] jumped the fence and moved on. Then a few minutes ago, late Sunday night, up he [she] trotted! He [she] must have been in my woods for the last three days, though I never saw any sign that he'd [she'd] found food that I left out for him [her]. He's [she]s safely ensconced in a kennel overnight with food, water, and a bed. Tomorrow his [her] foster mom will take him [her] . Surprisingly enough, he's [she's]not really emaciated, just a solid matted mess of fur. [Well, fairly skinny, though.] We'll shave that off and let him [her] start over.

New Flag

Jim installed a new flag today. 

Demonstration Ride

Far smaller than the 2019 Rolling Thunder rally, the Rolling to Remember rally still fielded tens of thousands of motorcycles. Veterans from around the country and many wars were present to solemnize the holiday. 

It was executed safely by everyone I saw, and we didn’t pass any incidents from the riders in front of us. Lots of folk came out to watch. 


The guy with the Vespa and the teddy bear is a Green Beret 

Tomorrow is the Rolling to Remember demonstration ride. I don’t think he’s going to ride the Vespa in it. There will be five of us from China Post, though.