Thanks

Our neighbor's niece put together a playlist for her to drive home by last week, with a Thanksgiving theme. The first number: Danke schön: Jim Gerraghty advises us today:
You’ll recall that last year Organizing for Action urged its members to talk up Obamacare at the dinner table. My assessment still stands:
Here’s a crazy idea: Treat your family members as people you love and appreciate — or at least tolerate — instead of targets for political conversion. You only get one or two families in this life — the one you’re born into, and the one you marry into. Maybe if you’re lucky, you become “like a son” or “like a sister” to another. There’s a lot to talk about in this world beyond politics, and chances are you’re not going to persuade disagreeing relatives, anyway.

The Media is Evil

When I saw the headline, I totally assumed they meant like the Gettysburg address. The only reason I clicked through was to see what he had to say about all this. Turns out...

Making things up

Our President has admonished us that "Communities of color aren’t just making these problems up." I never thought they were. On the other hand, police officers working in neighborhoods where apparently it's OK to rough up store clerks and get in cops' faces (not to mention loot and burn stores) aren't making up their problems, either. I don't think a police officer is ever obligated to let a furious 300-lb. guy--armed or unarmed--close on him without shooting to protect himself.

Good Speech

The prosecutor took a long time about getting to what he surely knew was the only thing anyone cared to hear him say. Much of that time was devoted to a lecture directed at the news media, at social media, and at the citizenry in general. It was a lecture on the importance of patience and the grand jury process.
It seemed to me that the very structure of these interviews fostered courtesy, a posture of respect, on the part of the person conducting the interrogation. Prosecutors need the cooperation of both witnesses and jurors. They also must do their work in a manner safe from legal challenge. So they are forced to cultivate patience: patience with procedure; patience with witnesses, many of whom are afraid or upset or inarticulate or barely audible; and patience with lay jurors operating on the basis of common sense and whatever bundle of attitudes and information they happen to bring with them into the jury room.
This was apparently a highly unusual grand jury, one conducted with particular patience -- indeed, it sounded from his description almost as if he elected to run it as a second trial, one that would identify which of the witnesses were most credible and how their testimony fit with the physical evidence. That's unusual, although perhaps our system would work better if it were the standard practice.

Will it be as satisfying as an acquittal at trial, which this result strongly suggests would have occurred had the grand jury operated along more standard practices? I expect some will argue that the differential treatment constitutes an unjust preferential treatment for the officer (though if so it seems to me that the way to fix that injustice is to take more time to present a full and fair analysis of the facts at grand juries generally). On the other hand, if the facts are clear, the facts are clear and it is right not to put the public through another year or more of trauma over what was clearly going to be an acquittal.

In any case, the speech strongly conveyed a sense of a governmental authority figure taking pains to make sure that nothing was hidden, that everything was understood, and that the public could see that the system worked in a highly controversial case. Those qualities of competence and transparency we could use a lot more of from government.

UPDATE:

Apparently not everyone was persuaded.

My Guess Is This Means Utah is A Peaceful Paradise

Still, it's really surprising.
In the past five years, more Utahns have been killed by police than by gang members.

Or drug dealers. Or from child abuse.

And so far this year, deadly force by police has claimed more lives — 13, including a Saturday shooting in South Jordan — than has violence between spouses and dating partners.
Clearly, those numbers don't hold everywhere. But who thought they'd hold anywhere?

There's a Real Irony Here

Many of us remember the controversy surrounding Elizabeth Warren referring to herself as Native American. A 1997 article from the Fordham Law Review listed the Massachusetts Senator as the “first woman of color” hired by Harvard Law School.

But in spite of her questionable Native heritage, Elizabeth Warren called the Senate police on Greg Grey Cloud who had tried to honor the legislators who voted against polluted water tables within Native and non-Native communities.

Grey Cloud had sang what’s called an “honor song” but Warren and police said it was a “flash mob.”

Instead, Gyasi Ross explained, it was “an earnest and honest expression of Indigenous love and appreciation for these politicians who decided to be leaders instead of politicians for one day.”

I'm Only A Bill

Woah!

Sarah Hoyt continues to say interesting things.
For instance, take Mister Obama. I don’t deny that he has the outward appearance of a minority that was very mistreated historically. However, in his particular case, he is not the descendent of slaves but the descendant of slave dealers on his father’s side, and slave owners on his mother’s.
I don't know if his family owned slaves (on his mother's side), but he is apparently a cousin in that direction of George Washington. Washington owned slaves too, from what I hear. All the great heroes of that era seem to have been associated with the slave trade. Even the great philosophers, if not by owning slaves then by endorsing the practice.

Rites and spontaneity

An old re-post from Maggie's Farm about civil and religious marriage, and more broadly about sacraments and religious dissension, reminded me of the always-reliable views of C.S. Lewis on the ages-old squabbling over high- and low-church traditions, channeling Old Scratch:
“I think I warned you before that if your patient can’t be kept out of the Church, he ought at least to be violently attached to some party within it. I don’t mean on really doctrinal issues; about those, the more lukewarm he is, the better. And it isn’t the doctrines on which we chiefly depend for producing malice. The real fun is working up hatred between those who say “mass” and those who say “holy communion” when neither party could possibly state the difference between, say, Hooker’s doctrine and Thomas Aquinas’ in any form which would hold water for five minutes.
And all the purely indifferent things – candles and clothes and whatnot – are an admirable ground for our activities. We have quite removed from men’s minds what that pestilent fellow Paul used to teach about food and other unessentials – namely, that the human without scruples should always give in to the human with scruples.
You would think they could not fail to see the application. You would expect to find the “low” churchman genuflecting and crossing himself lest the weak conscience of his “high” brother should be moved to irreverence, and the “high” one refraining from these exercises lest he should betray his “low” brother into idolatry. And so it would have been but for our ceaseless labour. Without that, the variety of usage within the Church of England might have become a positive hotbed of charity and humility.”
Yesterday was my dear husband's birthday. Since 1963, he's had to share his birthday with the anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. It turns out it's also the anniversary of the deaths of C.S. Lewis and Martin Luther. I have been reading a biography of Luther at Project Gutenberg lately and have been surprised to find that his personality so often gave way to an almost hysterical vituperation, equating Catholic adherence to various doctrines and rites as the worst sort of devil-worship.  (What kind of man thinks that celibacy is inherently evil?  And what was with the obsession with calling his enemies pigs and donkeys?)

In Luther's time people were ready to fight to the death over distinctions that make little or no sense to me today. As Lewis notes, from the Devil's point of view, the more lukewarm I am on points of real doctrine the better, and I no doubt have a lot to learn from people for whom the questions of eternity were daily matters of life and death. Nevertheless, I'm not sorry to be able to regard with indifference quarrels over the precise meaning of sacraments. I have never noticed that questions of this sort much occupied Jesus's thinking. My impression is that He thought sacraments were beside the point except as they brought our devoted attention back to what was always important, which was God.  Nevertheless, I am probably more easily tempted to irreverence than idolatry, so a sect like Episcopalianism, with its emphasis on rites, is a good one for me.

Gutenberg has been full in recent months of works furiously condemning the Reformation. It's a perspective that is fairly unfamiliar to me, so I am reading about it with interest. The common theme is that Protestants (and pseudo-Protestants like Episcopalians) erred in believing we could turn loose hundreds of millions of Christians to decide for themselves what the Bible means and what God wants from us. How, they wondered, will anyone know what to believe if no one can agree on an authoritative source?  I acknowledge the danger of sectarianism, but I'm unable to see how reposing our faith in a single infallible human interpreter helps matters.  As a people, as a body of worshippers, we're always going to have to confront the problems of dissension and error.  Nevertheless, again, because of my strong tendency to contrariness, disobedience, and iconoclasm, it's probably just as well for me to be connected to some kind of apostolic tradition, to keep me somewhat in the straight and narrow.

I always come back to the Sadducees and the Pharisees.  The Sadducees got the rap for a mindless adherence to ritual, as if they were performing magic tricks to force God's hand.  The Pharisees at least understood that our hearts have got to be in the right place, but they were still far too hung up on legalism and formality.  Christ blew all that away, not by abolishing forms but by refusing to be distracted by them into trivialities.  He was forever responding to picky demands to rule in favor of this or that technical rule with parables showing why both rules completely missed the point.  Even with this example, we spent next two thousand years fighting out the question of form over substance.  I don't think we can be all about substance; most of us need form as a reminder and a discipline.  But with form always comes the temptation to obsess on the dead container instead of the living Content.

Priorities

This Golden Retriever performed brilliantly, but his goals were not well aligned with those of his human.  Clearly, he appreciated his human's good judgment in bringing him to such an interesting playground.



There's no question how my dogs would perform in this contest.

H/t Maggie's Farm.

Thanks, neighbors

When Nashville was playing hockey in Canada this week, a professional singer was belting out the "Star Spangled Banner" before the game when her mike cut out. The mostly Canadian crowd didn't miss a beat, but finished the song for her.

Do they have better music training in Canada or something? That crowd didn't even hesitate about what key to sing it in, totally together. Every time I hear a bunch of Americans try to sing "Happy Birthday," they are in as many keys as there are singers present.

Cellular computers

More via Rocket Science:
A new DNA-based recorder allows bioengineers to create cell cultures that detect information in their environment and store it for later use. Such 'designer' cells might in the future be used to monitor water quality in a village, or measure the amount of sugar a person eats.

Emission spectra of the elements

This is kind of cool.

The fun never stops

If you like your plan . . . .

Cold Days Coming

Gonna need more firewood. Seems like that's all I did this summer, though in fact of course I did a few other things. But I'd have been happy to have done too much: indeed, doing 'too much' was my goal. Instead, it's 18 degrees a month before winter, and NASA says it's just going to get worse.

Friday Night...Commercial?



Saxon and Anglo-Saxon. You can tell the Germans are Saxons by the green and white cockade on the red band of the field cap and the regimental number 104 on the helmet. I think the cap badge on the British soldier is of the Cheshire regiment. Somebody did their homework.

I knew I had seen a picture before:

They were all more alike than they were different in 1914. I'm not sure one could say that anymore.

Curious way to sell chocolate. From the comments for the video, people either love it or hate it.

Of course, it has been done before:
Clever, I like the mud:


And in deadly earnestness.



The Next Wave

Obamacare supporters seem to think that, since the website is mostly working now, and we got past that whole 'you can keep your plan' thing, if they can just get past this next SCOTUS case it'll be clear sailing.

Nope.
If you can do basic math, you can probably figure out that many small businesses are about to get hit with a penalty of $36,500 per employee through no fault of their own. If you have any familiarity with small businesses, you know that the overwhelming majority of them are simply not going to be able to pay an unforeseen penalty of $36,500 per employee and are going to be forced to simply shut their doors.
Small businesses aren't the last problem either. They pieced out the consequences of this law past 2016 in the hope of avoiding the blowback from the really bad stuff. For that reason, the hits are just going to keep coming. For years.

You Are What You Would Do

In the Science Fiction film Total Recall, Arnold Schwartzenegger's character has his memories replaced. Meeting with a mutant who can restore his memory, he is asked why he wants it back. "To be myself again," he answers. "You are what you do," the mutant replies.

There's a philosophical assumption there that goes back to Locke that suggests our identity comes from our memories. Nina Strohminger argues that this is not plausible. When people suffer radical memory loss, their sense of self generally remains the same -- and their personalities are often quite stable.

If you are what you do, it isn't what you have done, in other words. It's what you would do.

Which claim seems right to you?

Motte and Bailey

A great piece by Nicholas Shackel got linked in passing by Charles C. W. Cooke writing in the National Review. The piece is from Metaphilosophy, and describes in clear terms a mode of argument characteristic of many postmodern thinkers. To help you understand the way the argument works, he suggests you compare it to a motte and bailey castle.
A Motte and Bailey castle is a medieval system of defence in which a stone tower on a mound (the Motte) is surrounded by an area of land (the Bailey) which in turn is encompassed by some sort of a barrier such as a ditch. Being dark and dank, the Motte is not a habitation of choice. The only reason for its existence is the desirability of the Bailey, which the combination of the Motte and ditch makes relatively easy to retain despite attack by marauders. When only lightly pressed, the ditch makes small numbers of attackers easy to defeat as they struggle across it: when heavily pressed the ditch is not defensible and so neither is the Bailey. Rather one retreats to the insalubrious but defensible, perhaps impregnable, Motte. Eventually the marauders give up, when one is well placed to reoccupy desirable land.

For my purposes the desirable but only lightly defensible territory of the Motte and Bailey castle, that is to say, the Bailey, represents a philosophical doctrine or position with similar properties: desirable to its proponent but only lightly defensible. The Motte is the defensible but undesired position to which one retreats when hard pressed. I think it is evident that Troll’s Truisms have the Motte and Bailey property, since the exciting falsehoods constitute the desired but indefensible region within the ditch whilst the trivial truth constitutes the defensible but dank Motte to which one may retreat when pressed.You see this everywhere.
There's a great example in this piece by CounterPunch on FBI surveillance.
We’re constantly told that “criminals” are the dregs of human history. Yet “criminal” is an ideological term. Only some forms of behavior of criminalized—and those doing that criminalizing, given the barriers to entry in such professional fields, tend to come from powerful, privileged parts of society who often do not engage or need to engage in such behavior. Structural forms of oppression shield powerful and privileged classes from the consequences of their ill actions.
The motte claim here is that 'only some forms of behavior are crimialized, and those doing that... tend to come from powerful, privileged positions." It's obviously and absolutely true that not all forms of human behavior are criminal, and it's true by definition that those who write the laws and those who enforce them are in positions of power.

The bailey claim is that all laws are mere exercises in ideology. There are thus no objective standards for what ought to be a crime that we can arrive at through human reason. There is no natural law, there are no objective virtues, there is nothing but a pure exercise of power by the privileged to advance their own interests.

The latter claim is garbage, and would be easy to disprove. The motte claim can be defended forever, because it's true by definition.

An Uber for Education

Jim Gerraghty caught flak this week for proposing that, as long as we're going to let the federal government take over our lives, why don't we have a federal mandate requiring states to give parents school choice?  I take to heart his readers' objections that he was indulging in the same fascist tactics that we so deplore in his opponents, but I don't see why we couldn't make federal education dollars contingent on support for vouchers, home-schooling, and other forms of school choice.  I'd rather see the federal education dollars dry up, anyway, so if states decided to start refusing them, that wouldn't bother me.

The Renaissance of the Middle Ages

...part whatever.

Citizen's Arrest

Now this is rather inspiring.
Kirk Allen and John Kraft — two military veterans — live in Edgar County which just might be the most corrupt county in the country. For a couple of watchdogs, it’s a target rich environment.... Considering the fact that, according to Forbes, their home county’s government has racked up over $79 million in debt all on its own while serving only 18,000 residents, Kraft and Allen have their work cut out for them....

In what was one of their most epic displays of political crime-fighting, which was captured on video, Allen and Kraft held the entire Clark County Park District Board under citizen’s arrest on May 13, 2014, for violating the Illinois Open Meetings Act, a Class C misdemeanor.

When asked if there would be public comment, one of the board members said, “I vote no.” Followed by five other board members.

Board attorney, Kate Yargus, could be heard on video saying there would be no public comment that night, and told the board members they were “free to go,” even after Kraft’s citizen’s arrest announcement. She tried to cite statute to Kraft, but before she could finish, he said, “Just sit down, you are making yourself look like a fool.”

Deputies were dispatched to the scene, but instead, Clark County Sheriff, Jerry Parsley, personally responded that night. Parsley said he knew it was a heated situation and felt it would be best if he handled it. He said that Kraft handled the citizen’s arrest responsibly, and the board was definitely in violation of the Open Meetings Act by not allowing the public to speak.

“It’s not that they should have. They’re mandated to,” Parsley said. “The people need to have their voice. It’s not a dictatorship. It’s a democracy.”

The sheriff arrested six of the board members. The seventh board member was not arrested because he voted against the other members. As they were escorted out of the building, the crowd cheered.
That's citizenship.

Price Signals Work

At least, they work if they aren't entirely hidden from the consumer.
Prices for common medical tests like mammograms and MRIs are notoriously opaque. Negotiated rates between insurance companies and doctors or hospitals are sealed tight by contract. We know there's price variation, but comparing what one insurance company pays versus another is virtually impossible. That's why we here at KQED in San Francisco turned to members of our audience to help us find out what medical tests and devices cost....

We thought we would find variation, and indeed we did. In California, commercial insurers paid from $128 to $694 for a screening mammogram. In Los Angeles, one woman's insurer paid $600 more than the lowest-cost screening mammogram reported in the area. "I'm sure every woman who's had a mammogram had the exact same experience I did," this woman said. "It was a friendly technician, but I don't think that's worth maybe 600 extra dollars."

In lower-back MRIs, we found that for CPT code 72148, insurers paid from $467 to $1,567. But when we looked beyond commercial insurers, we found even greater variation — from a low of $255 to a self-pay price of $6,221 at an academic medical center. That $255 MRI was paid by Medicare, and was just a fraction of the facility's charge of $2,450.
How can market functions hold costs down if we have no way of comparing the costs? Competition doesn't work at all in an environment like this.

At Risk

H. R. McMaster's speech at Georgetown included the following charges:
The warrior ethos is at risk because fewer and fewer Americans are connected to our professional military. Separation from our society is consequential because warriors depend on respect for what they do to maintain their self-respect.

The warrior ethos is at risk because fewer and fewer Americans understand what is at stake in the wars in which we are engaged. How many Americans could, for example, name the three main Taliban organizations we are fighting in Afghanistan and Pakistan?

The warrior ethos is at risk because some argue that victory over an enemy or winning in war is an old idea that is no longer relevant in today’s complex world.

The warrior ethos is at risk because some continue to advocate simple, mainly technologically based solutions to the problem of future war, ignoring war’s very nature as a human and political activity that is fundamentally a contest of wills.

The warrior ethos is at risk because popular culture waters down and coarsens the warrior ethos. Warriors are most often portrayed as fragile traumatized human beings. Hollywood tells us little about the warrior’s calling or commitment to his or her fellow warriors or what compels him or her to act courageously, endure hardships, take risks, or make sacrifices.
It was not always thus.

Somebody Broke Cass

Possibly me. If so, I've done myself a great harm, because her place has been one of the first things I've read each day for years.

Since she's disabled comments, I'll say here: I'll miss you. Fighting with you was one of my very favorite things. I'm guessing it wasn't always fun, but you asked for it, and it was always meant as a mark of respect. I'd rather fight with you than agree with almost anyone. That's why I kept doing it.

Pax tecum.