Continuing to Eat the Hero's Portion

The Met Collection, II: Viking Swords

Dellbabe sends some more of the photos she took for us. These swords include an Ulfberht blade: a name many of you will recognize right away. Unfortunately the inlay is not visible, but it must have been impressive when the sword was new and cared-for by a fighting man.

Good Friday

Good Friday:

There are many celebrations today, to which I can add little. However, Dad29 posts a song that I happen to know. Here is the Baltimore Consort performing a very good version of it.

The Hero's Portion

The Hero's Portion:

I am today instituting an award for excellent service to the Hall. I'm naming it after the ancient tradition of serving the choicest cut of meat at a feast to the hero of the hour. Or three such heroes, in some cases.

"The Champion's Portion at my feast is worth having; let it be given to the best hero in Ulster."

The carving and distribution of the viands began, and when the Champion's Portion was brought forward it was claimed by three chariot-drivers, Laegaire's, Conall's, and Cuchulain's, each on behalf of his master; and when no decision was made by King Conor the three heroes claimed it, each for himself. But Laegaire and Conall united in defying Cuchulain and ridiculing his claim, and a great fight began in the hall, till all men shook for fear; and at last King Conor intervened, before any man had been wounded.

"Put up your swords," he said. "The Champion's Portion at this feast shall be divided among the three.

The first winner of this award is Dellbabe, who took these photos and sent them to me for the enjoyment and enlightenment of our merry band.

I would be happy to issue this award regularly, if others wish to send things to be published that are of interest to our community. Obviously, co-bloggers may assume that they get to eat the Hero's Portion most any day it isn't otherwise awarded, due to their standing commitment and leadership.

Putting the Ale in Female

"Putting the Ale in Female"

Now that's a headline. Thanks, ladies.

Jane Peyton, an author and historian, says the fairer sex are behind the popularity of beer, and have been involved in its production since brewing began between 7,000 and 9,000 years before Christ.
Well, indeed: Hammurabi's Code holds...
If a tavern-keeper (feminine) does not accept corn according to gross weight in payment of drink, but takes money, and the price of the drink is less than that of the corn, she shall be convicted and thrown into the water; If conspirators meet in the house of a tavern-keeper, and these conspirators are not captured and delivered to the court, the tavern-keeper shall be put to death.

Word of the Day

Word of the Day: Vair

"Vair (from Latin varius "variegated") is the heraldic representation of patches of squirrel fur in an alternating pattern of blue and white."

Today I discovered that squirrels had eaten a hole in my coolant line, causing my truck to overheat and suffer several failures on the drive home today. Starting tonight, I am exploring several amusing ways to use squirrel: squirrel sausage, chew toys for the dog, target practice, etc.

Perhaps I'll make myself a vair-lined mantle for the winter.

Hooah, Hood.


Now this is a film with timing.

(H/t: Lars Walker.)

Who Else?


With the coyness of someone revealing a bizarre sexual taste, my patients would often say to me, "Doctor, I think I'm suffering from low self-esteem."
Who else, but Theodore Dalrymple?
One has only to go into a prison, or at least a prison of the kind in which I used to work, to see the most revoltingly high self-esteem among a group of people (the young thugs) who had brought nothing but misery to those around them, largely because they conceived of themselves as so important that they could do no wrong. For them, their whim was law, which was precisely as it should be considering who they were in their own estimate....

The small matter of cleaning one's shoes, for example, is not one of vanity alone, though of course it can be carried on to the point of vanity and even obsession and fetish. It is, rather, a discipline and a small sign that one is prepared to go to some trouble for the good opinion and satisfaction of others. It is a recognition that one lives in a social world. That is why total informality of dress is a sign of advancing egotism.
As always, a veritable mine of useful ways of thinking about the problems of the world. Yet he leaves something out, one of the core problems of 'self-esteemism,' which we can learn by reading the evolutionary psychologist I mentioned a couple of posts ago. Consider 'the imposter syndrome.'
One little known topic that has resonated strongly with female readers is the concept of being a “fraud.” Pinker interviews several women who have succeeded in their fields; in many cases, traditionally male fields. Two themes emerge. First, these women have been encouraged strongly and consistently to rise through the ranks and obtain positions of power. Second, each of these women believes that at any point someone will realize that she is a fraud, an imposter, a sham: that she doesn’t really know what she is doing. To be clear, these women obtained these positions precisely because they do know what they are doing. They fully deserve the promotions they have received, and yet, the lack of confidence not only exists, it is pervasive. Scores of female CEOs, actresses, academics and others admit to feeling that at any point they will be “found out,” “exposed,” or “unmasked.” In the epilogue Pinker describes the massive influx of letters and emails from successful women who feel the same way.
Just as the patient 'coyly relates' their desire to be propped up in their self esteem, the fact is that at some level we recognize when others are doing so. The very fact of having been "encouraged strongly and consistently" means recognizing that you are receiving an advantage that can't be afforded to everyone; teachers, guidance counselors and college admissions officers can't encourage "everyone," let alone "strongly."

That very fact is probably at the root of this phenomenon. Those who have succeeded in the face of constant failure, who have been discouraged and beaten down and have still clawed their way to the top (or at least some comfortable level!) will not doubt that they got there on merit. No one, male or female, gets through Marine Corps Boot Camp feeling like a fraud. The fact of treating people with an eye toward 'building their self-esteem' actually undermines the real thing, which is self-confidence.

"Seemingly Odd"

"Seemingly Odd"

Greg Sargent has the scales fall from his eyes. Almost.

Yesterday I noted the seemingly odd finding by Gallup that more Americans blame Democrats than Republicans or conservatives for the rash of violence that greeted the passage of the reform law.

Now Gallup has released some new numbers that shed a bit of light on this:
Regardless of whether you favored or opposed the health care legislation passed this week, do you think the methods the Democratic leaders in Congress used to get enough votes to pass this legislation — were [they] an abuse of power, or were [they] an appropriate use of power by the party that controls the majority in Congress?

Abuse of power 53%

Appropriate use of power 40%

No opinion 7%
A surprising 58% of independents, too, said Dem tactics constituted an abuse of power.

This suggests, I think, that the claim by Republicans and conservatives that Dems were going to “ram” the bill through Congress via dictatorial fiat really succeeded in riling up people up a great deal — even though Republicans repeatedly used the reconcilation tactic themselves to pass ambitious legislation.
Actually, I doubt that it's so much 'the claim by Republicans and conservatives that...' as it is the actual fact that which is doing the work here. However, at least you've made the big jump: the reason people blame Democrats for the threats of violence is that they don't see the problem as 'Republican rhetoric stirring up violence.'

They see the problem as 'a provocation by Democrats that might justify violence.'

We talked recently about the non-enforcability of the mandate meaning that violence probably isn't justified; and wouldn't have been, anyway, until the mandate went into effect. However, it's worth noticing that this is America's natural and native political tradition. The Founders were revolutionaries -- not in the vague 'this is revolutionary sense in which the term is mostly used today, but in the sense of forming armies and shooting people over political differences.

A wise politician will consider this poll carefully. The survival of the Republic is not guaranteed; adequate abuse will provoke a war. If one is not wanted -- and I surely do not want one, having seen the effects of war on a country -- it is time to start thinking about restoring the proper, Constitutional order. It is time to start thinking about how to restrain the Federal government so that it is not prone to such abuses in the future.

OK that Women are different

Is it OK that Women are Different?

An evolutionary psychologist joins our party.

Thankfully, she goes beyond just differences in performance, assessment, or feelings regarding these differences. In particular, she examines the role testosterone plays in male risk taking (including those amusing Darwin Awards) and the role oxytocin and empathy play in female career choices. It is important to note that this is not the shallow glossing over seen in other books. Pinker is thorough enough to leave this biopsychologist satisfied, but also understandable enough for nonacademics. My brother, who didn’t go to college and shows little interest in biology, lazily picked up the book in my car last week. He read a line about gender differences out loud, and immediately launched into the SSSM explanation; “because that’s what girls are told to do.” Then he read farther. He became quiet. Then he asked to borrow the book when I was done with my “book report.”

Pinker does more than dryly discuss the biology; she provides example after example of women who have succeeded in this “man’s world” and found it wanting. As Pinker explains, let’s move on past the idea that a woman can’t do the same work as a man, and discuss why she may not want to. Any woman who has wondered if her preferences run counter to the feminist cause should pay close attention here; believing that a woman should have every right to pursue the same goals as men is different from believing that every woman should want to.
Welcome aboard.

The First

"The First..."

Shelby Steele posits an explanation for the off-the-cliff style of the current President.

Reagan came into office as a very well-defined man with an unequivocal sense of direction. Agree with him or not, you knew what kind of society he wanted. Mr. Obama, despite his new resolve, remains rather undefined—a president happy to have others write his "transformative" legislation. As the health-care bill and the stimulus package illustrate, scale is functioning as vision. From where does it come?

Well, suppose you were the first black president of the United States and, therefore, also the first black head-of-state in the entire history of Western Civilization. You represent a human first, something entirely new under the sun. There aren't even any myths that speak directly to your circumstance, no allegorical tales of ancient black kings who ruled over white kingdoms.

If anything, you may literally experience yourself as a myth in the making. After all, you embody a heretofore unimaginable transcendence over the old human plagues of tribalism, hatred and ignorance. Standing on ground that no man has stood on before, wouldn't it be understandable if you felt pressured by the grandiosity of your circumstance? Isn't there a special—and impossible—burden on "the first" to do something that lives up to his historical originality?
The concept is that 'the first X' has a kind of obligation to institute massive, historic changes in order to justify their having been 'the first X.' If that's right, it's a solid argument against electing anyone else to the office who could plausibly claim to be 'the first X,' regardless of what X might be.

The alternative that might allow you to support a 'first X' would be if they (like Reagan) articulated a clear vision of what they intended to do, along the lines of: 'As the first X president, I will return our government to the clear Constitutional principles that the Founders intended. Everything I do will be intended to restore the government that Washington would have wanted: the first X president will strive to be just like the first president.'


NYC Cops Field M-4-16 Submachinegun Assault Rifle Machine Gun Carbines:

The NY Post needs to tighten up its shot group.

Stand clear of the submachine guns.

In an unusual move, a heavily armed NYPD security battalion with enough firepower to wipe out Downtown Brooklyn descended onto the city's subway trains yesterday in response to suicide bombings in Russia that killed dozens of passengers in Moscow's subway.

Bleary-eyed New Yorkers began their work weeks with a morning rush hour that featured city cops in full military gear, including helmets, goggles, body armor, sidearms and M16 assault rifles.
'Submachinegun M-16 assault rifles.' Right.

The photographer must have asked, because in the slideshow captions they get so close...
An armed officer on the Counter Assault Team carries an M-4 Colt Carbine machine gun on the No. 6 train.
So close.

As for wiping out downtown Brooklyn, maybe so. I was going to remind everyone of the great line from Casablanca: "There are parts of New York I wouldn't advise you to invade..." But I was there not that long ago, and I'm not sure it still qualifies.
Plutarch's Lives

I've had to go back and read a bit of this, and so I'll beg indulgence on the tardiness of it.

Most often these days any published Plutarch seems to be merely chunks of his original work--for instance, my first experience was a Penguin classic called "Fall of the Roman Republic" which had all the relevant Roman lives for the 1st century BC. But none of the Greek lives, much less the comparisons. This is sad, as it obscures Plutarch's purpose a great deal. However, I was able to find a print copy of the complete lives that Barnes & Noble has recently issued as part of it's "Library of Essential Reading".

Now, I am traditional in that I prefer my books in hand, rather than online, but in the spirit of the times, the internet has become the world's library. So I have found online a complete transcription of the Lives here. (Send Mr. Thayer a thank you note--He seems to have retyped rather than scanned the text--quite an undertaking.)

Obviously the next thing to do was to pick which lives to read (and feel free to read them all). I had at least one life in mind and but then considered several others, but finally went back with my first thought.

So, we will read the pair of Alcibiades (Greek, 5th century BC) and Coriolanus (Roman 5th century BC). Make sure you read the comparison as well.

And if agreeable, we'll commence with some sort of discussion next Monday. And if people really like it, well read some more.


What do Philosophers Believe?

For those of you who follow modern philosophical debates, a survey of where philosophers shake out on cetain famous questions.

When asked which dead philosopher they most identified with, a clear winner emerged, with 21% of the votes: David Hume, the 18th-century thinker, historian, sceptic and agnostic who was a close friend of the economist Adam Smith. Aristotle, Kant and Wittgenstein took second, third and fourth places. The next six spots went to philosophers from the 20th century, most recently Donald Davidson, an American who died in 2003. Plato made 13th place and Socrates limped in at 21st.

Of the three topics that Immanuel Kant once said were the proper subjects of metaphysics – namely God, freedom and immortality – the survey covers only the first two, perhaps because these days life is too short to bother with immortality. Free will gets a thumbs-up: only 12% of philosophers think that people’s lives are predestined. But God gets the thumbs-down: nearly three-quarters accept or lean towards atheism. This is only to be expected. Even in America, which is unusually religious for a rich country, the top echelons of those who think for a living tend to be unbelievers. A survey of the members of America’s elite National Academy of Sciences in 1998 found that only 7% believed in God....

Some 82% of the respondents accept or are inclined towards “non-sceptical realism” about the external world, which means they believe both that physical objects exist independently of the minds that perceive them, and that we can be said to know of their existence. Some 4.8%, though, are inclined to deny that we have certain knowledge of the existence of physical objects, and 4.2% accept or lean towards “idealism”, which is the theory that matter somehow depends on mind. As for the status of so-called “abstract” objects, such as numbers, the most popular view (scoring 39%, narrowly ahead of its closest rival) is “Platonism”, according to which abstract objects have a real existence independently of our minds.

By a fairly narrow margin, today’s philosophers believe that judgments of artistic value are not merely matters of individual taste: 41% said aesthetic values are objective, 34% say subjective, and a quarter gave some other answer. They were not asked directly whether moral values are objective, but the responses to related questions suggest that most philosophers believe they are. Some 56% incline towards “moral realism”, which has no precise definition but implies that ethical questions have objectively right (and wrong) answers, and nearly two-thirds endorsed moral “cognitivism”, which suggests that they believe there are moral facts or truths.



Rather than let the book club lapse, here is another online reading you might do quickly. You don't have to read all of the Monk's tale; we'll focus on Zenobia.

ZENOBIA, of Palmyrie the queen,
As write Persians of her nobless,
So worthy was in armes, and so keen,
That no wight passed her in hardiness,
Nor in lineage, nor other gentleness.* *noble qualities
Of the king's blood of Perse* is she descended; *Persia
I say not that she hadde most fairness,
But of her shape she might not he amended.

From her childhood I finde that she fled
Office of woman, and to woods she went,
And many a wilde harte's blood she shed
With arrows broad that she against them sent;
She was so swift, that she anon them hent.* *caught
And when that she was older, she would kill
Lions, leopards, and beares all to-rent,* *torn to pieces
And in her armes wield them at her will.

She durst the wilde beastes' dennes seek,
And runnen in the mountains all the night,
And sleep under a bush; and she could eke
Wrestle by very force and very might
With any young man, were he ne'er so wight;* *active, nimble
There mighte nothing in her armes stond.
She kept her maidenhood from every wight,
To no man deigned she for to be bond.

But at the last her friendes have her married
To Odenate, a prince of that country;
All were it so, that she them longe tarried.
And ye shall understande how that he
Hadde such fantasies as hadde she;
But natheless, when they were knit in fere,* *together
They liv'd in joy, and in felicity,
For each of them had other lefe* and dear. *loved

Save one thing, that she never would assent,
By no way, that he shoulde by her lie
But ones, for it was her plain intent
To have a child, the world to multiply;
And all so soon as that she might espy
That she was not with childe by that deed,
Then would she suffer him do his fantasy
Eftsoon,* and not but ones, *out of dread.* *again *without doubt*

And if she were with child at thilke* cast, *that
No more should he playe thilke game
Till fully forty dayes were past;
Then would she once suffer him do the same.
All* were this Odenatus wild or tame, *whether
He got no more of her; for thus she said,
It was to wives lechery and shame
In other case* if that men with them play'd. on other terms

Two sones, by this Odenate had she,
The which she kept in virtue and lettrure.* *learning
But now unto our tale turne we;
I say, so worshipful a creature,
And wise therewith, and large* with measure,** *bountiful **moderation
So penible* in the war, and courteous eke, *laborious
Nor more labour might in war endure,
Was none, though all this worlde men should seek.

Her rich array it mighte not be told,
As well in vessel as in her clothing:
She was all clad in pierrie* and in gold, *jewellery
And eke she *lefte not,* for no hunting, *did not neglect*
To have of sundry tongues full knowing,
When that she leisure had, and for t'intend* *apply
To learne bookes was all her liking,
How she in virtue might her life dispend.

And, shortly of this story for to treat,
So doughty was her husband and eke she,
That they conquered many regnes great
In th'Orient, with many a fair city
Appertinent unto the majesty
Of Rome, and with strong hande held them fast,
Nor ever might their foemen do* them flee, *make
Aye while that Odenatus' dayes last'.

Her battles, whoso list them for to read,
Against Sapor the king, and other mo',
And how that all this process fell in deed,
Why she conquer'd, and what title thereto,
And after of her mischief* and her woe, *misfortune
How that she was besieged and y-take,
Let him unto my master Petrarch go,
That writes enough of this, I undertake.

When Odenate was dead, she mightily
The regne held, and with her proper hand
Against her foes she fought so cruelly,
That there n'as* king nor prince in all that land, *was not
That was not glad, if be that grace fand
That she would not upon his land warray;* *make war
With her they maden alliance by bond,
To be in peace, and let her ride and play.

The emperor of Rome, Claudius,
Nor, him before, the Roman Gallien,
Durste never be so courageous,
Nor no Armenian, nor Egyptien,
Nor Syrian, nor no Arabien,
Within the fielde durste with her fight,
Lest that she would them with her handes slen,* *slay
Or with her meinie* putte them to flight. *troops

In kinges' habit went her sones two,
As heires of their father's regnes all;
And Heremanno and Timolao
Their names were, as Persians them call
But aye Fortune hath in her honey gall;
This mighty queene may no while endure;
Fortune out of her regne made her fall
To wretchedness and to misadventure.

Aurelian, when that the governance
Of Rome came into his handes tway,
He shope* upon this queen to do vengeance; *prepared
And with his legions he took his way
Toward Zenobie, and, shortly for to say,
He made her flee, and at the last her hent,* *took
And fetter'd her, and eke her children tway,
And won the land, and home to Rome he went.

Amonges other thinges that he wan,
Her car, that was with gold wrought and pierrie,* *jewels
This greate Roman, this Aurelian
Hath with him led, for that men should it see.
Before in his triumphe walked she
With gilte chains upon her neck hanging;
Crowned she was, as after* her degree, *according to
And full of pierrie her clothing.

Alas, Fortune! she that whilom was
Dreadful to kinges and to emperours,
Now galeth* all the people on her, alas! *yelleth
And she that *helmed was in starke stowres,* *wore a helmet in
And won by force townes strong and tow'rs, obstinate battles*
Shall on her head now wear a vitremite;
And she that bare the sceptre full of flow'rs
Shall bear a distaff.
I expect that T99 at least shall bear her sympathy; though she did more than many men -- indeed, more than most!

Palm Sunday: Jesus was a Horseman

Palm Sunday: Jesus was a Horseman!

Meeting my good friend Eric (who owes us some Plutarch readings) halfway on the subject of Holy Week, here's a more direct reading -- but one that still pertains to the values of heroes and tamers of horses. From the Gospel of Mark:

1 And when they came nigh to Jerusalem, unto Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount of Olives, he sendeth forth two of his disciples, 2 And saith unto them, Go your way into the village over against you: and as soon as ye be entered into it, ye shall find a colt tied, whereon never man sat; loose him, and bring him. 3 And if any man say unto you, Why do ye this? say ye that the Lord hath need of him; and straightway he will send him hither. 4 And they went their way, and found the colt tied by the door without in a place where two ways met; and they loose him.

5 And certain of them that stood there said unto them, What do ye, loosing the colt? 6 And they said unto them even as Jesus had commanded: and they let them go. 7 And they brought the colt to Jesus, and cast their garments on him; and he sat upon him. 8 And many spread their garments in the way: and others cut down branches off the trees, and strawed them in the way.

9 And they that went before, and they that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna; Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord: 10 Blessed be the kingdom of our father David, that cometh in the name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest. would draw your attention to certain points:
Why is Jesus using an *unridden colt? There doesn’t appear to be anything in the Jewish scriptures which requires the use of such an animal; moreover, it’s completely implausible that Jesus would be experienced enough in handling horses that he could safely ride an unbroken colt like this. It would have posed a danger not only for his safety, but also for his image as he attempts a triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
Indeed, try it sometime, and see how well you sit an unbroken colt.

And yet the Gospels are clear: Jesus did it, and with ease. Perhaps that is reason not to believe... and perhaps it is otherwise. Because if we do believe that he did it, as the Gospel of Luke also recounts, we have to account Jesus to be a tremendous horseman: a better one than any man of his background ought to be.

If you wanted to give a sign, to a people who knew about riding horses, traveling on an unbroken colt would hardly be the least impressive thing you could invent. Remember that the heroes of the Iliad were often known as "breakers of horses," because it was so perilous that a hero might be proud to do it and do it well; here rode a man who didn't have to break them.