In Defense

Defensor Pacis:

...Her flag had seven stars, significant because Chavez had arbitrarily added an eighth, making any use of a difficult-to-find seven-star banner an act of defiance.
H/t: Dad29.



From Hoover's Policy Review, a piece on Corsairs:

What was to become the manual on how to deal with pirates appeared in 1618 under the title Discourse on the Beginnings, Practises and Suppression of Pirates. Its author was Henry Mainwaring, himself a reformed pirate, who had turned himself in under James I’s amnesty. As Tinniswood notes, his credentials as an ex-pirate were impeccable, and as a born public relations man he would boost them by telling tall tales of his exploits, as on the occasion when, running out of shot, he had loaded his cannon with pieces of eight and blasted them at the enemy.

In Discourse, Mainwaring lays bare the inner workings of the pirate world — for instance, how some English sailors would happily join their captors but asked for papers saying that they had done so under duress. If caught by their country, they would produce the papers and escape punishment.

He strongly advises against paying ransom, because the knowledge that they will be ransomed will make sailors less inclined to resist capture. Ironically, he also disapproves of pardoning: “Your highness must put on a consistent immutable resolution never to grant a pardon.” Those who joined should know the consequences of getting caught beforehand: The king should “put them all to death, or make slaves of them.” They could profitably be used in improving harbors and coastal forts.

He vividly describes corsair tactics, how at dawn they would lie dead still in the water waiting for their pray; when they spotted a ship on the horizon, they would set sail, ostensibly just a fellow merchantman on the same course. He lists all their favorite safe havens for repairs and re-victualing. And he dispenses some practical advice to merchants, such as mounting a watch while in harbor and not leaving the sails on board, an invitation to mischief. Finally, he recommends the arming of merchantmen and coastal patrols by the navy. The effort earned Mainwaring a knighthood, un-pedagogical proof that you can play both sides of the fence and come out a winner.

Under Charles I, the pirate problem became acute. In 1631, an Algerian fleet under command of the Dutchman Jan Janzoon (operating under his new name, Murat Reis) hit the coastal village of Baltimore, in County Cork, Ireland, and abducted 109 inhabitants. Some 5,000 Englishmen were at the time languishing on the Barbary Coast. Merchants worried about the loss of their ships and the wives of abducted sailors kept petitioning Parliament for help. In response, a ships levy was imposed to fund a punitive expedition. Three ships under William Rainburrow successfully blockaded Sale in 1637 and liberated its Christian captives, having played local leaders off against each other. But Algiers, with its impressive fortifications, was a tougher nut to crack.

An ambitious parliamentary plan to end trade with the Ottoman Empire and to hit evil at its center by sending off a fleet of 40 men-of-war to Istanbul came to nothing, as civil war intervened. Historians have argued that anger among merchants over the king’s lack of funding for coastal defenses was a contributing reason to the war. As regards paying ransom, collections were taken in British churches, but the money shrank on the way because of cuts taken by various middlemen, including admiralty officials who arranged the payments. (In Rome, two religious orders handled negotiations with the pirates, though, as Tinniswood notes, they concentrated on Catholic victims.) To make the pleading letters from slaves carry extra conviction, their masters treated them extra harshly before handing them pen and paper.

A number of books by former captives appeared. One was by William Okeley, who was captured in 1639 and who provides a catalog of the savagery surrounding him in Algiers — of lashings; arms and legs broken with sledgehammers; crucifixions; people hanging on meat hooks; amputations after which the victim’s hand is put on a string and tied around his neck. The lucky ones like Okeley would be allowed to run small shops, whereas those unfortunate enough to be selected for the galleys would sit in their own filth, chained to their oar.

After five years of captivity, with the help of some fellow hostages, Okeley ingeniously managed to produce a boat as a kind of assembly kit in the cellar of his tobacconist shop. Thus the keel came in two parts, and the ribs also came in sections. On the agreed night, the men would carry the parts down to the beach and quickly assemble them; they used a canvass skin, waterproofed with tar, to cover the skeleton. They made it safely to Majorca, and Okeley reached England in 1644. Okeley’s book of his ordeal, entitled Eben-ezer, appeared in 1675. Almost half a century later, Daniel Defoe lets Robinson Crusoe, that most mishap-prone of sailors, be captured by “a Turkish rover of Sallee”; Okeley’s story must certainly have been known to Defoe, before switching sources to Alexander Selkirk’s account of being marooned. Defoe advocated a common European response against the pirate menace.

Calling Down the Thunder

Calling Down the Thunder:

The Case for Women's Suffrage

The Case for Womens' Suffrage:

At one time, I had an advisor in college who had this poster on her door. I was reminded of it today because I was thinking that it might provide a synthesis position on the question we've been debating.

It's a good argument -- one that demonstrates the injustice of women being categorically denied the vote in clear and undeniable terms. It's interesting to note what it is not, though: it is not an argument for universal suffrage. It's an argument for suffrage based on those public or civic virtues we've been discussing.

A woman can be all the things that 'a man can be, without losing the vote.' The question is, which of these should cause someone to lose the vote? The implication is that at least some of them should.

(I have occasionally been given to the drinking of beer, so perhaps I've already achieved Elise's condition of suggesting "principles for limiting the franchise that would eliminate him or herself from the pool of acceptable voters." On the other hand, I have always dissented from the Women's Temperance Movement on their interpretation of temperance as abstinence. Still, it's certainly highly likely that they would have excluded me!)

The wider point is that the defense of womens' suffrage does not depend, as it did not originally stand, on a notion of the importance of universal suffrage. They fought, and won, on the grounds of virtue: of the virtues of women, and the consequent immorality of denying them the vote. I think that was the right ground, and I suspect it remains the right ground.

Plato, Public Character, Australia

Plato, Public Virtue, and Australia:

Cassandra had an interesting post yesterday that I've already cited a couple of times, but let's do it once more. It deserves a top-level discussion.

Classical thinkers like Plato were very much concerned with encouraging responsibility and public virtue because they - like our Founding Fathers - considered these qualities essential to the survival of a free society. I hear a lot of talk about freedom these days but precious little about accountability. Freedom cannot long exist where men seek to be excused from the consequences of their freely made decisions. Such men can neither control nor support themselves.

We have become a society that will accept no limits on individual freedom - not even those imposed by nature and consequence.
This is very well said. I noted in the comments:
I was just reading the Charmides this week. It's interesting because it's a discussion of the virtue of duty, sophrosyne. (This is often translated as "temperance," or "moderation," or "self-control," but the real trick to sophrosyneis that it's about understanding your duty, and then doing it.)

One could read the Charmides as comical -- no one in the dialogue actually appears to have the virtue, as Socrates is being tempted by lust, Charmides by liquor, and Critias by pride. Or one could read it as a purely philosophical exploration of the difficult of defining a word that we think we understand, which is how it is usually read.

But the real point of the dialogue is unspoken, because the Greeks reading the dialogue would have known the history: Critias becomes one of the leaders of the Thirty Tyrants, which executes many Athenians and restricts their traditional rights. Charmides joins him in this as one of their officers. Both of them are killed in the ensuing civil war.

Or take the Laches, wherein Laches and Nicias are talking with Socrates, who challenges them to define "courage." They cannot do so; and this is the same Nicias we read about in Plutarch, who lost the Sicily campaign out of timidity. It was the loss of the war with Sparta that caused the Thirty Tyrants to come to power in the first place.

These questions of character have real and severe consequences. Plato could see them clearly from where he sat, following a loss of war to a foreign power, a tyranny set up by the Spartans to rule over the people of Athens, and a brutal civil war. All that could have been avoided, he thought, had the leaders been better men.
Today in The Australian, there's an article that argues that the new Green Party is the party of these civic virtues.
ARE the Australian Greens the party of libertines? Sydney's Catholic Archbishop Cardinal George Pell thinks so, dubbing their influence poisonous.

The Australian Sex Party agrees, recently expressing indignation that the Greens could betray their principles by endorsing candidates (including myself) critical of pornography.

Both the sex industry and moral conservatives see the Greens as the political torchbearers for the liberation movements of the 1960s and 70s. Yet a consideration of what it actually stands for suggests that, rather than being the party of extremes that its critics want it to be, the Greens are the party of moderation....

While the Greens embody many of the social values that defined Australia after World War II, their philosophical roots go back to the foundations of Western civilisation.

Indeed, it may be said that the Australian Greens are the party of Plato, the original philosopher of the West, who described the four cardinal virtues as self-control (sophrosyne), prudence (phronesis), resilience (andreia) and justice (dikaioasyne).

When applied to our fellow humans as well as to the natural world, these virtues are precisely what the Australian Greens stand for.

If after this election the Greens hold the balance of power in the Senate, Plato's spirit will come alive in our upper house.
Now, as we noticed from the Timaeus, being 'the party of Plato' ought to be a warning sign as much as a point of praise. Some of his ideas were great, and some more problematic.

The idea of public virtue, and its importance to politics, is nevertheless a solid point. It's also part of our broader discussion: how do we decide what it is? Are there any qualities observable at a distance (i.e., that voters who do not actually know the candidates can see) that are reliable guarantees, or does the sinful nature of humankind mean that the best we can do is look for proxies for virtue? What proxies should these be? What do we really want in candidates for office, or those whom we choose to consult about the future and direction of the nation?

These are important questions. Cassandra is very much on the right track in looking for responsibilities as the root of rights, I think; but then, I would say that, because it is an expression of the idea that our liberties (and rights) lie on a foundation of mutual service and fealty. That is to say, it is entirely compatible with the idea of frith discussed below, or Dr. Painter's ideas about the feudal roots of liberty and our rights.

What do you think? These are challenging times, and if there is an answer to these problems we face, part of it must lie here.

The Christian Party

The Christian Party:

I've long thought -- and occasionally argued here -- that the future of the Republican Party would be in transitioning to an explicitly Christian party. This would be a retrenchment, but also an expansionist opportunity for them if they could reach out to Catholics as well as the Protestant denominations that have long been strong in the Republican political body. It might allow them to expand into the northeast somewhat, where there are relatively more Catholics; but more importantly to the party's long term future, it could be a bridge to the Hispanic and Latino communities. It might even allow them to end the division between themselves and the black community, whose Christian tradition is both strong and inspiring.

Reading the transcripts and news accounts of the Restoring Honor rally today, I think that process is well underway. It will be interesting to see how it plays out, as many Christian principles are at odds with old interpretations of the First Amendment's establishment clause; there is also a very large and well-organized movement on the left against Christian expressions in public spaces. Still, it is the most obvious route for a party that needs to evolve, and which is looking for a common unifying principle that can expand its base while allowing it to remain the relatively-conservative option. It will be an interesting, and potentially explosive, transition.

UPDATE: A small distinction:

In a way, the rally today mirrored rallies held for then-candidate Barack Obama in 2007 and leading up to the election of 2008. Both this rally and many of Obama’s featured mesmerizing speakers, who chose to inspire audiences by rhetorically empowering them to take matters into their own hands.

While Beck’s rally emphasized belief in God, Obama’s generally emphasized himself as a savior of the American people.
Yeah, that's kind of a big difference actually.

Counting Crowds

Counting Crowds

Regardless of what you think of either Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin, I'm getting tired of the MSM's complete inability to report accurately on crowds drawn to any event they approve or disapprove of. They're somewhat past the point of last year's ridiculous attempt to describe huge Tea Party events as drawing "dozens" or "hundreds" of attendees -- when they deigned to admit the events were occurring at all -- but they've still got a pretty heavy thumb on the scale.

Here's a picture of today's Washington rally, reported by the AP as drawing a crowd of "tens of thousands." How many people would the AP say were in that crowd if it were an anti-Beck or anti-Palin rally? The Washington Post claimed 1.8 million people attended the Obama inauguration. Here is a site that tried to compare those estimates with attendance at the 9-12-09 Tea Party rally, including crowd photography and aerial shots. Was the 9-12-09 Tea Party a crowd of a million, a few hundred thousand, or "up to 30,000"? Depends whether you ask the MSM or people willing to try to do an honest count.

Voting Mechanics

Voting Mechanics

Once you figure out who can vote, you still have to run the election in a way that inspires confidence. For at least ten years, this has been a fraught subject, in at least two ways: controversies over who is registered (or is allowed to vote regardless of iffy registration status), and controversies over the accuracy or honesty of the tabulation.

Here's a headache I'm glad I don't have. Early yesterday, the warehouse holding virtually all of Houston's (Harris County) 10,000 voting machines burned to a crisp. That's $30 million worth of machines called "eSlates," and their accompanying "judge booth controllers" or JBCs, expected to be used in a county with 1.9 million registered voters in 884 precincts.

The County Clerk, Beverly Kaufman, is a capable and efficient administrator with 16 years on the job who plans to retire this December. Her last election promises to be a doozy. Early voting starts in 51 days in what is expected to be a very high-turnout election that includes a gubernatorial race.

Until the late 1990s, Harris County still used punch ballots. They had switched to the eSlates by the time of the 2000 presidential race, and now everyone is thoroughly used to them, though suspicions continue over the lack of a paper trail for this fully electronic system. I used to think those suspicions were overblown, but I've come to see the value in a paper trail. If there is controversy over an eSlate, all you can do is argue about whether programmers got improper access to the machine. My current county uses a combination of eSlate and something called eScan. The eScan machines require the voter to blacken little boxes on a paper ballot, then feed it through a scanner. If the machine has trouble reading the ballot, it spits it back for correction. If there is a later dispute over whether the scanning and tabulation process has been jimmied, the paper ballots are held in an inside box, so a spot audit could detect a discrepancy -- a prospect I would expect to deter anyone attempting to defraud the system unless he could be sure of uniform cooperation at the precinct and county level. If you get enough people in the conspiracy, any system can be gamed, but the larger it has to be, the less likely it is to be carried off successfully.

I don't envy Ms. Kaufman; I expect she will be putting out an emergency call to all the other 253 Texas counties for the loan of some eSlates. The fire department is investigating arson. As usual, there already were calls for investigations into the voting system pending, so there will be accusations flying about who was most interested in hiding the evidence.

Just before each election, the county clerk issues the voting machines to the election judges, who are expected to ensure their security overnight and during the election day. Before today I never gave any thought to how secure the machines were for the rest of the year.

Principles and the Franchise

Principles and the Franchise:

Many of you have been following the debate over the last few days, mostly conducted at Cassandra's but also here and at Elise's place, on the issue of the franchise. Of these, Elise categorically rejects, as unprincipled and immoral, the idea of limiting the franchise; Cassandra rejects the idea as well, categorically for all biological distinctions, and on other grounds for service-based distinctions. T99 appears to be interested in the idea, but believes that the safest position is universal suffrage.

I have been arguing that we might reasonably talk through the idea of limiting the franchise -- in other words, I disagree with Elise that the idea is immoral by nature. I agree with her, and with Cassandra, that biological distinctions are categorically unacceptable as a standard (other than youth, which is non-controversial as we all appear to agree that children should not be able to vote). I'm going to talk a bit more about where I think the idea may be worth exploring in a moment, but first I want to address one of Elise's concepts.

Elise raises the objection that the concept of limiting the franchise is "unprincipled," in that it is not based on a moral principle, but mere pragmatism. There are two replies to that objection that ought to be made.

First, political philosophy has to have an element of pragmatism in formulating its principles. We have heard, for example, that 'the Constitution is not a suicide pact.' This means that, if some application of a Constitutional principle would destroy the Republic, the Constitution may be set aside.

That is not 'unprincipled.' Rather, it is one of the principles. This is akin to the "feasibility" loophole in Just War Theory's idea of jus ad bellum: if a war cannot be won, no matter how fully justified it may otherwise be on grounds of self-defense or sorrowful humanity, the war cannot be justified. War always causes harm, and therefore there must be a pragmatic chance that the war will be able to achieve success: you cannot morally wage a war simply because your heart is pure. You have to have a chance to win, or otherwise you're killing people for no reason. You may be right on every other principle, but you have to be right on this one too.

So, to justify considering limiting the franchise, we would need to show that the current franchise is causing what T99 refers to as a "feedback loop" whereby the government-dependent classes are voting themselves wealth from the public treasury at a rate that is likely to destroy the Republic. That position would need to be thoroughly argued, which is not the business of this piece. At a glance, though, it is not infeasible that we are indeed facing such a contingency.

Second, it is in fact the case that there are principles that would justify limiting the franchise. We discussed Alexander Hamilton's -- which he took from Blackstone -- at Cassandra's place today. This is the relevant part of the Blackstone quote Hamilton cited.

If it were probable that every man would give his vote freely and without influence of any kind, then, upon the true theory and genuine principles of liberty, every member of the community, however poor, should have a vote in electing these delegates, to whose charge is committed the disposal of his property, his liberty, and his life. But since that can hardly be expected in persons of indigent fortunes, or such as are under the immediate dominion of others, all popular states have been obliged to establish certain qualifications...
We are accustomed to thinking that Hamilton, etc., was aiming at 'the mob,' in the way that Plato and Aristotle were deeply concerned about the negative effects of democracy. They had reason to be, as we were discussing in another post at Cassandra's today: they had seen that democracy destroy itself, lead them into wars and then refuse to commit to supporting those wars (as Nicias at Sicily was at times denied support by the legislature); they had seen it lead them into civil war; they had seen it twice suspend its constitution; they had seen it give itself to foreign powers, and domination by Sparta. They had seen it execute Socrates, who had fought for it in his youth. The Romans likewise were deeply concerned about the reality of the Roman mob.

Hamilton, though, is not really taking an aristocratic stance against the mob. He's not worried about how the mob would vote, if they could vote independently: he's worried that their domination by a powerful, wealthy figure who controls their destiny will decide them. Hamilton was not out to prevent the poor from voting, that is to say: he was out to prevent the rich from dominating the new republic with bribes, favors, and threats. What he was doing was protecting the middle class, those shopkeepers and yeoman farmers who had fought for the revolution.

That's 'pragmatism' of the sort Elise is concerned about. It's also, though, a principle: that a certain independence is required in order to be able to participate in a vote. Today we don't consider poverty a bar to independence, because we have generous public programs that are 'entitlements,' so that no one can be pushed to the point of starvation by a wealthy mill-owner. Yet consider the drug addict, whose addiction may drive him instead of his reason: is he independent enough -- does he, as Cassandra says in her post on character, have adequate character -- to participate in public life? But he may have committed no felony that would disqualify him.

I do not share Hamilton's principle. I offer it merely an example of a principle.

I have a different core principle that is causing me to look again at these issues: the concept of frith. As we begin to watch the nation tear itself apart, I naturally look toward frith as the thing we need to rebuild. And what is it? It is a concept of mutual support, common defense, and service to each other. The word is related to "friendship," and to "freedom," because it is this fellow-service that allows us to win and defend a space in which we can be free.

If this is my guiding principle here, it is not a commonly understood one; and it's one that many of you may have not encountered elsewhere. I haven't written about it for a long time, so it's possible you have forgotten even if you've been a long time reader.

The first post on the subject comes from the earliest days of the Hall, way back in March of 2003: scroll to Section V in this essay. Here is a post from 2003 on the subject. Here is one from an early debate between me and Cassandra, on shame.

The debate in 2007 has a number of parts, which begin here; then here; then Joel's first reply; my reply to him; his reply to me; mine to him; Daniel's reply.

The principle is not mine alone, however: we very recently discussed how many of our traditional liberties, including the franchise, are based in feudal service. This is much the same concept, although frith is the Old English rather than the Carolingian version of it.

I have named two groups that seem to me to be good sources: parents who faithfully raise their children, and military servicemembers. I've named something that seems promising as an example of a disqualifier: betraying your bond to your children (as for example by abandoning them without support). I'm sure there are other kinds of qualifying service, and other kinds of things that should be disqualifying; I've only begun to think this through in the last few days. I may eventually reject the idea; but I want to think about it, and talk it through.

Neither group is a pragmatic choice on Elise's terms: both are quite likely to oppose me on any given question. For example, see this post from 2004, when I talk about the frith-bond between myself and a beloved friend who disagrees with me on everything political: but this is just the kind of person, devoted to the nation and its joys, that we ought to want to enjoy the franchise however she votes.

In any event, I wanted to note that there is a principle at work here -- one that I've thought about, and written about, both at length and for a long time. I hadn't really thought about how to apply it to this question before, but if a failure of frith and a rise of government-backed plundering factions are bankrupting and destroying the nation, we may want to look at ways to use what frith remains to strengthen the republic. Looking for people who have demonstrated the virtue in their lives, and making them the chief voice in guiding our future, may be one way of doing that. There may be other ways; there may be better ways. This is why I'm thinking about the question, however.



The always-helpful Assistant Village Idiot directed me today to the new Weekly Standard's cover article on Afghanistan by P.J. O'Rourke. Sometimes O'Rourke relies a little too much on snarky one-liners, but not in this article, which is amusing but thoughtful. He interviews Aghans in an attempt to understand the real property system:

Land titles are a mess in Afghanistan, or, as the Turkmen put it with a nice Ph.D. turn of phrase, “Definition of ownership is originally ambiguous.” . . . The situation is so confused that the Soviets, of all people, attempted to impose private property in Afghanistan. “They tried to change the law, but the period was too short. Afghanistan,” the Turkmen said and laughed, “did not use the benefits of colonialism.”

He also tries to understand the legal system more broadly:

The Taliban offers bad law—chopping off hands, stoning desperate housewives, the usual things. Perhaps you have to live in a place that has had no law for a long time—since the Soviets invaded 31 years ago—before you welcome bad law as an improvement. . . . An Afghan civil society activist, whose work has put him under threat from the Taliban, admitted, “People picked Taliban as the lesser of evils.” He explained that lesser of evils with one word, “stability.” . . . A woman member of the Afghan parliament said that it was simply a fact that the Taliban insurgency was strongest “where the government is not providing services.” Rule of law being the first service a government must provide.

He muses about the understandable antipathy to foreign do-gooders:

What if some friendly, well-meaning, but very foreign power, with incomprehensible lingo and outrageous clothes, were to arrive on our shores to set things right? What if it were Highland Scots? There they go marching around wearing skirts and purses and ugly plaids, playing their hideous bagpipe music, handing out haggis to our kiddies and offending our sensibilities with a lack of BVDs under their kilts. Maybe they do cut taxes, lower the federal deficit, eliminate the Department of Health and Human Services, and the EPA, give people jobs at their tartan factories and launch a manhunt for Harry Reid and the UC Berkeley faculty. We still wouldn’t like them.

I don't know. I'd probably like them.

Snakebite Redux

Snakebite Redux

I don't believe it. The little booger got snakebit again this morning, right on the schnozz. We're guessing a cottonmouth this time, from the fact that the bites didn't bleed to speak of (not an infallible guide, but something the vet associates with moccasins), and the general muddiness of the pup. The full inch between fangmarks suggests a large cottonmouth. A painful bite, but not one that usually leads to complications.

I knew something was wrong when his buds came back without him from their morning swamp run. In case he'd found a way outside the fence, I drove around the neighborhood looking for him, but when I came back he was sort of collapsed by the back stairs, poor thing, feebly wagging his tail. Back to the vet for steroids, painkillers, and antibiotics against the filthy bite. He should be OK after lying around feeling like absolute dirt for a day or two. I'd say I'm going to pamper him if that weren't bringing coals to Newcastle.

When my dogs don't come home, I really freak out. With all the rain this summer, it's barely possible to tromp through the unusually thick brush looking for a dog who may not be able to come to me or even bark. The unusually thick, very snaky brush.

The vet told me about helping his father clean out the chicken house after Hurricane Carla when he was a boy. He used up boxes of ammunition and filled three bushels with snakes. He said this to cheer me up about how the snake population has, if anything, declined.

Never In Slavery

...And Shall Never Sound In Slavery:

UN Lying

UN Asks: "Who Are You Gonna Believe?"


The U.N. said it would not be deterred by violent threats.
...or your lying eyes?

DEA & 9th

The DEA and the 9th Circuit: Continuing to Drive a Wedge Between Americans & Government

So let's say you're lying in bed one night, and your dog starts barking. You walk out onto your back porch, and you see some guys messing around with your car. Should you shoot them?

(A) Yes, because they have invaded my property, and are probably now stealing my car, which I need for the survival and prosperity of my family; also, as a citizen, I have both the right and the duty to stop a felony in progress if I'm able. If shooting them is the necessary means to that end, it's entirely proper.

(B) No, because human life is more important than property. We don't hang people for car theft, therefore we shouldn't be free to use lethal violence to protect our cars.

(C) No, they're probably government agents, whose right to invade my property without a warrant is Constitutionally protected!

(D) Yes, because if they're thieves they ought to be shot; but if they're government agents who believe they should have the right to invade my property without both a warrant and taking clear steps to inform me of the warrant, it's even more important that they be shot.

If you said (A), I think you're right. If you said (D), I think you might be right. (B) and (C) are not acceptable answers. Unless, that is, you're the 9th Circuit.

The matter is of academic importance to me, as (a) I don't live in the 9th Circuit, thank God, and (b) I have a fence with a gate to keep the horses in.

Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, who dissented from this month's decision refusing to reconsider the case, pointed out whose homes are not open to strangers: rich people's. The court's ruling, he said, means that people who protect their homes with electric gates, fences and security booths have a large protected zone of privacy around their homes.
Well, I would hardly say we were "rich people," but such fences are more common in rural areas. In any event, it doesn't matter. The government should be forbidden from sneaking onto your property, etc. If they have cause to do all this, they should have to get a warrant. Warrants should have to be executed formally, in an open and declared way.

"But then he'd know we thought he was growing dope, and he'd quit!" Well, yeah -- right.

"But he's a bad person!" No worse than DEA agents who think they ought to be able to treat American citizens this way -- in fact, much less bad, from my perspective. Agents who don't resign in protest when told to do this kind of thing are wicked, and personally responsible for the harm they are doing to our social contract.

These DEA agents, and the judges that let them get away with it, are turning the police into the actual enemies of the People. That is a story with a very bad ending.

The Last Days of Deepwater Horizon

The Last Days of Deepwater Horizon

Maybe we won't get a good disaster movie out of this until the litigation is over, years from now, but it's not too soon to begin piecing together what went wrong. The Wall Street Journal is running a series whose third installment, today, begins, "On April 20, a small group of men aboard the Deepwater Horizon listened to the nearly complete well and didn't understand what it was telling them."

The brass were largely unavailable that day. The BP manager was on-shore for training, incommunicado. Two onsite Transocean managers were busy hosting visiting BP and Transocean executives who had arrived to applaud the rig's safety record. Everyone believed the troubles with this "nightmare well" were largely behind them. They prepared for what they thought would be the final test, after which the well would be temporarily plugged until BP was ready to tap and transport its contents.


Sing, Pallas:

Archaeologists claim they discover the palace of Odysseus!

An 8th BC century palace which Greek archaeologists claim was the home of Odysseus has been discovered in Ithaca, fuelling theories that the hero of Homer's epic poem was real.
Just one problem. "Odysseus" in the ancient Greek means "Troublemaker."* It's possible that some Greek mother named her son "Troublemaker..."

...but it's more likely that the name is properly bound to a trickster god, from a forgotten period. The heroes and the gods by the time that Homer wrote down his epics (or dictated them, as is more likely -- see Albert Lord's Singer of Tales) moved among each other quite freely, suggesting that they may have been of a similar class in earlier times. The word apotheosis means the point at which a hero achieves godhood.

So let's say instead: An interesting ancient palace has been found on Ithaca! That is no small thing, even if there never was a bow strung there, by a king dressed as a beggar, whose dog had just died.

* See G. E. Dimock, Jr., in Harold Bloom's Odysseus/Ulysses.


You're WEIRD:

Did you know that the famous Ultimatum Game doesn't play out the same way in other cultures? Westerners famously reject unfair offers:

It seems most of humanity would play the game differently. Joseph Henrich of the University of British Columbia took the Ultimatum Game into the Peruvian Amazon as part of his work on understanding human co-operation in the mid-1990s and found that the Machiguenga considered the idea of offering half your money downright weird — and rejecting an insultingly low offer even weirder.

"I was inclined to believe that rejection in the Ultimatum Game would be widespread. With the Machiguenga, they felt rejecting was absurd, which is really what economists think about rejection," Dr. Henrich says. "It's completely irrational to turn down free money. Why would you do that?"

It turns out the Machiguenga — whose number system goes: one, two, three, many — are not alone in their thinking. Most people from non-Western cultures introduced to the Ultimatum Game play differently than Westerners. And that is one clue that the Western mind differs in fundamental ways from the rest of humanity, according to Dr. Henrich. He and two other UBC researchers authored a paper shaking up the fields of psychology, cognitive science and behavioural economics by questioning whether we can know anything about humanity in general if we only study a "truly unusual group of people" — the privileged products of Western industrial societies, who just happen to make up the vast majority of behavioural science test subjects.

The article, titled "The weirdest people in the world?", appears in the current issue of the journal Brain and Behavioral Sciences. Dr. Henrich and co-authors Steven Heine and Ara Norenzayan argue that life-long members of societies that are Western, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic — people who are WEIRD — see the world in ways that are alien from the rest of the human family. The UBC trio have come to the controversial conclusion that, say, the Machiguenga are not psychological outliers among humanity. We are.


The Timaeus:

Plato's Timaeus is a story about the creation of the universe. Some of it is very resonant today, and some other parts are very difficult to grasp (why, for example, does he envision elemental theory in terms of triangles of a particular ratio?).

Right at the beginning, it offers a remarkable mixture of the two. Some of what Socrates suggests here sounds like excellent good sense; other things, like genuinely terrible ideas.

Soc. To be sure I will: the chief theme of my yesterday's discourse was the State-how constituted and of what citizens composed it would seem likely to be most perfect.

Tim. Yes, Socrates; and what you said of it was very much to our mind.

Soc. Did we not begin by separating the husbandmen and the artisans from the class of defenders of the State?

Tim. Yes.

Soc. And when we had given to each one that single employment and particular art which was suited to his nature, we spoke of those who were intended to be our warriors, and said that they were to be guardians of the city against attacks from within as well as from without, and to have no other employment; they were to be merciful in judging their subjects, of whom they were by nature friends, but fierce to their enemies, when they came across them in battle.

Tim. Exactly.

Soc. We said, if I am not mistaken, that the guardians should be gifted with a temperament in a high degree both passionate and philosophical; and that then they would be as they ought to be, gentle to their friends and fierce with their enemies.

Tim. Certainly.

Soc. And what did we say of their education? Were they not to be trained in gymnastic, and music, and all other sorts of knowledge which were proper for them?

Tim. Very true.

Soc. And being thus trained they were not to consider gold or silver or anything else to be their own private property; they were to be like hired troops, receiving pay for keeping guard from those who were protected by them-the pay was to be no more than would suffice for men of simple life; and they were to spend in common, and to live together in the continual practice of virtue, which was to be their sole pursuit.

Tim. That was also said.

Soc. Neither did we forget the women; of whom we declared, that their natures should be assimilated and brought into harmony with those of the men, and that common pursuits should be assigned to them both in time of war and in their ordinary life.

Tim. That, again, was as you say.
So far, this is mostly good -- the only thing that has reared up so far is the idea that the warrior/guardian class should not have private property. In this, and in the much stranger ideas to follow, Socrates is partially following the Spartans. It is worth remembering that Athens had come off badly against Sparta in recent history, making these radical ideas somewhat more conceivable. After all, if this is what is necessary to keep your city free, then it's not as outrageous to do some of what he is about to suggest.
Soc. And what about the procreation of children? Or rather not the proposal too singular to be forgotten? for all wives and children were to be in common, to the intent that no one should ever know his own child, but they were to imagine that they were all one family; those who were within a suitable limit of age were to be brothers and sisters, those who were of an elder generation parents and grandparents, and those of a younger children and grandchildren.

Tim. Yes, and the proposal is easy to remember, as you say.

Soc. And do you also remember how, with a view of securing as far as we could the best breed, we said that the chief magistrates, male and female, should contrive secretly, by the use of certain lots, so to arrange the nuptial meeting, that the bad of either sex and the good of either sex might pair with their like; and there was to be no quarrelling on this account, for they would imagine that the union was a mere accident, and was to be attributed to the lot?

Tim. I remember.

Soc. And you remember how we said that the children of the good parents were to be educated, and the children of the bad secretly dispersed among the inferior citizens; and while they were all growing up the rulers were to be on the look-out, and to bring up from below in their turn those who were worthy, and those among themselves who were unworthy were to take the places of those who came up?

Tim. True.

Soc. Then have I now given you all the heads of our yesterday's discussion? Or is there anything more, my dear Timaeus, which has been omitted?

Tim. Nothing, Socrates; it was just as you have said.

Soc. I should like, before proceeding further, to tell you how I feel about the State which we have described. I might compare myself to a person who, on beholding beautiful animals either created by the painter's art, or, better still, alive but at rest, is seized with a desire of seeing them in motion or engaged in some struggle or conflict to which their forms appear suited; this is my feeling about the State which we have been describing. There are conflicts which all cities undergo, and I should like to hear some one tell of our own city carrying on a struggle against her neighbours, and how she went out to war in a becoming manner, and when at war showed by the greatness of her actions and the magnanimity of her words in dealing with other cities a result worthy of her training and education. Now I, Critias and Hermocrates, am conscious that I myself should never be able to celebrate the city and her citizens in a befitting manner, and I am not surprised at my own incapacity; to me the wonder is rather that the poets present as well as past are no better-not that I mean to depreciate them; but every one can see that they are a tribe of imitators, and will imitate best and most easily the life in which they have been brought up; while that which is beyond the range of a man's education he finds hard to carry out in action, and still harder adequately to represent in language. I am aware that the Sophists have plenty of brave words and fair conceits, but I am afraid that being only wanderers from one city to another, and having never had habitations of their own, they may fail in their conception of philosophers and statesmen, and may not know what they do and say in time of war, when they are fighting or holding parley with their enemies. And thus people of your class are the only ones remaining who are fitted by nature and education to take part at once both in politics and philosophy.
What follows after this is a description of the universe that was highly influential in forming Christian theory. Plato's ideas about the Craftsman were readily received by early Christian thinkers, and this is one of the few of Plato's works that remained available throughout the Middle Ages. If you're curious how much Greek thought influenced the picture from the Old Testament, read on! Yet notice, too, that the Christians completely abandoned the idea of deforming the family to defend the state: that much, at least, they rejected as a defiance of nature. And why not? A God that is conceived of as father and son, and father to all his children, is not quite the same thing as a a god conceived as a Statesman, ordering chaos to defend an ideal cosmic state. The family lies at the core of one idea, and is dispensable to the other.

Etruscan spearheads

Horse Vest

The Airbag for Horses?

You know, I have a certain sympathy for this fellow...

Spectators gasped and expected the worst when the horse ridden by Karim Florent Laghouag somersaulted over a fence and fell on top of him at a prestigious equestrian competition last September in France.

Laghouag had taken a so-called rotational fall, a dreaded spill in the Olympic sport of eventing. At least 13 riders in the past four years were killed and several others were seriously injured in such tumbles.
No problem, though. He had an airbag -- an inflatable vest that is apparently the newest sort of "armor" for horseback riding.
“It’s certainly the biggest step forward in the safety of our sport, ever,” said Oliver Townend, a British rider who was wearing a vest in April when his horse tumbled on top of him at the Kentucky Three-Day Event in Lexington. Townend broke his sternum, four ribs, his collarbone and the tips of his shoulder bones — but he says he still believes in the vest.

“I walked out of hospital the next day, where otherwise I would be in a box or in America for a month,” Townend said in a recent phone interview.
I think people who don't ride horses may not appreciate just how dangerous it really is. Speaking of which, what do you folks think of this little filly?

Her name is Avalon; we're thinking of buying her for eventual use as a brood mare. She's a purebred Friesian, and her sire is the most extraordinary example of the breed I've ever seen.

Bare Knuckles

Bare Knuckle:

A new book on prize fighting:

The fight was held on turf, in a ring created for the occasion on the rural Mississippi Coast property of a sawdust proprietor named Charles Rich. Under the London Prize Ring rules, rounds lasted as long as both men stood, which meant they could “steal a few minutes to glare at each other, tacitly agreeing to slow down, return to their corners for a drink, and regain their strength,” Elliott J. Gorn tells us is his classic account, The Manly Art: Bare-Knuckle Prize Fighting in America, which appeared in 1986 and has just been republished in an updated edition by Cornell University Press with a new afterward by the author.

Since the Mississippi governor had placed a $1,000 bounty for Sullivan’s arrest, the champion fled Mr. Rich’s land soon after dispatching Kilrain in seventy-five rounds.

Polls and Parties

Polls and Parties

Several years ago it seemed that every time I picked up a poll, it revealed Americans divided 50/50. In election after election, the results were too close to call. I began to wonder whether the issues were so confusing that everyone was, in effect, flipping a coin.

Lately the results are more lopsided. Not always in the direction I'd prefer, but at least we seem to be developing a consensus on some issues, which (oddly) reassures me that people are attempting to apply judgment, even if mistaken, rather than random chance. Even so, it's not always possible to guess how people are going to approach an issue merely by finding out whether they self-identify as Democrat, Republican, or Independent.

Pollster Scott Rasmussen seems to have hit on a categorization that's a better predictor. He divides the public into the "Political Class" and "Mainstream Voters," a division that corresponds roughly with big-government and small-government sympathies. Rasmussen explains:

The Political Class Index is based on three questions. All three clearly address populist tendencies and perspectives, all three have strong public support, and, for all three questions, the populist perspective is generally shared by Democrats, Republicans and those not affiliated with either of the major parties. We have asked the questions before, and the results change little whether Republicans or Democrats are in charge of the government. . . .

The questions used to calculate the Index are:
  • Generally speaking, when it comes to important national issues, whose judgment do you trust more - the American people or America’s political leaders?
  • Some people believe that the federal government has become a special interest group that looks out primarily for its own interests. Has the federal government become a special interest group?
  • Do government and big business often work together in ways that hurt consumers and investors?
The categorization is not a strong predictor of political party. When Rasmussen introduced it in March 2009, 37% of "Mainstream Voters" were Republicans, 36% were Democrats, and 27% were Independent. Though more Republican and Independents were Mainstream than were Democrats, a bare majority even of Democrats were Mainstream. The Mainstream/Political split was a better predictor of the source of paychecks: 22% of government employees were aligned with the Political Class, while only 4% of private sector workers were.

The Mainstream/Political split is a strong predictor of views on many of the hot topics of recent years:

(Now to experiment with my new tool:)

A Bad Scottish Poet

On A Particularly Bad Scottish Poet:

Anthony Daniels writes:

Anyone who would demonstrate the superlative badness of McGonagall to those still unacquainted with his work is so spoilt for choice that he is likely, if he is not careful, to end up like Buridan’s ass, quite unable to make up his mind between delectations. I shall therefore, without further reflection, quote from two of his best-known works, “Address to the New Tay Bridge” and “The Tay Bridge Disaster.” The former apostrophizes the new bridge:

Beautiful new railway bridge of the Silvery Tay,
With thy beautiful side-screens along your railway,
Which will be a great protection on a windy day,
So as the railway carriages won’t be blown away,
And ought to cheer the hearts of the
passengers night and day
As they are conveyed along thy beautiful railway.

He then praises the designers of the bridge:

Thy structure to my eye seems strong and grand,
And I hope the designers, Messrs Barlow and
Arrol, will prosper for many a day
For erecting thee across the beautiful Tay.
And I think nobody need have the least dismay
To cross o’er thee by night or by day.

Unfortunately, this last thought proved mistaken, as we learn in the next poem:

Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay!
Alas! I am very sorry to say
That ninety lives have been taken away
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember’d for a very long time.

The bridge had collapsed and a train had plunged into the river below. McGonagall concludes his dramatic poem with some reflections on engineering:

your central girders would not have given way,
At least many sensible men do say,
Had they been supported on each side by buttresses
At least many sensible men confesses,
For the stronger we our houses do build,
The less chance we have of being killed.

Mr. Daniels expresses a sense that we are to pity the man for his self-destructive delusion, 'like a stroke,' that he was a great poet. It did, after all, cause him to abandon a productive career and end in poverty.

Is it true, though, that poetry lies in pity? That may prove true, in a close reading of Homer or the Beowulf, or the Wanderer; and if it is true, then the pitiful delusion of the poet is surely as fit a subject of poetry as anything else. Too, given that the matter of the Tay bridge fooled the engineers of the day, it seems unfair to mock the poet. Yet many have; and indeed, he had responded to an earlier collapse of one of the ill-designed bridges by just writing another praise-poem.

So let us consider the question. Just how bad was he? We may wish to consider other famous lines of his:
Alas! Lord and Lady Dalhousie are dead, and buried at last,
Which causes many people to feel a little downcast.
Or this:
He was a public benefactor in many ways,
Especially in erecting an asylum for imbecile children to spend their days.
Or this:
He told me at once what was ailing me;
He said I had been writing too much poetry,
And from writing poetry I would have to refrain,
Because I was suffering from inflammation on the brain.

A Wedding

A Wedding:

I have just returned from the wedding of my favorite cousin, who is twelve years younger than me and is thus also a child of the Year of the Tiger. For that cause, I am not prepared to discuss the next chapter of Njal's Saga today; but I will try to write something on the subject tomorrow.

In the meanwhile enjoy this, which is very much in the spirit of the Hall.