Apparently the makers of Cassidy's ad received certain complains.
I thought that was a most civilized reply.
My favorite drink appeared today. It's available for about two months of the year, from sometime in November until the end of Yuletide.
Fine stuff. It reminds me of a joke, though. I was shopping for a birthday card, and I came across one that said something like:
"Happy birthday! I consulted a prominent astrologer to learn about your stars, and now I know which sign has the greatest influence on your life."
You open up the card, and a sign folds out that reads: "BAR."
Well, it's Friday. Be merry.
I was asked to link to Cassandra's Demotivator's post, as a part of the VALOUR-IT challenge. Asked, and by a lady of noble spirit, I obey.
I would have done it sooner, but I wanted to think of a good demotivator. The truth is, while I had some good ones last year, I can't think of anything this year.
One of you wrote today to ask me after something I once wrote on how a gentleman ought to apologize. I can't remember where it was, and I haven't found it; but it takes only a moment to spell out the rules. The rules are simple. A gentleman is a fighting man, and is therefore meant to be frank.
1) Take responsibility for the fault.I realize that can be very hard. I didn't say it was easy, though; I said it was simple. There is a sense in which God is simple. That doesn't make it easy to understand his nature; in fact, it makes it much harder.
2) Explicitly say either "I am sorry" or "I apologize."
3) In a few words, explain yourself without attempting to excuse yourself.
That's what Carl Von Clausewitz said, though: 'In war, everything is simple; and the simplest things are hard.'
Speaking of what is hard, a harder thing to do than to give a good apology is to receive one. I hold with Alexander Dumas, who wrote -- I can't seem to find the precise quote of his either -- that a gentleman can do no more than apologize. Once that has been done, his honor is neatly concerned with having his apology received on honorable terms. If that is also done, he can do very much more: but if it is not done, he cannot.
It is therefore of chief importance that we learn to accept an honest and sincere apology. We are enjoined to forgive everything, and love our enemies as well as our neighbors. That is another simple rule that proves very hard.
Yet there it is.
If no one else is going to get to it, I guess it's up to me to remind us of today's date.
Remember, remember, the Fifth of NovemberI'm giving you early warning so you can get your bonfires going for tonight, and prepare your bangers and mash, bonfire toffee, parkin, and baked potatoes.
'Twas Gunpowder Treason and plot.
I see no reason why Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
And the eyes of Guthrum altered,
For the first time since morn....
As such a tall and tilted sky
Sends certain snow or light,
So did the eyes of Guthrum change,
And the turn was more certain and more strange
Than a thousand men in flight.
For not till the floor of the skies is split,
And hell-fire shines through the sea,
Or the stars look up through the rent earth's knees,
Cometh such rending of certainties,
As when one wise man truly sees
What is more wise than he....
King Guthrum was a great lord,
And higher than his gods--
He put the popes to laughter,
He chid the saints with rods,
He took this hollow world of ours
For a cup to hold his wine;
In the parting of the woodways
There came to him a sign....
Far out to the winding river
The blood ran down for days,
When we put the cross on Guthrum
In the parting of the ways.
The rise of the Tea Party movement, in short, suggests that fears of civic disengagement in the United States may have been exaggerated. When motivated by a compelling set of issues, it seems that Americans can still put together an impressive campaign, spontaneously, swiftly, and with little professional leadership or guidance. Whatever their inclination toward “bowling alone,” they are capable of working together when necessary. For that reason alone, the philanthropic world should find at least some comfort in the Tea Party’s accomplishments.
Read and enjoy!
I know I said yesterday the new House would be chilly to proposals for a California bailout, but my husband points out we're already on the hook for some of that. The Spendulus Bill that contributed so heavily to the wave of voter revulsion on Tuesday left us with a little gift that's still giving: the "Build America Bonds Program." ("Build" is being used here in its technical progressive sense of "throwing tax revenues at cronies who demonstrate some tenuous connection to economic activity as long as it involves unions.") The bonds are not tax-exempt, like most munis. The Obama administration is said to disfavor tax-exempt munis, which mostly benefit high-bracket investors for whom tax deductions are more valuable. But as unpopular as tax-exempt munis may be with the current administration's financial team, they felt compelled to address the credit-crunch-induced 17% drop in muni sales between 2007 and 2008. They chose to address it with a program that directly subsidized the interest burden on taxable debt issued for capital projects:
Since its introduction last year, the Build America program has come to account for about 26 percent of the muni-bond market, and October was its biggest month yet.The program expires at the end of 2010. Will the lame-duck Congress extend it? Worse, will the new House extend it? In the meantime, program participants are issuing federally guaranteed bonds like crazy in the time they have left. But they're finding that the spreads are growing. Does this reflect an increasing unease over whether the issuers will be expected to foot the bill for their own interest obligations in the near future, or just a recognition that the market is about to be flooded with issuances by users trying to get in under the wire? Bloomberg reports:
One reason: Issuers were scrambling to take advantage of the program's benefits — which include the federal government footing the bill for 35 percent of the bonds' interest costs. Of course, demand for the bonds, now a significant cornerstone of the $2.8 trillion muni market, has also been strong.
Build America Bonds, the fastest- growing part of the $2.8 trillion municipal debt market, are poised for the biggest monthly loss in 2010 as an increased supply of the taxable debt drives up yields.
States and municipalities have sold about $4.9 billion of the federally subsidized securities this week, the most since the five-day trading period ended April 24, 2009, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Issuers have placed 49 offerings for sale, the highest number since the program’s creation by the economic stimulus package in February 2009, Bloomberg data show.
President Obama announced on Monday of this week a proposal to expand the Build America Bonds program to include refinancing some existing debt and covering "short-term governmental operating costs." In other news, the Fed is going ahead with a $600 billion purchase of treasuries in order to prop those prices up, too. What could go wrong? When we finish bailing out the states and everyone else we can think of, someone surely will bail out the U.S. I'm sure they'll be nice enough not to impose any onerous conditions.
This is the fourth time I have written about national election results on this blog; first in 2004, then 2006, and last in 2008. The elections have swung wildly: 2000, 2002 and 2004 were the swing toward Republicans, and then 2006-8 were the swing away from the Republicans. Now there is a swing back, historic in size but still insufficient to yield control of more than one house of Congress.
The lesson in each of these elections has been that the Federal government is too powerful relative to the states and the citizenry. It matters too much who wins. It shouldn't be so big a deal; it wouldn't be, if we could re-balance the load along constitutional lines.
It's not just the elected branches suffering from this strain: we can't fill Federal judgeships because the power invested in Federal courts has become so great. There's no room left for trust, whether it's for liberal senators considering a conservative judge or conservative senators considering a liberal one. The courts have taken on so much power that they are breaking under the weight of it.
I don't find that these recent results make me feel any better about the direction of the country. They have staunched the bleeding in some respects, but there remains a lot of harm that can be done by bad policy; and no way to address the structural problems, because the divided government won't be able to make the changes we need.
The Federal government by necessity imposes one-size fits all solutions on the people of the United States. The lesson of these wild swings is partially that there are strong minorities with deep opposition in their world views. We will continue to experience distrust as long as we have to believe that our way of life is threatened by the other side of the aisle. We have little choice but to believe that as long as the Federal government claims the power to ignore or revise the Constitution on the fly, and as long as it continues to ignore the hard limits imposed by the Constitution, especially the 10th Amendment.
Both liberals and conservatives would feel far more secure and at ease in their nation if we stopped using the Federal government to force major changes on the whole Republic. Forcing issues like abortion and the nature of marriage with Federal power is causing us to tear apart at the seams.
This is to say nothing of the power it has claimed to promise our children's generation enormous debts, in order to spend today; just as it placed those now entering their age a future of poverty when it spent the so-called "trust fund," and failed to lay aside adequately to fund its pensions.
This is a weapon that needs to be unmade. The only way to restore peace and stability to the Republic is to make the Federal government surrender much of its power to the states and to the People, and to obey and abide by the Constitution according to the intent of the framers, or the original intent of the amendments.
We must also address the spending habits of the government. Only this last item shows any real hope for improvement from this week's elections. As I said, it's a way of staunching some of the bleeding; but it doesn't close the wound, and it doesn't mean we've healed.
From the point of view of the states, it's not just the governor's mansions that changed hands yesterday. Because over 500 state legislative seats turned from blue to red, Republicans now hold the majority in both chambers of 26 state legislatures. Nor did Democrats fare well in state and local school board elections.
All this points to massive changes in states' approaches to their widespread budget crises, especially those stemming from defined-benefit pension obligations. As J.P. Friere points out, lately New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has been getting all the publicity as he battles entrenched teachers' unions. Now, all public sector unions in at least half the states in the country can expect a headwind. And don't forget the vouchers, guys.
Via Cassy Fiano, whose blog I've been reading on account of her participation in the Marine Team, Project VALOUR-IT(!), an examination of the question of whether chivalry is necessarily sexist. The philosophical inquiry into the question begins at the 1:50 mark.
The answer given to what about chivalry is sexist is this: "The notion of gender difference whereby women are these sort of... you know, the dainty, delicate, in need of assistance... sort of the 'women and children first' on the liferaft."
Some people are certainly guilty of making such assumptions about women; but chivalry is not guilty of them. For example, consider the following plate from the work of Hans Talhoffer, a fifteenth-century master of arms. It is telling for two reasons:
1) It treats a judicial duel. In an era when every legal question could be resolved by such a duel, women might well find themselves wanting to fight one. The assumption of modern readers is that they were therefore placed in a position of 'needing assistance' -- as from a champion, perhaps. Not so! The medievals simply balanced the playing field, by constructing rules that made for a fair fight. The man is required to fight with a wooden club (limiting his force and the effectiveness of any martial training), while standing in a pit two feet deep. The woman swings a stone in her veil, of about five pounds -- around the weight of a small sledgehammer.
That a master of arms like Talhoffer -- who made his living teaching fighting skills -- went to the trouble of drawing up such plates indicates that this was common enough that prospective clients were worried about it.
2) The plate here is described as follows: "The woman has grasped the man's head from behind to pull him out of the pit onto his back, and strangle him." In other words, no one thought she would be dainty.
This series of plates, by the way, ends with a plate described as follows: "The woman has the man locked in a hold by the neck and the groin, and pulls him out of the pit." If you want to see the plate (and many others nearly as interesting), it's available in Medieval Combat by Hans Talhoffer, trans. & ed. by Mark Rector.
We've talked about all this before, of course, but it's important to separate 19th-century ideas from the original fighting ideas. Chivalry as an term didn't treat of women originally; it was at first just a name for a band of horsemen. Eventually it became an ethic, one based on feudal loyalty. The language of courtly love is the language of feudal oaths, with service and loyalty being a mutual bond: one between lady and knight, as between lord and knight. It was an ethic of mutual service and love, whereby I helped you and cared for you, and you aided me in return. The lady was often of greater power and status; there was much she could do for a young knight, in return for his friendship and service. This was as true for the feudal bond between lord and knight, as for the courtly bond between lady and knight.
If chivalry is "sexist," it is so in the sense of recognizing a difference between the sexes with the intent of honoring it. It is no insult; practiced properly, it entertains no insults. It is only an offer of service and friendship, in the hope that such service and such friendship will meet with a fit reply.
In the frank offer, at least, it is the language of equals. To the degree that this is an illusion, it is an illusion because the knight is the weaker party. In making an offer in the language of equals, he is the one who is making bold.
Having been raised Presbyterian, I encountered the concept of saints fairly late -- initially just as honorifics associated with certain people who had either known Jesus directly (St. Mark, St. Luke, St. John, etc.), or people who were important thinkers about the nature of God (St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, etc).
I learned about other ways that people became saints later in boyhood, though still within the context of a church that didn't really believe in the idea of saints in Catholic terms. Still, I learned that some saints had become saints by overseeing the baptism of many people -- for example, St. Vladimir, St. Edwin of Northumbria, and St. Olaf. Others became saints by allowing themselves to become martyrs for the faith -- including the patron saints of England and Scotland. The one is St. George, about whom not very much beyond martyrdom can safely be said; the other is St. Andrew, who also qualified as an Apostle and one who was close to Jesus in his lifetime. (Most confusing of all is St. Michael, for whom the title almost seems like a demotion.)
The idea of martyrs didn't make much sense to me as a boy. I think that is unusual: I gather what normally doesn't make sense to people are the St. Olafs and St. Edwins, who achieved their sainthood by the sword. For someone raised in the Appalachian Scots-Irish tradition, that part made perfect sense. For that matter, there was no trouble about understanding -- since we were just talking about The Alamo, below -- martyrs who went down fighting. Of course those are heroes of the faith!
The idea that my boyhood self found confusing was that of martyrs who went placidly to their deaths. I think I understood that the idea was that this behavior was in emulation of Jesus himself; but (as I recall my childhood thoughts) the point of Jesus doing it was so that the rest of us didn't have to. I was under the impression that Jesus hadn't wanted us to emulate him in that particular way; and furthermore, I reasoned later in life, hadn't he told his disciples to arm themselves with swords precisely to avoid being martyred with him?
By the same token, however, Jesus' remarks when the sword is used to defend him are interesting. There are two versions, one clear and the other unclear. In Luke, the followers ask if they should strike with their swords, and one does; Jesus says, "No more of this," heals the would given, and goes off with his captors. In Matthew, Jesus rebukes the disciple who strikes directly, saying that all will die with the sword who slay with it.
The Matthew version appears to suggest that Jesus intended to license self-defense and defense of the human community from physical dangers; but not the use of the sword to protect him personally. By extension, the suggestion is that he would not approve of war for religion -- whether Crusades or conquests of the type St. Olaf led.
The Luke version is unclear; we are left as mystified as his own followers about whether to use the swords or not, in general terms. We just know that he wanted us to have them, but thought the one blow given in his defense was enough -- or was irrelevant to his purpose.
In any case, martyrs have been from the earliest days among the most beloved and venerated of saints. What was puzzling to me as a boy was natural and obvious to very many others.
The idea of having a day for celebrating all the saints. It's a good reminder that the tradition contains many people who have contributed to the faith in different ways. Some of these ways are puzzling -- martyrdom to me, sword-bearing to others -- but we have a certain debt to each of them. It is wise to reflect on that.
UPDATE: Martyrs are made today, at a church in Baghdad.
If we are speaking of virtue, bravery and Fortune, we might take a moment to remember some of our brave and virtuous men who have suffered from her ill winds. Project VALOUR-IT aims at helping them in the hard first moments, and giving them a better shot at the rest of their lives.
It isn't only their virtue that matters in facing down the winds of Fortune. It's ours too: our friendship, our sense of justice, and honor. Please consider donating if you have the means.
A talk on facing Fortuna in the modern world:
Today, conspiracy theory has gone mainstream, and many of its most vociferous promoters can be found in radical protest movements and amongst the cultural left. Increasingly, important events are viewed as the products of a cover-up, as the search for the ‘hidden hand’ manipulating a particular story comes to dominate public life. Conspiracy theory constructs worlds where everything important is manipulated behind our backs and where we simply do not know who is responsible for our predicament. In such circumstances, we have no choice but to defer to our fate.The Roman idea about Goddess Fortune is not the only one superior to mere conspiracy theory, however: the Medieval ones were also superior. The two basic answers, St. Augustine's and Boethius', are quite different. Each has something to recommend itself. Compare Boethius' account with the Book of Job, for example.
It is through conspiracy theories that Fortuna reappears – but it does so in a form that is far more degraded than in Roman times. To their credit, the Romans were able to counterpose virtus to Fortuna. In a precautionary culture, however, fortune favours the risk-averse, not the brave.
There's a piece on the anniversary of John Wayne's classic at Big Hollywood today.
The Alamo was a Grim's Hall Movie Club movie back in April 2006. If you're interested in rereading our discussion, we talked about the mythic themes that Wayne explored.
In the Iliad, these heroes are Agamemnon, Achillles, and Odysseus. In the Alamo, they are Col. Travis, Jim Bowie, and Davy Crockett.
Travis asserts his authority through military discipline, and right of command. He is willing to speak insultingly to Jim Bowie to shut down challenges to his orders ('You were drunk at the last officer's call, and I do not wish to discuss my plans until the next'). He is willing to publicly slur the credibility of friendly Mexican caballeros....
Bowie and his men (like Achilles' Myrmidons) are volunteers, and can leave when they wish. Travis needs them to hold until aid can arrive. He also needs the help of another body of volunteers who arrive under the command of another hero, Davy Crockett.
Crockett appears less of a hero to Travis than his reputation would suggest. Travis is not happy to find his Crockett and his men brawling and drinking, and he refers to Crockett's usual manner of speech as a 'bumpkin act.' Yet when he hears Crockett's speech about the Republic, he is taken aback. So it was said of Odysseus:
One might have taken him for a mere churl or simpleton; but when he raised his voice, and the words came driving from his deep chest like winter snow before the wind, then there was none to touch him.
How about a little Irish legendry appropriate to the Feast of Samhain?
Fionn decided that he was ready to become a warrior and he went to the High King Cormac Mac Art at his hall in Tara, Co. Meath and announced that he was Fionn son of Cumhail and that he had come to take his place among the Fianna and to serve Cormac. Cormac took Fionn into the Fianna although Goll Mac Morna and his brothers murmured against this particularly Goll who was now the captain of the Fianna having helped to kill Cumhail, Fionn's father.Not every encounter with the faery is reported to have gone badly. Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene was the lady who held St. George's service and fealty; and she did well by him, the poet tells us.
It was nearing Samhain and every year for the past nine years a warrior from the Sidhe Finnachaidh of the Tuatha De Danann by the name of Aillen Mac Midhna came to Tara to cause havoc among the Fianna. He had burned the roof of Tara with his magic and had caused all the warriors to fall into a deep sleep with his Faery music.
When he heard this Fionn went before Cormac Mac Art and promised to rid him of this nuisance providing that his right of inheritance to the title of captain be honoured. Cormac swore to fulfill this request on the surety of all the tributary kings of Ireland and all his royal Druids.
The night before the warrior of the sidhe was going to appear, one of Cormac's men Fiacha Mac Conga, who had served with Fionn's father and was therefore protective towards him, came to Fionn and offered his help. He gave Fionn a magical spear which made the sound of battle when it was unsheathed and when it was laid on the forehead of the warrior who carried it he would be protected from evil magic.
So Fionn took the magical spear and went out against Aillen Mac Midhna and killed him. He struck off his head and carried it back to Tara and put it up on a pole for all to see.
When dawn broke and the High King and all his retinue awoke from their enchanted sleep, Cormac called Fionn before him and invested him with the captaincy of the Fianna in accordance with his promise.