Out of the Wilderness and into the Wild

I will be gone to the Wild for a week, from Palm to Easter Sunday.  I will be traveling the Blue Ridge from the Nantahala to the George Washington forests, and camping for a night or two in the Shenandoah national park.  Mostly, though, I will keep to the forests.

On the subject of which, I have been reading a very interesting book:  Corinne J. Saunders' The Forest of Medieval Romance:  Avernus, Broceliande, Arden.  Dr. Saunders is comfortable in English from Old to Middle to Modern, as well as several forms of medieval French and Latin.  As such she has created a wonderful book on how the forest was portrayed in the period's literature, but with an introductory chapter on the sources for Medieval conceptions of the forest.

She argues there are three sources that get run together in the romantic literature:  the legal status of the forest in the Germanic and post-Roman world; the Biblical desert or wilderness, which was a place for training for purity as well as for seeking God; and a neoplatonic thread that tended to think of the forest (silva) in the way that the ancient Greeks had thought of the wood (hyle).

We have talked about the basic conflict between the form, or order, that Christianity assigns to God (logos); against that, in Plato's Timeaus and in the neoplatonic tradition, which includes many Christian thinkers, is the underlying chaos that God is forming ("And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.").  In the romance, this plays out in the forest:  the town, like the garden, is the place where men have helped to bring order to the primal chaos of nature.  The forest is the home of outlaws, bandit knights, wild beasts, and demons:
There the monk encounters the demon, an encounter that it must be said is inevitable, for the demon is at home in the desert. (Saunders, 15)
It is also the home of the faerie, whose name properly means Fates, who for the ancients are the true powers of this world.  These are the things that, as Tex's source reminds us, the Saxons expected even God to have to answer:  and the glory of Christ, over Woden, was in conquering.
Christ tells his followers to not resist, but in the Saxon version it is because he must undergo ‘the workings of fate’, the ultimate determinant of reality to the pagan Germanic peoples. When he is crucified, the cross is interpreted as a tree or gallows, which would have seemed similar to the hanging of Woden in the cosmic tree when he tried to learn the riddle of death and discovered the mysterious runes...  
Once resurrected, the warrior Christ becomes greater than Woden having escaped his own fated death with his own power and ascending to the right hand of God; the old Gods have been replaced by the Saxon saviour.
If it pleases the fates, I shall return to you on Easter.  I bid you a good week.

A New Approach to Movies?

It would be nice if we could find an alternative to the Hollywood system that keeps turning out these pieces of dross.  Amazon has apparently decided on an approach whereby they will storyboard movies and then put them up for customers to view.

This one appears to be a cross between Raiders of the Lost Ark and Crimson Skies.  You can watch it, and then go to their studio website to let them know if you'd go and see such a film in the theater -- should they invest in producing it.

Hey, Looks Like They're Remaking "Snow White"...

I wonder how that will go?
The dwarfs... teach the princess to believe in herself in a Rocky-esque training montage of swordplay and thuggery. When Snow must face the Queen in the dark woods for their ultimate battle sequence, she says to Prince Alcott, a handsome nothing played by Armie Hammer (a Romney son would have worked just as well), "I've read so many stories where the prince saves the princess. I think it's time we change that ending. This is my fight."
How unexpected.  I'm sure audiences will be stunned.

MMA Ancient-Style

Pankration was such a bloody sport that it had only two known rules: no eye-gouging and no biting. Aside from these restrictions, anything was fair game. Philostratos, an ancient writer who lived around the same time as Flavillianus, wrote that pankration competitors are skillful in different types of strangulation. "They bend ankles and twist arms and throw punches and jump on their opponents," (Translation from the book "Arete: Greek sports from ancient sources," Stephen Gaylord Miller, 2004).
Apparently one of the champions was such a successful military recruiter for Rome that, after he died, they created a place for him in the cult of the Band of Heroes.

Thass a lotta words just to say "Never Mind"

Apropos of our recent discussion on impenetrable scientific writing, this disguised admission from the IPCC's most recent Special Report on Extremes:

FAQ 3.1 Is the Climate Becoming More Extreme? . . . None of the above instruments has yet been developed sufficiently as to allow us to confidently answer the question posed here. Thus we are restricted to questions about whether specific extremes are becoming more or less common, and our confidence in the answers to such questions, including the direction and magnitude of changes in specific extremes, depends on the type of extreme, as well as on the region and season, linked with the level of understanding of the underlying processes and the reliability of their simulation in models. . . .

There is medium evidence and high agreement that long-term trends in normalized losses have not been attributed to natural or anthropogenic climate change . . . . The statement about the absence of trends in impacts attributable to natural or anthropogenic climate change holds for tropical and extratropical storms and tornados . . . . The absence of an attributable climate change signal in losses also holds for flood losses.

Which pretty much amounts to: "Actually, as it turns out, we have no clue." So much for Anthropogenic Global Warming Climate Change Whatever.

And by the way, Perry kicks the EPA's butt in Texas. The EPA had the same reaction as the IPCC to the pointed question from the EPA, "What's your legal authority?" Response: Your Honor, we got nuthin.

Goodnight, Mr. Scruggs:

Today marks the passage, at the fine age of eighty-eight, of bluegrass pioneer Earl Scruggs.  Here is an old documentary film about himself and his family.  It's also a rather amusing period piece in which the hippie narrator attempts to celebrate the "radical change" coming over the documentary's subject.  In fact, it was more of a detour -- and why not?  Pioneers are explorers by nature, even if at last they come home.

We were lucky to live in the right time to hear him play.

The Georgia Botanical Garden

Yesterday we rode over to the gardens, which lie just by the middle fork of the Oconee River.  Owned by the state of Georgia, it operates under the guidance of the University of Georgia, one of three claimants to the title of oldest public college in America.  It is a large facility, looped by a five mile trail that runs along the river for some distance.  There are numerous facilities and classes, including in related fields like beekeeping.  Many types of plants and, indeed, many types of gardens are featured.  I'm going to show you a few of the earlier types.

 The Herb Garden

Medieval gardens were enclosed and patterned, devoted to herbs and other useful plants.  The forest were frightening and wild:  even before the regulation of forests, they were tied to human communities by the swine who sheltered in them, by the hunter, and by outlaws.  The garden a place of order, where the goods of nature were perfected by human reason.

The Physic Garden

The herbs grown by the Medievals often had medicinal value.  In London in 1673, the Worshipful Society of Apothicaries founded a "physic garden" to provide adequate supplies of rare herbs and plants to study in the quest to improve human health.  The University of Georgia maintains this one in a knotwork pattern.


There is a small amount of formal statuary at the garden, including this fountain.  Several archways, most draped with wisteria, provide shade in the summer.


The Amphitheater is a newer addition -- you can see that the apple trees are still little more than twigs, perhaps two or three years old.  In a few years they will provide food and shade for people who come to witness outdoor plays, in a way that ties this garden to the ancient Athens for which the University's home takes its name.


A gram of silver is currently worth about a dollar.  Thus a silver coin weighing about one and a half grams is worth about a buck and a half.

Unless it was minted by Charlemagne for his coronation, in which case it is apparently worth €160,000.  That is $213,072 at what Google is giving as the current rates.

I expect it would be hard to make change.

(H/t: Medieval News).

A Better Approach to Legislation

Justice Ginsburg today made some remarks suggesting that Congress would be unfairly treated if the entirety of the health-care law should be overturned:
Mr. Clement, there are so many things in this Act that are unquestionably okay. I think you would concede that reauthorizing what is the Indian Healthcare Improvement Act changes to long benefits, why make Congress redo those? I mean it's a question of whether we say everything you do is no good, now start from scratch, or to say, yes, there are many things in here that have nothing to do frankly with the affordable healthcare and there are some that we think it's better to let Congress to decide whether it wants them in or out.  So why should we say it's a choice between a wrecking operation, which is what you are requesting, or a salvage job.
You know what would prevent Congress from being in this position in the future?  Passing discrete laws to deal with particular problems, instead of 2,700 page boilermakers that they don't even have time to read before they pass.

It would be healthy for Congress to have to go back and re-pass every good part of the bill, insofar as there are any.  For the Court to undertake to do the work of sorting this out for them is to present Congress with a kind of moral hazard:  it will make it less likely in the future that the legislature will exercise diligence in reading or considering the legislation it passes, and it will make it more likely they will continue to lump thousands of legal changes together instead of carefully considering each law as it comes up.  The American people must live under these laws, after all:  it is therefore important that no law should ever be passed without due care and consideration.

Neither this Congress nor any recent Congress has demonstrated a great deal of fortitude in the face of moral hazards.  This ought to be a consideration.

Text Anxiety

Maybe this is what's wrong with the Test.

Am I allowed to say "wrong"? Or "anxiety"?

Fighting below Krac des Chevaliers

The most famous Crusader castle in the world is the scene of current fighting in the Syrian counterinsurgency.  It was known in its day as Crac de l'Ospital, after the Knights Hospitaller who inhabited and defended its walls.  The Knights defended it valiantly until 1271, when it was captured after a brutal siege that ended with a forged letter pretending to be orders from the Grand Master to surrender the place.  The Sultan who issued the forgery honored the terms of it, though, and allowed the surviving Knights to withdraw in good order.

Medievalists.net has more details.

It lost a bit in translation

In the early 9th century, Charlemagne's missionaries translated the Gospels into Old Saxon in order to aid the conversion of their conquered enemies. Luke's description of Christ's arrest near Gethsemane is rendered under the title of "Christ the chieftain is captured, Peter the mighty soldier defends him boldly."

Christ’s warrior companions saw warriors coming up the mountain making a great din
Angry armed men. Judas the hate filled man was showing them the way.
The enemy clan, the Jews, were marching behind.
The warriors marched forward, the grim Jewish army, until they had come to the Christ.
There he stood, the famous chieftain.
Christ’s followers, wise men deeply distressed by this hostile action
Held their position in front.
They spoke to their chieftain, ‘My Lord chieftain’, they said, ‘if it should now
Be your will that we be impaled here under spear points
Wounded by their weapons then nothing would be so good to us as to die here
Pale from mortal wounds for our chieftain’.

Then he got really angry
Simon Peter, the mighty, noble swordman flew into a rage.

His mind was in such turmoil he could not speak a single word.
His heart became intensely bitter because they wanted to tie up his Lord there.
So he strode over angrily, that very daring Thane, to stand in front of his commander
Right in front of his Lord.

No doubting in his mind, no fearful hesitation in his chest he drew his blade
And struck straight ahead at the first man of the enemy with all the strength in his hands
So that Malchus was cut and wounded on the right side by the sword.
His ear was chopped off.
He was so badly wounded in the head that his cheek and ear burst open with the mortal wound
Blood gushed out, pouring from the wound.
The men stood back; they were afraid of the slash of the sword.

Which is about how Hollywood would stage it now, I suspect, except that they'd probably put the sword in Mary Magdalene's hand.

Honky Tonk Angels, and Other Glories

How about a little rockabilly this morning?

This next band appears to be Belgian, to judge from what I've been able to dig up on them, but they seem to have the spirit more or less right.  That doesn't always happen when Europeans try on American mythology.

Cheaper Than Water

I love articles that have a good appreciation for the history of a problem -- although, perhaps "problem" is too strong:
For well over a thousand years now, we’ve had a problem with “the vice of drunkenness”.  “Before the Roman came to Rye or out to Severn strode, The rolling English drunkard made the rolling English road,” as the writer GK ­Chesterton put it.  As far back as 1362, the Archbishop of Canterbury said: “The tavern is worshipped rather than the church, gluttony and drunkenness is more abundant than tears and prayers.”
...[currently supermarkets] sell cider cheaper than water.
Cheaper than water?  That was true of the beer in China when we were there.  Bottled water was quite expensive, whereas the local brew was very nearly free:  I think I worked out that it cost something like eight cents a quart.

It sounds as though earlier policies aimed at this problem have been successful.  As the article notes, in the 19th century the problem was hard liquor, especially gin.  Wise Victorians decided that they needed to make lighter drinks like wine and beer -- and cider -- cheaper and more easily available.  Thus, they passed laws that resulted in the opening of tens of thousands of beer halls.

The author agrees, finally, that this is the right road to taming the problem today:  "We need to get people back into the British boozer and not getting sozzled at home on supermarket deals."

That sounds like a well-formulated policy.  It's also important to keep things in perspective.  Since we cited an archbishop in 1362, why not consider a more famous sermon from an earlier English archbishop?

Sword-Fighting Restaurant Owner Defeats Robber

What I really like about this story is that it makes no attempt to explain why there was a sword around.  Why would it be newsworthy to find a sword in the restaurant?

The other thing about it is the sidebar listing similar stories of sword attacks.  There are a dozen of them from Florida alone.

Via FARK (of course).

No Taxation?

I share something of Dr. Althouse's bemusement at the government's arguments as presented today.  Is the penalty associated with failure to maintain insurance at HHS-approved levels a tax, or is it not a tax?  The answer appears to be both "Yes," and also "No."
The old law refers to things designated a "tax," but Congress chose not to call the penalty a "tax." To call it a tax would have further inflamed the political opposition to the health care bill. Now that the bill has passed, however, we can coolly examine what it really is, and what it really is is what counts when the question is whether Congress has an enumerated constitutional power. It really is a tax, so it's within Congress's power to tax. That's the argument.
It's not much of an argument, though, because the "old law" is still relevant. Thus, it won't do to say that this wasn't a tax by 1867's standards, but it is by today's. We have to say that right now it is not a tax, because if it were that would create negative consequences for the government's desire to resolve this issue now; and that also, right now, it is a tax because otherwise Congress has no authority to do it.

One thing that I find odd is that the administration doesn't want to take the out -- apparently they argued earlier that this was a tax (full stop), and thus that the 1867 law prevented any lawsuits until someone had paid the tax.  That would put the issue off until 2015, when presumably every insurance company in America will be well on its way to going out of business because of the costs associated with compliance.  By 2015, in other words, the law won't be subject to being overturned in the same way, because the private health-insurance market will have been crippled.  You'll be well on your way to something like single payer.

So what's the deal?  Is this a calculation by the President that he won't be re-elected, and thus putting off the court ruling a year or two is not a good idea?  An expected conservative shift in the court's composition seems like the only thing I can think of that is strong enough to shift the balance on the above calculation.  That's a not a show of confidence by the administration as to its chances for re-election.

Miss 'em both

The comments below got started on the good that Roger Miller can do for your mood. Here's a guaranteed pick-me-up with Roger Miller and Johnny Cash goofing together on stage.

John Carter of Mars

I took Joel's advice and went to see the movie tonight.  It appears to be headed to box office disaster, but I'm really not sure why.  There is quite a lot to recommend the movie.  The very few things that annoyed me about the movie seem to be greatly in line with popular culture:  the quick edits toward the beginning tracking his multiple escape attempts, for example, annoy me but are very popular just now.

Likewise -- to tie this to an earlier discussion -- there is an inexplicable scene where the heroine shows up the hero in physical combat.  The same hero personally destroys nearly an entire army a few minutes later while the heroine flees for her life; but when they are on screen together she shows him up, and he states that he ought to be hiding behind her.  Later in the movie, in case anyone missed it, they repeat the sequence.

But again, this is par for the course today.  Whatever is driving the box office troubles the movie is having, it isn't that.

I wonder if the problem is just the name.  The story dates to 1917, and had a much more evocative title in the original.  "John Carter" could be a movie about a dryer salesman.  It seems like a small thing -- a very small thing -- but perhaps the difficulties the movie is experiencing really just do come down to a name that doesn't explain the film.  One ought not to judge a book by the cover, but one very often does so all the same.


I want one right now.

H/t: oh, you know. Just go over to Rocket Science and click on all the links today. It's a good batch.

This Is Your Steak on Drugs

I wanted to write yesterday about reports that the FDA was poised to ban low-level prophylactic antibiotics in livestock, but the initial news accounts didn't make it very clear what the court was proposing. This link (h/t Rocket Science, as so often) does a good job of citing directly to the decision and providing some background and context:
[T]he Commissioner of the FDA or the Director of the [Center for Veterinary Medicine] must re-issue a notice of the proposed withdrawals (which may be updated) and provide an opportunity for a hearing to the relevant drug sponsors; if drug sponsors timely request hearings and raise a genuine and substantial issue of fact, the FDA must hold a public evidentiary hearing. If, at the hearing, the drug sponsors fail to show that use of the drugs is safe, the Commissioner must issue a withdrawal order.

The Court notes the limits of this decision. Although the Court is ordering the FDA to complete mandatory withdrawal proceedings for the relevant penicillin and tetracycline NADAs/ANADAs, the Court is not ordering a particular outcome as to the final issuance of a withdrawal order. If the drug sponsors demonstrate that the subtherapeutic use of penicillin and/or tetracyclines is safe, then the Commissioner cannot withdraw approval.

The comments to this report raise the predictable issue of whether small-government types should be up in arms or not. It's a good question. CAFOs (concentrated animal feedlot operations) are pretty horrifying from a number of points of view, not least the impact on public health. Is this one of the areas where even libertarians should welcome regulatory interference?

Nevertheless, somehow I don't see the FDA issuing a prohibition of livestock antobiotics any time soon. Much as I'd prefer to see meat raised to Joel Salatin's or Michael Pollan's standards, the bulk of our meat comes from CAFOs. No one's going to get away with shutting that industry down overnight. You think high gas prices are going to be a headache in the November elections, wait till all meat goes for pasture-raised organic prices. And what would we do with all that subsidized corn? The animals can't be fed on a pure diet of corn for months without prophylactic antiobiotics to keep it from killing them before they're fattened up.

How to Write Like a Scientist

The mournful author's Ph.D. advisor objected to the over-poetical use of the word "lone" to mean "only" in the sentence “PvPlm is the lone plasmepsin in the food vacuole of Plasmodium vivax.” It exuded romanticism and
conjured images of PvPlm perched on a cliff’s edge, staring into the empty chasm, weeping gently for its aspartic protease companions. Oh, the good times they shared. Afternoons spent cleaving scissile bonds. Lazy mornings decomposing foreign proteins into their constituent amino acids at a nice, acidic pH. Alas, lone plasmepsin, those days are gone.
This could almost as easily have been entitled "How to Write Like a Lawyer." One of the federal judges in Houston first engaged my passionate admiration by excoriating the FDIC's evil flunky lawyers' views on sovereign immunity, but I admire him almost equally for his advice on legal writing. He once told a seminar's attendees that no judge was ever going to tell us, "Son, your brief is clear, compelling, and accurate on the law -- but it's just too darn short." He asked us whether it would be too much to ask that we find a place right in the first paragraph that gave him a clue what we wanted him to do. Yes, he was sure our story of injustice was shocking and fascinating, but what kind of piece of paper signed by a federal judge did we expect to alter the sad situation? Just give him a hint. Reverse a judgment? Issue an injunction? Must he wait until page 8 to find this information? And for pity's sake, could we please name the parties something brief and comprehensible? It's easier to keep track of "the Lender" than "the consortium of loan participants for which the First National Commercial Bank, as successor in interest to National First Bank of Commerce, serves as agent for limited purposes." But lawyers agonize over these choices.

The science writer also takes on the justly-reviled passive tense:
Why can’t we write like other people write? Why can’t we tell our science in interesting, dynamic stories? Why must we write dryly? (Or, to rephrase that last sentence in the passive voice, as seems to be the scientific fashion, why must dryness be written by us?)
H/t Not Exactly Rocket Science.


No special point here:  just a beautiful piece of music for a likely spring day.


The subject of the free market crops up here regularly, often in the context of worrying about whether it's a synonym for abject materialism, or the tendency to put a crude dollars-and-cents price on everything. I prefer this statement of the purpose of studying economics, which applies as well to the operation of a free market:
We shall find that the economic relations constitute a machinery by which men devote their energies to the immediate accomplishment of each other’s purposes in order to secure the ultimate accomplishment of their own, irrespective of what those purposes of their own may be, and therefore irrespective of the egoistic or altruistic nature of the motives which dictate them and which stimulate efforts to accomplish them.
In other words, economics is about choices in a world where you can't have everything at once. As Thomas Sowell says, it's the study of the allocation of scarce resources with alternative uses. They aren't all material resources; sometimes they're measured in the time or effort available in our lives, always a finite quantity.

In this sense of a "market," people make choices and trade-offs. The point is not to reduce every trade-off to a monetary one, but to let the choices be made by each person rather than by a distant, crowned bureaucrat.

H/t Maggie's Farm.

See, this is what I'm talking about

I mean, to what perennial topic at the Hall is this story not relevant? Getting serious, culturally, about reproduction. Gender role-bending. Even a more balanced view of the value of snakes. The only issue I can't tie in is education.


There are two Medieval philosophers whose names mean, roughly, "John the Scot."  The first (and possibly more important) was actually Irish -- "Scotti" was the Roman name for the Irish, and it was Irish settlers in places like Dal Riada who eventually conquered what came to be known as Scotland.  The second (and certainly more famous), John Duns Scotus, is an oddity:  a major Aristotelian philosopher of the Franciscan school.  There's a major division in Christian theology between the Dominicans and the Franciscans, which concerns the nature of God.  Both agree that God's nature is singular, but they disagree over whether it is Will or Reason.  That is to say that the Franciscans believe that God is Love, and the Dominicans that God is Logos.  Aristotle more naturally fits the Dominican approach; but Duns Scotus was an exception.  He wrote some interesting things about love from an Aristotelian perspective.

One of the things that Duns Scotus treats is the problem of individuation.  Aristotelian sciences are all based around genera:  we might say that you would have a science of birds, similar to how we divide groups of animals into a genus, and then subdivide into species, and further subdivide species into individuals.  Duns Scotus says that this is backwards:  we ought to start with the individual as such, because the individual exists as an individual thing, not as a subdivision of a species or a genus.  When we group individuals into species or genera, we are engaging in an act of intellection:  we are making things by building these groupings.  The things themselves are just individual things.

In this he follows Aristotle's instinct when Aristotle speaks not of genera but of forms.  Plato held that the form was primary, and we who have the form of Man participate in a higher form; Aristotle held that the form is only actualized in the individual men.  Duns Scotus is following that line of thought into places Aristotle didn't care to take it.

The technical way of saying this for Duns Scotus is that 'individuation cannot come from privation.'  That is to say, you can't get an individual by starting with a group, and dividing out the one you want.

I've decided he's wrong about that.  You can.  We can get "this stone" from "stone" by breaking off a piece. It makes sense to individuate out of a genera.  We can get "this plant" out of a plant by dividing it -- at least for many species of plants and, indeed, fungi.  You can cut off pieces, dip them in rooting compound, and get a new individual plant.  Even among animals, there are some you can subdivide and get new individuals:  worms of some kinds, for example.

Yet he isn't wrong about us.  He isn't wrong about dogs or horses.  There's something different going on at our level of organization that makes his general ruling, while correct for us, a fallacy of composition:  an assumption that what holds at one level of organization holds for all levels of organization.

So when he speaks of love, and says that love points first and most to a particular individual, he is right:  but he is right about how we love another of our kind, not about love in general.

What does that mean for how God loves -- or, if we were to try to fight this from a Platonic metaphysics, what consequences follow from this break in the order?  There is a particular honor for those things that are individuated primarily.  That is to say, there's something special about being a man, or a dog, or a horse:  things of this kind.

Now, what follows from that I don't know yet.  But it is different, and that is important.