Archive for December, 2012
24 Dec 2012

Wall Street Journal Christmas Eve Editorial

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Vermont Connecticut Royster (1914-1996)

The Wall Street Journal has an excellent tradition, going back to 1949, of publishing the following editorial in the issue nearest preceding Christmas:


In Hoc Anno Domini
December 24, 2012

When Saul of Tarsus set out on his journey to Damascus the whole of the known world lay in bondage. There was one state, and it was Rome. There was one master for it all, and he was Tiberius Caesar.

Everywhere there was civil order, for the arm of the Roman law was long. Everywhere there was stability, in government and in society, for the centurions saw that it was so.

But everywhere there was something else, too. There was oppression — for those who were not the friends of Tiberius Caesar. There was the tax gatherer to take the grain from the fields and the flax from the spindle to feed the legions or to fill the hungry treasury from which divine Caesar gave largess to the people. There was the impressor to find recruits for the circuses. There were executioners to quiet those whom the Emperor proscribed. What was a man for but to serve Caesar?

There was the persecution of men who dared think differently, who heard strange voices or read strange manuscripts. There was enslavement of men whose tribes came not from Rome, disdain for those who did not have the familiar visage. And most of all, there was everywhere a contempt for human life. What, to the strong, was one man more or less in a crowded world?

Then, of a sudden, there was a light in the world, and a man from Galilee saying, Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s….

And so Paul, the apostle of the Son of Man, spoke to his brethren, the Galatians, the words he would have us remember afterward in each of the years of his Lord:

Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.

This editorial was written in 1949 by the late Vermont C. Royster and has been published annually since.

23 Dec 2012

King’s College Choir: “Once in Royal David’s City”


23 Dec 2012

Killinick Harriers Crossing a Drain

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The comments on YouTube were interesting, featuring a good deal of concern for the safety of the horses.

Myself, I think the crossing would be accomplished better in general if one chose with some care and attention the point to be attempted, and then approached with speed and momentum (and grim determination) on one’s side. In these kind of unpropitious circumstances, I think one should follow the example of Jack Mytton, cry “Now for the Honour of Shropshire!”, direct one’s horse at the intended jump point and just go for it.

Henry Alken and T.J. Rawlings, From “Memoirs of the Life of the Late John Mytton, Esq. of Halston, Shropshire.”: Now For the Honour of Shropshire, Rudolph Ackermann, 1851.

Hat tip to Siobhan English.

22 Dec 2012

Twelve Days of Christmas Thank You Notes

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Alexandra Petri imagines the epistolary reactions of the grateful recipient.

22 Dec 2012

Dance Partner

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22 Dec 2012

“The Muse”

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Gabriel de Cool (1854-1908), The Muse, 1895

Gabriel de Cool had a heck of a name, and he seems to have been principally a painter of nudes. This muse is certainly not the Muse of History, Dance, or of Epic Poetry. This muse looks more like the muse of absinthe, hashish, Symbolist Poetry, and kinky sex. The image is obviously kitsch, but it is the very successful, totally corrupting, kind of kitsch that makes you want to look again, and enjoy doing it.

Hat tip to Madame Scherzo.

21 Dec 2012

The End is Here!


Hat tip to James Coulter Harberson.

21 Dec 2012

The New Age of Faith

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Richard Fernandez contends that our liberal friends have not given up religion, they’ve just turned to worshiping different gods.

One conclusion that might be drawn from disparate vignettes is that the fault line running through families and societies in the Western World today consists of those who think the world should save them and those who think everyone should pay their freight. Broadly speaking these two groups of people are fighting over the meaning of words and social relations.

One side sees “rights” as the ability to do anything they want and be free of the consequences. The Universal Right is the right to a free lunch which gives rise to derived rights like the right to wear any kind of pants they like and to stab any parents who may object. And if it actually comes to stabbing it will be the knife’s fault. That it should be a person’s responsibility is unthinkable. The opposite side sees a transactional universe in which everything has a cost and nobody has a reasonable expectation to a free lunch.

They are killjoys. Individual responsibility — as opposed to the duty to the deity — is an old and incredibly secular point of view. We live in a new age of Faith. Only the old gods are dead but religion itself is doing a land office business. The psychological appeal of Barack Obama and Steve Jobs lies precisely in having taken over the places formerly occupied by Jesus, Moses and the Buddha. Some teenagers seriously believe “they have made a paradise on earth right now” so that celestial place bands like Coldplay can blast out their angelic melodies on the Ipad, of course.

Religion hasn’t declined in the modern world as much as changed its business address from the traditional churches to the event stadiums. Christmas — which itself had roots in pre-Christian holidays — first became Xmas or now The Holidays. Perhaps the only reason that Mohammed still holds a place of esteem in heart of multitudes is that the Prophet had the foresight to enjoin his followers to shorten any infidel who suggested toppling him from a place of honor by a whole head. In the Muslim world, unlike the place formerly known as Christendom, knives and firearms are much sought after objects. They too have a thing problem, but in a wholly different way.

In any case the newly religious look to God to fix things whenever something breaks. In the Islamic world they turn to Allah of course and in Blue Christendom to Obama. And so with bated breath the Twitter feeds are speculating on what new gun control measure the President will propose to fix the latest school shooting. He’ll save us from ourselves, that’s for sure. And then there’ll be another button or app in the teenager shrine to Obama and Jobs.

20 Dec 2012

A Description of M.R. James

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Montagu Rhodes James (1862-1936), Provost of Kings College 1905-1918 and of Eton 1918-1936.

The hero of Shane Leslie’s “The Cantab” (1926) is matriculating at King’s College, and having forgotten the name of the college’s Provost attempts to get the Dean to mention his name:

“Again Edward sought a line on the mysterious Provost. How was he to know and venerate him? The Dean answered, ‘The Provost is essentially himself. Though a Deacon, he has reformed this College and made it tolerable to a layman. He knows all the ghost stories of the last thousand years. He walks in the paths of medieval Apocrypha and finds relaxation in obscure Hagiology. You may overhear him humming the Archbishops of York backwards, or counting the Spanish Cathedrals in feet. He is likely to be consulted when those Books are opened with which we are threatened on the last day.’ The Dean leaned back with a grey smile.”

20 Dec 2012

WWII Carrier Pigeon Code Cracked

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Remember the WWII carrier pigeon found mummified last month in a chimney being repaired in Surrey?

It seems that the coded message from Sgt. Scott in Normandy has already been deciphered.


A Canadian World War II enthusiast says that he has deciphered the message after realizing that a code book held the key to the encryption. Gord Young, editor for the history group Lakefield Heritage Research, says the 1944 note uses a simple World War I code to give information about German troop positions in the area around Normandy, France. …

Young, however, said that the code is not complex, and that people who are trying to decrypt it are “over thinking.”

The code, according to Young’s account, belonged to 27-year-old Sgt William Scott, who was placed in Normandy to report on German positions. Scott was killed a few weeks later and buried in a Normandy war cemetery. …

According to Young, the decrypted message reads:

    “Artillery observer at ‘K’ Sector, Normandy. Requested headquarters supplement report. Panzer attack – blitz. West Artillery Observer Tracking Attack.

    “Lt Knows extra guns are here. Know where local dispatch station is. Determined where Jerry’s headquarters front posts. Right battery headquarters right here.

    “Found headquarters infantry right here. Final note, confirming, found Jerry’s whereabouts. Go over field notes. Counter measures against Panzers not working.

    “Jerry’s right battery central headquarters here. Artillery observer at ‘K’ sector Normandy. Mortar, infantry attack panzers.

    “Hit Jerry’s Right or Reserve Battery Here. Already know electrical engineers headquarters. Troops, panzers, batteries, engineers, here. Final note known to headquarters.”

20 Dec 2012

Robert Heron Bork (1927-2012)

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Walter Olson argues that Judge Bork lost the battle for his own Supreme Court Confirmation but, while the liberals weren’t noticing, has been winning the war of constitutional interpretation on behalf of fideism.

[T]he confirmation critique that makes it into every Bork obituary [is] Ted Kennedy’s blowhard caricature, intended for northern liberal consumption, of “Robert Bork’s America” as “a land in which women would be forced into back alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, school children could not be taught about evolution,” and so on.

Never in memory had a judicial nomination been fought in such language. Why?

As a constitutional law scholar, Bork had distinguished himself even among conservatives for his scathing critique of the Warren Court, which he accused essentially of having made up constitutional law as it went along. …

Within a few years, presidents of both parties were taking care to pick nominees with schmoozy as opposed to prickly personalities — and willing to submit to coaching on how to give off that oh-so-important empathetic vibe without actually committing to anything.

Ideologically predictable though some of these folks might be, they lacked the intellectual heft and daring paper trail of a Richard Epstein on the right, a Cass Sunstein on the left or a Richard Posner somewhere in between. …

But with regard to the Warren Court, it’s looking as if he’ll have the last laugh. Obama’s high court nominees are just as eager as George W. Bush’s to decry the practice of making up the constitution as one goes along, while “liberal originalism,” which takes seriously the insistence of critics like Bork that judges must adhere to what’s actually in the founding document, is making headway among scholars at places like Yale Law School.

Not such a bad legacy.


David Frum also remembered the distinguished jurist as a man who believed in personal modesty and who exercised official responsibility with objectivity and restraint.

Pessimistic as he was, however, Robert Bork was in no way bitter or angry. “Mordant” is the word I think I want to describe his conversation. His bleak assessment of his fellow human creatures was based upon hard experience. He was used to hearing his ideas distorted, and his best actions distorted and vilified. Before his nomination to the Supreme Court, Bork was best known as the man who fired Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox. Bork’s two immediate superiors in the Department of Justice had resigned rather than execute the presidential order. Bork didn’t approve the order any more than the others did. But he also understood that the order was a legal one, and that somebody sooner or later was going to have to carry it out. This unpleasant duty had to be done, and since it had to be done, Bork’s sense of responsibility required him to do it.

The whole domain of law and judging was bounded, in Bork’s view, by a like sense of responsibility. Laywers and judges, as he saw it, were not knight-errant righters of wrong, not freelance agents of abstract justice, but fallible people no wiser than anyone else, entrusted only with certain defined powers to settle certain kinds of disputes. Those judges who claimed greater power received more applause than Robert Bork ever drew, but they did not deserve. Their actions were power-grabbing and their motives were arrogant. Bork made this case powerfully and vividly in the best book of his later years, Coercing Virtue.

19 Dec 2012

What the Massacre in Sandy Hook Proves, and What Needs to Be Done

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The murder of first graders in Sandy Hook, Connecticut by a disturbed 20-year-old was exactly the kind of dramatic and appalling event that captures the attention of the entire country and which provokes the national commentariat into furious efforts at prescribing actions to be taken to ensure that such a tragedy can never happen again.

All this, of course, is insanity.

The shootings in Sandy Hook, though undoubtedly terrible and tragic, really constituted one of those rare, bizarre, and tremendously unlikely occurrences which can never be anticipated or successfully averted by planning, and which proves nothing beyond our own human vulnerability to irrationality, evil, and mere happenstance, to what the Ancient Greeks knew as moira, “Fate”.

There obviously exists no discernible real constituency of passionate paedophobes singlemindedly committed to the recreational shooting of small children as to represent an existing hazard at all.

The very existence of any person so defective, so angry, and so perverse as to choose herostratic self destruction is enormously unlikely. Someone of this sort comes along only exceedingly rarely, even in a population of 300 million. But the combination of the herostratic suicide (who is invariably male and post-pubescent but not mature) with an active animus against small children is orders of magnitude even more unlikely. With the death of Adam Lanza, chances are pretty good that this particular rare and hyper-exotic population is extinct.

Really, it is as if, unaccountably in a fashion no one could have anticipated or expected, a ravenous Kodiak bear suddenly appeared last Friday morning at the Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dickinson Drive in Sandy Hook, Connecticut where it inflicted numerous fatalities on first graders, teachers, and the school principal. How could anyone have ever been prepared for an emergency so unlikely, so intrinsically incapable of being anticipated, or even of being viewed as within the range of possibility?

Officials, legislators, police, and parents might more rationally decide to erect superstructures above elementary schools intended to intercept meteors rather than waste their time cerebrating over what to do to foil the next Adam Lanza or the next hungry Brown bear. Another century or more may go by before anything quite like this ever happens again.

The real problem we have is a deeply-embedded cultural delusion which proposes that if we simply get together a representative sampling of our best and our brightest, if we put our establishment elite to work, the calculative power of human reason applied by the agency of officialdom and the Leviathan state is omniscient and omnipotent, and planning and regulation can assuredly avert any possibility of the perverse operation of Fate. All undesirable and untoward events can be planned and regulated out of human existence. All we have to do is give our elite class of experts and government more power, and then we will perfectly safe. No more Kodiak bears, no more Adam Lanzas.

19 Dec 2012

Golden Eagle Almost Nabs Toddler in Montreal Park

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There have long been rumors that eagles are not only capable of preying on lambs, but may even go so far as to take human infants when given the opportunity. Wildlife experts have consistently pooh-poohed such stories, dismissing them as folklore.

Hat tip to Bird Dog.


Update: It’s a fake.

Matt Mullenix expressed skepticism and referenced HuffPo which, by the time I looked there, had new imformation:

A Montreal animation school has fessed up that the “Golden Eagle Snatches Kid” on YouTube is a fake, created by three students in its three-year animation and digital design degree program.

“Both the eagle and the kid were created in 3D animation and integrated in to the film afterwards,” the school, Centre NAD, said in a statement Wednesday.


Could an eagle snatch a small child and carry him off?

Well, one almost got this roe deer. And look what happens to this Pyrenaeen chamois.

Eagles have been demonstrated to be capable of killing reindeer and even of carrying off Brown bear cubs.

This eagle is doing a decent job on an adult human being.

19 Dec 2012

Fiscal Cliff Negotiations

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