Saturday, June 26, 2021

Jottings Toward a General Theory of Barbecue

I had barbecue lunch with a friend earlier this week, and this has set me thinking about the parameters of barbecue. A very rough napkin-sketch of a general theory of barbecue.

Barbecue, of course, is basically flavored smoked meat, so the major points for distinguishing different styles of barbecue are:

(1) kind of meat
(2) kind of smokiness
(3) kind of flavoring

This is a kind of order of influence as well; the kind of meat affects the kind of smokiness you want, and they both affect the kind of flavoring you want. The major divide on the meat point is Pig or Cow. Other meats are possible, of course, but a regional style will have one dominant, an easily obtained meat that smokes and grills well, and these are the major two contenders, certainly in the US, but also elsewhere. They both smoke well with just about any wood. Poultry, Seafood, and Lamb, the most widely available alternatives, are usually just supplements, with only very rare exceptions; that is, they are meats that you'd usually only smoke and grill if you were already used to that with other meats, and the kind of smoking you do can matter a lot to whether you get an edible result. In the US, we run the gamut from the pork-heavy Carolinas to beef-heavy Texas.

Smokiness is primarily a matter of wood, and roughly arranges itself on two axes, sweet to earthy and subtle to heavy. They are not completely independent; subtle tends to be sweet, heavy tends to be earthy. An example of sweet subtle would be applewood; hickory is heavy but moderate between sweet and earthy, and mesquite is about the edge of what is viable on both heavy and earthy. Hickory is King Smoke because its heaviness means you get the flavor regardless of what else you do, but it is much less earthy than most heavy, so it goes well with almost everything. Pork and beef will handle just about any kind of smoking, but generally beef-heavy styles tend toward heavy and pork-heavy styles tend toward sweet.

One of the original sources of regional styles in the US was the kind of wood that was easily available. The most obvious case of this forcing a divergence is Texas-style barbecue. Large portions of Texas are not exactly heavily forested, and the cheapest easily available smoking wood is mesquite, which grows like a tree's imitation of a weed and is useful for almost nothing else. Thus mesquite is the major influence on the style, although there is actually a lot of variation throughout Texas in how central mesquite actually is.

Kind of flavoring tends to have two axes. The first is sweet and spicy; most barbecue flavoring is a little of both in a tangy base, but the emphasis can be in one direction or another. Spicy styles tend to dominate in most places, but there are always pockets of sweet-toothers. The other axis I generally think of as wet and dry, but this is somewhat misleading, since it's really more like saucy and not saucy. Pure dry rub as a customary style is rare outside of parts of Tennessee; the 'dry' category would include thin-sauce barbecue like that associated with North Carolina (especially western North Carolina) or the Philippines or Korea. The opposite extreme from Memphis-style pure dry rub is thick-sauce Texas-style, which is the sauciest of saucy barbecue. I suppose it's not surprising that when Texas goes for something it goes hard; Texas-style BBQ is so famous because it is highly distinctive, and it is highly distinctive because it is the wettest smokiest beefiest common style. If you want Spicy Wet Heavy Earthy Cow, there is no place in the universe like Texas for it. The reason is the mesquite -- mesquite gives a very strong flavor, so you can add a lot of sauce, relatively speaking, without overpowering the meat, but the earthiness actually makes a good base that allows for a lot of variation in sauce. Another example of wet/saucy would be the mustard-sauce barbecue associated with the South Carolina Midlands. Tennessee dry rub, I assume, arises because Tennessee historically had a lot of access to sweet subtle smoking woods, so going very dry lets you appreciate the smoky side better.

All of these, of course, affect sides, although I think this is a messier matter, because it's common to have a diversity of side dishes to allow for a lot of variation in flavor, texture, and temperature. As far as regional styles go, however, some things dominate, and the reason is sometimes quite straightforward. The primary Texas-style BBQ side is potato salad, and it's easy to see why: sides are to balance the barbecue, and a smoky heavy barbecue will need a lighter, blander side to balance it. A similar reason undergirds the common use of cole slaw. Likewise availability is obviously a significant matter; nobody is surprised that rice and kimchi are popular sides for Korean barbecue. There are others where the story is less obvious; although in most cases it traces back to style and availability, there's a lot of room of historical accident in slides. While it's clear why slaw would be used, I'm not sure why red slaw in particular is such a major side in North Carolina, for instance, and while it's clear why a potato-based side would be popular in saucy Kansas, I have no idea why it tends to have with french fries rather than potato salad. No doubt there is some story for how these things become locked in.

Of course, these days, you can find almost all styles almost everywhere.

Friday, June 25, 2021

Dashed Off XIII

 analogical reasoning as playfulness of mind

fetishism of ideologies

Whatever may be said of other truths, truths in fiction and in law require truthmakers.
-- From these it seems clear that the logic for truthmakers should be intuitionistic; it would make sense fo rit to be like a provability logic.

"authority in some is *for* liberty in others." Maritain

nirvana as a limbo of the pagans, cessation of the penalties of sin (this is more plausible for Buddhist than Jain or Hindu accounts; moksha is more obviously positive in character)

Moksha is the convergence of three paths: path of knowledge (jnana-marga), path of devotion (bhakti-marga), path of action (karma-marga). Thus an appropriate account of moksha should recognize it at least as knowledge-devotion-action, the perfection of all three.
obj: As noted in diff. ways by Nagarjuna and Shankara, moksha is rest without plurality, on the baiss of an understanding different from our worldly understanding. Reply: This argument establishes that moksha is not one of the three worldly goals of action -- kama (pleasure), artha (prosperity), dharma (propriety) -- in a formal sense. Rather it is eminenter the goal of action, that of which kama, artha, and dharma are signs. In kama, artha, and dharma, the path of action has not yet converged to moksha, which is active beyond worldly action.

The Advaita is right that moksha requires transcendence of avidya; the Dvaita is right that it requires union with God.

vedic or ritual forms of asceticism vs. sramanic or renunciate forms

The doctrine of apaurusheya, whatever the intent of the Mimamsakas who hold it, in effect makes the Vedas a deity.

Literacy is not the bare capacity to read but the building of shared literate discourses; likewise, numeracy is the building of shared numerate discourses.

democracy as a breeding ground for ultracrepidarianism

Sensible things are only perceptible because they are apt for semiosis.

"Strategy is the art of making use of time and space.  I am less chary of the latter than of the former; space we can recover, time never." Napoleon

Walls typically exist not to stop movement but to structure and manage it.

fact as natural classification of identified evidence

The aporia for dating Mark. There is evidence for all three of these:
(1) Luke was written before AD 63.
(2) Luke is dependent on the preexisting gospel of Mark.
(3) Mark was written after AD 65.
(1) has considerable probability on internal evidence (esp. including Acts and its abrupt ending); but it is probably the one most rejected. Rejecting (2) has to explain synoptic parallels; one way to do this is to posit a pre-Roman Ur-Mark. Internal evidence for Mark itself suggests Roman context, which suggests it is written after the book of Acts ends, prob. in reign of Nero 64-68.

Not only does John seem familiar with the details of Jerusalem, he speaks of it in the present tense: Jn 5:2, 11:49, 11:51 indicate a lower bound, the end of Caiaphas's tenure in about AD 37.

Christ as exemplar sacrament

Democratic societies are corrupted by the formation of a pseudodemos.

Jas 3:7 perhaps suggests weather patterns of Palestine & surrounding.

Luke associates Jesus' ministry with
(1) Tiberius 14-37
(2) Caiaphas 18-36/37
(3) Pilate 26-36
Luke 3:1 suggest that John began his ministry around 28-29.

Luke associates Paul's ministry with
(1) Aretas -40
(2) Gallio -51
2 Cor 11:32 suggests 37-40 for escape from Damascus; Gal. 1:18 suggests this was about 3 years after his conversion.

quantifying over vs permeating

'Conceptual engineering' is in fact just classification redesigning.

Y. Shabbat 2:6
(1) Adam was blood of world (Gn 2:6); Eve caused him to die; therefore women given commandment of niddah.
(2) Adam was first bread offering (Gn 2:7); Eve etc.; therefore women given commandment of separating hallah.
(3) Adam was light of world (Pr 20:27); Eve etc.; therefore women given commandment to light Shabbat candles.

It is clear that the Twelve was itself instituted by Christ, both from the way the Evangelists talk about it and from the fact of the Choosing of Matthias -- the office is recognized and the office forfeited by Judas is filled.

Christology is based on the Confession of Peter and the Confession of Thomas, so it is fitting tha tthe Church is both corporate Peter (facing West) and corporate Thomas (facing East).

An implication of Newton's sensorium view is that mental action is analogous to gravity. (Think on this more.)

Both law and grace allow proxy agency, creating a forum and means for it.

Assertion is always by signs and is therefore constrained by the signs (and sometimes obscured by them).

"a religion" can be understood as
- a religious institution or system of such institutions
-a religious movement
- a culture of religious practice

Church as sacramental instrumentality : holy :: Church as social instrumentality : catholic

Welfare systems tend to reinvent the palace economy.

Responsibilities overlap; this complicates the inference from responsibility to obligation.

Existence is 'noumenal', not 'phenomenal'.

"This whole that is civil society (civitas) must be the chief of all wholes that is able to be cognized and constituted by human reason." Aquinas

A reductio always requires you to know something about the terms that the argument being reduced does not require you to know.

Freedoms are structured by the aims of the societies to which they tend.

forms of professional objection: safety, technical, conscientious

Everything in politics tends toward a perversion of itself.

Christ was dead by the fifth wound; it was the Holy Virgin who merited about it, for the wound was borne by her soul, though in Christ's body.

Fine art fundamentally depends on the notion of shared or common beauty.

Republics consistently throughout history show a remarkable respect for monuments, museums, and the like. Degradation of respect for longstanding monuments is a sign of degradation of respect for republican ideals and principles.

The temporal authority of the Church has to a considerable extent been reduced to museum and monument curation because modern republics have difficulty recognizing it in any other form.

ethics as based on
(1) the dignity and capacity of our rational natures
(2) the superiority of the rational to the animal
(3) the qualitative differences of satisfactions

Ps 82 & the resurrection

When demythologizers like Bultmann talk of 'our contemporaries' they always mean people with backgrounds, class, and culture like their own.

rejection of evidence as suspect, as unsuitable, as incapable

modes of acts of authority: presumptive, concurring, cooperative, originary

philosophical systems as crystallized inquiries

God is not directly the subject of metaphysics nor is He a species or subjective part of what metaphysics studies, which is common being. Rather, the metaphysician reaches to God by causation, as the cause or source of what metaphysics studies. Natural theology in its proper sense is the study of being as an effect, as derivative.

"Unless I can trust my various acts of memory, I don't even know what the sceptics says, much less what he means." Ward

Skill already requires something like patience, something like moderation, something like prudence, something like holding oneself to a standard.

In many physical actions, the body is at least a partial model or template of the action already; there is no need to reiterate it cognitively.

the passive signabilities of essence

subsidiarity as a property of a free hierarchy

All of our moral life is like a child learning to walk.

contract and the administrative power of the people

Good taste involves a discipline of memory and anticipation.

Reason as naturally in-common.

type of beautytype of seeingtype of being pleased
beauty properintellectual-visualdwelling/resting in
harmonyintellectual-auditorybeing swept away
sublimityintellectualbeing elevated in
picturesquevisual observance as wholereflective pleasure
charmsensory observance in partimmediate pleasure

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Evening Note for Thursday, June 24

 Thought for the Evening: Reduction to Box

If we set aside some marginal forms, the most obvious feature of modal logic is the division of modalities into a strong modality (Box) and a weak modality (Diamond). The exact interpretation of each can vary considerably, since we can take the pair to be necessity-possibility, always-sometimes, everywhere-somewhere, everyone-someone, required-allowed, obligatory-permissible, and many more.

One of the things that is noticeable about our explanatory practice is our tendency to try to trace everything back to (some kind of) Box. We try to explain the variable in terms of the invariable, the possible in terms of the necessary, the permissible in terms of the obligatory. If someone asks why John is doing something, "Everyone is doing it" would be a perfectly reasonable answer for a wide variety of cases; if someone asks why Mary is doing something right now, "She always does it" will often work as a response. Or we may trace it back to some Box that is less obviously connected to our starting case; for instance, if someone asks why John is taking a given route, I might say, "Because it is necessary for him to get back home." This seems to be quite general; the weakly modal case is traced back to the strongly modal rule.

The implications will differ according to the modality and how it works. I've previously suggested that anything that can be put into a square of opposition can be treated as a modal operator. But there are different kinds of square of opposition, and how you reduce to Box differs according to which one describes your modal operator.

One kind, the semidegenerate square, collapses Diamond and Box into each other; it's not actually a 'square' at all, just a line that divides things into two categories Box/Diamond and Not-Box/Not-Diamond. If you have a weakly modal case, like this possible thing, you can immediately recognize it as necessary. Systems like this in which you can go directly from Diamond to Box are very boring. If "Sometimes A" implies "Always A" or "X is Permissible" implies "X is Obligatory", reduction to Box is trivial; you have a flat, unstructured system. Total determinism gives you such a flat, unstructured system; everything possible is necessary, and all your explanation ends where it started. Nonetheless, I suspect that this is why determinism  is a kind of recurring dream; if it's all necessary already, there's not much left to explain. It cuts the Gordian knot, gets you where you want to be, even if it is by the lazy shortcut of moving the finish line to the starting line. Nonetheless, you do get real modalities like this, particularly in mathematics and logic: sometimes in those fields you can prove that something is necessary just by proving that it is possible. If it's genuinely possible that there is an odd number higher than four, then it is necessary for there to be an odd number higher than four.

In a Boolean or modern square of opposition, Diamond and Box are only minimally related: Box is contradictory opposite to Diamond-Not and Diamond is contradictory opposite to Box-Not, and that's it. This makes reduction to Box extremely difficult; it's like trying to explain an actual event with a bare hypothetical -- even if the bare hypothetical is relevant, it doesn't have a lot of explanatory heft. Perhaps because of this, we don't actually use Boolean-square modalities all that much.

The other major square of opposition, of course, is the Aristotelian, classical, or traditional square, which has not only contradiction but also contrariety, subcontrariety, and subalternation. Subalternation seems particularly important: Box implies Diamond. This gives us a full set of resources (beginning from one corner of the square we can get to any other corner in several ways), so Aristotelian-square modalities seem to be the ideal kind of modality for reduction to Box. And indeed most of the modalities we use in an explanatory way are quite naturally seen as subalternating: if something happens always, it happens sometimes; if something happens everywhere, it happens somewhere; if something is necessary, it is possible; if something is obligatory, it is permissible; and so forth.

If we start with Diamond, how do we reduce to Box. Well, one way is that you can divide up all the Diamond-states precisely and then sum over them. For instance, if you want to move from 'sometimes' to 'always', one way you can do it, is by taking all the particular 'sometimeses', that is, the individual times, and identify what is true of all of them. If something is true at every time, it is always true. You could also, however, get to Box without summing if you could rule out the right kinds of things; in practice, I think, we tend to do this by appealing to causes.

This is all immensely simplified. In fact, we run into any number of complications. One of the obvious ones is that strong and weak modalities are not equally strong and weak, so you can reduce Box to stronger Box; and by the same token, there are always many different Boxes to which you could reduce Diamond. For instance, if our Diamond is interpreted in terms of time, This happens sometimes, we can explain this by a temporal Box, This happens always; but it also seems that we could explain it by an alethic Box, This happens necessarily. Those are obviously two very different explanations, and they would not be equally useful in every situation. The relations are also not always straightforward. There are situations in which it is perfectly legitimate to reduce "This happens sometimes" to "It is obligatory that this happens"; but how "It is obligatory that this happens" relates to "This happens always" is less than lucid. And, of course, we are rarely in a position to reduce directly; we often have to do it in qualified ways (e.g., we might not be able to reduce directly to "This happens always" but only to "This happens always unless that does")  or with scaffolding that gives us additional information we need to maneuver (like causal reasoning or analogy or physical theory), all of which introduce their own complications.

Various Links of Interest

* Asya Passinsky, Norm and Object: A Hylomorphic Theory of Social Objects (PDF)

* Zion Lights, The Sad Truth about Traditional Environmentalism

* Kenneth L. Pearce, Astell and Masham on Epistemic Authority and Women's Individual Judgment in Religion (PDF)

* Shane Gassaway, Just Silence in Plato's Clitophon (PDF)

* Edmund Waldstein, Common Good Eudemonism

* Tanner Greer, How I Taught the Iliad to Chinese Teenagers

* Philip Pilkington, Monetary Faith

* Ljiljana Radenovic, From Deficient Liberalism Toward a Deeper Sense of Freedom

* Rafael de Arizaga, Matrimony Doesn't Exist

* Hrishiskesh Joshi, Dare to Speak Your Mind and Together We Flourish

* Nur Banu Simsek, Arise to Wisdom, on Ibn Tufayl

* The Hannah Arendt Papers at the Library of Congress

* Chiara Marletto, Our Little Life is Rounded with Possibility, on the importance of counterfactuals to understanding the world

* An interesting look at a particular case of agro-mining, in which plants are grown in metal-heavy soil and then the metal harvested from the plants.

* Christopher Frey, Plato and Aristotle between Autonomy and Oppression

* Zachary Micah Gartenberg, On the causal role of privation in Thomas Aquinas's metaphysics (PDF)

* Avery Hurt, What's Really Happening when You Experience Deja Vu?, discusses the current speculations (for speculations are all we actually have at present) about the phenomenon. It's a topic I'm interested because I have a long history of very intense deja-vu experiences.

* Umberto Eco's private library is being moved to Bologna University, where it will be preserved as an archive, i.e., it will continue to be organized along the same plan Eco himself used, as a distinct part of the library. They will also eventually digitize all his notes and comments on the books.

* Thornton Lockwood, In Praise of Solon: Aristotle on Classical Greek Democracy (PDF)

Currently Reading

The Vinland Sagas
Peter Martyr Vermigli, Commentary on Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics
Richard Courant & Herbert Robbins, What is Mathematics?

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Modern Totalitarianism

Modern totalitarianism is an end product; it is not the opening period of a new era. It is indeed the final outcome of positivism as a general philosophy, as an intellectual atmosphere, as a scientific method raised to the level of the absolute and divine. The position that law is will has come to mean that the human will is freed from all universal ideas, from any objective moral order beyond class interests, beyond nationalist or racial programs, beyond economic considerations, beyond unlimited evolutionary progress. But modern totalitarianism has provided the reductio ad absurdum of the axiom, Voluntas facit legem; indeed, it has revitalized in its victims and adversaries the idea of natural law. For resistance to totalitarianism, in which the end results of positivism appear as ethical and intellectual nihilism, had to look for support beyond any mere national tradition or status quo ante and base itself on something superior to history, race, class, scientific method, and the like.

Heinrich Rommen, The Natural Law: A Study in Legal and Social History and Philosophy, "The Reappearance of Natural Law".

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Three Poem Drafts


My foe was wise in dark and ancient art,
and so I learned that strange and eldritch way,
a witch's brew from stormy-shadowed heart
when madness rules and thought begins to fray;

I cast a curse upon his evil deeds,
a horror formed of death and hate and time;
I cast it like a sower casts his seeds,
like poets that with art foreshadow rhyme,

and doom I brought upon his kind and race,
a torment like to hell and like to shame;
I cast a pox and plague upon his face
and malice like a devil on his name.

For long we cast enchantments back and forth
that burned like raging flame and froze like ice
from ageless sea of white in arctic north,
and oft my cunning mind sought new device,

but greatest of them all was endless death
that flowed around and through him like the sea,
and then I rasped my last and mortal breath;
at last I found my foe and he found me,

for in a mirror hostile filled with woe
reflected back at me his face I know.

The Echo

The echoes call from hill to hill in game,
in chant, that never stays the same,
that moves like cats in pride through day and night,
now here, now there, now swiftly lost to sight,
and games the echoes play from hill to hill,
enchantments void of stays or quiet rests
like motion-capture of some choice of will,
now here, now there, now of the void a guest,
and what is this, the song that I have heard?

Like bird that calls on high,
where falls the day gone by,
this is the song that I have heard:
a voice cries out, "Word, word, word, word, word, word."

My Love, You are a Cumbrous Boat

My love, you are a cumbrous boat
that rides, or rather parts, the wave;
and all the barnacles that coat
your hull are sent to cuprous grave.
As vast as titan, large and vast,
you lumber over storm and glass;
behind you disappears your past,
and all is foam where'er you pass,
and truly you could be at sea
an aircraft's landing-strip and home;
your eyes like some bright ecstasy
are where the fighters nest at home.
My love, you are a cumbrous boat
that barges through the ocean fog,
which circles you like endless moat,
and you, as graceful as a log,
are on the sea like floating isle;
beside you Moby Dick turns pale;
you roll around in planet-style,
as big as mountain, big as whale.
And how impressive are your sails
that whip around in canvas sheets,
which shine at sea like slime of snails
and flap in wet and noisy beats.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Vice and Virtue in Sikh Ethics

 I have been looking for a good discussion of Sikh virtue theory for ages now, and I have finally found one: Keshav Singh's "Vice and Virtue in Sikh Ethics", which is short but beautifully clear introduction to the essential concepts: 

Part of this ethics, I will argue, is a theory of vice and virtue that is not only of historical and religious interest, but holds up to Western theories in plausibility and systematicity.

According to this theory, there is a unity of vices – in other words, there is a sort of master vice in virtue of which all other vices are vices. This master vice is the vice of haumai, which is a central ethical concept in Sikhism. On the view that emerges, haumai is the source of human beings’ separation from an ultimate reality in which we are radically interconnected, both metaphysically and ethically. The five primary vices are all forms of haumai, and all stem from a false sense of self-importance. Vice, then, comes down to the failure to recognize the importance of others. The corresponding picture of virtue is that virtue consists in a recognition of the importance of others, through the recognition of an ultimate reality on which all are One. While the vicious person is, at the extreme, a kind of ethical solipsist, the virtuous person is an ethical universalist, treating all others as bearers of the same value she herself has.

Highly recommended, if you have an interest in either virtue ethics or comparative philosophy. 

Communion and Skandalon

 Needless to say, there have been more than a few things said about the current discussion among bishops over 'eucharistic coherence', and whether highly public supporters of abortion access who are Catholic, like President Biden, should be refused communion. There are a few principles involved:

(1) To partake directly of the Eucharist requires that one not merely be Catholic but also have properly confessed your sins recently. Repentance of grave sin is a precondition for communion. The Church has been clear for years that public support of access to abortion, itself a grave sin and a violation of human rights in Church teaching, is a sin that requires such repentance and confession. Strictly speaking, this shouldn't be an issue; politicians who continue publicly to support abortion access should not be going up for communion to begin with. What is more, one of the things you are supposed to do is avoid taking communion if it could cause scandal, skandalon, which in this context means putting a stumblingblock in front of others by misleading them as to what is sinful or not. Yet again, politicians who publicly support abortion access should not be going up for communion at all, because it misleads people as to what Catholic teaching on the subject is. There are plenty of Catholics who, though entirely innocent in themselves, don't go up for communion because they are in some kind of irregular public situation that could cause confusion to others; a relatively common case is of people who are in unusual marriage situations. Politicians don't get special privileged access to the sacraments; they get them only according to the same rules as everyone else. And what is more, it is the Catholic position that partaking of sacraments in ways inappropriate to them is always dangerous for one's own soul.

(2) In unusually public cases that, if ignored, could mislead people as to Catholic teaching, priests and bishops have full authority to prevent people from partaking sacraments. That's their primary function: to uphold Catholic doctrine and to maintain and protect the sacraments. They are not there to be vending machines. Everyone has the right to have their own judgment about whether their decisions are reasonable and prudent; all Catholics have the right to write a letter to their own bishop and give their reasons for why they think it a bad idea, if they do. But there is no question whatsoever that they have the right and authority to make such a decision.

(3) The Eucharist is a public sacrament; that is, one can participate indirectly in it simply by being prayerfully present at Mass. Denying someone communion, which implies affirmation of the faith and morals of the Catholic Church, is not (as I saw someone claim) denying them the real presence of Christ. Precisely because it is the real presence, anyone has access to it just by going to Mass or Adoration, without receiving.


A great deal of what one finds on the subject is much like what we get with this Jeffrey Salkin article. Salkin (who unlike a number of people I have seen is at least upfront about the fact that he is not Catholic, and avoids most of the more stupid arguments) basically gives three arguments for why he thinks denying Biden communion is a bad idea.

(1)  "[I]t seems foolish to deny access to the body of Christ to the most visible Catholic political leader in the world." This is the reverse of the actual situation; the only reason that the question even arises is because he is so visible and people like Salkin keep trying to hold him up specifically as a Catholic. In other situations, it wouldn't even arise (the individual would just have to answer to God, or, if it were a definitely public situation, it would be between the individual and their priest or bishop). It's mostly an honor system. The only situation in which this would even be on the table is in a very public and visible case, in which scandal is a serious danger. As the most visible Catholic political leader in the world, President Biden has an even greater responsibility not to act in a way that would mislead people about Catholic faith and morals.

(2) "[T]his cannot be good for the church — not at a time when it has experienced profound losses." I confess myself wholly baffled by this kind of argument. Why would anyone care about something like this? The sacraments are part of the integral structure of the Church; decisions about them should be based on considerations about whether they are in danger of being abused or in danger of being received in a manner inconsistent with Catholic faith and morals. Nothing else matters on a point like this, and it is absurd to expect anything else to matter on something like this.

(3)  "[T]he denial of Communion to President Biden smacks of inconsistency at best and hypocrisy at worst." This could very well be, although Salkin's argument is not very good. (Sexual abusers are not supposed to receive communion, either, until they repent of their sins, and this is already known.) What raises the question here is a prominent Catholic engaging in very public and continuing support of what the Church regards as a sinful practice on a matter on which the Church has already been quite clear. This is not, contrary to Salkin's implication, a common situation. It is, in any case, irrelevant; while obviously consistency would be better, the exact lines are a matter of judgment call, and it is the judgment call of the bishops as to where they will be laid. You can think them wrong; it's certainly true that these are days in which we are repeatedly faced with bishops who are neither very saintly nor very intelligent. But that they aren't following some strict rule in handling these matters is irrelevant because there is no such rule, and however one may impugn their motives, it is irrelevant because there is no doubt at all that it is their call, and theirs alone to make. And, frankly, I find you can always tell when someone has no serious argument on a religious topic when they start accusing people of hypocrisy, an accusation so over-used that it has by now almost reached the point of self-parody.

My suspicion is that this has mostly come up just because the bishops are tired of Biden's Catholicism being used as political cover by the media. Of course, here as elsewhere, it will be the individual bishops who will decide how the rule should be enforced; people have a bad habit of thinking that rules magically go into effect on their own, but in reality, they have to be operationalized into real situations. There are bishops who would likely still allow him (and other Catholic politicians in similar situations) to receive, despite the majority, and how publicly will likely depend on what they think Rome would let them get away with. We will see if anything really comes of it.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Fortnightly Book, June 20

Somewhere around the year 1000, Leif Eriksson, often known as the Lucky, made landfall on the North American continent. Vikings before then had made it as far as Greenland, and Bjarni Herjolfsson is the first person recorded as having seen the continental landmass, a number of years, after having been blown off course by a storm. But during a voyage from Norway to Greenland, Leif and his men, also blown off course, actually landed, naming the land "Wineland" or Vinland, and met the natives. We have some brief historical record of this fairly close to the actual event in the Islendingabok, but the full story that we have is the version of the Vinland Sagas, which give us an account of Leif's voyage and several successor voyages.

There are two Vinland Sagas: The Saga of the Greenlanders and Eirik the Red's Saga, both of them thirteenth century works. They do not agree in all details, and are clearly based on various oral traditions, but coming from a people with considerable practice in ocean navigation, they give enough geographical and navigational details corresponding to the actual region to make clear that the Icelanders became familiar with all of the land around the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Exactly where Vinland itself was located among those landmasses seems to be disputed; part of the difficulty is that the sagas treat Vinland as a dangerous destination to try to reach, so they weren't particularly focused on giving precise directions to get there. We know from archeological evidence that there was at some point a Norse encampment at L'Anse aux Meadows, and a lot depends on how one thinks this fits into the very general descriptions we get in the sagas. My own guess is that Vinland was either Prince Edward Island or the part of Nova Scotia south of Prince Edward Island (depending on whether one interprets the sagas as indicating that it was on an island or near an island). Just a guess, but I'm reading the notes by Gisli Sigurdsson in the Penguin Classics translation (the translation itself is by Keneva Kunz), and I notice that he draws the same conclusion.