Saturday, April 20, 2024

A Coronet I'll Weave

"Oh, Deck Me Not with Gems"
A Song
by Caroline E. R. Parker

"Oh, deck me not with gems," she said,
 "Oh, deck me not with gems;
 I care not, for the princely light
 Of jewelled diadems,
 But give me flowers, the fresh, the fair,
 Oh, give me fairy flowers
 To deck my robe, to deck my hair,
 From my own garden bowers."

 "I know where gleam bright gems," she said,
"Bright gems in emerald set,
 Fair rose-buds glistening in the dew,
 And blue-eyed violet.
The jasmine stars, like orient pearls,
 I'll twine amid my hair,
 And lilies of the valley sweet
 Upon my bosom wear." 

 "Nay, let me go," the fair girl said,
 "Nay, let me go and wreathe
 A chaplet of my garden flowers,
 A coronet I'll weave.
 You'll say 'tis fairer far than gems,
 You'll say it is more fair,
 My coronet of garden flowers,
 Than gems of beauty rare." 

 "I care not for bright gems," she said,
 "I care not for bright gems,
 I care not for the jewelled light
 Of princely. diadems.
 My heart is with its early home,
 And its dear garden bowers;
 Oh, deck me not with gems,” she said,
"But give me sweet home-flowers."

Friday, April 19, 2024

Holy High Elf

 Today is the feast of St. Aelfheah of Canterbury, more commonly known in English as St. Alphege or Alfege. He was born in the tenth century somewhere around Bath and became first a monk and then an anchorite, and in 984 was appointed Bishop of Winchester. He was a competent bishop, doing a fair amount to build up and maintain the local churches, but his claim to fame began to develop when a Viking raid in 994 went in an unexpected direction. Viking raids could be very, very nasty, but Vikings were also sometimes willing to listen to better offers, if you had any. The locals offered to negotiate so that the Vikings could go away wealthy without the hard work of seizing the wealth themselves, and it just so happens that one of the Viking leaders was a man named Olaf Tryggvason. Tryggvason's beloved wife had recently died, which is why he was out raiding in an attempt to get away from home and its memories, and he had some unusual experiences that led him to think that Christianity might actually be true. We don't know the exact timeline here. It's possible that Tryggvason was already baptized and was mostly just winding up his raiding voyage, or it might be that he was still considering it and saw this as a good opportunity to take the final leap. There's fairly good reason to think that St. Alphege was the bishop who gave him confirmation. In any case, Tryggvason received danegeld, was either baptized and confirmed or at least confirmed, and promised never to raid England again. Tryggvason, of course, would go home and begin the Christianization of Norway.

In 1006, St. Alphege became Archbishop of Canterbury, succeeding St. Aelfric. In 1011, a raiding party of Danes sacked Canterbury. He and several others were taken hostage, the Danes hoping to squeeze a ransom out of him. So he stayed a prisoner for seven months. As he refused to allow anyone to pay a ransom for him, however, the Danes saw no particular reason to keep him around. So one day, when they were drunk, they played the game of throwing rocks and bones at him and then finished him off by smashing his head in with the butt of an axe. Stories diverge on whether the axe-blow was part of the sport or a mercy-killing when he was already at the ragged edge. According to some stories, Thorkell the Tall, who was the leader of the Vikings, tried to protect Alphege, but it's hard to control a bunch of bored drunk Vikings; this may have contributed to Thorkell eventually joining the fleet of Aethelred the Unready, defending England from Viking invasion.

Aelfheah literally means 'High Elf', 'high' indicating either status (noble) or height (tall). 'Elf', of course, is a word used in Anglo-Saxon for spiritual beings, so we could perhaps also translate it as 'Noble Spirit'.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Two New Poem Drafts


When I seek your charms to name,
I must despair, for words the same
poets skilled and hack have used
to sing through phases of the Muse
songs that did more justice then,
before they had been sung again.
I praise your eyes, but limpid pools
boys were taught in books at school;
I praise your hair, so silken fine;
every thought seems stolen line.
I hymn your lips; their cupid-bow
framed in words the bar-girls know,
my hope of lightly touching kiss
pre-known by every star-eyed miss.
It is unfair, and I could weep
tears long told through eons deep;
must I make a language new
to speak as speech should speak of you?


The kite is dancing with the wind
arm in arm, as friend to friend;
worries gently drift away.
The blue of stream by drying grass,
swaying like a pleasant lass,
rejoices in the day.
The trees upraise their crooked arms
their leaves a-shimmer like a charm
that flashes in the light.
Beneath the bough that sways above,
the birds a-chatter, full of love,
the road goes straight and right.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

The National Popular Vote Compact Scam

Since Maine is the most recent state to pass National Popular Vote Compact legislation, I will up this again, with some slight revisions.

 (1) We don't have any mechanism for getting information about a national popular vote; the add-all-the-state-numbers-together tally is a complete fiction that has no direct meaning. The United States under the Electoral College does not run one election; it runs fifty-one different elections (states plus D.C.), weights them by Congressional representation (a simple way to weight by population), and gives the laurels to the person who won enough elections of sufficient weight. Each of these elections is run on different laws governing means of collecting votes, times and places, means of counting, and even who can vote and how. Adding numbers from different elections doesn't get you a 'national popular vote' number, because they are measuring different things. A vote in one state is a different legal entity than a vote in another state. What is more, there is always a certain amount of uncertainty in elections involving large populations (and the U.S. electorate is very large); we have no mechanisms, as we would need if we were collecting a real national popular vote number, for minimizing this uncertainty, and, indeed, trying to guesstimate a real national popular vote number from the elections we do have necessarily multiplies the uncertainty.

(2) The 'National Popular Vote Compact' is not a national popular vote system; the name is a lie. It is an Electoral College system under which states agree to ignore the decisions of their own populations and distribute their Electoral College votes based on a number that was obtained inconsistently with their own election laws and by methods that they cannot themselves properly monitor and correct. It is indeed as stupid as that sounds. As I have said before:

On the NPV system, states would be committing themselves in the Electoral College to preferring votes elsewhere to those cast by their own citizens. If State A doesn't allow felons to vote and State B does for civil rights reasons, then on the NPV plan, State A is committed to accepting as legitimate felons voting in in State B despite the fact that people in A exactly like those in B don't get to vote, and State B is committed to accepting as legitimate the election numbers coming out of State A, despite knowing quite well that the numbers are derived in part on what people in State B regard as a civil rights violation, and that there are potential voters in A whose votes are not getting counted despite the fact that they would count in B. This is an absurd situation. Moreover, NPV guarantees that states with well-thought-out election laws and well-run election systems are held hostage to those without....Numbers can't be established for a 'national popular vote' (even one based on a fiction) under a state-by-state system like ours unless all the states have their act together. We know for a fact that this can't be guaranteed, and that a state can make a complete mess of things by poor collection methods, inconsistent vote-counting, and loopholes for voting fraud. And we also know for a fact that nobody can actually fix these problems except citizens of that state.

Any state legislature that is so stupid as to sign on to the Compact is failing in their responsibilities to their own citizens; it is also basing its use of electoral power on a process it has no ability to monitor and for which it has no ability to correct abuses, namely, how other states are organizing voting and count votes.

(3) Because it is not a real national popular vote, and involves nothing remotely like what would be required for a real national popular vote, no arguments for a national popular vote actually give one a reason for supporting the National Popular Vote Compact. And because it doesn't have any mechanism for guaranteeing equal votes, no argument for equalizing votes can give a reason for supporting the National Popular Vote Compact. And because it is an Electoral College system that is designed on principles inconsistent with the Electoral College itself, no arguments about how the Electoral College could better represent the people of the United States can possibly give a reason for supporting the National Popular Vote Compact, either. There is no good reason for it. The Electoral College is resilient enough that maybe -- maybe -- it could avoid disaster, but a proposal that is so incoherent -- and it is, again, literally incoherent -- cannot possibly be good for an electoral system.

(4) The proposal depends on an attack on the integrity of the Electoral College; it requires claiming that the Electoral College as it is intended to function is not getting good results. But at the same time, the proposal does not eliminate the Electoral College, and, indeed, the entire point of the proposal is to avoid going through the proper process to amend the Constitution. This is a further incoherence in the plan: it is, and this is often explicit in the defenses of the defenders, an attempt to treat a provision of the Constitution as defective while simultaneously pretending it doesn't need actual correction. Any citizen in any state should regard a legislator's vote for the NPV plan as an act of contempt for the United States Constitution and as a sign of incompetence, because it takes both stupidity and contempt for the Constitution to treat such a ridiculous proposal as a serious election system.

(5) It's impressive how much of a brazen lie the name is. I've pointed out at length that it is not any kind of national popular vote. But it is also lyingly billed as an interstate compact that will come into effect once a sufficient number of states agree to it. It cannot in fact be both.Any state can direct how its legislature should choose electors, if it does not run afoul of other Constitutional requirements. If the National Popular Vote Compact were seen only as a bit of state legislation, for instance, the state legislature is directing that the vote of its own constituents should be ignored in favor of an artificial number created by a process which swamps out the votes of its constituents. It's unclear how this is consistent with the Constitutional requirement that each state should have a republican constitution, since it is inconsistent for a republic simply to ignore the votes of its entire citizenry, but it's possible that a state could get away with this -- it's not as if this is a banner era for upholding the values that are essential to a healthy republic. Likewise, for the reason noted above about different voting requirements in different statements, it arguably is inconsistent with the equal protection clause; but, again, people are very selective in how they apply equal protection. But the legislation is consistently presented not as a state making a decision for itself, but as a compact, and yet every time it is described by its partisans it is treated as if it went into effect the moment it is passed by states with enough votes together to elect the President, which it cannot be.  According to the Constitution, an interstate compact cannot have effect without the consent of Congress. Literally everything about this political proposal is a lie.

Monday, April 15, 2024

Links of Note

 * Bryan Garsten, The Liberalism of Refuge

* Daniel Novotny, Prolegomena to a Study of Beings of Reason in Post-Suarezian Scholasticism 1600-1650 (PDF) and Scholastic Debates about Beings of Reason and Contemporary Analytical Metaphysics (PDF)

* George H. Nash, John Witherspoon: Educating for Liberty, at the Acton Institute

* Nira Arapovic, Aristotle's Hylomorphism and the Mind-Body Problem (PDF)

* Edward Feser, Boundaries of Belief, reviews Guy Mansini's The Development of Doctrine, at "First Things"

* Colin Marshall, Schopenhauer on the Futility of Suicide (PDF)

* Jess Cockerill, Expired Cans of Salmon from Decades Ago Reveal a Big Surprise, at "ScienceAlert", on an interesting way of researching changes of marine ecology.

* Renato Costa, Law and Reality: A Dialogue Between Herman Dooyeweerd and John Finnis (PDF)

* Richard Y. Chappell, Three Recent Papers I Liked, at "Good Thoughts"

* Parisa Moosavi, The Function Argument for Ascribing Interests (PDF)

* John Carlos Baez, Protonium, at "Azimuth". Protonium is a rare occurrence when a proton and and antiproton orbit each other.

* Karin De Boer, Kant's Transcendental Turn to the Object (PDF)

* Gregory Thompson, Hinges and a Lock: Hospitality in a World of Predators, at "Comment"

* Yvonne Chiu, Seven military classics: martial victory through good governance (PDF)

* Nathaniel Scharping, What Does the History of Natural History Museums Look Like?, at Discovery

* Elliot Polsky, The Modern Semantic Principles Behind Gilson's Existential Interpretation of Aquinas (Part 1) (PDF) and The Modern Semantic Principles Behind Gilson's Existential Interpretation of Aquinas (Part 2) (PDF)

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Fortnightly Book, April 14

 The next fortnightly book is Blind Harry's The Wallace, one of the three fundamental pillars of Scottish literature. (The other two are the Bible and John Barbour's The Bruce.) We know almost nothing about the man who wrote the work, whose original title was The Acts and Deeds of the Illustrious and Valiant Champion Sir William Wallace, beyond the fact that his name was Hare or Hary or Harry or Henry or something like it. We do know that he was paid by King James IV for poetic services; he seems to have died in the 1490s. Some early authors say he was blind from birth, although this is often doubted.

The work itself is usually thought to have been written in the 1470s; our one extant manuscript of it is from 1488. However, the poet had the fortune of good timing; the first printing press in Scotland was set up in 1507, and print publishing was extremely good to the book. The Wallace was among the first books printed and it kept being one of the most popular books in Scotland for a very long time. It describes the fight of William Wallace against the English. The author's sense of geography is famously good -- scholars can literally trace the routes of armies on a map using the poem's descriptions -- and he is often thought to have been a soldier, because of a very vivid and accurate grasp on the tactics, logistics, and horrors of war. He also is extremely familiar with the historical events of the period. However, within this very historical framework, he invents freely to fill the gaps between Wallace's most famous achievements, and later historians often complain about just how freely he makes things up. (The volume I am using has an introduction by the editor, Anne McKim, who notes that some of the complaints about the accuracy of the movie Braveheart are actually due to the fact that the movie gets some of its major features directly from The Wallace.) But no one complains about the interest and excitement of the story.

This fortnightly book will likely take more than a fortnight; I am reading the Canongate Classics edition, which is not modernized. That is to say, I'm reading it in the fifteenth-century Scots. Fortunately, this edition is fairly generous with marginal glosses of the less obvious Scots words, and has a good set of notes in the back.

Peter Christian Asbjornsen and Jorgen Moe, The Complete and Original Norwegian Folktales of Asbjornsen & Moe


Opening Passages: Just a sample. From "About Ash Lad, Who Stole the Troll's Silver Ducks, Coverlet, and Golden Harp", the first tale in the collection:

There once was a poor man who had three sons. When he died, the two older sons were about to set off into the world to try their luck, but they refused to take the youngest with them.

"You!" they said. "The only thing you're good for is sitting here and digging in the ashes."

"Then I suppose I'll have to go alone," said Ash Lad. (p. 3)

From "The Virgin Mary as Godmother":

There once was a poor couple who lived far, far away in a great forest. The wife gave birth to a beautiful daughter, but they were so poor that they didn't know how they could afford to have the child christened. (p. 32)

From "Nothing Is Needed by the One All Women Love":

There once were three brothers. I don't really know how it happened, but each of them had been given one wish so they could have whatever they wanted. Two of the brothers didn't take long to decide. They wished that whenever they stuck their fist in their pocket, they would always find money. "For if a person has as much money as he wants, he will always make his way in the world," they said.

But the youngest knew to wish for something even better. His wish was that all women should fall in love with him the instant they saw him. As you will hear, this was better than either possessions or money. (p. 171)

From "East of the Sun and West of the Moon":

There once ws a poor farmer who had many children and not much to given them of either food or clothing, but the most beautiful of all was the youngest daughter, who was lovely beyond measure. (p. 182) 

Summary: In this collection of folktales we have everything one has come to expect from an anthology of fairy tales: beast fables, adventures of youngest sons of poor families, fantastic happenings, strange ingenuities, trolls, clever maidens, royal princesses, transformations, all mixed with vivid depictions and dry humor. 

Reading them all together, one notices some patterns. One very common pattern is that of the small thing that is actually big, whether literally or figuratively -- a ship that can be put in the pocket (derived from Freyr's ship in Norse myth), a person who seems insignificant but is great of heart or mind, and the like.  One of the recurring figures is Askeladden, Ash Lad, who is the Norse counterpart of the English Jack. (Apparently in the original tales, he was usually called Askefisen; but Norway has a curious language problem, in that there are different versions of the language, the Danish book-tongue and the more purely Norse dialects, and which you use can be politically charged. In the time of Asbjornsen and Moe, it was usual to 'Danicize' names, but there was a movement pushing for return to Norwegian roots, so rather than use Askefisen or the Danish equivalent, Askepot, they used one of the occasional nicknames, Askeladden. Of course, due to Asjbornsen and moe, Askeladden is now the dominant way of referring to him.) Ash Lad is not so much a character as a role. He is always the youngest son, generally the youngest of three. What family he has varies depending on what the story requires -- in some stories the family is royal, in others common; in some stories the family is wealthy, in most of them it is poor. He gets his name from the job of making sure that the fire does not completely go out, not a glamorous position, but one that figuratively seems quite significant. In the course of the story he goes on an adventure where he has to face a set of apparently unsolvable problems. He is sometimes innocent and sometimes mischievous, but he is always courageous and ingenious, and he tends to solve the problems in a fantastic way using unlikely means and a bit of quick wit. Faced with difficulties, he often finds them amusing rather than frustrating, and he always succeeds, winning the wealth, the kingdom, or the princess, as the case may be.

The stories that are best known from this collection are Norway's own perennial favorite, "Soria Moria Castle" (which I've talked about before), "The Three Billy Goats Gruff, Who Were Supposed to Go to the Mountain Pasture to Fatten Up", and the Scandinavian version of the Cupid and Psyche story, "East of the Sun and West of the Moon", which is probably, worldwide, the most highly regarded tale in the collection. There are also specifically Norwegian versions of tales that have better-known counterparts in other langauges, like "The Hen Who Had to Go to Dovre Mountain or Else the Whole World Would Perish", which is a version of what we would usually call "Chicken Little". A few others, like "The Mill That Keeps Grinding at the Bottom of the Sea", have alternative versions from other sources that are also popular. 

The tales don't strictly enforce a moral, and they are occasionally shot through with a bit of pessimism about life, but there are a few recurring moral features. Courage and wisdom are needed in order to have luck; the wise are lucky in exactly the circumstances that the foolish are most unlucky, precisely because they are not foolish. Fortune favors the brave, but perhaps favors the clever more. Advice is not always good, but it should never be treated lightly. And most of all, making a small sacrifice to do someone a favor may often be the key to success, because what seems small to you may -- not always, but sometimes -- mean the world to them, and they may -- not always, but sometimes -- return your small favor with a grand favor. A favor economy is a good economy for a fairy tale world; like so many other things in the fairy realm, a favor has a great power of amplification. All of these are true in our world as well, of course; precisely one of the values of a folktale is that its fantastic elements make it easier to see things that we forget because they are so obvious.

Favorite Passage: I like how the opening from "Well Done and Poorly Rewarded" is handled, with a neat twist in which the threat of the bear turns out to be rather different from expectation:

There once was a man who had to go to the forest to get some firewood. Then he met a bear.

"Give me your horse, or else I'll kill all your sheep in the summer," said the bear.

"Oh, God save me, no!" said the man. "There's not even a stick of firewood left back home. You have to let me take home a sled full of wood, or else we'll freeze to death. I'll bring the horse back to you tomorrow."

They agreed that he would do just that. But the bear told the man that if he didn't come back, he would lose all his sheep in the summer. (p. 217)

Recommendation: Highly Recommended. Norwegian Folktales is a lot like Grimm's Fairy Tales, but the Norwegian collection is much funnier than the German usually is.


Asbjornsen and Moe, The Complete and Original Norwegian Folktales of Asbjornsen & Moe, Nunnally, tr., University of Minnesota Press (Minneapolis: 2019).