Thursday, June 29, 2017


Canon exists. Once you stray from canon, you go from a slippery slope to a reductio ad absurdum in which all you have is an empty name. A Vegetarian Big Mac has no meat.  Alternately - and it is all about alternates - once a new poet recasts a myth, broad reception and acceptance can solidify that new interpretation into a classic. 

In the earliest saga of Sifrit, Brynhilda was a Valkyrie. In the Middle Ages, she was the Queen of Iceland; Hagan and his gang were Burgundians; and the curse of the Nibelungs was effected by Attila the Hun. Richard Wagner reanimated the older epic and made it the new canon. Clash of the Titans is no less canon than the re-imaged work of Apollonius of Rhodes who about 250 BCE borrowed from several ancient legends to build his Argonautica

The core of the Arthurian legends was a handful of separate stories. From them, Chretian of Troyes constructed a new epic for the court of Marie of Champagne, the half sister of Richard Lionheart. Four hundred years later, Sir Thomas Mallory reshaped the story for his own time - though we hardly know the difference between the two periods, both being only "medieval." In the 19th century, the romantic revolution provided the context for Alfred Lord Tennyson's Idylls of the King. Two generations later, they were presented as T. H. White's Once and Future King; and in another 20 years, the Broadway musical Camelot by Lerner, Loewe, and Hart came to stand for the Kennedy Administration.

How many times has Superman has been re-imaged? How many timelines and alternate universes exist? Even Bizarro Superman has re-instantiations.  And if Superman is variously vulnerable to the many forms of kryptonite, why is he never affected by his own costume, the space ship that brought him here, or Supergirl? (Riddle me that, Batman.)

In this version by Max Landis, Nick Dragotta, John Workman, and their collaborators, we meet a Superboy with whom Smallville is more or less adapted. Clark Kent's super powers still surprise him. Clark Kent's challenge after moving to Metropolis is to discover the range and limits of his abilities, and how to best use them--for his own good, and perhaps for a greater good. That greater good is also a challenge, though this version has no soul searching.

Superman and Clark Kent meet Batman and Bruce Wayne.  We have the wider field of vision, of course, perhaps even an x-ray vision by which we see their inner processes as they meet. But, again, Max Landis has written without the deep philosophizing of self reflection. As Montag said in Fahrenheit 451, inside each book is a man.


Sunday, June 25, 2017

Tarzan, the Amazons, and my Mother

Public education ain’t what it used to be.  It is a law of economics that collectivism is inefficient, an entropic downward path. So, it is no surprise that we were better at public education 100 years ago.  The other day at work, referring to “the old college try” someone said, “Siss boom bah” intended as a cheer from the stands. It is a common error, one I once made about 60 years ago and was corrected by my mother. Even though her culture expected her education to prepare her only to be a wife and mother, she did have two years of Latin, along with much else.  “Sic cum pah!” she said, “Thus with oomph.”
Left circa 1945. Right some years later.
 About that same time, give or take a few years, my brother and I were watching an old Tarzan movie on tv, and Mom stopped in.  It was Tarzan and the Amazons, and when they were taken to “Palmyria,” and they called for the Queen, Mom said, “This will be Zenobia.”  (Very much more on this Johnny Weismueller fan site.) I think that she was just eponymously the Queen, but, decades later, studying the numismatics of the Roman Empire, I learned about Zenobia of Palmyra and remembered that moment.

Tarzan returns Athena to the Amazons.
From IMDB Media view here.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Fools, Cowards, and Thucydides

The Internet assures that misattributions will always remain a problem.  “A nation that makes a great distinction between its scholars and its warriors will have its laws made by cowards and its wars fought by fools.” Widely attributed to Thucydides, it was not his statement.  Even the venerable Doctrine Man erred.

The quote comes from General Gordon, a biography of Charles George Gordon by Colonel Sir F. Butler (London: MacMillan & Co., 1891).  And it is so attributed at Wikiquote.

 Doctrine Man is to be found on Facebook. It is humor about the military in particular and politics and current events in general. Who Doctrine Man really is has been the subject of some controversy. It is beyond me, but apparently no few of the snide comments have subtexts that could only have come from conversations in the Pentagon. Doctrine Man is wholly credible, but that only underscores how common this misattributed quotation is.
Charles George Gordon (January 28, 1833 to January 26, 1885) was a Highlander who served as an engineer in the British army. His first action was in the Crimean War. Later, after the defeat of China in the Opium War, he then organized imperial Chinese troops fighting the rebels of the Taiping Revolt, for which he was called "Chinese" Gordon by the press. Gordon later was ordered to Egypt.  He evacuated the British from Khartoum. He then returned (against orders) and was killed defending the city against the armies of Muhammad Ahmad bin Abd Allah, the proclaimed Mahdi (redeemer preceding Judgment Day).  

"The nation that will insist upon drawing a broad line of demarcation between the fighting man and the thinking man is liable to find its fighting done by fools and its thinking by cowards."


Sunday, June 18, 2017

President Trump's Foreign Emoluments

The news squall about President Trump's “emoluments” from foreign governments is at once amusing and interesting to consider.  Two suits that have been filed by members of the Democrat Partythe attorneys general of Washington D.C. and the state of Maryland, and 188 members of Congress–are disingenuous. This “emoluments” accusation was raised earlier by conservatives about the business dealings of the Clinton Foundation. No one put the jinni back in the bottle, but he has been out before. 

Theodore Roosevelt was President of the United States when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  The grant was controversial on several grounds, both abroad and in the U.S. Congress (Nobel Prize site here).  
“Roosevelt did not keep the prize money. Though he stated privately to his son Kermit that he wished he could have kept it for his children, his wife Edith said a public figure such as Roosevelt could not keep such a reward. Instead, when he accepted his prize, Roosevelt stated he would be donating the money to Congress for the funding of a permanent Industrial Peace Committee which would address “fair dealings between classes of society.” However, Congress never organized the committee and so, during World War I, Roosevelt petitioned Congress to return the funds to him so that he could distribute the money to war relief efforts and various charities. -- Theodore Roosevelt Center here.
Later, U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull was nominated for a Peace Prize, which eventually was bestowed. “The lawyer and Democrat from Tennessee was US Secretary of State from 1933 to 1944. Hull was nominated for the Peace Prize several times in the second half of the 1930s for having conducted a policy of fraternization with Latin America and for having negotiated free trade agreements with a number of states. " -- (Nobel Prize Committee here.

The nominally objective “Politifact” website has waffled on this topic, first regarding President Obama, and then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. 
  • “Gingrich: Hillary Clinton broke law with foreign Clinton Foundation donations” Politifact: Mostly False (link here)
However, previously… 
  • "Obama re Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Henry Kissinger." Barely True (at first here )  but then ...  
  • Editor's note: This statement was rated Barely True when it was published. On July 27, 2011, we changed the name for the rating to Mostly False.
The Washington Post also presented both sides of the issue when the subject was Hillary Clinton.  The column was a Volokh Conspiracy Opinion: “Is the Emoluments Clause a problem for Hillary Clinton?” by Jonathan H. Adler for September 23, 2016. But Adler only pointed to another debate between two Case-Western Reserve law professors, Jonathan Entin and Erik Jensen. Their exchange ran in the Cleveland Plain Dealer and is archived on
  • The corrosive influence of 'presents' from foreign governments per the Emoluments Clause: Erik M. Jensen (Opinion) Updated on September 23, 2016 at 5:15 AM Posted on September 23, 2016 at 5:13 AM (here) 
  • Hillary Clinton's eligibility to be president is clear, despite the Emoluments Clause: Jonathan L. Entin (Opinion). Updated on September 23, 2016 at 5:14 AM Posted on September 23, 2016 at 5:13 AM (here
It is true that the businesses common to most US presidents have been military service and the law and, of course, elected office. Most were notoriously bad at business, which is why they went into politics.  Few had extensive business holdings. Standing as an exception to that, Nelson Rockefeller sought the Presidency in 1960 and 1964. He was appointed Vice President in 1974.  In response to current news about President Trump, Time magazine resurrected some of the controversy from its archives. (See here.)  

And, yet, the focus back then was only on the wealth itself, not any alleged foreign ties, though of course, they had to exist with his shares of Standard Oil and Chase Manhattan Bank. The same lacuna appeared (or failed to appear) in discussions about Steve Forbes or H. Ross Perot.

And what of the 200 military orders and decorations that American soldiers have received from 63 foreign governments? (Wikipedia here. )

"The United Nations and NATO are transnational governments that have awarded decorations to American soldiers.  Acceptance of the medals of other international multilateral organizations finally came with Executive Order 11446 in 1969. Acceptance of these international decorations must be approved by not only the Secretary of Defense, but also the Secretary of State." --  (Wikipedia here.)  It remains that neither the Secretary of Defense, nor the Secretary of State are the Congress, which, by law, is the only authority that can allow such gifts. 

The problem is not that President Trump accepted a few tens of thousands of dollars and a gold medal for discovering a new element. The problem is not that a foreign government awarded President Trump a medal for bravery.  The problem is that he profits from a transnational corporation, as do the Clintons, among many other people. Whether or not those dealings are grants of nobility or other emoluments has never been settled by legislation. Even a Supreme Court ruling could not take the question off the floor of Congress. That is the subject of the suit by 188 Democrat Party legislators (here). They are demanding that the courts order the matter back to Congress, itself a curious maneuver in American politics. 

"To redress that injury, Plaintiffs seek declaratory relief establishing that Defendant violates the Constitution when he accepts any monetary or nonmonetary benefit—any “present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever”—from a foreign state without first obtaining “the Consent of the Congress.” Plaintiffs also seek injunctive relief ordering Defendant not to accept any such benefits from a foreign state without first obtaining “the Consent of the Congress.” (Filing here.)

Article I. Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution says:  No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.  

That restriction came from the original Articles of Confederation. 

Article VI.  No State, without the consent of the United States in Congress assembled, shall send any embassy to, or receive any embassy from, or enter into any conference, agreement, alliance or treaty with any King, Prince or State; nor shall any person holding any office of profit or trust under the United States, or any of them, accept any present, emolument, office or title of any kind whatever from any King, Prince or foreign State; nor shall the United States in Congress assembled, or any of them, grant any title of nobility.

 Equality and independence are deeply complementary aspects of American culture. We treat the President as an equal because we expect him to be independent.

Previously on Necessary Facts
Libraries of the Founders
Why Democracy is Difficult
The Syrian Quagmire
Wolf Devoon

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Crimes Against Logic: Exposing Bogus Arguments

The author calls this “a troubleshooting guide” similar to the owner’s manual of a car or computer. “It is aimed at everyday users and consumers of reasoning…” It certainly meets that measure. The main thrust is on failures of right reason such as inconsistency, equivocation, and begging the question. The author also reveals false claims, principally phony statistics.

Before moving into financial consulting and electioneering for the open market in his homeland of New Zealand, Jamie Whyte completed master’s and doctor’s degrees in  philosophy at Cambridge University (Wikipedia here).  You can find some of his essays archived at the Cobden Centre here. The Centre is named for the successful manufacturer and proponent of laissez-faire in early 19th century Britain, Richard Cobden.  His writings are archived at the Online Library of Liberty here.

In formal terms, Jamie Whyte is an objectivist, a strict rational-empiricist whose logically consistent statements explain experiential facts. This book is his attack on some of the people who fail to meet either standard.
Crimes Against Logic: Exposing the Bogus Arguments
of Politicians, Priests, Journalists, and Other Serial Offenders

by Jamie Whyte. (McGraw-Hill 2004, 157 pages.)
Google Books has an extract of the first chapter
on why you do not have a right to your opinion, here
The first crime that Whyte investigates is the claim that you have a right to your opinion. No such right exists. Whyte points out that this assertion is founded on an ambiguity. You do have a political right to an opinion. However, that is not to be confused with the epistemic right to an opinion. The epistemic right to an opinion, says Whyte, is similar to the right to boast. Just as you first must achieve something worthy of boasting, so, too, is the “right” to an opinion earned by correctly identifying facts and then explaining them rationally. When someone retreats by claiming that they have a “right” their opinion, they are actually admitting that they are wrong, or at the very least, they can present no reasons and facts to support their assertions.

In the chapter “Prejudice in Fancy Dress” Whyte demolishes Pascal’s Wager and several other examples including Faith and Mystery. The subhead “But Still” examines calls for the acceptance of ignorance. This is actually a variant of the non-existent right to an opinion. Yes, the facts are on your side. Yes, your argument is logical. But still I prefer my prejudices.

The chapter “Shut Up!” scrutinizes several ways that those losing an argument seek to cut off debate by silencing their opponent. Well-known facts are boring. That a claim can be countered with a boring fact in no way mitigates the strength of the contrary assertion. That a boring fact has been marshaled is especially strong, as it points to a clear violation by the party demanding that the other shut up. 

Under the subhead “Shut Up, You Sound Like Hitler” Whyte calls mass murder “something of a lottery.”  He tells of being in a Lenin Bar in Auckland, “decorated with red stars and black and white images of the great Communist leader.”  Hitler bars, he notes, seem to be in short supply. 

In the chapter on “Empty Words” Whyte goes into some depth on the use and abuse of sneer quotes. His example focuses on post-modernist philosopher Imr√© Lakatos. When you say that my “facts” are in dispute, it is clear from the quotes that you do not believe my claims to be facts. Whyte says that in discussing the work of physicist A. A. Michelson, Lakotos’s excessive use of sneer quotes reveals that he believes knowledge to be impossible because facts are non-existent. This is not unique to one philosopher. Whyte calls the abuse of quotes a hallmark of post-modernist academic writing.

Implied Generalizations slip into discussions – and usually slip by unchallenged. Whyte offers a bald example. When a Christian says that homosexuality should be illegal because it is condemned in the Bible, that is an implied generalization because the Bible condemns many things, including the use of cotton-polyester blends. Backing off from making illegal the use of mixed fabrics (also working on the Sabbath and eating shellfish) then leads to an inconsistency. Whyte also offers a mundane example in Tony Blair’s active campaigning against fox hunting while insisting that other forms of hunting (including fishing) would never be proscribed by his government. Why not?  The implied generalization is that cruel sports are wrong. The resultant inconsistency is that some are acceptable after all.

The chapter “Begging the Question” is subtle and deep. Most of this book was fun to read and I had little difficulty relating to the material. Whyte is a good writer. His topic is compelling. His examples are from everyday experience. However, I read “Begging the Question” three times through and made close notes all along. It paid off well. Whyte sets up a debate in which libertarian Jack calls for an end to regulations. Socialist Jill claims that this would lead to mass poverty. In fact, Jill is begging the question. Jack’s position is that property rights are absolute. Rather than accepting the premise, Jill needs to address it by first showing that property rights are not absolute. Whyte then offers a longer discussion on tolerance. When a Christian fundamentalist asserts that abortion is murder, the response is not, “If you believe that, then do not have an abortion, but neither should you interfere with the rights of others to have them.”  Substitute the word “murder” for “abortion” and you can see that the plea for tolerance only begs the question: Is abortion murder or not? 

You will find discussions of false statistics, weasel words, hurrah words, morality fever, coincidences, and more. It is easily true that no one likes to be contradicted, but that is one way that we discover the truth. As Whyte points out, when you are crossing the street in the false belief that there are no cars coming, you don’t mind being contradicted. Intransigent devotion to the truth is always in your best interest.
(An earlier version appeared under Books on the Rebirth of Reason discussion site for September 3, 2008,  here.)  


Saturday, June 3, 2017

From Joint Force to Unified Command

No one asked me, but I believe that eventually the armed forces of the United States will become a single entity. Different services from the component down to the fire team will maintain identity and special esprit de corps. However, the uniforms and ranks will be unified, and all will share one name: the United States Armed Forces. The unarmed military forces – the Public Health Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – will continue apart from them, perhaps until the time when Earth benefits from a common government.
Marine Corps "Fat Albert" rocket-assisted take-off, one of the
Navy's "Blue Angels" team. (left) US Army C-12 Huron (right). 
We are already moving in that direction with the concept of the joint force. And it is nothing new. It is a common quip that the Army has more boats than the Navy and more aircraft than the Air Force.  It not quite true, but it does underscore the fact that all of the services have operated their own cross-environmental platforms. This probably originated with the Battle of Myle (260 BCE). The Romans defeated the Carthaginians when they changed a sea battle into a land battle by dropping planks so that their soldiers could cross onto the enemy ships.
US Armed Forces as a whole must be multi-mission capable; interoperable among all elements of US Services and selected foreign militaries; and able to coordinate operations with other agencies of government, and some civil institutions.Multi-Mission Capable. Our forces must be proficient in their core warfighting competencies and able to transition smoothly from a peacetime posture to swift execution of multiple missions across the full spectrum of operations. …
 Some situations demand the unique capabilities of only one Service, but most will call for capabilities from all Services. The skillful and selective combination of Service capabilities into Joint Task Forces provides US commanders great flexibility in tailoring forces to meet national objectives given specific circumstances.
US Air Force Boats. The "Tyndall Navy" has provided electronic
support of missile tests since 1957. The USAF also floats
the Rising Star, a Thule-class tugboat.
 Joint Base San Antonio (JBSA) is a United States military facility located in San Antonio, Texas, USA. The facility is under the jurisdiction of the United States Air Force 502d Air Base Wing, Air Education and Training Command (AETC). The wing's three Mission Support Groups perform the installation support mission at the three bases that form JBSA.

The facility is a Joint Base of the United States Army Fort Sam Houston, the United States Air Force Randolph Air Force Base ,Lackland Air Force Base and Martindale Army Airfield , which were merged on 1 October 2010.
Joint Base Charleston … is a United States military facility located partly in the City of North Charleston, South Carolina and partly in the City of Goose Creek, South Carolina . The facility is under the jurisdiction of the United States Air Force 628th Air Base Wing, Air Mobility Command (AMC). The facility is an amalgamation of the United States Air Force Charleston Air Force Base and the United States Navy Naval Support Activity Charleston, which were merged on 1 October 2010.
US Army's Spearhead theater support vessel (TSV).
Commissioned 2002-2005. One of 127,793 Army vessels.
 WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 2, 2009) -- An Army installation in New Jersey and two in Virginia officially transformed Thursday to become part of new joint bases.
 Near the nation's capital, the Fort Myer Military Community joined forces with the Marine Corps' Henderson Hall, Va., to form Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall. The Army will manage installation functions there. The new joint base also includes Fort McNair in the District of Columbia.
 In central New Jersey, Fort Dix combined forces with Naval Air Engineering Station Lakehurst and McGuire Air Force Base to form Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. At the new "super base," the Air Force will run installation management operations, acting as a sort of city manager to control basic infrastructure functions.
 Finally, in southern Virginia, Fort Story joined up with Naval Mid-Atlantic Region at Naval Station Norfolk to form Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, with installation management provided by the Navy.

Friday, June 2, 2017

The Purse of Eratosthenes

For about 10 years in the 1990s, I worked on assembling a collection of ancient coins worth about a day's wages from the towns and times of Greek philosophers. I was inspired by an episode of Carl Sagan's Cosmos, "Backbone of the Night." Although I discovered that I lack the passions of a true collector for rarity, condition, and completeness, I was rewarded with explorations in ancient history and the opportunity to learn enough classical Greek to do my own translations.
Drachmon from Kyrene c. 550 BCE Zeus Ammon and Silphium
(About the size of US 5-cent nickel)
I discovered the town of Cyrene (Kyrene), near what is today Benghazi. Eratosthenes of Cyrene was the third Librarian of Alexandria (from 245 BCE) after Zenodochus and Callimachus. Circumference by Nicholas Nicastro (St. Martins 2008) reviewed on this blog (here) is a modern biography of Eratosthenes and his works. He was also a grammarian and historian. His other mathematical work includes a "sieve" to find prime numbers.  His biography is on Wikipedia, of course:  It is also repeated more succinctly here:  
and more fully here:
The Hellenistic world was very much like our own time: held in tension by science and superstition, commerce and war, ecumenism and parochialism.
Kyrene was founded by Dorians from the island of Thera in 631 BCE. Its primary claim to fame was the presence of silphium. Silphium was discovered to prevent pregnancy. It was highly valued and eventually harvested to extinction, despite valiant attempts to cultivate it there and elsewhere. Not surprisingly, the history of Kyrene reflected many of the cultural trends of the times. Twice, it suffered from constitutional crises as factions in the assembly became gangs in the streets. Both times, the solution was to send to Athens for philosophers skilled at politics who created compromises. 
Obol or hemi-drachm. Demeter with Eagle killing snake.
(About half the size of a US dime.)
The town also was home to two women who married a Ptolemy: Berenike I and Berenike II. The constellation Coma Berenices was supposedly the hair  of Berenike II, offered to the gods for the safe return of Ptolemy III Euergetes from a war in Syria. "Veronica" is the latinized form of Berenike. 

Among the ancient philosophers, the Cyrenaics followed the teachings of Aristippos. The school was maintained and extended by his daughter, Arete, and her son, Aristippos. Though originally a student of Socrates, Aristippos asserted his own line of thought. He advocated seeking pleasure by adapting to circumstances. He gave up the safety of a city and traveled widely. To understand the consequences of that, remember that Diogenes the Cynic was captured by pirates and sold as a slave. It was not unusual for the times. There was no safety outside the city walls. Yet, the Alexandrians coined the word "cosmopolitan" for the universal citizen or citizen of the world, not tied to any one city, but comfortable anywhere.
Ptolemy II and Berenike I. Alexandria Mint.
(Bronze coin about the size of a US quarter)
Eratosthenes, the town of Kyrene, and the Library at Alexandria became a focus for my interests and one of the first articles I wrote about the numsimatics of the ancient world was “The Purse of Eratosthenes: the Coinage and Commerce of Cyrene,” The Celator, Vol. 8, no 1, (January 1994).  (Founded by Wayne G. Sayles, The Celator passed to a couple of other editors and publishers and then closed just a few years ago.)  

We quip and quote about the long run of history, which may or may not repeat itself to our doom. The fact is that the Library of Alexandria attracted savants from all across the Greek koinon ("union").  They developed their own distinct and universal dialect, in which, ultimately, the New Testament was written. When the house of Ptolemy fell on hard times, the library released many of its scholars to find their own ways. Rather than marking a nadir, it caused a secondary flourishing in the Hellenistic world as accumulated learning was cast to the winds to flourish wherever open minds were found.

Happy Pi Day of the Century 
Bringing Philosophy to Athens - Aspasia of Miletos
Numismatics: History as Market 
Valentine's Day: Love and Money