Sunday, August 29, 2010 46 Comments

The rabble of Imperial Rome

The study of history reduces to two tasks. One: reading primary sources. Two: assessing their credibility. If we know whom in the past to trust, we know the story of the past. Until he makes this judgment, the historian is no more than a database administrator.

How do we assess the credibility of a dead man? If he was live, we could talk to him. We could see if he had a shifty look, if his hands trembled, if he grinned frequently to impress the gullible. Him being dead, all we have is his books and his skull.

But there is one obvious approach: we can test predictions against hindsight. If a source predicts X and X later happens, we are objectively entitled to suspect that X has a clue.

He could just be lucky, of course. And the man who predicts correctly that his neighbor's house will burn down is a prophet, until a can of gasoline is found in his garage. The Anglo-American journalists of the 1930s were almost unanimous in predicting a second war with Germany. That war came - but who caused it? The activities of these prophets are by no means above suspicion.

Where can we find prophets who are not arsonists? We can read the losers, those whose actions are by definition futile. The man who predicts that his neighbor will burn his own house down, before his own house burns down, shows every sign of being a reliable source. Did he torch his own house, to implicate his neighbor? Possible - but unlikely.

One figure who scores high on this test is an old UR favorite, the Confederate theologian R. L. Dabney. From his Life and Letters of Thomas Jackson (1866):
History will some day place the position of these Confederate States, in this high argument, in the clearest light of her glory. The cause they undertook to defend was that of regulated constitutional liberty, and of fidelity to law and covenants, against the licentious violence of physical power. The assumptions they resisted were precisely those of that radical democracy, which deluged Europe with blood at the close of the eighteenth century, and which shook its thrones again in the convulsions of 1848; the agrarianism which, under the name of equality, would subject all the rights of individuals to the will of the many, and acknowledge no law nor ethics, save the lust of that mob which happens to be the larger.

This power, which the old States of Europe expended such rivers of treasure and blood to curb, at the beginning of the century, had transferred its immediate designs across the Atlantic, was consolidating itself anew in the Northern States of America, with a wealth, an organization, an audacity, an extent to which it never aspired in the lands of its birth, and was preparing to make the United States, after crushing all law there under its brute will, the fulcrum whence they should extend their lever to upheave every legitimate throne in the Old World.

Hither, by emigration, flowed the radicalism, discontent, crime, and poverty of Europe, until the people of the Northern States became, like the rabble of Imperial Rome, the colluvies gentium. The miseries and vices of their early homes had alike taught them to mistake license for liberty, and they were incapable of comprehending, much more of loving, the enlightened structure of English or Virginian freedom.

The first step in their vast designs was to overwhelm the Conservative States of the South. This done, they boasted that they would proceed first to engross the whole of the American continent, and then to emancipate Ireland, to turn Great Britain into a democracy, to enthrone Red Republicanism in France, and to give the crowns of Germany to the Pantheistic humanitarians of that race who deify self as the supreme end and selfish desire as the authoritative expression of the Divine Will.
Check, check, check, check and check. One wonders what the Rev. Dabney would have made of the Love Parade. No, actually - one doesn't wonder much at all.

Monday, August 16, 2010 40 Comments

Abecedarium Nordmannicum

  1. Money is the death of friends;
    The wolf lives in the woods.

  2. Miscast iron rusts;
    On snow the reindeer race.

  3. Thor ruins the woman.
    Fortune destroys the man.

  4. The river finds the shore
    As holster meets its sword.

  5. The horse will heal that rests.
    The snake's sword was best.

  6. Children are plague's meal;
    Death in person always pale.

  7. Hail is the coldest corn.
    In Christ the world was born.

  8. Force is greater than cost:
    The naked man discovers frost.

  9. A bridge we call wide ice;
    Here the blind are guided.

  10. Wealth is everyone's dream.
    Giving was Frothi's game.

  11. The sun declares its dome;
    Sky is God's blue home.

  12. Strong is one-armed Tyr,
    Blacksmith of the years.

  13. Birch, the greenest stick;
    Loki, lucky in his tricks.

  14. Man is water and dirt.
    The hawk's foot is great.

  15. Hills drop rivers cold;
    Rings throw gifts of gold.

  16. The greenest tree is yew.
    Hear it crackle in the flue.

Monday, August 9, 2010 79 Comments

Open thread for all birthers

A fin or two has broken the surface. But I am still very busy. I have a very hard deadline somewhere in the middle of September.

So it occurs to me that UR readers might enjoy discussing that great chestnut of our age - B.H. Obama's life records. Dear UR reader, are you a birther, or an anti-birther?

If you are a birther (ie, you believe USG should release B.H. Obama's vital records, including original birth documents, college transcripts, medical files, Man's Country gift certificates, etc, etc, to the public for historical study), what do you feel the historical meaning of this debate is? Can you think of any parallels in the past?

If you are an anti-birther, I refer you to the official statement of Dr. Chiyome Fukino, director of the Hawaii State Department of Health. According to USA Today, Dr. Fukino claims to have "seen the original vital records maintained on file by the Hawaii State Department of Health verifying Barack Hussein Obama was born in Hawaii and is a natural-born American citizen."

Of course, anyone can claim to have seen anything. A lot of people claim to have seen Bigfoot. Am I a Bigfoot believer? I would not be surprised to learn that Bigfoot exists, or that he doesn't. I can say much the same for a 1961 B.H. Obama birth document with nothing to hide.

Bigfoot is a puzzling riddle. But no painstaking detective work is needed in the case of B.H. Obama - philosophy will suffice. Deductively, we can assert that either Dr. Fukino is lying, or she is telling the truth. If she is lying, or even trying to mislead (note how carefully parsed her syntax seems), the birther case is proven by definition. Therefore, let's assume she is both honest and sincere.

If Dr. Fukino is honest and sincere, she has seen a 1961 B.H. Obama birth document. (With or without something to hide.) Therefore, B.H. Obama and his associates are actively withholding this historical document (which should not be confused with a database printout on fancy paper) from the public in the face of substantial public interest. Remember, this is a best-case scenario.

Therefore, we can reframe the question of "birther" versus "anti-birther" into a less loaded and more symmetrical structure. You are a "sealer" if you think B.H. Obama's life records should remain sealed, and an "opener" if you think they should be opened.

As a sealer, you can reasonably be expected to answer three questions. First: why do you think B.H. Obama is withholding his birth documents and other vital records? Second: why do you feel these records should remain sealed? Third: if B.H. Obama's records should remain sealed now, at what point should they become accessible to historians? The end of his term? The end of his political career? The end of his life, plus 100 years? The end of the Solar System?

The problem, for the student of history, is that the identity of B.H. Obama (unlike the existence of Bigfoot) is an important historical question. Without access to B.H. Obama's sealed life records, no historian can write a history of 2008-10 which is both definitive and true.

When these records are released, assuming they are ever released, they will reveal one of two realities. Either (a) B.H. Obama had nothing to hide; or (b) B.H. Obama had something to hide. Beware the historian who writes the definitive true history of one of these realities, then finds out he lives in the other.