A 'Must Read' for Heathens

I have enjoyed the writings of Dr. Tom Shippey on Tolkien for many years, but a recent post to a Heathen email list brought this lecture to light: Tolkien and Iceland: The Philology of Envy.

Basically it covers the same territory as The Road to Middle Earth. Here's a passage that should show why I feel that this is a 'must' read for Heathens:

However, the third reason I would indicate for the powerful impact of Old Norse on European scholars, and on Tolkien, is the rationale it gives for heroism. The most surprising image of Old Norse mythology, for Christians, is perhaps the idea of Ragnarök, an Armageddon which the wrong side wins. Tolkien was very impressed by this, as one can see from his comments in his 1936 British Academy lecture on Beowulf:
"It is the strength of the northern mythological imagination that it faced this problem, put the monsters in the centre, gave them victory but no honour, and found a potent and terrible solution in naked will and courage. 'As a working theory absolutely impregnable.' So potent is it, that while the older southern [i.e. Classical] imagination has faded far even into literary ornament, the northern has power, as it were, to revive its spirit even in our own times. It can work, as it did even with the goðlauss viking, without gods: martial heroism as its own end. But we may remember that the poet of Beowulf saw clearly: the wages of heroism is death."
However, one can also see that - writing just before the outbreak of World War II - Tolkien was also rather disturbed by it: he saw that the ethos it represented could be used by either side, as indeed it was in the deliberate cultivation of Götterdämmerung by the Nazi leadership a few years later. Nevertheless it did provide an image of heroic virtue which could exist, and could be admired, outside the Christian framework. In some respects the Old Norse "theory of courage" might even be regarded as ethically superior to the Classical if not to the Christian world-view, in that it demanded commitment to virtue without any offer of lasting reward. Men must fight monsters because it was their duty, not because they thought the monsters would lose, or the gods would win. In the deep disillusionment which overtook the Western world, and England especially, after 1918, the Old Norse mythology seemed immune to self-doubt, precisely because it had no self-belief.

Read the whole thing. And if you'd like an extra "lore treat", read Professor Shippey's books: you'll not be disappointed.

23:00 /Asatru | 0 comments | permanent link

The politics of tax breaks

Here's a perfect example of how (and why) government uses it's power to control companies, and why I can claim with a straight fact that the free market in America is naught but a chimera - a really cool critter built from incompatible parts which is also, by the way, totally imaginary.

Do incentives used to lure tech companies keep money from schools--and thus hurt U.S. efforts to stay competitive?

(link) [CNET News.com]

23:00 /Politics | 0 comments | permanent link

Stallman Selling Autographs

OK, my respect for RMS just went up by about 100% (and it was already pretty high to begin with). Here's what he had to say about the brouhaha:

I believe that all software ethically must be free, free in the sense of respecting the users' freedom, but I don't believe that software must be gratis--nor services, such as autographing or posing. Rather, I believe people deserve the freedom to decide whether to do these things. So I decline to support the newly formed gratis autograph movement. Instead, I hereby launch the free autographing movement, which advocates everyone's freedom to sign autographs or not.

In other words, he restated what he's been saying all along: Free as in freedom, not free as in beer.


Sports stars, musicians, and other celebrities have been charging for autographs for years, but who would have thought Richard Stallman would be doing the same? Is this just for fun, or a clever, highly effective protest? Hackers, geeks and nerds gathered together at the 7th FISL - Internacional Free Software Forum, in Porto Alegre (Brazil) last week, were astounded when they got word that Richard Stallman, the founding father of the Free Software Foundation and creator of the GPL, was charging R$ 10 (about US$ 3) for an autograph and R$ 5 (less than US$ 2) to get his picture taken by free software enthusiasts at the event floor.

(link) [Slashdot]

23:00 /Technology | 0 comments | permanent link

Pain at the Pumps

It appears that Chucky Schumer has noticed something amazing about the oil business:

Schumer called the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), which controls a significant portion of the world's oil supply, a "cartel," and charged that mergers between multi-billion dollar oil companies such as Exxon and Mobil have eliminated competition.

"We have five vertically integrated companies," Schumer said. "They don't compete."

Well, duh! The fabled "Seven Sisters of Oil" are now Five Fat Ladies, and, unless current trends suddenly reverse themselves, there'll soon be Three Big Women. Does this impact the marketplace for oil? You betcha! So does OPEC, of course.

In fact, this situation has been brought about by government policies, tax and otherwise, encouraging concentration and propping up false economies of scale. Schumer himself was the co-author of much of the legislation that led to this situation. Government tells them where they can drill, and for how long and how deep. Government varies their tax rates - sometimes subsidizing, sometimes punishing. Government regulates the wages and benefits they pay their workers. Government regulates the size of their buildings and sets the grades for their gasoline products. Government severely limits the entry of new players into the market, by setting the size of oil and gas leases and writing the law on mineral rights. The limited number players in the oil market is nothing new - why is Schumer just noticing? Two words: high prices.

Apparently , industry concentration and control by cartels was no big deal when gas was less than $2/gallon here. Let the price go beyond a certain level, however, and suddenly the oil companies are "gouging" - despite the fact that their margins have remained the same.

This is demonstrable by looking at agribusiness - while there are five "Big Oil" companies, there are only four meat packers in the US. Why is Schumer not calling for a little "trust busting" in this arena?

It must be price - as long as industry concentration keeps prices low (even if artificially low), it's "good for the country". If prices rise beyond a certain level, even if due to nothing done by the concentrated companies involved, they're suddenly the "bad guys" who are "gouging" the public.

What's important to recognize here is that there is no free market in either oil or beef. We have a established system of state sponsored behemoths to deal with the basic necessities of our lives (energy and food). Today we call this system "capitalism". In earlier days it would've been called out for what it really is: fascism, also known as national socialism.

How important is a name? Think about it: if we called this system "socialism", and asserted public ownership, government would not have to debate about "trust-busting", they'd just go in and set the price at the level they see fit. Which would be a disaster - witness the massive failure of every centrally planned economy ever attempted.

But since we call it "capitalism", government can exert a much finer degree of control through political pressure (threats), while maintaining the fiction of private ownership. Government, after all, made these companies, and they know that. He who pays the piper calls the tune...

The emperor has no clothes. There is no free market in either oil or beef. In fact, there is precious little free market left anywhere. And until and unless we finally establish one, we'll continue to see wild swings in the business cycle, dependence on non-renewable energy sources, and hormone enhanced beef dominating the market.

Would you like some crude oil on your beefsteak, Senator Schumer?

In an exclusive debate on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos," Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., faced off with former Senator J. Bennett Johnston, D-La., now a spokesperson for the oil industry, on the issue burning a hole in American pocketbooks — rising gas prices.

(link) [ABC News]

via Thoughts from the Middle of Nowhere

23:00 /Agriculture | 0 comments | permanent link

When the cops only saw red

The more things change ...

Lurking behind the effort to revitalize local police intelligence is a nasty skeleton in the closet--the legacy of the old "Red Squads." While most attention to illegal spying in the 1960s and 1970s centers on infamous federal programs like the FBI's COINTELPRO and the CIA's Operation Chaos, many of the worst abuses went on at the local level. Originally formed to surveil and root out Communists, the Red Squads were ubiquitous by the 1960s, reaching into city and state police departments nationwide: New York City had its Special Services Division, Los Angeles its Public Disorder Intelligence Division, and Chicago its Subversive Activities Unit.

(link) [U.S. News & World Report]

23:00 /Politics | 1 comment | permanent link

Economist John Kenneth Galbraith Dies

Strange as it might seem, I owe a debt of gratitude to this man, as he was indirectly responsible for my discovery of the whole philosophy of libertarianism.

I happened during a broadcast of Firing Line, which I was watching as a freshman in high school to bone up on my debating skills. Both host William F Buckley and Galbraith took potshots at a philosopher I'd never heard of, a lady named Ayn Rand. I figured that if Left and Right both thought she was bad news, maybe she was onto something, as Left and Right were both rather obviously full hot air, with policy differences of mere quantity. With Rand as a base, within five years I'd found Ludwig von Mises, Rothbard and my political identity. It's varied and shifted over the years, but always around the central premise of freedom. So "Thank you!", Professor Galbraith, and rest in peace.

AP - John Kenneth Galbraith, the Harvard professor who won worldwide renown as a liberal economist, backstage politician and witty chronicler of affluent society, died Saturday night, his son said. He was 97.

(link) [Yahoo! News: Top Stories]

23:00 /Politics | 0 comments | permanent link

Song for Walburga

Tulips twirling twixt tiny tendrils
spider spun sunlit swirls,
feathers following fragrant flowers.
Glowing Goddess gliding golden green,
wild Walburga, wend where we wait!

Queen quoting Quixotic quotients,
divinely dividing, devouring death,
living life, loading living.
Merry May means much more
when wild Walburga wends where we wait.

23:00 /Asatru | 2 comments | permanent link

A Cajun Craftsman Preserves the Hallowed Ping of History

I fell in love with Cajun music (and Zydeco) while on a trip through Louisiana in the late 80's, and have remained a fan ever since. I had no idea how the triangles were made (and yes, I own one of the small souvenir ones the article mentions) - I find it fascinating that they're reforged hayrake tines. Talk about "found music"!

Dieu Donné Montoucet makes virtually indestructible triangles, the instrument that paces Cajun music.

(link) [New York Times]

23:00 /Home | 0 comments | permanent link

The Real Cost of Cheap Food

I got off on a bit of rant the other day concerning large agribusiness claims that cheap labor (in the form of illegal immigrants) is what keeps the price of food low in the United States. To a certain extent, they're right: cheaper labor will obviously lower the price of nearly anything. But, as they say, there's no such thing as a free lunch, and the real costs of much food production these days are not really reduced, they're just hidden or pushed forward for future generations to contend with. Consider the cost of water rights, and the availability of fresh water.

The water situation is not only critical in Africa and the developing world, it seriously affects farming and ranching in the American West as well. And with the rise of CAFO operations in the Midwest, it's starting to impact folks around here as well.

A great deal of the moaning and complaining going on right now about illegal immigrants here is part and parcel of the same process: argibusinesses are importing the cheap labor, and passing off the costs to the general public (in the form of public welfare and health assistance) or deferring them to the future (generations of children in Mexico raised with absentee fathers, for example).

Water rights, like immigration policies, are the province of law, and governments worldwide have indulged themselves in setting these vital economic interests by political means, with the resulting waste, confusion and mismanagement.

Large producers get preferential treatment, and sometimes even subsidies, simply because they have more political clout than smaller operations. The result is economic concentration, and the deferral of real costs.

The benefits are visible immediately: cheap food. And the real costs won't be coming due until most of the politicians and businessmen setting them up are out of office or long dead. We're mortgaging our future, and unless we wake up, it's likely to bankrupt our grandchildren.

To you it is a bag of salad, dropped into the supermarket trolley with the weekly groceries. But to farmers in Kenya starved of the water extracted by large scale agriculture to grow it, it may spell destitution. The world is running out of water and British supermarket shoppers are contributing to global drought, according to environmental pressure groups.

(link) [The Independent]

23:00 /Agriculture | 0 comments | permanent link

FBI snooped on thousands without court OK in '05

We now have our Star Chamber. But who will serve as our Freeborn John remains to be seen.

The FBI secretly sought information last year on 3,501 U.S. citizens and legal residents from their banks and credit card, telephone and Internet companies without a court's approval, the Justice Department said Friday.

(link) [CNN.com]

23:00 /Politics | 0 comments | permanent link

Keith Richards out of his tree, in hospital

Q: How can you tell if the stage is level at a Rolling Stones concert?

A: Keith Richards is drooling out of both sides of his mouth.

Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards has suffered a mild concussion while vacationing in Fiji and was flown to hospital in New Zealand as a precaution, a spokeswoman for the band said in a brief statement Saturday.

(link) [CNN.com]

23:00 /Humor | 0 comments | permanent link

Co-conspirator's possible links to prostitutes eyed

I'm speechless. For once a political scandal has left me utterly without words: most of the folks under investigation are Republicans, and most of them campaigned against Democratic Congressional corruption scandals in 1994. And now they seem to be in a contest to one-up even that utterly corrupt gang of thieves.

But not even the most flagrantly corrupt Democrat ever tried to influence policy in a [literally] smoke-filled room in the Watergate Hotel! This old boys network they've got going is so absolutely stereotypical as to defy belief - I couldn't make this shit up if I tried.

Read it and laugh. Read it and weep. Read it and remember that November's only six months away.

Federal prosecutors are reviewing records of two Washington, D.C., hotels where Poway defense contractor Brent Wilkes rented suites as part of their investigation into whether prostitutes were involved as he tried to curry favor with lawmakers and CIA officials.

(link) [SignOnSanDiego.com]

23:00 /Politics | 0 comments | permanent link

Mexican lawmakers back U.S. immigration protest

Nothing boils my blood like a hypocrite, and I'd like to suggest here that perhaps these folks should be concentrating on the brutal life for immigrants in Mexico rather than fretting so much about US policy.

Mexican lawmakers issued a declaration of support for immigrant protests planned in the United States on Monday and said they will send a delegation to Los Angeles to show their solidarity.

(link) [CNN.com]

Sun-Times link via Secular Blasphemy

23:00 /Politics | 0 comments | permanent link

Rehab, $30,000 keep Limbaugh out of court

Of course, the little people of Florida face much stiffer penalties...

I think drug prohibition is a bad idea: I don't really give a rat's ass what kind of pills you pop or weeds you smoke to make you feel better. Real crimes involve force or fraud - rape, robbery or murder come immediately to mind. Nonetheless, it makes me almost physically ill to see the law perverted like this. Limbaugh should face the same music the rest of us have to face, fines and a promise of treatment notwithstanding. I wonder if Penny Spence had coughed up $30k if she would've gotten an 18 month suspended sentence instead of looking at 25 years? Or maybe if she was a right wing radio talk show host, too?

I wonder how much it costs in Florida to bribe your way out of a murder rap? Or any crime - apparently it's a state where justice is for sale.

Firebrand radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh was charged Friday with fraudulently concealing information to obtain prescription drugs, but prosecutors will drop the charge after 18 months if Limbaugh remains in treatment for drug addiction, his lawyer said.

(link) [CNN.com]

23:00 /Politics | 1 comment | permanent link

Senate Bill May Ban Streaming MP3s

Isn't it grand to have our technologies micromanaged by Congresscritters who couldn't tell a BitTorrent from a fire hydrant? I'm just glad the current legislature wasn't seated a century and a half ago, or they might have taken this petition quite seriously...

According to the EFF, a new Senate bill (S. 2644) sponsored by Senators Feinstein (D-CA) and Graham (R-SC) would effectively ban streaming MP3 for licensed music by requireing 'casters to use the most restrictive streaming format available (e.g., Windows Media or Real) rather than simply the most restrictive features of a chosen streaming format (e.g., Shoutcast or streaming MP3). From the article: "The PERFORM Act would ... requir[e] webcasters to use DRM that restricts the recording of webcasts. That means no more MP3 streams if you rely on the statutory license. Under the bill, the statutory license would only be available to a webcaster if: [114(d)(2)(C)(vi)] the transmitting entity takes no affirmative steps to authorize, enable, cause or induce the making of a copy or phonorecord by or for the transmission recipient and uses technology that is reasonably available, technologically feasible, and economically reasonable to prevent the making of copies or phonorecords embodying the transmission in whole or in part, except for reasonable recording as defined in this subsection."

(link) [Slashdot]

23:00 /Copywrongs | 0 comments | permanent link