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

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

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

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

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