Q186: Public service

"It was to guard us against this inevitable decay of government that the Constitution was written. Its purpose was and is not to enthrone a Government superior to an imperfect and confused electorate, but to protect us from such a government."  

— David Mamet

Q185: Target-rich

"Most thought Goliath was too big to fight. David believed that he was too big to miss."

 Douglas Wilson

What kind of criminal are you?

Glenn Reynolds writes:
"Traditionally, of course, citizens have been expected to know the law.  But traditionally, regulatory crimes applied only to citizens in specialty occupations where they might be expected to be familiar with applicable regulatory law, while ordinary citizens needed no special knowledge to avoid committing rape, robbery, theft, etc.   But now, with the explosion of regulatory law, every citizen is at risk of criminal prosecution for crimes that [...] involve no actual harm or ill intent.  Yet any reasonable observer would have to conclude that actual knowledge of all applicable criminal laws and regulations is impossible, especially when those regulations frequently depart from any intuitive sense of what "ought" to be legal or illegal."
from a paper titled "Ham Sandwich Nation: Due Process When Everything is a Crime"....  

Q184: Ignorance may be an excuse.

"There is no freedom more essential than the right to know the laws you live under."

— A.J. Venter

Q183: Reality Check

"Living in the world that actually exists is an enormous advantage. [...] a courageous man defending the way reality actually is may of course be killed -- but he is still invincible."

— Douglas Wilson

Swartz: "How we stopped SOPA"

Aaron Swartz (1986-2013) — one of the names behind the movement to stop the SOPA legislation last year — remembers that campaign:

2012 Year-In-Review

It's year-in-review time for 2012.   Pour yourself a bowl of black-eyed peas (I recently mentioned this Southern New Years Day tradition to a kid in Northern Virginia and she was very confused for quite some time until I told her I didn't mean the pop group) and read on through the things that stand out to me from the year of the erstwhile Mayan apocalypse.


Here are some of the events (world and otherwise) that caught my attention in 2012:

  • Political.   Unfortunately, there is no avoiding that some of the major events of 2012 revolved around U.S. politics.   While your characterization of events will no doubt be different than mine, this is my blog, so I guess I'll say what I need to say (with apologies to John Mayer — that's two years in a row I've had a John Mayer reference in the year-in-review ... maybe I should be apologizing to you).     The year started up with the big SOPA protests and blackout (this blog participated).   It remains to be seen if that sort of regulation is truly dead (I doubt it).   Next up was the whole Affordable Care Act (a.k.a Obamacare) debacle in the Supreme Court.    Whether you liked the decision or didn't like it, it seems clear that it was a major modification of how the citizens stand in relation to their government — for the first time people could be penalized (or taxed, I guess) for not buying something.    Then there was the run-up to the election where I was faced with a choice between (IMHO) bad and worse.   In my view, the country chose "worse".    The year ended up with calls for doing violence to the 2nd Amendment, so all in all, this didn't seem like a great year for the Constitution.    The trend looks like it will continue into 2013 as Congress debates over whether we should continue pretending like we have enough money or not.   I remain hopeful (I hope?) that some sort of coalition might be put together (encompassing freedom-loving individuals on the left and right) to stop the slide toward thinly-veiled lawlessness.  We'll see.

  • Personal.   My own personal life was fairly interesting (to me) this year.   I visited Israel for the first time. Later in the year, I spent time in the hospital (also a first).   My college football team (Alabama) won the national title (and will play for it again in a week or so).    It seemed like astronomy was (unintentionally) a major player in my life this year.   I was well on the way to missing the second (and last) transit of Venus in my lifetime due to cloud cover, when the clouds parted just long enough for me to see and photograph second contact.    I saw several conjuctions of planets and the moon during the year, and was able to see some of the Geminid meteor shower a few weeks ago.    I even caught a few very nice passes of the International Space Station during December.   Those are really easy to see (no equipment needed) if you know where to look.


I read a lot of different sorts of books in 2012 — from slogging through (most of) the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle on my phone (during various "wait" times during the year), to a collection of Richard Matheson's sci-fi / horror short stories.   Here were the major ones that stuck with me:

  • The Master and Margarita.  I started out the year (actually just finished 2011) on Mikhail Bulgakov's novel, in which the Devil shows up to cause trouble in Soviet-era Moscow.   This had been on my to-read list for about a decade, so I guess I can check it off.    The story itself was funny and somewhat unsettling (for reasons I can't quite nail down) — the sub-story about Jesus and Pilate especially so.

  • Henderson the Rain King.   I've wanted to read this one for quite some time, as well, due to its significance in the music of the band Counting Crows.    It didn't give me a great deal more insight into their lyrics, but it was well worth the read on its own terms.   It dealt, among other things, with the question of what life is for:   should we just do the same things over and over that others have done over and over before us, or ... what?   Extra points for a scene where the hero tries to dynamite a pool full of frogs.   This was my first experience with Saul Bellow, and I'll probably read more of his work in the future.

  • The White Horse King.   Ben Merkle's biography of King Alfred the Great. I didn't really know much about this period of history (England in the 900s or so), but it is now one of my favorites. England is just then starting to unite as one country, and the Vikings are causing trouble left and right. Alfred was born into a society that was on its way out of existence, and somehow managed to leave his successors a kingdom that would grow to become one of the great world empires. Can't recommend this one highly enough.

  • The Gods Themselves. I had never read much of Isaac Asimov, but I enjoyed this one very much.   Three stories set around the same events. Each is well-written, but serves more to get across various big ideas about possible futures and about human nature, among other things. The middle section (set in another universe which is in contact with our own) stands out. It spends most of its time examining the domestic life of the aliens there and uses that set-up to get at a lot of insightful observations about humans in general and relations between the sexes in particular.

  • Short stories.   Short stories came back onto my radar in 2012.   I read a number online, such as E.M. Forster's "The Machine Stops...", and "When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth" by Cory Doctorow.    I read "Four Stories", a collection from Etgar Keret, as well as making some progress (during a week of jury duty) in big short stories anthology I bought in a thrift shop for a dollar or so.   I even managed to cross over into other media, enjoying some readings and illustrations of Edward Gorey stories on Youtube ("The Beastly Baby" is some sort of achievement, though I'm not sure which sort).


2012 continued a positive trend (at least from my perspective) in the rebuilding of decent music.  (Though, I think on the whole, 2012 will be remembered as the year that Dubstep became mainstream.     Once car commercials pick up your genre, there's no going back.)  Here are five (plus) albums that I enjoyed this year (in no particular order):

  • The Lumineers - The Lumineers.   I didn't really start to appreciate this album until late in the year (ht: Adam Brown), but pretty much every song is decent.   You've heard "Ho Hey", which is great and was on autoplay in my head for several months, but I think "Dead Sea" is my favorite at the moment:

  • The Followers - Wounded Healer.   Another late-in-the-year find.   Eric Earley (of Blitzen Trapper) teamed up with the pastor of the church he goes to to make ...  a worship album?    Sort of, but not like any worship album you've ever heard.    It has a whole 70s vibe to it, sort of like what if the Jesus Movement had kept going at full strength just a little bit longer.   I'm also counting this as this year's Blitzen Trapper album, as their Portland sound is very much on display.  The songs range from the quiet, hymn-like guitar song ("God's Eternal Now") to a full-on stars-for-eyes technicolor-animated-schoolbus 70s love-fest ("You Did Everything"), the title track is fairly representative:

  • Counting Crows - Underwater Sunshine.   My most-anticipated album of 2012, and it did not disappoint.   To paraphrase Pedro:  "Pick up this album, and all your wildest dreams will come true."   This is a collection of covers (though most are obscure) and Counting Crows owns every track.   I haven't listened to it recently, but that is only because I basically wore it out.    Hands-down album of the year.    "Return of the Grievous Angel" (link isn't to the album version) stands out, as does "Hospital", ... wait, I'd better stop this list before I put every song on it.    I'll leave you with my favorite ("Mercy"):

  • Punch Brothers - Who's Feeling Young Now? and Ahoy!.   Two new Punch Brothers albums  (well, one's an EP) came out in 2012, and when they're on, they are on.    Progressive bluegrass at its finest.    When a band with bluegrass instrumentation covers Radiohead at every opportunity, you know it's going to be interesting at the very least.   Try "New York City", "Hundred Dollars", "Another New World".   Probably my favorite as of this writing is "Who's Feeling Young Now?":

    Bonus:   Chris Thile (formerly of Nickel Creek, now front-man for the Punch Brothers) has been very busy recently.    He teamed up with (among others) Yo-Yo Ma in the Goat Rodeo Sessions, and released a fairly straight-ahead bluegrass/country album (but with a lean, mean sound) with Michael Daves called Sleep With One Eye Open.  Have a listen to the title track.   (Full disclosure: both of these projects were technically released in late 2011, but I didn't hear about them until well into 2012, so sue me.)

  • Spirit Family Reunion - No Separation.   So, for the longest time I couldn't find an actual album from Spirit Family Reunion, but they do now have some available for purchase.   They are in love with the Woody Guthrie folk/country sound and are possibly the most energetic band I've ever seen.    The band is from Brooklyn, but they sound like they are playing on the Plains in the 1930s (but at an energy level that would likely hold up in court as probable cause to search their touring van for cocaine).   Check out "Alright Prayer", "I Am Following the Sound", "Leave Your Troubles at the Gate", and ... well, this one's too good not to show the whole video (the drummer is worth the price of admission alone) — "100 Greenback Dollar Bills":

  • Also notable from 2012:  Bob Dylan - TempestLionel Richie - TuskegeePropaganda - Excellent

Other Media

Well, I watched some films that came out this year, but some of the most influential ones I saw this year were made sometime before.   Also, anything that isn't a book or a song goes in this section.

  • Of Gods and Men.    Finally got around to watching this movie in 2012, on a digital copy that almost managed to sync the subtitles with the dialog.   Still great though.   The (true) story of some French monks in Algeria who decided to stay in a little Muslim community (and for the most part die) when the going got rough with Jihadists in that country in the 1990s.  

  • Picnic at Hanging Rock.    Even though I almost always enjoy older movies, I (for some reason) can never convince myself to start watching them.   This one has been sitting on my hard drive for years now, but I finally got around to watching it around Halloween.    It has an aesthetic that I can't compare to anything else.    Without a great deal actually happening, it manages to thoroughly unsettle you just by lingering on certain shots and playing strange music/ambient sounds.  Beautiful and horrifying.

  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.    I'm a big Tolkien fan, so of course I saw this one.   Many good moments (the council in Rivendell, "Far Over the Misty Mountains Cold..." sung in Biblo's house, Radagast the Brown etc.).   Overall, it seemed like this one was more the director than the source material, though.   Hopefully the next couple will get back to solid ground.

  • Also notable:
    • The Dark Night Rises continued, somewhat improbably, an honest-to-goodness discussion of (Christian, even?) knighthood in the modern day.   The series seems bent on getting  Batman's snarling mug up there alongside the Nine Worthies.   Is it possible for a comic book superhero to stand in Kierkegaardian absolute relation to the absolute?   Maybe.   I still don't like comic books, though.

    • Speaking of knighthood, Cartoon Network's Adventure Time continued its strong run, albeit perhaps slowing down a bit toward the end of this year.    Still, though, what other character from a cartoon lugs around a copy of the Enchiridion?

    • On a less serious note, you can watch Batman villain Bane's commentary on Gangnam Style.   Why would a man dance through garbage, indeed?

    • The Grey was about a plane crash / ongoing wolf attack, or all of a sudden, was it about ... God?   A surprising movie.  

    • I started watching the BBC series Rev. (and am waiting on the second "series" or season, which is scheduled for shortly before the end of time).    It is a light-hearted look at the various troubles of an Anglican vicar in the inner city of London.   Sometimes, it isn't so light-hearted, though, and the vicar often finds himself praying for help in this or that situation.

    • I ran across a great Youtube channel called Insane Edition.  It takes clips from popular movies or shows and loops them infinitely, although very subtly so that it is sometimes several minutes before you realize what is happening to you.    The best was their take on a scene from Deliverance, which has since been removed due to a (ridiculous) copyright claim.


Here are a few of the large-scale themes I kept coming back to in 2012.   When certain ideas keep coming up in reading, media, and other experiences, it's hard not to see them as things that were put here for me to find — in other words, intended.  There may be other ones that I just haven't realized yet.   We'll see.

  • Death.   I thought a lot about death in 2012 — not a morbid dwelling on the end of my own life or someone else's, but the concept itself.    Most importantly, what does it mean to give your life for someone or something (even if you don't literally die in the process).   What does it mean to die in the sense that Scripture talks about it:  dying with respect to yourself, but living with respect to Christ and his life?   If we take the Christian worldview seriously, that means that one of the most fundamental facts of existence is resurrection.   But for resurrection in any sense to take place, death of some kind is a prerequisite.   People don't like to talk about death (even metaphorically).  Maybe we are afraid of death (of all kinds) because it means that the things we love are taken from us.    What if instead of death as a being-taken-from, we saw death as a laying-down.   "No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again."   What about that?

  • The King.  What does it mean to rule, to be in charge?   What is a leader?   You hear a great deal about leadership and becoming a great leader, etc., but is that even something we should be trying to do?   I'm leaning toward the idea that "leadership" as a concept is almost entirely without merit.   The best "leaders" throughout history have not really been the ones that got out in front and started giving orders.   That sort of leadership devolves quickly into worship of the self and arguments over whether everyone else is sufficiently respectful of my authority.   The best understanding of leadership (and the example left for us to follow) is the kind of person who is willing to take the hit, to bear the burden on behalf of others.   Picture everything you've been told about what makes a great leader.   Imagine that person, then let that image collide with:  "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.  It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."    Leadership is a form of death.

  • The Unseen World.   Many times in 2012, I had the experience of being very interested in (or caring deeply about) various things that almost no one else around me could see the importance of.     Even something as simple as various astronomical occurrences, even though they happened out in the open for everyone to see, passed largely unnoticed.    Not everyone is into sky-watching, so no big deal, but what about when deeper, more fundamental things are at stake — things like honor, freedom, God, love, mercy...?    So much of life floats right by people, and they seem not to notice it at all — the eternal at work in the everyday.    I'm by no means immune to that, but how am I to relate to the things I do see?    If society around me continues to insist that the world is as flat as a pancake, should I still trouble myself with the roundness of it all, or play along?  

Punch Brothers - "Another New World"

As always:

"May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. May the Lord lift up His divine countenance upon you and give you peace."