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May 2009

For the Next Doctor


Hat tip to Rad Geek for remembering this tragically appropriate accompaniment. It’s not Ani, but Lana De Angelis is more than capable. Take it home, Lana…

Posted in Miscellany Tagged: Ani DiFranco, Charles Johnson, George Tiller, Lana De Angelis

Not Again—The Bogey of the Misogynist Libertarian


AlterNet has a lot of good antiwar writing, but all too often their policy analyses come off as economically illiterate. Unfortunately they sometimes stray into full-blown illiteracy, as they do when they repeat the now-hoary misinterpretation of Seasteading investor Peter Thiel’s remarks on women, welfare recipients, and democracy. As Brad Reed writes in “Seasteading: Libertarians Set to Launch a (Wet) Dream of ‘Freedom’ in International Waters,”:

Although seasteading is very clearly a pie-in-the-sea project, it has amazingly attracted a $500,000 donation from PayPal founder Peter Thiel, whose enthusiasm for seasteads derives from his belief that freedom and democracy are “no longer … compatible.”

Indeed, Thiel thinks democracy in the United States has been a dead end since the 1920s, when “the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women — two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians — have rendered the notion of ‘capitalist democracy’ into an oxymoron.”

While Thiel never explicitly states that women would not be allowed to vote on his seastead, you can surmise from his attitude that their chances for achieving equality on his concrete platform are very slim. Why Thiel expects any woman would willingly give up her right to vote to join him on his oceanic dorktopia is puzzling — perhaps he’ll take a page from North Korea’s Kim Jong Il and start kidnapping famous actresses.

I’ve written on this before, and I’m aghast to see that it just keeps rearing its ugly head. Why are so many journalists seemingly unable to parse common English? Thiel isn’t saying he wants to deny the franchise to women; he’s saying that when women exercise the franchise, they often vote for increased state power, or for fettering capitalism.

The leap in logic is so extreme that I can’t help but wonder if something more insidious than mere ignorance is at work. Maybe these journalists recognize that libertarianism would mean lowering tax obligations on women. This is unacceptable since one of the primary beneficiaries of women’s emancipation is, pace Stevenson and Wolfers, not men, but the State. The entrance of women into the workforce, or the official economy, has meant that the State was able to hoover up half the paychecks of an enormous new segment of the population. Their willingness to vote in favor of increasing regulation and constricting capitalism was also a boon to those with interest in growing State power. It would never do for women to figure this out, so anticapitalist journalists like to whip out the bogey of the misogynist libertarian. You know, the one who wants to oppress women by letting them keep more of their paychecks.

Reed continues:

In the end, the strangest part about the seastead project isn’t its founders’ impracticalities but rather their base motivations.

Normally, when a minority of people want to break off from their homeland to form a new country it’s because of genuine oppression such as religious persecution, ethnic cleansing or taxation without representation. Thiel, on the other hand, lives in a society whose promotion of capitalism has let him grow rich enough to blow $500,000 founding his own personal no-girls-allowed treehouse in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

What exactly does he have to be angry about, again?

This is when Reed’s biases really come out: the implication here is that Thiel’s half-a-mil would be better put in the hands of the government. At the very least we should recognize that the government was generous enough to allow Thiel to raise the money at all. And, in case you missed it, the link between capitalism and misogyny is stressed once more: rich white men want to take their money and build “no-girls-allowed” encampments in the ocean. Even if you don’t know the seasteaders, it’s pretty hard to fathom that they wouldn’t want girls around.

Of course, I’m biased, and tired, from trying to keep little would-be seasteaders out of the back of the Seasteading Institute
booth at Maker’s Faire today. Gathering from the questions that were asked, people aren’t so much worried about the misogynistic tendencies of libertarians as they are about pirates, so this post was probably irrelevant.

Posted in Anarchocapitalism, Seasteading

Imperial Statistics

Check out the stats for my blog since I bade Yahoo’s wretched blog service farewell.

Thanks, Brandon!

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What now?

Interesting question. On a personal level I've discovered that I've reached a point in my life where my interests have become self sustaining. Not financially self sustaining yet, but psychologically self sustaining in that I've worked so hard at building up areas of life that I'm concerned with that I really can't change. The neural flexibility is going and I've got to deal now with what I've

Good News

First, the real Magpies have routed the pretenders.

Pies belt Power
Jennifer Witham
AFL.com.au
May 31, 2009

A NINE-GOAL third quarter has seen Collingwood dispose of Port Adelaide by 38 points at the MCG on Sunday evening. The Magpies, who trailed by six points at halftime, blew the Power away after the main break to rack up their fifth win for the season, 17.12 (114) to 11.10 (76). The result sees the Pies draw level with the Power on points with a 5-5 record, and keeps them in touch with the six other teams vying for a spot in the congested top eight…

Dane Swan: 48 possessions. ‘Reasonable’, says Mick:

“I don’t take much notice of stats,” Malthouse said. “Does he win Tattslotto with that? I thought he was OK. I didn’t think it was one of Dane’s greatest games, by any stretch of the imagination. I thought he had a reasonable game.” Malthouse was more impressed by the performances of Brad Dick — outstanding in his 10th senior match, contributing three goals and gathering 25 touches — the recycled Leigh Brown who was a strong target in attack and booted two majors, and Sharrod Wellingham.

Secondly, Indian students kick arse and take names:

Australian police break up Indian student protest
Michael Perry
June 1, 2009

SYDNEY, June 1 (Reuters) - Australian police broke up a sit-in protest by Indian students in Melbourne on Monday following a spate of attacks, as calls mounted for a wider probe into the country’s international student sector. Indian students say the attacks, which have left one student with serious injuries after being stabbed with a screwdriver, are racially motivated, but police say the attacks are both racial and opportunistic crime. “I think that some of the attacks are racially motivated,” said Victorian state police chief Simon Overland. “I think some of the attacks are opportunistic in that they just happen to be Indian students in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Overland told reporters on Monday. The attacks on Indian students in Melbourne escalated into a diplomatic issue last Friday, with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh telephoning Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to express his concern at the violence. Australia’s international student sector is the country’s third largest export earner, behind coal and iron ore, totalling A$13 billion ($10 billion) in 2007-08. Reports of some education operators forcing foreign students to live in cramped conditions and not delivering promised services have made Australian newspaper headlines this year…

Among those who’ve sought to make money from Indian students, in this case by providing sub-standard housing, is convicted criminal and former President of the Melbourne University Student Union Darren Ray.

Tagged with: ,

Short the American Public

Suze Orman on the FDIC versus a shoe-box: Here’s what Karl Denninger at Market Ticker had to say about her performance: “If you believe that having 0.27% of the insured base of deposits as a reserve, having lost more than two thirds of the original [...]

The Picket Line — 1 June 2009

1 June 2009

Cindy Sheehan is promoting a new book, Myth America: 10 Greatest Myths of the Robber Class and the Case for Revolution.

…I outline a clear path for grassroots communities, from neighborhoods to associations, to divorce ourselves and declare independence from the Robber Class.

…what can we do here in the Robbed Class? The so-called Ship of State that “turns slowly” cannot turn at all if the rudder keeps pointing in the direction of economic piracy for the Robbers and economic pillage for We the Robbed. We can’t turn the Ship of State around, but we can turn ourselves around… most of us move more easily than this Empire laden with corruption, anyway. It’s easier to turn a canoe than an aircraft carrier!

Among the steps she’s advocating are that people shift their savings from banks to credit unions, get out of debt, reduce consumption (and when you do purchase things, buy local and consider used goods) but consider stocking up on staple goods before inflation ramps up, and work to form small-scale barter cooperatives and mutual-aid groups. Tax resistance also makes an appearance:

Another thing to consider above the fact that our economy is intended to make us debt slaves to the banks for our entire lives, is that we fund our government’s war crimes around the world with our tax money. I stopped paying income taxes after my son was killed in Iraq because I paid for Empire with my own flesh and blood, but now, we are financing corporate welfare and still losing our homes and jobs. It’s not right and not paying your taxes will also send a message to Robber Class Politicians.


Glenn Beck is still trying to fan the flames of tax resistance on his Fox News show, without wanting to take any responsbility for doing so.

The latest episode has him interviewing Mark Everson, who was the IRS commissioner during much of the Dubya era. Beck opens the interview with the classic passive voice gambit: “Boy, this thing got out of hand.”

The interview has some interest, if only because the IRS rarely makes anything but boilerplate responses to questions about tax resistance. Now that Everson is an ex-IRS chief, while he hasn’t really changed his tune, he’s a little more freestyle with the lyrics:

BECK:
What happens to people who would consider doing this [tax resistance]?
EVERSON:
Well, let me first say, if I can… I share the frustration. The country has way too much debt and the projections for more debt are just sort of staggering, even The Washington Post today said it’s — the budgets are simply unaffordable. So, there’s a serious issue. But the right way to get at it is not to resist paying your taxes. It’s to vote. It’s to participate in the electoral process.
BECK:
I agree with you 100%, I do. But let me just voice what people would be shouting that would buy into what the Coach said yesterday. What people would be shouting out right now, and that is: “I have voted, and I voted for a Republican and then I voted for a Democrat, or I voted the other way around, and I get the same thing: out-of-control spending. And they won’t listen in Washington.”
EVERSON:
Yes, I share that frustration as a citizen and a taxpayer. And I think that there will need to be a line drawn. But noncompliance, willful noncompliance is not the answer. If you look at what’s happening in the country right now, there is a great deal of concern about the debt. Look at the bond markets. I know you have covered this, Glenn, and this will increase instability in our system, not reduce it, if people start to be non-compliant. Now, what will happen? The government will react and it will hold people accountable. The IRS will work with the Justice Department and people will do time in prison. And it’s nice to incite people and say, “Go to jail,” and say this will change, but I think that would be a stiff price to pay.
BECK:
Yes.
EVERSON:
I would also say that in this area — this is not like hardened drug dealers where you throw one kid in the slammer and the next day there is another kid on the street corner pushing the crack. The government deterrents and enforcement programs will work if you actually demonstrate properly that you’re sending people off to jail, I think you will get compliance.

Dragonquest; or, A Voyage to Arcturus

— I am Arthur, King of the Britons.
— Who are the Britons?
— Well, we all are. We are all Britons, and I am your king.
— I didn’t know we had a king. I thought we were an autonomous collective.

King ArthurThere’s long been speculation as to whether King Arthur had any historical existence. (There’s also philosophical debate as to what would count as his having historical existence – i.e., how different the person – if any – at the root of the King Arthur legend would have to be from his legendary portrayal before it would no longer be appropriate to say that he was Arthur; but that’s another topic.)

Skeptics point to the absence of any unequivocal contemporary reference to Arthur from the period (5th-6th centuries) in which he is supposed to have been active. Those more favourably inclined argue that a historical Arthur responsible (as legend makes him) for the series of military campaigns that appear to have halted the Saxon incursion into Britain for over half a century would be the best explanation for the otherwise mysteriously high volume of Arthurian literature among later Britons nostalgic for the days when the Saxons could still be fended off; the absence of contemporary references is often handled by attempting to identify Arthur with some historical figure we do have references for. (Unfortunately, this second point tends to clash with the first, as many of the known candidates to be the historical Arthur are either too early or too late to connect with the halting of the Saxons.) To my mind, a great many unwarrantedly confident assertions have been made on both sides of this debate.

Now a recent book by Graham Anderson, King Arthur in Antiquity, mounts a challenge to defenders of an historical Arthur by arguing that the origins of the Arthurian legends lie not in early mediæval Britain but in the ancient Mediterranean and Near East. (Amazon is asking $115 for it! I used interlibrary loan instead – mainly for what Anderson says about Gyges, on whom I’m doing some research. Yes, Anderson connects Gyges to the Arthurian legends too.) Anderson’s not the first scholar to broach such an idea, but he investigates a far greater range of parallels than others have done – parallels he suggests others have missed because few scholars are experts in both classical antiquity and the Arthurian material. In particular, Anderson identifies two figures of ancient legend who not only share features with Arthur but actually have similar names – the mythological Greek culture-hero Arcturus of Arcadia, and the probably-historical King Ardus of the Anatolian kingdom of Lydia. (You’ve got to love any book with a chapter titled “Six Arthurs in Search of a Character.”)

Is the book convincing? I think Anderson shows beyond a reasonable doubt that a great many features of Arthurian legend have their origins in antiquity, and scholars are going to be kicking themselves for missing these connections. But his case for identifying Arthur himself with the Arcturus/Ardus pair, thereby rejecting any possibility of a mediæval British origin, strikes me as somewhat weaker. While his list of parallels between Arthur and Arcturus/Ardus is initially impressive, on closer examination they seem quite a bit thinner than the parallels he uncovers between other parts of the Arthurian material (such as Tristan and Isolde, or the Grail legend) and their classical analogues. In some cases the parallels even seem to involve double counting: the fact that both Arthur and Arcturus are associated with the constellation of the Great Bear, for example, is treated as a separate, independent parallel alongside the fact that Arthur and Arcturus have similar names; but given that both names are etymologically connected with words for “bear” (Celtic arthos, Greek arktos, Latin arctus), it’s not obvious that the sidereal connection demands further explanation.

Daniel Webster Jones“Can it really be due to coincidence,” Anderson asks incredulously, “that an Arkas renamed Arktouros will found a place called ‘Table’ [i.e., Trapezous]?” (p. 126) Well, I don’t know. The city of Mesa (which likewise means “table”) in Arizona was founded by Mormon pioneer Daniel Webster Jones, who also conducted an arduous expedition to Devil’s Gate, Wyoming, to rescue some stranded travellers, just as Arthur according to Welsh legend conducted an arduous expedition to the realm of the Lord of the Underworld to obtain a version of the Grail. Furthermore, while crossing the Utah desert, Jones accidentally shot himself in the thigh and groin, thus linking him with the Arthurian keeper of the Grail, the Fisher-King, likewise wounded in thigh and groin, and like Jones inhabiting a Waste Land. Jones fought in border disputes with Mexicans, and Arthur with Picts and Saxons; Jones learned Mormonism from an older man named Morley who had once lived in a Campellite commune, while Arthur learned mystical secrets from an older man named Merlin who sometimes lived at Camelot; Jones’s commission to found Mesa came from Salt Lake City, while Arthur’s position at the Round Table was based on a sword drawn from a Lake; “Jones” is a Welsh name, and so is “Arthur”; Jones married a woman whose name (“Harriet”) means “powerful ruler,” while Arthur’s wife Guinevere was a queen, and so herself a powerful ruler; Jones’s Mormon fellowship met at the house of a family named Campbell (and thus, one might say, at the Campbell lot), while Arthur’s fellowship of knights met at Camelot; and Jones’ granddaughter Fay Wray played a woman kidnapped by a giant ape with the alliterative name of King Kong, while Arthur’s son Gwydre (whose name shares a number of letters with “Wray”) was slain by a giant boar with the alliterative name of Twrch Trwyth. Finally, Arthur’s court had the Siege Perilous, a chair that posed a deadly danger to anyone rash enough to sit in it, while Jones in his memoirs relates that he once sat on a cactus. If only Jones had lived a few millennia earlier, Anderson would surely have to count him as being as serious a candidate for ur-Arthur as his own preferred Ardus and Arcturus. In other words: it pays to be cautious, because bogus parallels are often very easy to come by. (All that information about Jones, for example, I discovered online today just by looking up who’d founded Mesa AZ; I didn’t know there’d be quite so many parallels, but I figured that there’d be a few – since I’ve learned from experience that if you try to find apparently systematic parallels between two bodies of information chosen at random, you will succeed.)

And even if the parallels are not coincidental, it’s always possible that the similarity in names caused a real Arthur to attract an existing body of Arcturus/Ardus material to him, rather than the latter generating a fictional Arthur; so Anderson’s hypothesis doesn’t really displace the other one. Thus the standoff doesn’t seem significantly altered: Anderson’s hypothesis offers no answer to the old puzzle of why there’s a sudden explosion of interest in Arthur in early mediæval Britain; how does a millennia-old body of Greek and Anatolian folktales about a relatively minor composite figure abruptly rocket itself into the position of the national epic of the Britons? On the other hand, those who favour an historical Arthur still face the old challenge of explaining the absence of contemporary references. The status quo ante reigns.

Actually, Anderson is not uniformly hostile to the possibility of a mediæval British Arthur; at one point (p. 127) he grants that “any struggling Dark Age warlord who did not think seriously of taking the name and identity of Arthur was missing out on an opportunity to annex a wealth of heroic tradition already established round the name, both through its Arcadian and Lydian bearers.” Most of the time, though, he writes as though the moral of his research is to stop looking for Arthur-candidates in 5th-6th century Britain. My point is that no such moral follows.

Indeed, I think the fact that Arcturus and Ardus were powerful kings, though Anderson takes this as one more parallel, actually weakens the case for regarding them as the source of the Arthur legend – for the earliest British references to Arthur don’t describe him as a king at all. Instead he is described as an especially effective general. The Welsh poem Y Gododdin, describing the prowess of a warrior named Gwawrddur, tells us:

He fed black ravens on the rampart of a fortress
though he was no Arthur

while Nennius (or whoever wrote the Historia Brittonum) writes:

Arthur along with the kings [or chieftains] of Britain fought against [the Saxons] in those days, but Arthur himself was the dux bellorum [“battle leader”].

This last passage suggests that Arthur was either no king at all, or at best one king among many; his importance clearly lay with his military prowess, not with his kingship if any.

It was by no means unusual for Celtic tribes to unite under a single military leader in order to fend off invaders, without thereby granting that leader any supremacy over their own chieftains in affairs off the battlefield; think of the anti-Roman uprisings led by Vercingetorix in Gaul, or Boudicca and Caratacus in Britain. Of course these “battle leaders” might well have been interested in trying to parlay their military position into some broader form of authority (Vercingetorix, for one, seems to have had such ambitions), but the former didn’t automatically imply the latter. The fact that the British Arthur was conceived first as a general and only later as a king casts doubt, for me, on the hypothesis that he was based on the mighty kings Arcturus and Ardus.

Round TableI think there are a couple of further indications that the British Arthur was not originally conceived as being much of a king. First, there’s Arthur’s identification as the leader of the knights of the Round Table. The traditional explanation as to why the table is round is that at a standard rectangular table, those nearest the head of the table have social precedence over those farther down; according to the traditional accounts (e.g., Wace and Layamon), Arthur adopted a round table so as to give everyone equal status, thus putting an end to jealousy, dissension, and jockeying for position at the table.

What I’ve oddly never seen anyone point out (though somebody surely must have) is that this reason for choosing a round table makes no sense whatsoever on the traditional assumption that the people seated at the table are a supreme monarch and his vassals – for in that case, wherever the king is seated will automatically be the head of the table whatever its shape, and seats closer to the king will have social precedence over those farther from him. One could avoid this if the king were seated at the center of the table; and indeed Celtic chieftains did sometimes sit in the center of a circle of their warriors, precisely to avoid this sort of competitiveness. But I know of no Arthurian source that depicts Arthur as sitting at the center (unless this counts). So if Arthur really held sovereign authority over the other people at the table, its round shape would be pointless. But on the other hand, the round table makes perfect sense if Arthur is on the same social level as the others – primus inter pares, perhaps, but still one chieftain among others, not a High King with his knights. The explanation given for the table’s shape thus strongly implies that the story originates in a period when Arthur was regarded merely as the others’ dux bellorum, not as their royal sovereign. And that means that the status of Arcturus and Ardus as powerful overlords actually lowers the likelihood of their being the origin of the Arthur story rather than raising it.

We can speculate a bit further. Gildas (in De Excidio Britanniæ, one of our very oldest sources) tells us that in response to the Pictish invasions, the Britons assembled a council, led by Vortigern, to decide how to respond. (This was the council that made the mistake of hiring Saxon mercenaries to deal with the Picts, rather like the old woman who swallowed the spider to catch the fly.) Gildas also complains that kings were chosen for their cruelty, and were swiftly replaced as soon as someone more cruel came along; the most important point here, for our purposes, is that kings were chosen – the “monarchy,” then, was perhaps elective, not hereditary. Putting these two pieces of information together, we might well see Vortigern’s “council” as a version of the Round Table, an assembly of chieftains united to deal with an invasion, and Vortigern himself as merely one among their number chosen as dux bellorum. It’s often been suggested that “Vortigern” is a title rather than a name; it means something like “foremost leader” (I think the more usual translation, “High King,” may be a bit overblown), as do other purported names from the Arthurian era, such as “Riothamos” and “Pendragon” – perhaps all synonyms for dux bellorum.

Arthurian knights or whateverGeoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniæ (admittedly a later and less reliable source than Gildas) tells us of one Bishop Guithelin (elsewhere called Vitalinus) who was “appointed by the princes” to lead the fighting men of Britain against a variety of northern invaders; clearly we have here another dux bellorum. But it has sometimes been suggested that we may actually have here the same dux bellorum as Vortigern; at any rate, both are described as doing very similar things, including bringing in foreign mercenaries, and Guithelin conveniently vanishes from the story just as Vortigern comes on the scene. Perhaps Geoffrey mistook the title “Vortigern” for a name, and so erroneously concluded that Guithelin/Vitalinus and Vortigern were two different people. (The Historia Brittonum does mention a “Guitolinus” in Vortigern’s ancestry.) If Guithelin and Vortigern were indeed the same person, that not only supports the idea that “Vortigern” is a title, but also allows us to identify Vortigern’s “council” with Guithelin’s “princes” – reinforcing the idea of an assembly of chieftains rather than one of vassals.

Against the idea of “Vortigern” as a title, it’s been argued that a) it would wrongly imply that he was supreme overlord over the other chieftains, a position no one actually held in this era; b) we don’t find the title otherwise attested, and c) there are lots of Celtic names ending in -tigern (ruler, leader, chief, king) that didn’t belong to rulers or political leaders. I think (a) is a bad argument; it assumes that “Vortigern” (and perhaps likewise its cousins “Riothamos” and “Pendragon”) has to be translated as “High King” or even “Emperor,” rather than something more like “foremost leader” or “president.” But (b) and (c) are better arguments; and I’m certainly not committed to regarding “Vortigern” as a title. Still, (b) and (c) don’t seem decisive. Those who deny that “Vortigern” is a title rather than a name are nevertheless usually willing to regard “Riothamos” as a title, though it too is attested only for one person (unlike “Pendragon,” which has been attached to three figures), and so would seem to be equally vulnerable to (b). Titles might have been fairly flexible (analogously, it took a while for the title of “Emperor” to get stably attached to the Roman office that Augustus inaugurated). In any case, if Vortigern was indeed widely blamed for abetting the Saxon incursion, his particular title might have come to be regarded as tainted, and so rejected in favour of a synonym. As for (c), there are at least two reasons for thinking that “Vortigern” might be a title even if other -tigern words aren’t: first, Vortigern actually held the relevant office while these other -tigern people didn’t, and second, if Vortigern and Guithelin really are the same person, then Vortigern had a name that wasn’t “Vortigern,” which makes it less likely that “Vortigern” was his name too.

the stone in the swardMy second reason for doubting that Arthur was anything more than dux bellorum in the earliest versions of the legends derives from the odd story of his parentage, wherein a) Uther Pendragon, with the help of Merlin’s enchantments, disguises himself as Gorlois in order to have sex with Gorlois’s wife Ygraine, thus siring Arthur; b) Gorlois conveniently dies the same night, so that Uther is able to marry Ygraine after all; and c) Arthur is nevertheless raised not by Uther and Ygraine but by Ector, and grows up ignorant of his relationship to Uther. To me all this feels like a desperate attempt on the part of the storytellers to reconcile incompatible stories of Arthur’s parentage so as to give him the right heritage. This would all make perfect sense if we assume that the storytellers have mistaken the title of “Pendragon” (an epithet applied to Uther, to Arthur, and in some accounts to Ambrosius Aurelianus as well) for a hereditary kingship rather than something more like an elective dux bellorum. Suppose that in the earliest versions (now lost) of the story, Arthur has no blood relationship to Uther, but succeeds him in the post of Pendragon only because both were chosen for it by the council of the Round Table. (Some versions of the legend do have Arthur inheriting the Round Table itself from Uther.) In that case, later storytellers would be faced with the task of reconciling evidence that Arthur was the son of Uther (that evidence being Arthur’s succeeding Uther as “Pendragon,” here misunderstood as a hereditary title) with evidence that he was someone else’s son entirely; the tale of Uther’s deception of Ygraine and the tale of Arthur’s fosterage with Ector may well have originally been different strategies for achieving such reconciliation. If I’m right, that would mean that Arthur’s status as a hereditary monarch was a relatively late addition to the legend, still further weakening the Arcturus/Ardus connection. Moreover, since the sword in the stone was supposed to be a test of Pendragon parentage like the similar story about Theseus, this too would have to be a later accretion to the Arthur story – telling against Anderson’s argument that the parallel between the two sword stories means the Theseus legend is among the origins of the Arthur legend itself and not just of the sword part.

Note that I’m not arguing that the Arthur legend originates in some actual 5th-6th century dux bellorum; after all, nothing I’ve said weakens the main argument for skepticism, namely the absence (apart from the enigmatic “Artognou” inscription at Tintagel) of any known historical figure with whom Arthur can plausibly be identified. Some have suggested Riothamos for that role, but Riothamos actually seems to me to match either Ambrosius or Uther – possible doublets of each other in any case – better than Arthur; both the time period and the Continental connections fit more easily. The ideal timeslot for an historical Arthur, in order to match the traditional account, would be in the period just a bit later than the era of the historically attested Vortigern, Aurelius, and Riothamos; and it would be easy enough to insert him there without contradicting the historical evidence, because our evidence for that period is quite a bit thinner than for the preceding one. But this seems a bit like an “Arthur of the Gaps” approach, which is no more respectable than its theological cousin.

So I remain agnostic on the question of Arthur’s historicity. What I am arguing is that since the classical material to which Anderson has drawn our attention seems to have its influence mainly on later phases of the legend and not so much on its origin, Anderson’s findings do not license any additional skepticism about a historical Arthur over and above whatever amount was justified already.

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Hello Wichita

Ani DiFranco wrote this song in 1999 for Dr. Barnett Slepian of Buffalo, New York, and for Robert Sanderson and the women of the New Woman All Women Health Care Center in Birmingham, Alabama. I can’t get through the song without crying. Even on a normal day.

hold me down i am floating [...]

Continue reading at Rad Geek People's Daily …

Bleeding Kansas

I just received news that Dr. George Tiller was shot to death today in the lobby of his longtime church in Wichita, Kansas. Tiller had been singled out for special attention from both the political and the direct-action wings of the anti-abortion movement for years because he continued to perform second- and third-trimester abortions for women whose life or health would be endangered by continuing the pregnancy. Tiller was the only doctor in Kansas, and one of only a handful in the entire U.S., who would perform third-trimester abortions under any conditions. The police have detained a suspect but nothing has yet been announced officially about who committed the murder or why.

Unlike most of the bellowing blowhard sheepdogs of the world, who can’t get enough of trumpeting how they put their lives on the line, Dr. Tiller actually did so in the interest of serving the well-being and the free choices of willing patients who asked for his help in a time of crisis. He put his life on the line to provide women with life-saving safe abortions, in despite of the outrage of the entitled majority, and in the face of physical threats, day after day, showing not just boldness, but real courage, and honor.

We are, and have for a long time, been in a much more precarious position than we sometimes realize; we have spent too many years defending an ever-shrinking number of clinics and doctors against the repeated harassment, blockades, vandalism and guerrilla violence of the antis. We owe it to Dr. Tiller to remember him — to remember him and to remember Dr. Gunn, Dr. Patterson, Dr. Britton, James Barrett, Shannon Lowney, Lee Ann Nichols, Robert Sanderson, and Dr. Slepian — to remember our dead. But more than that, we need to work in honor of their memories, and to make sure that there are no more of whom we have nothing left but names.

R.I.P., Dr. George Tiller (August 8, 1941 – May 31, 2009).

I’ll post more when I find out more.