how to tie your shoes

Man, it took me forever to learn to tie my shoes. The gym teacher in 2nd and 3rd grade never stopped complaining about it.

Actually, that’s not exactly true. I did know how to tie my shoes. Some kid in kindergarten showed me how. But they never stayed tied for more than a dozen steps. I still don’t know what my problem was. To this day I tie my laces with a double-knot to keep them from coming undone.

Meanwhile, iceberg, who remembers the “how to fold a shirt” video, has informed me that there in an accelerated way to tie your shoes:

  1. The old way.
  2. The new way.
  3. A longer look at the new way (with explanation).

the wolf and the lamb

Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing:
the Fabian crest

From Aesop’s Fables, translated by George Fyler Townsend:

WOLF, meeting with a Lamb astray from the fold, resolved not to lay violent hands on him, but to find some plea to justify to the Lamb the Wolf’s right to eat him.

He thus addressed him: “Sirrah, last year you grossly insulted me.”

“Indeed,” bleated the Lamb in a mournful tone of voice, “I was not then born.”

Then said the Wolf, “You feed in my pasture.”

“No, good sir,” replied the Lamb, “I have not yet tasted grass.”

Again said the Wolf, “You drink of my well.”

“No,” exclaimed the Lamb, “I never yet drank water, for as yet my mother’s milk is both food and drink to me.”

Upon which the Wolf seized him and ate him up, saying, “Well! I won’t remain supperless, even though you refute every one of my imputations.”

private law weekend

We didn’t plan it this way, but serendipity has made this Private Law Weekend over at

Friday’s daily article:

“The Idea of a Private Law Society” by Hans-Hermann Hoppe

Weekend article:

“The Market For Liberty” by Linda and Morris Tannehill

For a New Liberty podcast chapter:

“The Public Sector, Part 3: Police, Law, and the Courts” by Murray Rothbard


Stephen Carson has pointed me to a very useful page:

I make regular use of Professor Paul Brians’s “Common Errors in English” web pages, but I had not yet encountered that one.

What Brians calls “hypercorrection” — when someone is so anxious to get something right that they “over-apply” (misapply) a rule — is similar to but distinct from a phenomenon I label “incorrection” (whose verb form is “to incorrect”). Incorrection is when I use a non-error and you tell me I’m in error.

More than once, I’ve said I felt bad about something and someone has incorrected me: “You mean you felt badly!”

Or when I say that something is between my wife and me, and I am incorrected: “‘My wife and I!'”

Or when I use the word “girl” and a feminist tells me that I mean “woman” — and yet I’m referring to a female minor.

However, I think many of the distinctions that Brians labels as “Non-Errors” are nevertheless quite useful distinctions:

  • Using “between” for only two, “among” for more
  • Gender vs. sex
  • Using “who” for people, “that” for animals and inanimate objects
  • Lend vs. loan
  • Regime vs. regimen
  • Don’t use “reference” to mean “cite.”
  • Persuade vs. convince
  • “Preventive” is the adjective, “preventative” the noun.
  • People are healthy; vegetables are healthful.
  • Dinner is done; people are finished.
  • Crops are raised; children are reared.

I was raised … ahem, I mean reared to believe that grammar and meaning were established by usage. My father, the former English prof, used the term “prescriptive grammarian” only as a derogative.

I think descriptive grammar and semantics are critically important, as is distinguishing the prescriptive from the descriptive, but it now strikes me as absurd to prescribe away prescription.

If the purpose of language is thought and communication, then it certainly follows that there will be better and worse uses of language, just as there are more and less successful approaches to thinking and communicating.

Any distinction that communicates useful information is a distinction I want to promote, and it’s silly to imagine that mass-usage will reflect the most important distinctions. Usage will reflect conflations. Grammar and vocabulary that mirror those conflations are only “correct” in the purely descriptive sense, and again, pure description isn’t the only useful job for people who focus on the mechanics of language.

The distinction between “ain’t” and “isn’t” is purely cultural and stylistic — semantically arbitrary at its foundation. But the pure descriptivist would tell us that “liberal” means socialist, that “United States” is a singular noun, that “coin” means token, and that “inflation” is the general rise of nominal prices.

Most of us equate prescriptive linguistics with social conservatism, but I think my examples should show that descriptivism reflects the real conservative impulse: an implicit defense of the status quo — any status quo.

In our statist culture, the implicitly prescriptive form of descriptivism is a stealth defense of the most insidious conflations. (Try saying that 10 times fast.)

Freethinkers need the discipline of linguistic distinctions, whether or not the conflations count as errors.

But surely, you might object (as one comrade already did after reading a draft of this post), you’re not trying to blur the distinction between errors in speaking and writing and errors in thinking! Brians is concerned with the former; you are discussing the latter.

What I’m trying to say, actually, is that errors in thinking, when they are built into language usage, should count as errors in speaking and writing.

abyss abyssum invocat

Thanks to Christopher Westley for sharing this excerpt from the Time Magazine review of Ludwig von Mises’s Omnipotent Government from June 19, 1944:

Facing the future, Mises is filled with gloom. He sees no willingness anywhere to return to the free market. To him there is little difference between British Liberals, British Tories and British Laborites; they all believe in the gospel of government interventionism. Hitler, says Mises, must be defeated. But in defeating him, Mises thinks it likely that the whole world will become fascist. Such, to him, is the logical end of “interventionist” economics, whether it bears the label of “liberalism,” “progressivism,” “New Dealism,” or what not.

slavery forever

The 13th Amendment to the US Constitution reads:

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

But that’s only the version that actually passed. Before it (and before the War of Secession) there was a very different 13th Amendment created by Lincoln himself and passed by a primarily Northern House and Senate after the South had seceded:

No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State.

(See US House of Representatives, 106th Congress, 2nd Session, The Constitution of the United States of America: Unratified Amendments, Doc. No. 106-214)

Today on LRC, Tom DiLorenzo’s article opens:

On July 19 the Associated Press and Reuter?s reported an “amazing find” at a museum in Allentown, Pennsylvania: A copy of a letter dated March 16, 1861, and signed by Abraham Lincoln imploring the governor of Florida to rally political support for a constitutional amendment that would have legally enshrined slavery in the U.S. Constitution.

Actually, the letter is not at all “amazing” to anyone familiar with the real Lincoln….

Read the rest:

lost tools of learning

My comrade, Stephen Carson, who just left a good link in his comment on the Straight Dope, maintains a list of homeschooling links that I find very helpful.

Reviewing his list today, I read for the first time “The Lost Tools of Learning” by Dorothy Sayers. It gave me a jolt to read something so eerily familiar when its contents were so utterly unprecedented for me.

Here’s what I wrote to a friend and future homescooler:

Do you remember on one of our many hikes when, during one my many rants against the politically correct cultural agenda of my own schooling, I made up a … I’m not sure what to call it: education theory? teaching method?

I said I thought the best way to teach kids would be in 3 separate stages:

  1. Literacy
  2. Metalearning
  3. Cultural Agenda

And I said that I considered the first two essential and the third one optional. Most important was that the third one not take place before or during the first two.

By literacy I meant “the 3 Rs” and by metalearning I meant learning how to learn, where the subject matter was not nearly as important as the tools for learning any particular subject.

By cultural agenda, I meant the music and literature and “social studies” that are the focus of the PC cabal. I didn’t think this last one was essential, but I recognized it as part of what we mean when we describe someone as “educated”.

Well, it turns out that my 3-part scheme maps pretty well onto the medieval method as described by Dorothy Sayers in her essay, “The Lost Tools of Learning”:

The syllabus was divided into two parts: the Trivium and Quadrivium. The second part–the Quadrivium–consisted of “subjects,” and need not for the moment concern us. The interesting thing for us is the composition of the Trivium, which preceded the Quadrivium and was the preliminary discipline for it. It consisted of three parts: Grammar, Dialectic, and Rhetoric, in that order.

Now the first thing we notice is that two at any rate of these “subjects” are not what we should call “subjects” at all: they are only methods of dealing with subjects. Grammar, indeed, is a “subject” in the sense that it does mean definitely learning a language–at that period it meant learning Latin. But language itself is simply the medium in which thought is expressed. The whole of the Trivium was, in fact, intended to teach the pupil the proper use of the tools of learning, before he began to apply them to “subjects” at all.

It seems to me that the Trivium maps to my metalearning (“To learn six subjects without remembering how they were learnt does nothing to ease the approach to a seventh; to have learnt and remembered the art of learning makes the approach to every subject an open door.”) and the Quadrivium to what I was calling the cultural subjects. (“At 16, he would be ready to start upon those “subjects” which are proposed for his later study at the university: and this part of his education will correspond to the mediaeval Quadrivium.”)

What about stage 1?

Later in the essay, she writes:

But first: what age shall the children be? Well, if one is to educate them on novel lines, it will be better that they should have nothing to unlearn; besides, one cannot begin a good thing too early, and the Trivium is by its nature not learning, but a preparation for learning. We will, therefore, “catch ’em young,” requiring of our pupils only that they shall be able to read, write, and cipher.

I’d say that “read, write, and cipher” is pretty clearly the “3 Rs” of what I was calling literacy (although the 3rd R is numeracy).

You can find the whole text (sprinkled with transcription errors, I’m afraid) right here:

It’s a wonderful read.

laissez faire,