Friday, June 28, 2013

Almost Great Moments in Science

Let's take a moment to celebrate the uncommon genius of  Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov.

What did Professor Ivanov do, you well may ask?

He was the first man to attempt to create a human/ape hybrid using artificial insemination.

Wikipedia calls this proposed beast a 'humanzee'. While this is pretty good, I personally would prefer 'humangatan', but I'll take either.

So how does one attempt to create such a monstrosity, well may you ask?
On February 28, 1927, Ivanov inseminated two female chimpanzees with his own sperm. On June 25, his son inseminated a third chimpanzee with his sperm. 
This guy is really trying to give Giles Brindley a run for the money in the stakes of 'most outrageous science experiments conducted on oneself'.
The Ivanovs left Africa in July with thirteen chimps, including the three used in his experiments. They already knew before leaving that the first two chimpanzees had failed to become pregnant. The third died in France, and was also found not to have been pregnant.

So putting human sperm into female chimps wasn't doing the trick. Did he just pack up and call it quits then? Oh no he did not!
Upon his return to the Soviet Union in 1927, Ivanov began an effort to organize hybridization experiments at Sukhumi using ape sperm and human females.... In the spring of 1929 the Society set up a commission to plan Ivanov's experiments at Sukhumi. They decided that at least five volunteer women would be needed for the project.
Great news, comrade sisters! The Party has selected you to 'volunteer' to be impregnated by a chimp. For the glory of the Soviet Union!

Okay, those women would have won hands down the 'human self-experimentation award'. 
However, in June 1929, before any inseminations had taken place, Ivanov learned that the only postpubescent male ape remaining at Sukhumi (an orangutan) had died. A new set of chimps would not arrive at Sukhumi until the summer of 1930.
Given that you haven't heard of humanzees, you can probably guess that things didn't work out.
In the course of a general political shakeup in the Soviet scientific world, Gorbunov and a number of the scientists involved in the planning of the Sukhumi experiments lost their positions. In the spring of 1930, Ivanov came under political criticism at his veterinary institute. Finally, on December 13, 1930, Ivanov was arrested. He was sentenced to five years of exile to Alma Ata, where he worked for the Kazakh Veterinary-Zoologist Institute until his death from a stroke on 20 March 1932. 
Lame. You can always rely on the commies to spoil everybody's fun.

This whole thing is apparently not as wacky as you may think:
In 1977, researcher J. Michael Bedford discovered that human sperm could penetrate the protective outer membranes of a gibbon egg. Bedford's paper also stated that human spermatozoa would not even attach to the zona surface of non-hominoid primates (baboon, rhesus monkey, and squirrel monkey), concluding that although the specificity of human spermatozoa is not confined to man alone, it is probably restricted to the Hominoidea.
Okay, so humaboons and humonkeys are out, but humibbons might be a possibility. How is nobody investigating this?

Frankly, I think there should be way more research into creative mixed breeds of animal. Consider some of the awesomeness we already know is out there:

File:Liger couple.jpg

Grolar Bears (or Pizzly Bears, if you prefer):


I think to stimulate interest, these need to be referred to as 'mashup animals'. Sure, the purists at the zoo think this kind of thing is an abomination. Tell it to Charles Darwin, you ninnies! Do you think nature cares about your foibles? Grolar bears occur in the wild, for crying out loud.

The singular advantage of the humanzee, however, is the possibility of a hilarious spectacle whereby earnest people debate whether current law requires that the humanzee be allowed to vote. At which point universal suffrage will have jumped the shark even more than you already thought was possible.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

On the Supreme Court and Gay Marriage

-First and foremost, read the damn decision. Otherwise you'll be one of those absolutely insufferable people who view every court decision as a 'Gay Marriage Yay!' or 'Gay Marriage Boo!' pantomime. These people have zero conception that there actually is a question of law going on, and that a badly decided case with a desirable policy outcome will create other problems down the road that the pantomime crowd never think about.

You can find a pdf of it here. I heartily recommend reading Scalia's dissent, even if you're broadly happy that gay marriages in one state will now be federally recognised. In fact, you should especially read Scalia's dissent if you're broadly happy with the policy aspects of the decision.

-As I mentioned to you a few months ago, Justice Scalia predicted way back in 2003 that the Supreme Court was going to legalise Gay Marriage, and that Lawrence v. Texas (which overturned the Texas anti-sodomy statue) was merely a prelude to this result, the Court's protestations to the contrary notwithstanding.

Well, the Court this time decided not to settle the Elephant in the Room question of whether for a State to prohibit gay marriage violates the 14th Amendment equal protection clause  (which, if they did, would have decided the issue once and for all). Instead, it was held that for the Federal government to define marriage to exclude gay marriages in states which allowed them was a violation of the 5th amendment because it served no legitimate purpose and thus was a violation of basic due process. From the majority opinion:
DOMA instructs all federal officials, and indeed all persons with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their marriage is less worthy than the marriages of others. The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity. By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment. This opinion and its holding are confined to those lawful marriages.
In other words, we're not deciding the substantive issue of gay marriage, just one part of it. Roberts wrote separately just to emphasise this point:
But while I disagree with the result to which the majority’s analysis leads it in this case, I think it more important to point out that its analysis leads no further. The Court does not have before it, and the logic of its opinion does not decide, the distinct question whether the States, in the exercise of their “historic and essential authority to define the marital relation,” ante, at 18, may continue to utilize the traditional definition of marriage. The majority goes out of its way to make this explicit in the penultimate sentence of its opinion. 
In other words - listen up you lower court punks, don't think we've given you carte blanche to insist on gay marriage everywhere.

Scalia mocks the majority super hard for this feint of judicial modesty:
The penultimate sentence of the majority’s opinion is a naked declaration that “[t]his opinion and its holding are  confined” to those couples “joined in same-sex marriages made lawful by the State.” Ante, at 26, 25. I have heard such “bald, unreasoned disclaimer[s]” before. Lawrence, 539 U. S., at 604. When the Court declared a constitutional right to homosexual sodomy, we were assured that the case had nothing, nothing at all to do with “whether the government must give formal recognition to any relationship that homosexual persons seek to enter.” Id., at 578. 
I haven't forgotten Lawrence, you clowns.
Now we are told that DOMA is invalid because it  “demeans the couple, whose moral and sexual choices the Constitution protects,” ante, at 23—with an accompanying citation of Lawrence. It takes real cheek for today’s majority to assure us, as it is going out the door, that a constitutional requirement to give formal recognition to same-sex marriage is not at issue here—when what has preceded that assurance is a lecture on how superior the majority’s moral judgment in favor of same-sex marriage is to the Congress’s hateful moral judgment against it. I promise you this: The only thing that will “confine” the Court’s holding is its sense of what it can get away with. 
In other words - at least own up to what you're proposing, rather than maintaining this nonsense that this is all just about the solemn dignity of states to define marriage however they wish (a notion that will last about 5 minutes into the oral arguments for the next case).
I do not mean to suggest disagreement with THE CHIEF JUSTICE’s view, ante, p. 2–4 (dissenting opinion), that lower federal courts and state courts can distinguish today’s case when the issue before them is state denial of marital status to same-sex couples—or even that this Court could theoretically do so. Lord, an opinion with such scatter-shot rationales as this one (federalism noises among them) can be distinguished in many ways. And deserves to be. State and lower federal courts should take the Court at its word and distinguish away. 
In my opinion, however, the view that this Court will take of state prohibition of same-sex marriage is indicated beyond mistaking by today’s opinion. 
If there's anyone in the country who disagrees with the last sentence, I'm yet to meet them.

-Laws are complicated things. I am quite certain that the vast majority of the people who are sure that the Defense of Marriage Act is a hateful piece of legislation designed only to injure gays have not tried to deal with the mess that is overlapping definitions of different terms when the laws of different jurisdictions come into conflict. Even the notion of a 'US Resident' is virtually impossible to get a clear answer on - there's tax residence, and immigration residence, and driving license requirements (which I've heard dozens of answers about) etc. So even if you didn't want to limit the federal definition to exclude gay marriage, there are plenty of other reasons why you might want a uniform definition. Scalia mentions some of them:
To choose just one of these defenders’ arguments, DOMA avoids difficult choice-of-law issues that will now arise absent a uniform federal definition of marriage. See, e.g., Baude, Beyond DOMA: Choice of State Law in Federal Statutes, 64 Stan. L. Rev. 1371 (2012). Imagine a pair of women who marry in Albany and then move to Alabama, which does not “recognize as valid any marriage of parties of the same sex.” Ala. Code §30–1–19(e) (2011). When the couple files their next federal tax return, may it be a joint one? Which State’s law controls, for federal-law purposes: their State of celebration (which recognizes the marriage) or their State of domicile (which does not)? (Does the answer depend on whether they were just visiting in Albany?) Are these questions to be answered as a matter of federal common law, or perhaps by borrowing a State’s choice-of-law rules? If so, which State’s? And what about States where the status of an out-of-state same-sex marriage is an unsettled question under local law? See Godfrey v. Spano, 13 N. Y. 3d 358, 920 N. E. 2d 328 (2009). DOMA avoided all of this uncertainty by specifying which marriages would be recognized for federal purposes. That is a classic purpose for a definitional provision.
If you are expecting the boosters of the recent decision to provide you with a clear answer to any of the above questions, I would advise you not to hold your breath.

-As for myself, I find myself broadly disliking the decision, but for conflicting reasons. As a matter of policy, I'm fine with gay marriage. If I were minded to vote (or registered to vote. Or allowed to vote), I'd vote to allow it. So to that extent, while it's not high on my list of priorities, I'm happy enough with the practical aspects of the outcome (subject to the previously mentioned practical concerns).

But I deeply hate judicial activism. It poisons the legal certainty that lets people organise their lives according to well-settled precedent. Democracy may have plenty of flaws, but the makeup of the current Supreme Court seems to have managed to reproduce most of the maladies and perversions, just on a micro scale. We've got 4 (mostly) conservative justices, not all of whom can be relied on to produce politically conservative outcomes, 4 consistently liberal justices who can unfailingly be relied on to produce politically liberal outcomes, and Justice Kennedy playing the role of the entire swing voting electorate -  inscrutable, unpredictable, and of principles that are, shall we say, difficult to forecast. The voters in this case are definitely smarter, but do you think the policies produced are better?

Judicial activism - combining all the disfunction of democracy, but without the benefit of the law of large numbers and De Moivre's theorem!

In other words, judicial activism is just one more manifestation of the many ways that this republic has decayed from the original founders' vision. I second the Moldbug critiques of such a vision, but it's certainly a zillion times better than the monstrosity we're currently saddled with.

At the risk of this post being an 'All-Scalia-All-The-Time' one, I cannot help but excerpt his closing remarks
We might have covered ourselves with honor today, by promising all sides of this debate that it was theirs to settle and that we would respect their resolution. We might have let the People decide. But that the majority will not do. Some will rejoice in today’s decision, and some will despair at it; that is the nature of a controversy that matters so much to so many. But the Court has cheated both sides, robbing the winners of an honest victory, and the losers of the peace that  comes from a fair defeat. We owed both of them better. I dissent.
As do I.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The dangers of reading the fake government org chart instead of the real government org chart

The problem with getting distracted and waiting several days to write about a story is that by the time you get around to it, the narrative you had in mind may have already been overtaken by events.

Athenios put me on to this story last week about how the conservative-led Greek government decided to abolish the national broadcaster. On fully four hours notice. Which is absolutely hilarious. Tired of a bunch of subsidised lefty whingers moaning about 'austerity'? Tired of paying money hand over fist for the privilege of such preening stupidity in the middle of the worst economic downturn your country has seen since the great depression? Think it's ludicrous to continue paying these nincompoops while pensions have been cut 40%?

Well, I would agree with you! Conservatives are often accused of having a ' go along to get along' tolerance of the ever expanding role of the state. When someone attempts a genuine rollback of some small part of the repulsive leviathan that is modern bureaucratic government, I cannot help but applaud. In addition, the move of shutting them down overnight, without any notice in advance, is surely a better plan than fighting for incremental cuts and waging month after month of the public relations equivalent of the battle of Dien Bien Phu. Machiavelli told you long ago that if pain is needed, better to bring it all at once:
Hence we may learn the lesson that on seizing a state, the usurper should make haste to inflict what injuries he must, at a stroke, that he may not have to renew them daily, but be enabled by their discontinuance to reassure men’s minds, and afterwards win them over by benefits. Whosoever, either through timidity or from following bad counsels, adopts a contrary course, must keep the sword always drawn, and can put no trust in his subjects, who suffering from continued and constantly renewed severities, will never yield him their confidence. Injuries, therefore, should be inflicted all at once, that their ill savour being less lasting may the less offend; whereas, benefits should be conferred little by little, that so they may be more fully relished.
If you strike at a king, strike to kill. So far so good, as of last Wednesday.

Unfortunately, kings do not always die so easily. How do you think they became King in the first place? I'm guessing that you, like me, probably imagined that you just turn off the damn power at the TV station, and that's that. It turns out that taking a public broadcaster off the air is not as straightforward as you might imagine. The first thing that happened is that the public broadcasters of the other European nations decided to continue broadcasting the now illegal Greek public TV from their own satellites. And I don't mean that François Hollande and Angela Merkel decided this. I mean that a bunch of EU public broadcasting bigwigs unilaterally decided to use taxpayer funded assets to intervene in the domestic disputes of a sovereign (ha!) nation. Strange, they don't talk about that kind of thing in civics class, do they?

Next, all the Greek journalists went on strike. As you do in Europe. Given they're not really inclined to work even at the best of times, it's not like they needed much encouragement. So now most Greeks aren't getting any perspective on the news except from ... you guessed it... Greek state TV, who continue to broadcast on the Internet, and now have dropped all pretense of neutrality and gone the full retard in terms of opposing the government. Where media leads, public opinion follows.

And in the most recent move, the courts come in to order the broadcaster be put back on the air. Thought you could shut down your own department eh? Wrong!

The net effect of this is that it's looking like this saga which started so quixotically may end up being the downfall of the conservative government. The main discussion now is about whether the government may be able to stave off the full scale collapse of their coalition if the prime minister resigns.

To begin with bluster and later take fright at the enemy's numbers, as the great Sun Tzu observed, shows a supreme lack of intelligence. The Government seemed to be of the naive opinion that the bureaucracy answers to the will of the elected representatives, and if their performance was sufficiently unsatisfactory, they could and should be fired, just like in any other company.

Joseph McCarthy thought the same thing. They were both wrong.


In a grimly hilarious sidenote, MSCI, the company who compile stockmarket indices for various countries, took the heretofore unprecedented step of downgrading the Greek market from 'developed' to 'emerging'. As MSCI noted:
Further,the MSCI Greece Index has not met the Developed Market criterion for size for the last two years. If it were not for an exception to the index maintenance methodology that requires the index to have at least two constituents, only one security would currently qualify for inclusion in the MSCI Greece Index.
Ooh, that's gotta burn.

The announcement is doubly comical for the absurd use of the euphemism 'emerging' in this context. As Athenios quipped, 'Emerging? More like submerging!'

Monday, June 17, 2013

The one ambivalently bright side of the NSA scandal(s)

The great Robert Fogel, sadly recently departed, noted in his discussion about slavery that the system was, for the most part, very efficient. One point he liked to emphasise is that people are so used to the notion of efficiency being applied to good ends that they don't consider the alternative possibility - efficiency as applied to evil in fact produces monstrous outcomes.

A similar tension exists in the way people understand the spy services. Whenever you see Hollywood depictions of the CIA (or just shadowy agents of some secret department, standing in for the CIA), 90-odd percent of the time they are displayed as having a sinister level of competence in their ability to pull off evil actions. They're everywhere, they see everything, and they can hunt you down. Of course, Jason Bourne wins in the end, but you're not left in any doubt that most of the time, the government gets its way.

This view eventually permeates a large amount of social thinking on the matter. Consider the 9/11 truthers - according to their claims, the government managed to organise a massive conspiracy to plant all sorts of explosives inside two skyscrapers, demolish them with people inside, make it look like planes were crashing into them on live television, and blame the Muslims. All while keeping this totally under wraps, except for the keen eyes of the producers of 'Loose Change'.

You could spend hours debating with these clowns about whether fire can actually melt steel, but it seems you might get much further by simply noting, 'Have you been to the DMV recently? What impression did that give you about the competence of the average government employee?'

This is the default Shylock rule - when you're thinking about the government, assume it will be run by folks at the DMV. Can you trust the government to clean up after Katrina? Think the DMV. Is it likely that the next round of financial regulation will prevent the next housing crisis? Think the DMV. Can you create police SWAT teams all over the country in rinky dink places and not have them consistently raiding the wrong houses while looking for marijuana? Think the DMV.

But... what about the CIA? Surely, if competence exists anywhere, it must exist there, right? When it really counts, when the chips are down, these guys are the pros, and they wouldn't screw it up?

Except, you know, with the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

The point of the DMV rule is not that it's always right. It's just that it tends to be a fairly good predictor of what's actually going to happen.

I wrote a while ago about the fact that before this latest news broke, you tended to read a lot of stories about Chinese hackers tooling on the US - hacking into Google, diverting all internet traffic to China, that kind of thing. You'd very rarely hear about any US operations - the only exceptions were cases like Stuxnet which accidentally got released into the wild. In other words, you'd hear about the good side of the program (the US is releasing a computer virus to screw up Iranian centrifuges for enriching uranium) at the same time as the bad (this wasn't meant to be in the papers, meaning the virus got found out).

When I didn't read anything about US Cyber operations, I applied the DMV principle and assumed that these clowns just didn't know what they were doing. But the alternative was always that they were so good at what they were doing that you never heard about it. Since, of course, you weren't meant to.

As it turns out, the NSA has been spying on Americans like J Edgar Hoover on a dirt-digging mission to cover up for his cross-dressing proclivities.

Say what you will about the ethics of these programs (and I tend to be considerably wary of them) - they don't seem incompetent. They seem scarily competent. They seem like The Bourne Identity, when in reality I was expecting a cross between Fawlty Towers and Yes Minister (except with everyone being like the Minister).

The bad news is that this the NSA seems to play extraordinarily fast and loose with the 4th amendment, and has enormous power to spy on American citizens in a way that would make the Founding Fathers spin in their graves faster than a virus-ridden Iranian centrifuge.

The good news is that for the fraction of the things the NSA does which are likely beneficial to the country (and even the most jaded skeptic would probably admit that this fraction is non-zero), they can hopefully apply the same level of competence.

And if you can actually get the privacy destroying parts of the NSA's work removed (which, sadly, you probably can't), this whole imbroglio might actually be good news.

In other words, the government may be negative NPV, but it's not pure evil. So jacking up competence will at least have some effects on the revenues side of the ledger.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Social trends I do not understand

Bumper stickers that announce 'My Child is an Honor Student at [XYZ] Elementary School'.

To me, this just seems to be the height of poor manners on so many levels.

Every time I see these stickers, I wonder 'Who exactly is this for?' The random guy behind you in traffic? Why the hell would he possibly care? At least with political bumper stickers, there's the justification of the theory, however misguided, that you might change someone's vote by implicit messaging (although to even state that idea out loud is to realise how ludicrous it is.) But here, it is impossible for the owner of the sticker to not realise that the world couldn't possibly care less.

And what message exactly are you trying to impart to John Q. Citizen, even supposing they do listen? There's two obvious implications of the sticker:

1. I am very proud of my child, whom I love dearly.

2. My child is very intelligent (and yours is not).

My responses to these would be:

1. No $#!7. That's so unusual for parents! Why not just get a sticker that says 'I love my children'? What's that, you say? Because it would sound ridiculous and obvious, like boasting that you always flush the toilet?

2. You're bragging about your child's grades? Do you realise how pathetic that sounds?

The second one, which I suspect is the point of the stickers, just seems so loathesomely gauche and shameless that it's hard to know where to begin. Suppose you're the type of person who loves to mention how much money they make, or how many women they've slept with, or what type of car they drive. You reach middle age, and every interesting thing you've done is getting further and further in the past. You need to justify your insecurities to a world that is passing you by. But sadly, it is getting harder and harder to find opportunities to just insert monologues about your accomplishments into conversation like a misguided V2 rocket aimed roughly at London. People are sick of the same stories about your long-ago glory days. How might you make up for the failed dreams of your youth?

Easy! Just get into vanglorious sloganeering about your child's accomplishments! Better yet, launder it all through the a cheap, see-through veneer of parental love and adulation. Nobody will ever spot the hidden subtext.

Putting a child's A+ test on the refrigerator is a sign of pride and love that the child will see.

Putting a crude boast about the same on your car is tacky and classless.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Head to Head

1. Pride or Pride?

2. Superman or Superman, as well as (to loosen the definitions a bit) Superman or Superman?

3. Somebody that I used to know, or Somebody that I used to know? (and for a rematch between the same artists, Easy way out or Easy Way Out?)

And for the bonus round, Ben Folds did an entire multi-round contest against himself on the 'Way to Normal' : The b**** went nuts or The b**** went nuts,  Free coffee or Free coffee, and a bunch of others.

The Hammer and I used to play this game a lot. My answers in the comments

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The most logical software purchasers, on the other hand....

‘The Best-run businesses run SAP’

Let’s heroically assume that this statement is true.

It’s a long way from this statement to the statement they’re implying, which is that ‘The best-run businesses are well-run because they run SAP’.

It is an even larger stretch from there to the statement they actually want you to believe, namely ‘If you run SAP then you too will become one of the best-run businesses’.

It is depressing, but highly probable, that people too stupid to understand these distinctions are in charge of deciding enterprise software choices for major corporations. At a minimum, the marketing folks at SAP seem to believe that the people in charge of deciding whether to buy their products are actually fools.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Holger Danske

Fil:Holger danske.jpg
The statue of Holger Danske sits in Kronborg castle in Helsingør, Denmark. According to the legend, as told by the guide at Helsingør, Holger was a knight who was the son of the Danish King. He was lent to Emperor Charlemagne as a surety by the Danish King to guarantee the payment of a debt after the King unsuccessfully fought against Charlemagne in battle. The Dane didn't pay up, and after a few years Charlemagne was going to kill Holger. Right before the execution, a messenger came in saying that the border lands had been invaded, and the emperor left for the battle, taking Holger with him. While on the field, Holger came across a knight riding scared away from battle. Holger took his armor, and went into battle, fighting bravely for Charlemagne. At the end of the battle, Charlemagne went to congratulate one of his knights, and when he lifted his visor, he was surprised to see it was Holger. He decided to set him free. Holger began the long walk back to Denmark. When he finally arrived, he sat in a chair in the basement of the castle, waiting for the castle members to come back. He stayed asleep, and his beard grew so long it touched the floor. The legend concludes by saying that Holger dreams and sees all that goes on in Denmark, and will rise again to defend Denmark in its time of need against foreign invaders.

You can learn a lot about a culture from its mythology. The Danes were a fearsome, militarily powerful people. If they turned up on your doorstep in 1000AD, you would have done well to follow the advice of AC/DC to 'lock up your daughters, lock up your wife, lock up your back door and run for your life'. It would be trite, but nonetheless true, to note that the possibility of modern-day Danes (or indeed any of the Scandinavian descendants of the Vikings) inspiring the same response is ludicrously, preposterously unthinkable. And this holds true no matter how large a military force they were commanding - the shift is first and foremost in mindset.

Holger Danske still inspires Danish people though. The great Hans Christian Andersen wrote a short story about it. The Danish resistance group in World War 2 named themselves after him. But it does so because of the history. The story on its own strikes a strange chord that clashes with modern sensibilities. Even if this were the age of legends, I cannot imagine a story like Holger Danske resonating enough today to get started and spread through the populace, were it not already a famous story.

The notion of military heroism is largely an anachronism in the West. The ideal modern image is the soldier as a brave and tragic victim. They are noble when killed or injured. They are suffering when separated from their loved ones, and selfless in their sacrifices. Even the right buys into this narrative to some extent. We must 'support our troops'. You hear this more than that we must 'celebrate our troops'. The stories about troops that resonate are those of pathos. We want to hear about the man who died bravely on the battlefield to save his companions, not the guy who bravely kicked tons of enemy ass and lived unscathed to tell the tale.There's no shortage of stories of incredible bravery in Iraq or Afghanistan. But for some reason, you mostly hear about them in the context of soldiers who have died. The heroism is mainly there to add poignancy.

Holger Danske is old fashioned because it envisages a natural warrior aristocracy. In an age of radical egalitarianism, we can have 'heroes', but not a 'hero'. Because most people will never be truly heroic in their whole lives, the whole concept must be sufficiently diluted to cover nearly everybody. Today, you are a 'hero' for volunteering in a soup kitchen, or doing an AIDS fun run. What word, then, would you use to describe Simo Häyhä? Or Ben Grierson? Or, indeed, Holger Danske? He's not administering to the needy, he's not interested in being a glorious victim in a fatal last stand. He's interested only in kicking enemy ass on your behalf to keep the land safe for those of his countrymen without his courage, strength or skill. And that is what modern man truly cannot abide - the implication that nature has furnished us with natural betters, and we should celebrate and admire them, and be grateful when they lead our country to great achievements. They are not servants of the public. They are kings, ruling over us by right of their strength of character and proud lineage.

We live indeed in a Kingless age.