Oswald Spengler’s Decline of the West: The 100th Anniversary Update

Over on the Archdruid Report a busy-sounding person asked John Michael Greer to just send him a list of predictions, presumably so the commentator could check them off as the years go by. I suppose you could do this, but it misses the point of describing a historical trend; the narrative is essentially poetic, and you can either grasp some deeper layers of the poetry or you can’t; furthermore the layers you see might be invisible to the author. I think such a list would be of no value at all for Greer, since most of his historical writing took place in the past five years and most of what he talks about has yet to come, but we can get some value from writing up a list of the predictions made by his predecessor, Oswald Spengler. We now have about a century of difference between Spengler and us and can judge the accuracy of many of his statements.

So, I have attempted a 100th anniversary update to Spengler, maybe not quite in the same vein that caused people to write 20th and 30th anniversary updates to The Limits to Growth (“We’re still telling you so, and in 30 more years we’ll say we told you so”), but at least in the same great Western conceit that theories should make testable predictions. It became obvious while attempting this task that Spengler’s claims could not be written in checkbox form, and that if I quoted the entire supporting argument found in the text, this post would be book-length in short order. I have therefore paraphrased Spengler. Let us hope that it does not have to happen again.
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Posted: October 23rd, 2014 | History 4 Comments »


2014 news on peak oil, resource scarcity, etc.

I had a little bit of free time after church on Sunday and decided to see if there was any interesting resource extraction news I had missed in the past few months. Here is what I found.

A January 2014 article in the journal Energy reexamined a group of 10-year oil production scenarios proposed in 2004. A comparison of the scenarios to available figures shows that global conventional oil production peaked in 2005, with additional peaks from 2008-2011 for broader definitions of “conventional oil”. The article is available open access for anyone to examine the math, but it looks rather solid to me. Cheap oil is already in decline. So, why does oil production appear to be stable, or even increase? This is due to artificially increased production from a short-term burst of capital expenditures, as well as the explosion in shale gas, tight oil, and easily transportable liquified natural gas, which are usually improperly labeled as conventional oil in media and industry reports. The optimistic (industry) view is that these new sources, combined with decreased demand in the post-industrial West, will be able to keep things humming for some decades while more renewable options (or nuclear developments) are worked out. On the pessimistic side, John Michael Greer considers these options to simply be delaying the inevitable for a decade at most. In any case, there can no longer be any doubt that we are in the peak oil era.

On April 10, the Club of Rome released a book on peak mining, Extracted: How the Quest for Mineral Wealth Is Plundering the Planet. I have not read it yet, but based on what I have heard about peak mining so far, I expect that it will reveal a hidden crisis. The geopolitical consequences should be fairly obvious. In a peak oil world, oil exporters have political leverage, which is why Saudi Arabia was treated with kid gloves after 9/11 and the sanctions against Russia’s Crimea actions were basically symbolic. Mining has even sharper consequences: if one country should control the world’s supply of a basic element, the only options for industrialized nations are to give in to political demands or suffer massive economic damage.

In March the WTO ruled that China has been imposing illegal tariffs on rare earths. China controls over 90% of the world’s rare earth reserves used for making cell phones etc., and by restricting its exports temporarily quadrupled the price of rare earths outside China in 2011, causing some manufacturers to relocate their major operations to China. The WTO ruling was appealed on April 18 and we have yet to see whether China will actually abide by it: the quote offered to reporters, “No matter what the result of the appeal is, China’s policy goal of protecting resources and the environment will not change,” is not encouraging. It is interesting that the international ruling “prohibiting” Japanese whaling, which resulted in a mere reduction of the year’s catch from 380 heads to 210 heads, was blanketed all over the airwaves despite its economic irrelevance, while the international ruling against China is met with popular disinterest, although I am sure Western governments are watching it closely. Whales are at least in theory a renewable resource; rare earths are not.

In financial news, last year we heard that the Dodd-Frank financial reform was a death knell for American small banks and had homogenized our financial system. In March of this year, the IMF reported that these changes were likely to become permanent because there is no real way to avoid them. This basically means that the Western financial system is extremely fragile and there is no way to tell what the impact of another economic bubble could be. It is interesting to note that China and Japan have adopted a radically different approach to their financial systems, but I cannot find a really reliable article about that at the moment.

Anyway, that’s all I got for now… I’ll continue to be on the lookout for reliable information about this.

[An earlier version of this post focused on “too big to fail” subsidies, but our knowledge of these subsidies’ impact is somewhat speculative.]

Posted: April 21st, 2014 | Signs of the Times 6 Comments »


Lamps: The Ruin of the Nation 「ランプ亡国論」の真実

邦訳は以下である。

ランプ

You may be familiar with Jun’ichirō Tanizaki’s essay In Praise of Shadows (1933). But were you aware that Tanizaki had a predecessor in the form of a Meiji period crank? I think not! Kaiseki Sata was a Shin Buddhist monk who published a ferocious series of essays in the 1870s, on topics such as “On the Uselessness of Bookkeeping and Ink”, “On Boycotting the Solar Calendar”, “On the Four Dangers of Western-Style Umbrellas”, “On the Great Dangers of Milk”, “On Railways: The Ruin of the Nation”, and everyone’s favorite, “A Caution Against Lamps: The Ruin of the Nation” (1880).

I was unable to find any information about the majority of these essays, but the logic of “Lamps: The Ruin of the Nation” is actually not bad. Sata warns his readers that to light Western-style lamps you need kerosene, but Japan’s only oil fields are in Niigata, and would be depleted within 50 years (1930). If Japan becomes addicted to lamps and exhausts the Niigata fields, they will have to trade their reserve funds for oil until they have no more funds, and the nation will be ruined quod erat demonstratum. The argument is basically that oil is a non-renewable resource, and is therefore not backwards but remarkably foresighted.

“The West became civilized in the Western way,” said Kata, “and Japan will become civilized the Japanese way.” He had no desire to plunge Japan into darkness. Instead, he invented himself a lamp that ran on vegetable oil, to which he gave the suitably native name kankōtō (pictured above; source). He also advocated for Japanese lamps, andon, which ran on fish oil.

Sata only neglected to recognize that Japan could not defend its independence from the oil-powered Western nations without finding some oil of its own. Running steamships and tanks on vegetable oil would have been quite sustainable, but not politically viable. Indeed, the military use of oil was a principal motivation behind imperialism and World War II.

Again, none of the other essays are available online, so I don’t know what the dangers of Western-style umbrellas were, but at least some of them are apparently collected in a journal he ran (also pictured above). Or you can read “Bread: The Ruin of the Nation”, by an unrelated author, at the National Diet Library site. Learn why bread will cause Japan’s physical, spiritual, and economic ruin! If only we had listened…

(Japanese translation)

谷崎潤一郎の「陰翳礼讃」はご存知かもしれないけど、陰翳が好きだった先人はもちろん明治にもいた。それは佐田介石という真宗の坊主で、明治初期に激しい文明開化批難の投稿を次々に発表した。「簿記インキ無用論」「牛乳大害論」「蝙蝠傘四害論」「太陽暦排斥論」「鉄道亡国論」そして佐田の声望を高からしめた「ランプ亡国の戒め」である。

これらの記事の殆どは今では手に入らないが、唯一手に入る「ランプ亡国の戒め」を読むと、非常に論理的である。当時、日本の油田は越後にしか存在しなかったため、50年後(西暦1930年)に国産石油がなくなって、ランプの石油に補助金を出さないといけないようになるから、亡国になるという戒めである。石油は枯渇性資源というわけで、実は時代遅れの亡国論じゃなくて、驚くべき先見の明である。

「西洋には西洋の文明開化あり、我が日本には日本の文明開化あり」と語った佐田にとっては、日本を真っ暗にするわけにはいかなかった。代わりに、菜種油を使う「観光灯」を発明した(写真上)。国産の魚油を使う行灯も支持した。

そんな佐田だったが、かれが唯一が予言できなかったのは、大量の石油を持つ西洋に対して日本の独立を守るため石油の発見が日本にとっては必須だったことである。菜種油エンジンの戦艦か戦車はエコな夢だけど、政治的に実現が不可能である。満州事変や太平洋戦争の原点はこれである。

繰り返しになるが佐田の他の投稿はネットに載っていないから、蝙蝠傘の四害は分からないが、一部の投稿が「栽培経済問答新誌」という雑誌に集められたようである。或は、佐田とは全く無関係の作家によるものではあるが、同じく明治期の文明開化批難の言論として、「食パン亡国論」を国会図書デジタルライブラリーで読むことができる。これには、「肉体、精神、経済」上の亡国が書いてあって、ご飯が完全な主食だった過去の時代を懐かしがっている…

Posted: February 28th, 2014 | Japan, Signs of the Times 2 Comments »


Japanische Frakturfreunde

Kana

I learned about this not because I read Twitter a lot (I don’t!), but because of my preexisting interest in the historical kana usage, which I suppose proves that I am a pimply nerd, etc. The Twitter cluster now has an official website where they defend their odd hobby. I note that it is nowhere near as formidable-looking as its German equivalent.

At least they have a website now! The 歴史的假名遣派 has been going strong for some years, from Fukuda Tsuneari’s「私の國語敎室」 in 1960, to Hisashi Inoue’s delicious Tokyo Seven Roses in 1999, to a variety of introductions to writing in historical kana, that is, “how to lose friends and alienate people”, since then. Jinja Honcho’s newsletter Jinja Shinbo proclaims itself to be the only periodical published with historical kana usage, and has a long website post where they explain it to you. Looking around the cluster’s website, I see one of their members has had a personal page since 1999. But this is the first outright advocacy group I’ve seen, and they’ve only been publishing since 2012. I guess Japan doesn’t really do advocacy.

Here is some of the wacky stuff the Twitter cluster has gotten up to:

I note with some disappointment that it’s actually rather hard to obtain editions of famous books in 正仮名遣, although not quite as hard as Fraktur. Here’s what I came up with for Soseki’s Kokoro:

  • [国会図書館デジタル化資料] こゝろ 大正3
  • [国会図書館デジタル化資料] 漱石全集 大正7
  • [青空文庫] こころ 新仮名遣い、新漢字 (注)
  • こころ (岩波文芸書初版本復刻シリーズ) 2001å¹´
  • 漱石全集 (岩波書店) 1956å¹´, 1966å¹´, 1976å¹´, 1985å¹´, 1994å¹´
  • 漱石文学全集 (集英社) 1983å¹´
  • 夏目漱石全集(ちくま文庫) 新仮名遣い、新漢字

Posted: October 11th, 2013 | Tradition 4 Comments »


Why were the common people called “black heads”?

In 221 BC the First Emperor renamed the Chinese common people to 黔首 “black-headed ones”. Why was this?

Chinese, Japanese, English, and French language sources were surveyed.

  • Baidu Baike: The First Emperor declared an “age of water”. Water is associated with the color black, so the common people were wearing black headscarves.
  • René Guénon: Black is associated with “anonymity”, but also with the Center and stillness, i.e. the “Middle Country”, and therefore with the purity of the “non-manifested”. (Note: Guénon was laboring under the false impression that it was the entire people, not the common folk, who were called “black heads”. Black is associated with north in China.) [source: Symbols of Sa. Sc.]
  • Wu Kun (吳崐, 1552-1620): The hair of the common people was black.[source: 黄帝内经素问吴注]
  • E.S.B.: Perhaps the hair of the nobility was not black.
  • Daijisen: Because they didn’t have any hats.

Posted: September 10th, 2013 | History 8 Comments »


Signs of the End, according to the Muslims

A recent discussion on Gornahoor, which was scrubbed from the site’s comments section, makes this quite relevant:

SAHIH BUKHARI, Volume 9, Book 88, Number 237. Narrated by Abu Huraira.

The traditions of Bukhari are considered the most authentic hadith and were compiled in the 9th century.

Allah’s Apostle said, “The Hour will not be established

[Signs of the Hour]
(1) till two big groups fight each other whereupon there will be a great number of casualties on both sides and they will be following one and the same religious doctrine,
(2) till about thirty Dajjals (liars) appear, and each one of them will claim that he is Allah’s Apostle,
(3) till the religious knowledge is taken away (by the death of Religious scholars)
(4) earthquakes will increase in number
(5) time will pass quickly,
(6) afflictions will appear,
(7) Al-Harj, (i.e., killing) will increase,
(8) till wealth will be in abundance… so abundant that a wealthy person will worry lest nobody should accept his Zakat, and whenever he will present it to someone, that person (to whom it will be offered) will say, ‘I am not in need of it’,
(9) till the people compete with one another in constructing high buildings,
(10) till a man when passing by a grave of someone will say, ‘Would that I were in his place!’
(11) and till the sun rises from the West. So when the sun will rise and the people will see it (rising from the West) they will all believe (embrace Islam) but that will be the time when: (As Allah said,) ‘No good will it do to a soul to believe then, if it believed not before, nor earned good (by deeds of righteousness) through its Faith.’ (6.158)

[Swiftness of the Hour]
(12) And the Hour will be established while two men are spreading a garment in front of them but they will not be able to sell it, nor fold it up;
(13) and the Hour will be established when a man has milked his she-camel and has taken away the milk but he will not be able to drink it;
(14) and the Hour will be established before a man repairing a tank (for his livestock) is able to water (his animals) in it;
(16) and the Hour will be established when a person has raised a morsel (of food) to his mouth but will not be able to eat it.”

Posted: July 11th, 2013 | Signs of the Times 1 Comment »


Academic institutionalization I

One of the most complex maneuvers of modernity is the reduction of original thought and creativity to a quantifiable labor product. An apprentice in a Renaissance studio, placed in a time machine and dropped in a 21st century “art school“, would be perplexed about how this could have happened at all.

The method is subtle, and sinister: institutionalization. In an ex-convict, it means inability to adapt to life outside the prison. In an ex-humanities student, it means an inability to adapt to the world outside the academic bubble, and a confusion of one’s own life goals with the goals of the academy itself. In both, a sufferer finds little society and few peers outside the institution. This year I will return to graduate school, because I was asked to do so, but at the very grave risk of making my institutionalization more severe. For expatriate English teachers such as myself, the rate of recidivism is quite high.

Institutionalization has conquered every branch of the art and humanities. About a year ago, I was surprised to learn that one can now get not only a postgraduate degree called “MM”, Master of Music, but something called a “DMA”, Doctorate of Musical Arts, in their favored instrument, e.g. trombone. That is to say, if it is not enough to study the theory of trombones for four years before you start a professional career, you can extend your trombone studies for several more years, or even indefinitely, for roughly $200,000 in non-cancelable loans. The MM was invented around 1890, and the DMA was invented in 1955. Only recently have people begun to notice that both show marks of a scam.

A childhood friend of mine on Facebook is a part-time art school postgrad. Despite the fact that she works half the time, her highest goal in life is getting that continued nod of appreciation from the academy. She recently posted this message to her wall: “I feel so uplifted by passing the review. I feel like I finally did something right and my life commitment to art hasn’t been a total waste.” This is, to me, a perfectly legitimate and honest feeling. But it’s also a symptom of institutionalization that may become lifelong.

Mencius Moldbug wrote about this phenomenon in poetry. Poetry, the most anti-social and solitary art of them all, is now an institutional product, by which one might aspire to tenure by writing a good quantity of poems and soliciting reviews from “established” academic poets (of all the absurdities). I disagree with Moldbug about how this happened, but he does link to a good essay on the subject at the Mises Institute, which should highlight how completely the academy has transformed. This is some guy named Albert Jay Nock, speaking in 1931:

Traditionally, the university was an association of scholars, grouped in four faculties: Literature, Law, Theology, and Medicine. When I say an association of scholars, I mean that it was not quite precisely what we understand by a teaching institution. The interest of the students was not the first interest of the institution. Putting it roughly, the scholars were busy about their own affairs, but because the Great Tradition had to be carried on from generation to generation, they allowed certain youngsters to hang about and pick up what they could; they lectured every now and then, and otherwise gave the students a lift when and as they thought fit.

The point is that the whole burden of education lay on the student, not on the institution or on the individual scholar. Traditionally, also, the undergraduate college put the whole burden of education on the student. The curriculum was fixed, he might take it or leave it; but if he wished to proceed to a bachelor of arts, he had to complete it satisfactorily. Moreover, he had to complete it pretty well on his own; there was no pressure of any kind upon an instructor to get him through it, or to assume any responsibility whatever for his progress, or to supply any adventitious interest in his pursuits. The instructor usually did make himself reasonably helpful, especially in the case of those whom he regarded as promising, but it was no part of the institution’s intention or purpose that he should transfer any of the actual burden of education from the student’s shoulders to his own, or contribute anything from his own fund of interest in his subject by way of making up for any deficiency of interest on the part of the student. I ask you, with your permission, to remark this point particularly.

[… The topic turns to today’s colleges.] At Columbia College (which is an undergraduate college controlled by Columbia University) a student may complete the requirements for a bachelor’s degree by including in his course of study such matters as the principles of advertising; the writing of advertising copy; advertising layouts; advertising research; practical poultry raising; business English; elementary stenography; newspaper practice; reporting and copy editing; feature writing; book reviewing; wrestling and self-defence. By availing himself of some sort of traffic arrangement with a sister institution belonging to Columbia, he may also count as leading to a degree, courses in the fundamental processes of cookery; fundamental problems in clothing; clothing decoration; family meals; food etiquette and hospitality; principles of home laundering; social life of the home; gymnastics and dancing for men, including practice in clog dancing; instruction, elementary or advanced, in school orchestras and bands.

Without the least wish to be flippant, one cannot help remarking points of resemblance here between the newest type of institutional organization and the newest type of drugstore.

And this was before the late 1960s nuked the liberal arts beyond recognition. How many liberal arts students today would even know what Nock is talking about when he mentions the “fixed curriculum”? A conservative group recently confused the hell out of an entire liberal arts college by simply referencing that concept. The idea of a standard humanities curriculum is simply vanished from the shrinking liberal arts intellect, despite its continued use in the hard sciences, which are now considered to be of a different essential quality than the humanities.

In Nock’s early modern academy, success was based on quality of thought, regardless of whether it was performed inside or outside a specific kind of building. (Think Hegel, and the Young Hegelians who debated him and each other. Unthinkable today.) What existed then, that does not exist anymore? Well, only the reason you went to college in the first place: self-betterment.

Today, the humanities do not aim to complete a well-rounded education, but to point learners towards a type of specialization and critical thought which involves them in the academy itself, directing students to publish their original research and thoughts within the institutional system. This self-obsession has a large number of consequences, most notably tricking people who merely wanted an education into pursuing a professorship they usually do not need and cannot achieve.

Now, I am not going to try to make an argument about the quality of research produced by this system, because that would be another essay entirely. My point is that maybe the people who are going into this shouldn’t be attempting to “produce research” at all. I am not an activist — far from it — but there is one thing I will say in their favor: someone who wants to “change the world” and is reduced over the course of years to writing about it has been duped, and anyone who sees through this smokescreen should be applauded. Even in 1916, many academics recognized that their life energy was being redirected into something slightly silly:

Thirty years ago I went to Harvard University to study the antennae of ‘palaeozoic cockroaches’ . . . I knew there were more palaeozoic cockroaches in Harvard than in any other institution. I divided my time between regular courses and the antennae of palaeozoic cockroaches. At the end of the year I went with my manuscript, quite a bundle of it, dealing with the antennae to the Professor of Cockroaches. I wanted it considered toward the requirements for the doctorate. I was told that Harvard University was not interested in the antennae, that it was interested only in the thorax . . . The Professor would not even look at my manuscript. The manuscript covered really only the first two joints of the antennae of palaeozoic cockroaches. It was afterward published, as the first of a series of occasional volumes by the California Academy of Sciences, and I believe is still the Authority . . .

In 1940, 70% of Harvard faculty were unsure what criteria were used to judge their worthiness for promotions and tenure, and most of them viewed this as a bad thing — contra Moldbug, by the 1940s the academics had already become completely institutionalized, and their institution had devolved into something less than a Socratic symposium. Today, we can happily (?) say that the criteria have become much more clear. Contribution to the interests of the institution, both scholarly and economic, the ability to produce continued quantities of research that do justice to the institution’s intellectual reputation, and keeping one’s nose out of trouble are among the ideological principles most valued by the postmodern academy.

To be continued.

Posted: June 24th, 2013 | Signs of the Times


From the Oomoto Shin’yu: Nao Deguchi on Materialism

The original sacred text of Oomoto was a piece of “Ofudesaki” automatic writing produced by Nao Deguchi, an illiterate farmer’s wife, channeling a kami that she called Ushitora no Konjin. We do not know if this text is authentic but people who knew her seem to think the following was really written by her in 1903. Also, this contradicts the teachings of Onisaburo, who printed the text. When it came time for him to select his favorite teachings of Nao’s this was not among them.

People use the fine earth planting trees and flower seeds, without a thought for the importance of the land, and do not produce the rice, wheat, beans and millet of our parents, which are the very life of the people. They are saying, “Rice, beans, wheat, whatever, we can buy it from foreign countries,” but that won’t last forever. Even in a place with cats, if you plant the five staple grains, they’ll come. Everyone accepts the foreign country’s material teaching, so in the country of Japan, live the Japanese way, and if you see someone planting those trees, dig them up. The ways of today won’t go on forever. People who are going up in the world won’t be able to accept this teaching today, but when that season comes, they must follow the way prescribed by God, and pass into this world.

If you don’t follow a teaching for Japan, the world will have no rule. If you copy the foreign countries, building your homes from stone and tile, building up your money, saying that you are living a developed life, sticking your nose up in the air, your nose will be so long it gets in the way of your eyes, and you won’t be able to see up, nor will you be able to see down, and while your nose sticks to the sky your feet become lazy, and when people are needed for the nation of God in the moment of truth, there is not a single one right now, so they will need to find the Japanese spirit in this Oomoto, so when the order comes to open the Gate of the Celestial Rock Cave again, we will have to save the universe. The selfish teaching of the foreign nations who say, “Things are all right,” dirties their hearts like beasts, and they will grasp nothing of this teaching.

November 9 [Old Style], 1903

This specific prophecy was suppressed by the Japanese government. Most of the issues of the magazine which carried this quote were destroyed.

Nao was spotted more than once pulling up flowers that Onisaburo had planted.

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Posted: April 5th, 2013 | Tradition 2 Comments »


Reikai Monogatari in English. Book 64-2, Chapter 1

Reikai Monogatari, the Tale of the Spirit World, is an enormous sacred text by Onisaburo Deguchi, “the Gurdjieff of the East.” The Oomoto (“Great Root”) religious movement in Japan, from which countless groups emerged, is an excellent example of Counter-Tradition. Even though many Oomoto-inspired groups have translated works into English, not a single chapter of Reikai Monogatari has ever been translated into any language*, and after reading this section, which defies all description, you will either begin to wonder why, or cease to wonder why. I have chosen sections to translate haphazardly where it pleased me to do so.

* [edited, 2015] Actually, Jean-Pierre Berthon translated parts of Book 1 into French, in his Omoto: espérance millénariste d’une nouvelle religion japonaise (Éd. Atelier Alpha bleue, 1985).

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Posted: April 4th, 2013 | Signs of the Times


Thought for the day

A thought, after reading a description of Schuon’s “Maryamiyya”.

There are two forms of “traditionalism” in the sense of Guénonian anti-modernism; the metaphysical reactionaries, who consider Guénon and Evola as two representatives of a large class of those with some understanding (a class that might include anyone from A. Dugin to C.S. Lewis), and the religious perennialists, who consider Guénon and Schuon as modern-day prophets. The religious perennialists frown upon Evola as a dangerous and overly political deviant. Certainly Evola dared his readers to “revolt” against modernity, while Schuon busied himself building a “refuge” from modernity. But as a point of fact, Schuon’s teachings were more deviant and dangerous in his own lifetime than Evola’s. It may at least be said of Evola that he never rubbed his naked body against female devotees. If Evola has a political influence in the future, it is only because more people find his work relevant.

Update: Rather than making a new post, I will update this post with a heartwarming account of Guénon’s strict orthodoxy and the loving devotion of his wife.

In July 1949, the beginning of Ramadan, I was invited to break the fast. I found him lying on the couch, and he explained that fasting tired him to the point that he could not work at night, the day being set aside for prayer and rest. As soon as she heard the cannon announcing the sunset, Hajja Fatima brought us a cup of Turkish coffee, which was drunk at the same time we lit a cigarette. After which, Sheikh Abdel [Guénon] conducted the prayer of Maghreb, and I followed the movements behind him. After an excellent Egyptian meal and a peaceful vigil, I took my leave of the Sheikh and his family.

Source: Jean-Louis Michon, Cheikh Abdel Wahid Yahia

Posted: March 5th, 2013 | Tradition 6 Comments »