Time Again:

I would like to recall your attention to this post, in which I proposed a complete reconsideration of the justice system.

Last night I had dinner with an old teacher, one of the most logical and thoughtful men I've ever known. He is also, as it happens, a genuine socialist -- and was once among the early members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, in the days before it decided that the cause of anti-segregation would best be served by purging all of its white members (that way it could speak, apparently some believed, with more complete moral authority -- all the members being black, they'd all be victims, and being a victim gave them that authority. This irony naturally foreshadowed the course of the Civil Rights Movement, which went from a righteous and clarion call for men to be judged on the content of their characters, to a demand for affirmative action based on the color of their skin).

In any event, he and I had a long discussion on the topic of the need for such a reform. As you would expect, we both began from completely different first principles, and yet we both agreed that the existing system serves none of the purposes of justice as well as almost any alternative -- and at a staggering cost, if you consider what the price is for maintaining a nationwide prison system. This is true whether "life without parole," or a twenty-year court procedure for death penalties, is the standard top punishment. Almost any system would be cheaper than this.

That leaves out the cost to society of a system that fails at everything except warehousing men, so that they are released in ten or fifteen years with fewer honest prospects, more organized criminal contacts, and a greater awareness of criminal procedures than when they went in.

It's a big topic, so it's wise that we should take time to think about it. You've all had a little while to ponder it, at least in the backs of your minds. Please take a look over the original post again if you'd like, and let's talk about it. What are we trying to accomplish? What should we be trying to accomplish? How can we best get there?

More Secrecy

More Problems of Secrecy:

The Washington Post has two big headlines today in its online edition, and both are about secret wings of the GWOT. The second is more interesting than the first: "Covert CIA Program Withstands New Furor." It holds that:

The broad-based effort, known within the agency by the initials GST, is compartmentalized into dozens of highly classified individual programs, details of which are known mainly to those directly involved.
Well, that is the idea behind the whole classification system. And yet, we have learned a substantial amount about the program:
GST includes programs allowing the CIA to capture al Qaeda suspects with help from foreign intelligence services, to maintain secret prisons abroad, to use interrogation techniques that some lawyers say violate international treaties, and to maintain a fleet of aircraft to move detainees around the globe.
Emphasis added. It's of course the case that "some lawyers" will be willing to stake out any legal position -- that's why neither the ACLU nor their opponent of the week ever has trouble finding a lawyer. There are lawyers with opinions on all sides of every issue in the law.

Therein lies the problem with the debate the Post wants us to have over these programs -- a problem that poses a real puzzle for the citizen who is interested in doing his duty as a thinker and a voter. Before we join the 'rising furor,' we really ought to know what we're raising a furor about.

Yet the program is secret. Details are available only to those directly involved. We know some several details due to leaks of the sort that the Post's first article is about. Just like the case with "some lawyers," however, any government agency has dissenters. It doesn't say anything bad about you that you are a dissenter -- I've argued at length that maintaining internal dissent is a critical national security issue. What becomes a problem is when the dissenters decide to take their case to the public, in violation of their oath.

It's a problem because they are putting forward only one point of view, from a perspective that is limited. They know the details of their own part of the program; they don't know what the rest of the CIA is doing. They have their own particular reading of the details and events. They are dissenters, so we can reasonably assume that their interpretation is a minority reading at CIA.

Because of the secrecy oaths, however, we can't get a balanced view. There is no opportunity for a response from the other side. Consider Bill Roggio's response to another story in the Washington Post, one about him. It asserted that he was there doing Information Operations for the US military. Bill pointed out that this was entirely incorrect -- a reading of the facts that was flat wrong.

Almost certainly there's a response of the same type lurking in the minds of many a CIA officer. "What the #@$@#?" they are doubtless saying this morning -- just as I've found myself saying it on the occasions when I've seen press reports on topics about which I knew the truth. This has happened a time or two, and the media gets the details so badly wrong that I wonder what on earth they were thinking.

Yet the other officers at CIA can not reply. Their oath forbids it, and even if it did not, national security interests forbid disclosing the rest of the details or the alternative interpretations of the details that are available. The debate -- the "furor" -- must be carried out in public on the basis only of the information provided by the dissenters, usually without rebuttal.

The solution to this problem is the republican one -- the small "r" is intentional -- which is to elect representatives who can review the information and report to us that things are, or are not, as they ought to be. Thus the problem of secrecy is worsened by the reckless political culture lurking in D.C. these days.

Repairing that culture by replacing the currently worthless run of Congressmen is our only option, however. We cannot strip away the secrecy from the most critical programs; and we ought not to pretend to be conducting honest reasoning into these programs with only a limited, one-sided view available to us as data. To do so would be to do exactly what Bush is accused of doing by those who disagree with him: to reason within a bubble of single-minded opinion.

Culture & The South

The South & "High" Culture:

Apparently Matt Yglesias of The American Prospect is involved in a blogger's dispute with The Corner. The part that concerns me turns on this argument:

The most recent change occurred in 1964, when its center of gravity shifted to the South and the Sunbelt, now the solid base of "Republicanism." The consequences of that profound shift are evident, especially with respect to prudence, education, intellect and high culture.
The Corner apparently feels rather defensive. Jonah Goldberg says that "I don't think you can dispute" that Yglesias is right to say that "the vast majority of America's premiere institutions of education and high culture are located in the 'blue' areas." Ramesh Ponnuru offers a mild defense of the South, but then asserts that his argument turns on "the Sunbelt," what we used to call the New South. He thereby writes off most of, and indeed the best parts of, the South.

I shall gladly dispute what Yglesias attempts as his main point. When asserting that "high culture" is a blue-state thing, he says, "That's not to say the South is some kind of total wasteland -- I visited the Fort Worth Modern Art Museum earlier this year and it's first-rate, albeit a bit small -- but on the whole this stuff is primarily in the Northeast and to a lesser extent on the Pacific coast."

Well, now. If "high culture" means modern art, you've got a point.

On the other hand, if modernism is precisely the rejection of the classic high culture of the West -- as practitioners of modernism have often argued, and as has likewise been argued by those who reject modernism since at least the time of G. K. Chesterton -- then the location of modern art museums is not particularly telling. Rather than an absence of "high culture," the South is almost the last bastion of traditional Western high culture, both in its intellectual and its cultural foundations.

In the 19th century, Harvard produced Francis Parkman, who wrote the following on the proper education:
[I]f any pale student glued to his desk here seek an apology for a way of life whose natural fruit is that pallid and emasculate scholarship, of which New England has had too many examples, it will be far better that this sketch had not been written. For the student there is, in its season, no better place than the saddle, and no better companion than the rifle or the oar.
If you follow that link, you'll find also a bit of scoffing from today's Harvard over the fact that MIT recognizes riflery as a "varsity sport." "Hey!" says a living Harvard graduate. "I was on the Harvard varsity rifle team," once upon a time:
In fact, MIT claims to have 42 varsity sports, one more than even Harvard. Of course, Harvard scoffed snootily, "Hearing that MIT was claiming 42 varsity teams, officials at Harvard, which has 41, chafed. They point to MIT's varsity pistol and rifle teams as evidence of MIT's skewed vision of varsity sports."

Hey, wait a minute! I was ON the Harvard Rifle Team in 1973! The team capitan, a member of my "freak fraternity" and now owner of a software company in Houston, had the key to the Harvard rifle range and we would go down there in the wee hours under the effects of whatnot and invent weird games like hanging tootsie roll pops from shoelaces tied to the mechanized target holders. When we rolled 'em back down the range, the lollypops swung around wildly and were wicked hard to hit. Or even see, for that matter.

We lost all 12 matches that season. Most of the guys we were shooting against were steely-eyed vets with thousand-yard stares just back form Nam and trying to finish college on Uncle Sam, while we were just a bunch of Ivy freaks who liked to play with guns.
The problem is that, rather than being a bastion of high culture, Harvard etc. has abandoned the traditional conception of a complete education. From the time of Plato we have seen that conception expressed as a need to educate the whole man, both mind and body, so that he possesses a complete understanding of virtue and also the capacity and will to enact it and defend it in the world. One of the earliest of Plato's dialogues, according to the usual methods of determining their age, is the Laches, which treats the importance of developing courage and the question of whether or not it can be developed by practicing fighting in armor. The union of philosophy and valor is so important that, even in his most developed writings, Plato considered it central to his conception of the soul and the best kind of society. He suggested that society be divided into "golden" Guardians who would be philosophers first, their "silver" auxiliaries who would be warriors first, and the rest of mankind who would be workers first. But this only mirrored his conception of the soul, with philosophy and valor separate from and superior to the rest of the human nature.

In the Nicomachean Ethics, the first virtue Aristotle treats is bravery. The whole point of Aristotle's ethics is to develop the right kind of fighting, thinking citizen. Like Plato, he felt that correct politics grew out of that ethics: the city should mirror the man, as he explains in his Politics.

That philosophy has served as the foundation of the Western understanding. Indeed, we date the rise and fall of the West by the rise and fall of that philosophy: when it perishes, and the rational fall beneath the unthinking, we call it the Dark Ages or the "Low" Middle Ages in spite of the fact that communities of thinkers and monks survived and even flourished. When it arises, so that Medieval society is cleanly divided between Oratores, Bellatores, et Laboratores, we call it the "High" Middle Ages. When capitalism causes a rising middle class to blur the lines again, we call it the Late Middle Ages.

That, gentlemen, is the high culture of the West. In the South, foremost, is it preserved. In the South, alone, do its institutions flourish. The three American military academies are maintained elsewhere, but only the South has native ones of similar prestige: VMI and the Citadel. While the great institutions of the northeast and California maintain instruction in philosophy, they have cast aside the role of educating men who are bellatores as well as oratores: that is, men who know how to fight as well as to pray -- or, as is more and more commonly the case, simply to orate.

Thus we have institutions like Harvard, which once scoffed at the pale 'emasculate scholar,' and now seeks to produce him above all. These are institutions that -- not to put too fine a point on it -- prefer to reject military recruiters out of preference for another cause. Institutions that once instructed men in riflery as well as philosophy now scoff at riflery.

Yet the division of society was always meant -- in Aristotle, in Plato, in the Middle Ages, and now -- to mirror the division of the individual soul. Western high culture envisions a man who is a thinker first, a fighter second, and everything else third. He must be all of these things, or he is not a Man of the West. The Medieval nobleman was meant to be educated as well as a fighter; he was to know tactics and the art of heraldry, at least; and as the High Middle Ages progressed, became expected to know poetry and the rules of courtly behavior. The monk was expected to be a soldier against the devil's cause, if he was not a solider in fact -- as were many priests in the Church Militant.

Do not tell me that the blue states are the seat of Western high culture. By and large, they have rejected it.
Compare those statistics above with these, which break down recruiting by geographic region of the United States. The South is far and away the leader in recruitment, although it is the poorest region of the United States. The wealthiest region, the Northeast, trails in recruitment.

That suggests that the media picture is even less accurate. The military maintains these levels of representation in the richest and second-richest quintiles, while drawing 40% of the force from the poorest region in the country and only fifteen percent from the richest region.

That suggests that military recruitment is heavily disproportionate among the upper and upper-middle class everywhere but the Northeast...
No, gentlemen, the seat of high culture is not the blue states. It is the solid South.

Canada export

Canada Exports Its Whining to US:

The Prime Minister of Canada has a complaint for you. He says the US is corrupting his culture, and turning Canada into violent, evil America:

Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin and Toronto Mayor David Miller warned that Canada could become like the United States after gunfire erupted Monday on a busy street filled with holiday shoppers, killing a 15-year-old girl and wounding six bystanders -- the latest victims in a record surge in gun violence in Toronto.
Yep, sounds just like America to me. I think we can all easily recall a time when we were out on a busy street, shopping with our families, and gunfire erupted all around us.


Well, OK, maybe not. But we can at least recall a time when it happened to someone we knew, and...


Well, I'm sure we can recall a time when we read about it happening somewhere in the US?


All right, fine, neither can I. For some reason, we don't see a lot of gunfights in crowded American shopping districts. But we do get the occasional story about violence in shops, even if it's not as colorful as a gunfight on a crowded street:
Joe Phillips just wanted to help a friend fix her car, but police say that when he entered an auto parts store, an armed robber forced him to change his plans. According to a police report, a 21-year-old man brought a gas can into the store and began to fuel a small motorcycle that was on display. When a clerk told him to stop, the suspect pulled a gun, pointed it at the worker and announced he was robbing the place. It was then that Phillips drew his own gun and told the young man to drop his firearm. The two exchanged gunfire and the would-be robber was shot. He was recovering at a hospital and was expected to be arrested after his release. “That’s exactly like Joe,” said Karl Phillips, Joe’s brother. “Joe’s a good Samaritan, always has been. Joe wouldn’t have gotten involved if he didn’t think it was a matter of life and death.” A clerk was also injured, but is expected to recover. (The News Tribune, Tacoma WA, 09/30/05)
There, you see? Exactly like Canada. Well, there is that one difference: the good guys are armed here, too, and able to stop the crime in its tracks.

I ran the word "shopping" through The Armed Citizen archives. It doesn't come up much, and mostly in terms of people who had either just finished shopping and come home, or who were on their way to do some shopping. Criminals in America, even the gun-and-knife toting set, are kind of on the run here. We keep them to the shadows.

Here's the closest thing I could find, from ten years ago:
American Rifleman Issue: 8/1/1995
"He's the only reason why they didn't empty the entire store. What he did was outstanding," said one police officer about an unidentified man who single-handedly put an end to looting at an Atlanta, Georgia, shopping mall. When hundreds of young revelers-turned-hoodlums ran wild and began ransacking and looting businesses, the man jumped from his car with a shotgun, firing three shots into the air. The thieves scattered and fled as the citizen knocked stolen merchandise from some of their hands and held one young crook for arriving police officers.
Maybe the problem isn't that America is exporting violence to Canada. Maybe the problem is that Canada has stopped its own citizens from having the tools to perform their individual duty to uphold and defend the common peace.

Someone Worth Reading

Howdy All,

Popping in to suggest a blogger for the sidebar: Chris Roach's man-sized target.

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to meet Chris while at a blog get-together with Chester (Adventures of Chester) and learned of his blog. Since then, he's been a daily read; it speaks ill of me for not suggesting him sooner-- but hey, I got to it before the end of the year.


More Fire Department Fun:

Today I went with my father to take the antique ladder truck on a run, which is necessary to keeping it in good working order. It's a beautiful 1930s model with mahogany ladders that are probably worth more than the truck itself. We drove it over to a local park where my son Beowulf was playing, and then the boy got to ride around on the old ladder truck. What a lucky, happy boy.

I was driving the pickup trailing the thing, to keep people from getting too close to it. My father was driving the ladder truck. When we got to the park, there was a guy there flying a remote-control airplane, which was buzzing merrily around the park's airspace.

A 1930's firetruck will turn heads, and it did indeed turn the head of the "pilot" running his airplane. As we pulled around the circumference of the park, he watched the old truck with such devotion that he forgot all about his little airplane.

That wee plane slammed right into one of the big light-poles used to illuminate one of the baseball fields. Wham! It flew apart into three pieces.

The guy quickly ran over and collected the pieces, threw them in his truck, and drove away rapidly. I saw the park workers over there a bit later, and I wonder if they'll now have to replace any of the big lights that were up on that pole.

Well, these things happen.

Camp Kat

Camp Katrina Knocks a Homer:

Yep, the Specialist is absolutely correct about this:

From a recent AP article highlighting the escalating wars over illegal downloading:
It was Easter Sunday, and Patricia Santangelo was in church with her kids when she says the music recording industry peeked into her computer and decided to take her to court....
So let me get this straight: it's perfectly alright for the music recording industry to peek inside a computer without a warrant to look for downloaded songs, but it's a federal crime for President Bush to monitor phone calls to try to save American lives?
That seems to be the position some are adopting. I don't see how the RIAA can't be admitting to something equivalent to breaking-and-entering in this business. How can we say that the government, where we have representation, is bound in this area -- but it's perfectly all right for a hostile corporate concern to charge right in? Nothing against corporations, but the government works for me, at least in theory. The RIAA doesn't, not even in theory.



Greyhawk explains information operations:

I have a gun. You have a gun. I can talk you into setting that gun down, or I can shoot you.

I say we give peace a chance.
That's about the size of it. Meanwhile, Bill Roggio explains why what he's doing isn't IO, and why al Qaeda's efforts to influence the debate aren't equivalent to military IO anyway. Hint: they're mostly doing it by killing people, rather than placing stories.


The Chairman:

On the campus of Zhejiang University, there is a giant golden statue of Chairman Mao, his arm raised as if in benediction over China's budding young scholars. I remember looking at it in astonishment; but of course it has to exist. China is not ready to deal with the truth about the man.

MilBlogger GI Korea quotes an article from the University of California at Berkeley, which considers the 112th birthday of the Chairman.

“He is written in the constitution as the guiding force for China,” she says, “and it is also illegal to oppose Mao.” She says because Beijing withholds the truth about Mao, younger generations who did not live under him have no other choice than to accept a distorted view of the leader. “The regime is determined to perpetuate the myth of Mao,” Chang says.
Simon's rebuttal, cited above under "the truth," points out that the benefits China now enjoys come exclusively from those areas in which it has been undoing Mao's work. It also includes an editorial comment on which I'd like to further comment:
Leaders like President Hu Jintao copied Mao, he said, travelling to villages in the countryside [Where else would villages be? - Ed.], and emphasised MAo's achievements in making China strong"
"Countryside" is a word I actually had a lot of trouble conveying in China. I worked hard with my students to give them an understanding that I was not from a city. "Then you are from a village," they said. "No, not from a village," I said. "I lived out away from any villages or towns or cities, in the land that was being used for raising cattle and timber." We went around on this for quite a while until they finally decided on the appropriate word in Mandarin to describe the setup. Then, they all nodded with understanding and went on their way.

I checked the word against my Chinese-English dictionary when I got home. It translated as, "Wasteland." In a sense, this neatly captures the Chinese worldview. The city is the center of the landscape, with villages existing to support it. The countryside which is not used to support the city is wasted.

In the larger scale, that same view holds China as properly the center of the world, with tributary states existing to support it. What is not part of that system is also wasted: barbarian.

Xinhua has a roundup from within China of appropriately devout pieces. This includes a reader comments section of a sort: unlike on a Western blog, it is plainly only selected reader comments. Still, this one got through:
Whoever enables the Chinese people to have enough to eat, people will remember him.
In Mao's "Great Leap Forward," as this sympathetic treatment recounts, some twenty-five million people starved. Even the authors of that piece must conclude that:
After the death of Mao and the start of Chinese economic reform under Deng Xiaoping the tendency within the Chinese government was to see the Great Leap Forward as a major economic disaster and to attribute it to the cult of personality under Mao Zedong and to regard it as one of the serious errors he made after the founding of the People's Republic of China.
One hopes the commenting "netizen" is aware of this history, and his "praise" is therefore ironic.


Reasonable Men:

Southern Appeal considers analysis of a decision that came out of the Sixth Circuit court. It's another "Ten Commandments" case, and the language is both unusual and rather harsh:

In an interesting decision from the 6th Circuit, the Court did not accept the ACLU's argument that the First Amendment requires separation of Church and State. Specifically, the Court affirmed the posting of the Ten Commandments in the Mercer County Court house. Some quotes of interest:
"Our concern is that of the reasonable person. And the ACLU, an organization whose mission is 'to ensure that . . . the government [is kept] out of the religion business,' does not embody the reasonable person."

"We will not presume endorsement from the mere display of the Ten Commandments. If the reasonable observer perceived all government references to the Deity as endorsements, then many of our Nation's cherished traditions would be unconstitutional, including the Declaration of Independence and the national motto. Fortunately, the reasonable person is not a hyper-sensitive plaintiff."
I think that's right, not only from a legal but from a historical perspective. The ACLU is advocating a position that belonged, properly, to Jefferson and a few others -- which is to say, it is an honorable position deeply rooted in American history. On the other hand, it was a minority position among the Founders, many of whom were deeply religious and felt a need to be guided by and to express their faith in their work.

The reading of the First Amendment as requiring the separation of church and state doesn't come from the intention of the First Amendment, which was written to prevent the establishment of an official state church to which one would have to swear oaths, such as existed in England and Ireland. It's reasonably clear from a historical perspective that "the Founders," if they could be summoned from the grave and asked to rule on the matter, would not ratify a "separation of church and state" reading. Jefferson would advocate it, as he did advocate it (at least, presuming that nothing in the next world had changed his opinion on the subject). Most of his contemporaries, including Washington, would not (again, presuming the same thing).

I don't think the ACLU is unreasonable to advocate for Jefferson's position. While they may not be acting as "reasonable observers" of history or public opinion, they are certainly reasonably reading the existing precedents.

However, the alternative reading is also not unreasonable -- far from it. A reasonable observer would have to read the history of the First as expressing very strong support for this position. Consider the weight of history, and the continuance of public opinion in support of that reading from the Founding to the present day. It seems right to say that such a broad and ancient current will but naturally cut a channel: a line of thinking so broad and old will find a way to express itself. I suspect the law will make room for it, sooner or later.

Christmas Humor

Christmas Humor:

A surprising piece of Christmas-related humor can be found at Captain's Quarters.

It's an excellent example of understated, tongue-in-cheek humor.

Ghost stories

Ghost Stories:

Christmas isn't usually the time for ghost stories, excepting of course the one called Spiritus Sancti in the Latin. Nevertheless, I'll beg your indulgence to convey a story my father just told me which is -- in its important parts -- entirely true.

Many years ago, a pair of young boys were killed here in Forsyth County. It was a terrible murder, the details of which I will not relate. In those days, there was a great deal of overlap between the Sheriff's department and the Volunteer Fire Department, both in terms of work and in terms of the men who did the work. Both always showed up at car wrecks, for example, and fires, and a lot of the deputies were also volunteers. For that reason, they didn't always keep clear lines of separation between what was technically "Fire Department" property, and what was property of the sheriff. This is how the records of the investigation of the murder ended up in the attic of Station #4.

We fast forward here to the current day. There's a young fireman who shall remain nameless here, who while brave enough to fight fires nevertheless has a thing about ghosts. Station #4 is now a manned station with paid firemen, not just the volunteers of thirty years ago. These guys have a lot of time on their hands, and that includes time to prowl through the attic and find the records. They young fireman begins to get creeped out that the gruesome records and photos are in the building where he sleeps while on shift.

Well, naturally the older firemen begin to relate -- that is to say, invent -- tales of the ghosts of these two young boys, who are supposedly in the attic. And then, having that time on their hands, they start thinking of ways to make it worse for the kid than just telling him stories. One of them rigs the drop-ceiling panels with a line, so that he can pull on it in a hidden location and cause the ceiling tiles to jump around when the kid is alone in a room. Naturally, he freaks out; and naturally, 'no one believes him' when he conveys the story.

The day before the next night when he's due to sleep over on shift, these same guys go and get some of that fire-hydrant paint that glows in the dark. They put a light coat around certain parts of the roof and attic entrances. During the day, it blends in fine with the regular paint, but after the lights are turned off, there's an eerie glow about the entry to the attic...

Oh, my. I haven't laughed so hard in months. All I can say is, I hope their good deeds as firemen make up for what they're doing to that poor kid.

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas

We come together
once a year
Family and friends
gather to hear
The story of a
child's birth.

Born to a teenage
woman in an
Ancient town. Her
new husband a man
Gone there to enroll
for tax-census.

A busy inn, no place
of privacy for
The business of birth.
no place? after
A moment's thought,
they enter the stable.

The travails and joys
of birth have been
Told thousands of times
by thousands of women.
Yet this birth was fraught
with secret import.

Tales of angels, tales
of special signs
In the heavens. strange
visitors with fine
Gifts in this little
hamlet of Judea.

A surprising life and a
shocking death await
This little baby boy.
this day we meet,
To honor the baby who
changed the world.

JMB salaries

No Christmas Bonus, I Guess:

The Jamatul Mujahedeen Bangladesh pays monthly salaries, according to this report from the Independent of Bangladesh. That's pretty good for a banned organization that is allegedly being hunted high and low by the authorities. You'd think they'd divide spoils when they could.

It makes one wonder if there's anything to the statements of the opposition parties, led by the Awami League, that JMB is in league with the government. Two of the three parties involved in the coalition are Islamic. On the other hand, the Awami League are communists. Based on my experience looking over such things, I'd have to say that it's hard to choose whether to prefer the word of an Islamic political party, or a communist political party. The most likely condition is that both are outright deceiving you.

Fortunately, our own political parties adhere to far higher standards... well, at least, some of their members do. Some of them, even most of the time.


Merry Christmas:

Time for a long winter's nap for me, it being just about midnight. To be the shortest days of the year, these have been some lengthy days for me, which explains the light posting. I hope you're all enjoying your Yuletide.


America Holds Her Breath:

It seems that way, on Christmas Eve. This has been a most eventful trip. I've had work to do, plenty of it -- more even than usual, when "usual" is plenty. In addition to that, which I've tried to get done by morning and night, there's been family and visiting and many adventures. I mentioned the adventure of the crossbow, but not the wizard of broad brimmed hats (a gentleman of eighty, one of the last sixteen independent hatmakers in America; he cleaned and repaired my grandfather's Stetson and dated it to the mid-1940s based on the bash and the leather in the hatband). Nor did I mention rescuing the maiden (a young lady of five winters' age, who had managed to lodge herself knees-under-chin in a metal trash can. No, I don't know how). There have been other things too, which have filled both day and night.

I hope you're all having a wonderful time. Good luck to you all, and all you hold dear.


Life Gets Worse:

Uncle Steve just dropped by on his way down to Florida, and gave the boy an early Christmas gift: a crossbow. As a consequence, I have learned today that a German Shepherd dog can jump sideways if called upon to do so.

Patriot Wall

I Agree With Jimbo:

These guys are doing great work. This is just what we needed to deal with Fred Phelps et al -- a group of patriotic bikers to act as a shield.


At Last:

A furniture design after my own heart. I assumed at first that the "safe bedside table" would be a bedside table with a built-in safe, which would also be cool for the same purpose.

Post for Wife

A Post for my Wife:

The next time you get around to reading the blog, I think you'll enjoy this link.


A Belle's Weather:

It's been a while since I mentioned my mother. The last time was in regard to the 2004 election, when I was very surprised to learn that she was going to be a Bush voter: a self-described liberal feminist and deeply anti-war by sentiment, the sort of person who openly worries that America has become the great tyrant of the world, nevertheless she understood that John Kerry could not be trusted on national defense. I posited at the time that, if Kerry had lost my mother, he had lost a lot of people who ought to have been Democrat voters in 2004. Indeed, I remain sure that a Democrat who could be taken seriously on defense -- Lieberman, perhaps, since Zell wouldn't run -- would have easily won.

I talked to her last night about the NSA spying business. What's it about? It's about the NSA spying, without warrants, on Americans suspected of ties to terrorists. "That's what I want the President to do!" she said, quite emphatically.

Since she says so, I must hold that the matter is settled as a political question. If you've lost my mother, you cannot win on this ground.

Iraq Election Results

Iraq Election Results:

InstaPundit has several links to some early hand-wringing over the Iraqi Election results. I'm disinclined to it myself. Publius in particular feels that a worsened civil war is likely.

Well, perhaps it is. It seems more likely to me, however, that Iraq's tribal factions will prefer an alternative to war if one can be found. The early American process seemed to teeter at all times on the brink of collapse, and yet managed time and again to achieve breakthrough compromises at the last minute. In the second American Constitutional process, which we normally call Reconstruction, again there were rejectionists and people who threatened violence at every turn. Eventually, the constitutional process absorbed them -- and through it, they won enough concessions to satisfy them. I have long felt that Reconstruction was the best model for understanding the situation in Iraq, and I still think so.

I suspect that we will see a similar process at work here, the hot rhetoric notwithstanding: anyone who has ever watched haggling in the traditional fashion knows that the rhetoric can get very hot indeed, and yet both parties know from the start of the transaction that the one fellow is going to buy what the other is selling.

The Sunnis will bargain hard for the things they want and can't get through simple votes, because they are a minority. Yet they have been bargaining all along, using violence and insurgency. The political process, though turbulent, is nevertheless an improvement.

Indeed, the fact that the religious parties did well is a good sign even though it is worrying some observers. It means that they have a stake in the process, and even the biggest stake. While pushing for changes to the Iraqi constitution, they yet now must be defenders of the basic constitutional order. This is particularly true for the Sunnis, who have heretofore been the chief insurgents. As a political faction, they can wield the power of a protected minority in order to win compromises from the central government. The local control of their tribal homelands is assured, so what they are bargaining for is "extras" they would like. Like the Redemptionists of the American South, that local control is their main desire. They wish to protect their way of life as they see it.

If they abandon the constitution and go back to insurgency as a primary means, they could easily end up losing that control. Just as the South of 1878 had no desire to return to military occupation, so the Sunnis will not wish to see a return of major counterinsurgency operations in their cities. It cannot serve them; they will not wish to see Iraqi Army units, commanded by a Shi'ite government, occupying their cities. They know that the Marines were very gentle by comparison. Thus they will pull back from the brink. However hot the rhetoric gets, and in spite of the occasional "night riding," they will stand behind the shield the political process offers them. Therefore that process will take hold, in spite of and because of the suspicions and aspirations of the factions.

Christmas Presents

Christmas Presents:

For five years, ever since we moved to China, from time to time my wife would look frantic and go searching through all our things. We left a lot of stuff behind us when we left, donated to Goodwill or the Salvation Army. We left in a bit of a hurry, what with graduate examinations and final papers. There was a lot of confusion. I'm still not sure exactly what we left behind, except that it included a fifth of Jameson Irish Whiskey, as a gift to the charity workers who came to take it away. They deserve gifts too -- perhaps more than most.

These last few years, though, every six months or so she'd tear through everything we owned as if looking one more time would change things. Her Girl Scout patch jacket was what she missed the most; and her father's jacket that he'd given her, which he'd worn in World War II. Her cashmire scarf, which was her grandmother's. All lost. Looking again never changed anything, and I never knew why she did. It just meant two days in tears for her, every time.

Tonight I went up into my father's attic, to gather up the Christmas decorations and bring them down again. He'd have done it himself, but recently he decided he couldn't make the climb on the ladder. No matter. I was here to do it.

Up in one distant, dusty corner I found two bags marked "Jackets." My wife is crying again tonight, but it's OK this time.

Merry Christmas.


Holiday Travel:

Yesterday, I spent more than eleven hours making a trip from Virginia to Georgia. The actual flight from the one place to the other was smooth and easy, and took an hour and a half. The rest of the time? It was spent fighting traffic to the airport, fighting traffic from the airport, getting through security, and standing in lines. It takes almost ten times as long to get to and from the flight as to take the flight.

The TSA guys were great, don't get me wrong. The operation is really shaping up -- which it should be, since it's been four years since 9/11 increased security procedures. Still, they deserve credit. They did their best to get people through quickly, they were polite, and several of them spent some time making faces and laughing with little Beowulf. I really appreciate their professionalism and good cheer.

I'll be down in Georgia for two weeks (the traditional Yuletide of Twelve Days, plus travel). I'm still working my regular job, of course, because operations never stop. Still, if any of you are passing through North Georgia, let me know.

Martial Arts


The Washington Times has an article today on the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program. It's a good read, but like most articles about the martial arts written for the general public, it raises but then doesn't get its head around the "character" issues of the martial arts. There are really two sets of these: a personal set, and a social set.

I talked about the social function of the martial arts about a year and a half ago. Briefly, for those who don't want to follow the link: almost all violence comes from young men. Violence can be protective, however, as well as predatory; and young men are the ones who perform both functions. The problem is making them into protectors rather than predators. As we were discussing in the prison post below, such "rehabilitation" has to be chosen -- it cannot be forced on men. The martial arts provide a means for making them choose it. They create a class of older, wiser men who are dangerous enough to win the respect of the predatory youth on the only grounds they understand.

Those older men can then insist on character reformation as part of the price for teaching these young men the arts. A wise teacher teaches only the parts that the student is ready to learn. Progress can be fast or slow, depending on the student.

That points us to the second set of goals. The martial arts are about learning to wield force in a trained and disciplined fashion. Quickly it becomes clear to the student that the primary force isn't strength, but spirit. In order to master the physical sword, you have to master the spirtual one: the one you use against yourself.

This spiritual sword is used to cleave away the parts of yourself that weaken your spirit, so that you are more easily dominated. As it happens, those are the same parts that we tend to think of as being vices. What remains are the parts we think of as virtues. You must learn to strike down the desire for ease, and train instead. You must learn to strike down the desire for excess food, so that you can manage your weight. You must learn to strike down the desire to be thought correct and wise, and instead listen to teachers who know more. You must strike down the fear that keeps you from trying something that seems dangerous. Instead, you must learn to act without thought, trusting in your instructors and, eventually, yourself.

In this way, the parts of the spirit that lead to weakness are knocked down. What remains expands to fill the space that used to be occupied with weakness. A vibrant person remains: honest, fearless, and strong.

That is not quite all of the story. These weaknesses are part of the human character. They always attempt to return, no matter how diligent your practice. The martial artist must become devoted to being aware of the enemies within, even as he is always vigilant against enemies without. In this way, he comes to know only too well how flawed his character is, and remains, in spite of all he does.

That way lies humility, and a capacity for love and forgiveness. These things, along with the strength and power to enact them into the world, are the final goal of the arts.

Strange News

While the American press is doing its best to ignore the elections in Iraq, and try to figure out under what authority the President can order wiretaps, a surprising event may have happened in Iran.

So far, I have only found one news story (and at least one blog post) concerning this event. The facts given are thin.

It appears that a bodyguard and driver in the motorcade of Iran's President Ahmadinejad have died. Both men are said to have been in the lead vehicle, which fell under attack while the Iranian President's convoy approached the town of Zabul in a southeastern province of Iran.

Supporting detail is given, but it is detail which I have no way of verifying. Reputedly, the region has a troublesome minority (the Baluchi) who have long been at odds with the ruling SunniShia majority in Iran. [Thanks to the commenter who pointed out my mistake.]

I am assuming from the outset that the Iranian President was the target of the attack.

No mention is given of the perpetrators of the attack. However, given that no mention is given of destroyed vehicles, I would guess that they had a supply of rifles and ammunition, but no significant explosives. I suspect that if they had RPG's, many more deaths would have occured.

I also notice that the President's location during the attack is left unknown. He was probably not in the lead car in the procession, but that really can't be known.

The facts of the case don't lead me to believe that the attackers had outside suppliers. I infer this from my thoughts about the weapons used. I do wonder if they had outside training to help them set up an ambush. However, the ambush doesn't seem to have been set up by someone with the ability to seriously threaten the life of the Iranian President. They don't appear to have had the tools or planning in place to do that.

In the background of this story are the Baluchi, the embittered minority who desire autonomy.

I get the impression that the Baluchi in Iran are in the position that the Kurds of Iraq were a decade or two ago. They want autonomy from the leaders of Iran. The United States might gain from troubles that they cause for their ruling government. However, the US has little cause to directly aid the Baluchi, and much reason to deal carefully with the Iranian government.

In that one factor, Iran stands in a different position than Iraq did even a few years ago. We know that the Iranian government has an active nuclear program, while we could not dependably verify the status of Saddam Hussein's nuclear program.

Which again leads me to believe that outside help wasn't at work in this attack. If any support that could be traced back to the US is found, we're suddenly in hot water for attempted assassination.

However, it is interesting news that the President of Iran has come under attack. This is a country that has been eclipsed in international headlines by Iraq, despite Iran's efforts to build a nuclear bomb and their connections to terrorism around the globe.

More Post

More From The Post:

As of this morning, I see the "Experts Cautious" story is still about the fourth story, rather below the story about the perils of icy roads in the D.C. area. And then there is this story, which for some reason they think is worth a headline: "Four... Vikings Charged in Boat Incident." Well, what did you expect?

They also have a link to an opinion piece which link states that "The struggle for Mideast democracy will be a human triumph if it succeeds -- but not, by itself, a victory for American national security." Emphasis added.

The Post's link is more negative than the article itself, which is the point. The editors are playing up the negatives. The author, Susan E. Rice, is raising the still-unresolved question of whether liberty is enough:

As the joyous display of purple fingers in Iraq again attests, the national struggle for democracy is a moral good and, if it succeeds, a human triumph. But it is not by itself a victory for American national security. We need a policy based on the recognition that democracy in the Middle East and beyond is definitely desirable, maybe necessary but hardly sufficient to secure our future.
The terms "necessary condition" and "sufficient condition" are from the discipline of logic. Let's say that you want to have a fire. In order to do so, you need oxygen. The presence of oxygen is a "necessary condition" because you can not have fire without it.

It is not a sufficient condition, however, because the presence of oxygen doesn't guarantee fire. Rice says that the presence of a successful democracy in Iraq and the Middle East doesn't guarantee American security. That remains to be seen (even Rice says that "the jury remains out"), but let's grant the point.

If it is still a necessary condition, then there is no point in arguing over it. Even if it isn't enough, we still have to have it. We can't give up on the oxygen. It's necessary.

Her suggestions are "flawed in another way," as she says about Bush's policy:
From Mali to Tanzania, from Bangladesh to Indonesia, poverty hobbles many nascent democracies, which cannot prevent terrorists from operating on their territory or contain outbreaks of disease. To strengthen weak states, we must do more than promote democracy. We must join with others to build state capacity, in substantial part by helping to alleviate poverty.
Of course Ms. Rice will have noticed this year's efforts to "build state capacity" in the wake of the tsunami. But, being a senior fellow of the Brookings institute, she must also know that the U.S. leads the world in real dollar donations of foreign aid.

The charge against the U.S. on foreign aid is that it doesn't donate as large a percentage of its GNP as other nations. If you follow that link, you'll find two bar graphs, one that shows real dollar amounts, and the other that shows percentages. The U.S. donates about 0.15% of its GNP in foreign aid, much less than Norway. Yet the U.S. donates $18,999,000,000 in real dollars. If you combine the next two top countries (Japan and France), you don't get that much. Norway, however generous their government may be as a percentage, donates less than 1/8th as much.

Where else do we see this situation? A situation where a lower rate of donations actually leads to far higher real numbers? Why, right here: in the U.S. tax system, which is also condemned because it doesn't demand 'a large enough percentage of the incomes of the richest.'

Again, a chart: the percentage is down, the receipts are up. This is not a coincidence. It's an economic law. People who complain about the "rate" of giving apparently believe that we can raise the "rate" of giving without negative impact on the total production. It's not so. Take fuel out of the economy, and it produces less.

The U.S. could raise its taxes, or spend less on internal improvements and more on gifts to the world. But if it did, it would have negative consequences for our economy. In spite of the improved percentage of foreign aid, the real dollar amounts would drop.

Whatever. If the most serious charge against Iraq that can be raised now is that we must give more aid in addition to achieving victory, I'll call that a win.

Gotta Kidding

You've Got To Be Kidding:

OK, so I saw the reports that leftist bloggers weren't talking much about the elections in Iraq. Fine -- they're open partisans, they've got their agenda and they don't hide it. No problem.

So here are the headlines from The Washington Post at this hour:

Top headline: Bush Allowed Domestic Spying in 2002 Order
(No kidding. We were just talking about that yesterday. Now, what might have happened just prior to that 2002 order which could have inspired him to do such a thing?)

Second headline: Sen. McCain Takes the Lead
(Ah, torture. Yeah, great of Senator McCain to stand up on the moral high ground, by granting the US Military the right to define torture. So now the Army can define torture by editing its field manual. Instead of, you know, Congress passing a law. That's called "Delegation of Constitutional Legislative Authority," and until the FDR administration it was considered unconstitutional.)

Third Headline: Stem Cell Fakery Admitted

Fourth Headline: Experts Cautious on Iraq Vote
Subheadline: ...not a turning point...

Good Lord. If I were the man I was ten years ago...

Iraq Elections

A Great Day:

The main body of Iraq voting is now underway. Pajamas Media has Omar and Mohammed of Iraq the Model, plus reports from contacts around Iraq. Threatswatch has a report from Bill Roggio, and The Mudville Gazette has the usual impressive collection of reports from around the MilBlogs, as well as a few other things.

I'm afraid that today is going to be a very busy day for me at my "real" job, so you probably won't hear much more from Grim until tomorrow or the next day. The PJM site looks good here, though -- I think they've got a good lineup, so if you're looking for something interesting that you won't see in the newspaper, drop by.

All the best to Iraq and her people.


Camp Katrina and the AP:

Specialist Van Treuren is annoyed with the AP on Rush Limbaugh's behalf. He compares how Rush's drug problems are treated compared to a Hollywood star -- at least, the Specialist says he's a star. I've never heard of him, but I rarely get out to movies these days.

Well, Rush can probably take care of himself; and, also, the AP system is a little different from a traditional newspaper in terms of how it purchases news stories from journalists. You can't expect the same editorial consistency from a wire service that you get from the LA Times, say (which, given the quality of the Times, has to be marked down as a plus for the wire services).

What would be a really useful comparison would be to look at a collection of articles about each of these two cases; and then also to collect on a third case, some poor jerk who also got addicted to pain meds following back surgery but who didn't have any important friends. It would be interesting to have a "nobody" to use as a control for the experiment. Would the "nobody" be treated worse than both, thus proving that fame and fortune exempt you from bad treatment? Or would he be treated better than Rush but worse than the Hollywood star?

If anyone feels inclined, go for it and good luck.

Let Them Go To Hell!

I am sure that it does not get any more plain than that. (She reminds me of my dear departed Grandmother, accent and all.)

The Political Teen has the video. (via Instapundit.)


The Nation of Volunteers:

This is a link to a very lengthy post by Kim and Connie du Toit, which begins with a long description of financial woes and other serious problems. Most of you will not be all that interested with that part, and should skip to the part "below the fold." It is worth noting, however, that the financial woes they mention arose from their participation in the blogosphere, where Kim's page has been a great resource for many enthusiasts of the shooting sports. I have often linked to his reviews of firearms, because I know they can be relied upon. Yet, due to the fear among corporations of being linked to anything controversial, just blogging under his own name wrecked his career. While we ponder the dangers of "domestic military counterintelligence," let's remember the danger to one's life and career of plain damn cowardice among corporate bodies.

The piece goes on to propose the erection of a nonprofit company designed to sponsor firearms instruction and homeschooling according to Jefferson's Goals of Education. I think it's worth a look, and I hope you'll take the time.

Military Domestic Spying

Domestic Military Counterintelligence:

Pajamas Media has a roundup on blogger reaction to this MSNBC story on the domestic counterintelligence function of the US military. Longtime readers of Grim's Hall remember discussing this last year, when the excellent Secrecy News had a piece on USNORTHCOM's Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA).

The directive establishing CIFA is here, by the way. Jack Lewis is right: you may not like it, but it's perfectly legal.

It's absolutely reasonable to be concerned about this -- as long as the concerns recognize the necessity of Counterintelligence work in the post-9/11 world. I admire and trust the officers of the US military I've met and worked with over the years. Nevertheless, there is a real problem with domestic spying by any government agency: not privacy, but secrecy. Just as false information can get in your credit report, false information can get into any secret CI records about you. If you don't know what they say, you may not know to correct the false impression it creates about you. Just as you could end up not getting a loan or a job because of a falsehood in your credit report, even one created by identity theft, you could end up with serious problems created by a secret CI report about you.

MSNBC quotes people calling for a review process. What there needs to be is a provision of access to data, so that you can review your record and correct any misinformation it may contain. This must obviously go through a process similar to FOIA, so that data collection techniques and agents are not compromised. Still -- and I in no way mean to single out the military, who are surely more trustworthy for these purposes than most government agencies because of their embedded culture of honor -- we're talking about information that can have an impact on your life. You ought to be able to know what's been said about you, and have a forum for correcting it.


Paging Dr. Dean:

I'm told he has a call on line 1.


Punishment: Theory and Practice

In the comments to the post on execution, below, we have had several thoughts on how execution ought to work in theory, and does work in practice. Eric, for example, noted that "I'm not in principle opposed to the DP, but in practice, I find it more trouble than its worth."

In that spirit, I'd like to suggest a discussion of alternatives -- not just to the death penalty, but to the entire punitive system. What I would like to see is an argument from first principles. What should the justice system be attempting to do with criminals, and how can it best accomplish that thing?

This isn't an idle project. Just such a discussion is why we have a prison system at all. We didn't always. In the old days, prisons were normally only used to hold people until trial. If they were convicted, they were dealt with at once and let go: either fined, or subjected to corporal punishment such as whipping, or killed, or exiled. The idea of keeping people housed in a prison for years or decades did not exist, except for certain members of the nobility who were too important to kill, and too dangerous to release.

The prison system grew out of a debate that decided that the goal of the justice system should be "rehabilitation." In the early days of what we have come to call psychology, many believed that people were much more suceptible to conditioning. If, instead of traditional punishments (whipping, execution, fines) you put people in prison, you might be able to reform them. The idea was to confine them, so they would have nothing to do or think about except what you provided. Then, you provided prison guards to serve as an example of all that is best in society: a crisp uniform, a devotion to law and order, good manners. Then, as people began to reform themselves along the lines of the "good example," you could introduce other opportunties -- education, training.

Well, we see how that worked out. Our prisons compare favorably to Egypt's, say, but they are certainly not at all successful at achieving what they were designed to achieve. The rehabilitation model is an almost complete failure.

Maybe it can be done better -- but maybe it can't. Or maybe it shouldn't be the goal of the justice system at all. For example, if we are a society founded on human freedom, we undercut our real goal if we have a justice system that is built upon the idea that certain kinds of thinking and acting ought to be drummed out of you through mental "adjustment." If maximizing human freedom is the goal of the justice system, as it is for the government at large, perhaps we should move to a system based on exile -- what was called "transportation" in the days when the British sent criminals to Australia. Then, we have a system that preserves even criminals' right to think their lives through and live them out as they please -- just, elsewhere.

(Indeed, even the death penalty is better than prison on these grounds. At least when you hang a bandit, you're accepting him for who he is.)

Yet another alternative would be that punishment should be the goal of the justice system. I've heard anti-death penalty arguments arising from this: that the death penalty is too easy, and what folks want is a system that maximizes pain for murderers and other evildoers. This is what Captain Ed proposes as an alternative, for example: "When we have the person locked up, he should stay locked up -- and I mean locked up for good, and none of the Club Fed treatment, either. Three hots and a cot, and anything else depends on how well the prisoner behaves."

I am frankly unsympathetic to that idea. I have no desire to maintain a system meant to maximize human misery, even within the confines of the 8th Amendment. Maximizing misery does not strike me as a proper function for the government (even if it is the most likely function of government, and not just in the prison system).

The system wasn't designed for that purpose anyway. The system we have was designed to improve people, not to hurt them. We're accepting "human misery" as an acceptable goal because rehabilitation failed. Oh, we still make efforts -- we have prison ministries and prison psychologists, and education programs. It doesn't work with any sort of regularity, and we know it. Indeed, it only works on those who personally choose to be rehabilitated. The project of reforming people who do not wish to be reformed has been a complete failure. That says something fine about the strength of human nature, but it leaves us investing ourselves ever more heavily in a system that we know does not work as designed.

So, start from the ground up and tell me what we should do. What should our relation to criminals be? Do we want to try to improve them, or alter them, or simply house them apart? Should we seek their comfort, or their misery? Would it be better to hang the cruel and violent, while simply fining or putting into community service those who commit nonviolent crimes? Are we after punishment, or rehabilitation, or just a society from which those given over to crime have been removed? Once you are sure about what you want, how do we get there?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

On Executions

On Executions:

Captain's Quarters has posted a remarkable argument from economic principles in favor of the death penalty. CQ is itself opposed to the proposition, but was impressed enough by this letter to post it in full.

Suppose we have a career criminal with a long record of violent felonies, what we in California would call a "three-striker", who knows that he will be sent to prison for the rest of his life if he is ever caught committing a new offense. When he goes to rob the local convenience store, he doesn't want to hurt anyone - he just wants the money. But he also knows that, as there is no death penalty, he will face the exact same punishment (life imprisonment) whether or not he kills the clerk, the only witness to his crime. He would be a fool not to do so. If he happens to bump into a police officer on the way out, he may as well kill him too - there is no extra charge, so to speak.

If we somehow manage to catch the "three-striker" and place him on trial, it will be in his best interest to sabatoge his own trial by killling witnesses, jurors, prosecutors or judges. After all, if we can't convict him, he goes free. (Remember that scene from the movie Traffic, where the druglord walks?) And even if we manage to successfully prosecute him for one of these new murders, he will still only face the same life sentence that he was sure to get in the first place. If we do manage to put a murderer like Tookie away for life, he can then kill anyone he wants to - inside or out of prison - with complete impunity.... I would not want to be the legislator who had to explain to a prison guard's widow that we knew that we had created a system of justice that refused to set any punishment for the lifer inmate who killed her husband.
There is something to be said for this argument. It is true that this would, in a sense, create open season on prison guards. There are administrative punishments to be had in prison, but the Eighth Amendment sets limits on them: you can sentence someone to solitary confinement, or perhaps to reduced rations, but you can't do much more than that.

The problem grows out of even these limits when you consider the problem of prison gangs. When it is no longer individual actors, but rather groups with an internal and self-reinforcing motivation to violence, you could easily get serious violence both between gangs and in terms of gangs versus the guards. There would be, for many of these violent gangsters, nothing to lose.

I have the same ethical concerns over capital punishment as most: I don't approve, particularly, of the state killing its own citizens. When I was younger I opposed capital punishment outright because of those concerns. Yet, once again, I think my father was right and I was wrong: there are some people, it is sad but undeniably true to say, who do truly horrible things without remorse or pity. At some point, there is just no other way to control the very worst of mankind.


Defining Deviancy Down:

I was in the District of Columbia last night, and started home at about eleven o'clock at night. On the way out, I got behind a bus that had a huge sign on the back which read:

"Please Drink And Drive Responsibly."

Is it just me, or is that a significant change from previous anti-DUI campaigns?


Iraq Begins the Vote:

First reports via Iraq the Model. As the knights of old used to say, "May God Defend the Right." We won't trouble too much here as to which God you'd like to invoke.


Ahead of the Curve Again:

Once more, if you read Grim's Hall, you're a couple of weeks or more ahead of the curve. On 28 November, we had the big go-around that started with "Treason & Civility," in which I posited that:

We are coming to that binary breaking point on a number of questions. The President is accused by some of such things that, if the charges are believed, demand more than rhetoric or the organizing of a better electoral strategy for next year or three years on. The administration has occasionally been accused of fixing votes, including the 2000 election by which it came to power. The US military is accused -- here by Kimmitt, who is trying to be rational, and who is not defending the fellow accused of treason -- of operating "a network of illegal torture facilities scattered around the world!" "Our Administration kidnaps, tortures, and kills people without oversight," he continues.

If you believe that, and especially if you believe all of it, are you not called to more than blogging? To more than political donations, or organizing? To more than another empty protest march, so common and toothless that they may as well not happen at all? I don't see how anyone could believe those charges, watch the ineffectiveness of the protest movements and political opposition, and not plot insurrection.
Today, the first serious journal of the Left has published a piece calling for preparation for "direct action." From Salon:
At a certain point in the near future, if the current oligarchy cannot be removed via the ballot, direct political action may become an urgent and compelling mission. It may then be necessary for many people in many walks of life to put their bodies on the line. For the moment, however, although pressing and profound questions have arisen about whether the current government is even legitimate, i.e., properly elected, there still remains a chance to remove this government peacefully in the 2008 election. (Or am I living in a dream world?)

I do think this regime's removal is the most urgent matter before the country today. And I do think that at a certain point the achievement of that goal might take precedent over our personal predilections for writing, teaching and the like. We might be called upon to go on general strike, for instance. We might be called upon to set up camp in the streets for weeks or months, to gather and remain in large public squares as the students in Tiananmen Square did, and dare government forces to remove us or to slaughter us in the streets.

This is all terrible and rather fantastic to contemplate. But what assurances have we that it is not all quite plausible? Having discarded the principles that Jefferson & Co. espoused, the current regime seems capable of anything. I know that my imagination is a feverish instrument. But are we not living in feverish times, in times of the unthinkable?
There we have it, then: a call for direct action if the Left loses again in 2008, and additionally some remarks calling into question whether or not the political process is not already entirely corrupted by a secret cabal in the current "oligarchy." "Direct action" is the ultimate in wiggle phrases, as it can encompass everything from general strikes to distributing leaflets to blowing up bombs (consider the famous French Marxist terrorist organization, Action Directe, which for some reason is allowed to operate that website in the UK). But that is part of the point: adopting that phrase as a description of your acts means intentionally putting yourself in the spectrum of resistance fighters, even if you intend yourself to stick to the easy end of the spectrum. You are declaring solidarity with those who do more.

Tennis' advice is hauntingly familiar to students of history:
So what do I advise you to do? I advise you to stay in your position for now. For now, you are where you are supposed to be; you are doing what you are supposed to be doing; you are telling your students what they need to know.
There is only one obvious parallel:
For a brief period during the secession crisis the superintendent was a Southerner, Captain P.G.T. Beauregard. He relieved Delafield on January 23, 1861. A day or so later a cadet from his state of Louisiana called on Beauregard and asked him whether or not he should resign [to join the Confederate military]. The Superintendent replied, "Watch me: and when I jump, you jump. What's the use of jumping too soon?"
This is as plain a declaration as that. What's the use of jumping too soon? Maintain your position as long as it is useful in the greater cause. When I jump, you jump.


Shifting Sands:

Bill Roggio has a report from Ramadi that focuses on the shift even in 'Wild West' Anbar Province from "kinetic" to "non-kinetic" operations -- that is, from killing insurgents to reconstruction. He also details more "red on red" fighting, with even active insurgents turning on the remaining al Qaeda units -- and indeed, turning them in to the Coalition.

The Belmont Club considers the evidence and holds that the military war has in fact been won in Iraq: what remains, Wretchard says, is politics middle-east style. That's a bloody affair by itself, of course.

He got a letter back from the PAO, Captain of Marines Jeffery Pool:

You don’t know how true your post Baghdad county truly is, you’re right on the mark.

The 2nd Marine Division has been conducting talks/negotiating at the Government Center in the provincial capital in Ar Ramadi with the Governor, sheikhs and imams. Most of the groups who have been fighting the Iraqi government, military and Coalition Forces are now beginning to realize the power is with the ballot, not the bombs. However, the hard core al Qaeda terrorists realize this and are starting to threaten the local insurgents who they normally work with. This is creating what we call ‘red on red fighting’. Basically two groups who aren’t are allies slugging it out for power. This is what has been happening on a large-scale in Ramadi and to a lesser scale throughout Al Anbar.

From the city of Hit all the way to Husaybah is closed to al Qaeda groups, and in Ramadi, they are holding on by their finger nails. The series of operations 2/28 Brigade Combat Team has been conducting has really helped disrupt their planning and ability to launch attacks. But the real meat of this is the local insurgent groups who are trying to dissociate themselves from AQI.

The last tool AQI has is money. They are paying for support and sanctuary. It is not being freely given anymore in Ramadi. The elections are going to be pivotal. My opinions, if the Sunnis vote en masse then AQI is done but if AQI is successful in intimidating the populace then they bought themselves some more time.
Such is the reading of two men whose opinions I greatly respect, and one officer of Marines.

Unc. Smash

Uncle Smash Wants You:

The Indepundit, formerly Lt. Smash, wants you to undertake a mission this week. It's designed to counter a MoveOn campaign. Countering MoveOn is always -- so far as I know, without exception -- the right thing to do, so I commend you to him.

Christmas Stories

Christmas Stories:

I don't know if there's a "war against Christmas" per se, but the holiday has not in my memory been so violent in its imagery. Still, I suppose it's only a return to roots. I saw from Drudge that the American Family Association is protesting Labafana, the "Christmas Witch." Well, I know nothing of Labafana, but I am going to guess that she's a friendly witch, as the witches of my association abhor violence. Not so the "mother Christmas" we were looking at yesterday! A traditional Icelandic figure, Gryla the Mother of December...

...likes to cook up naughty children and eat them, bones and all. "Gryla" is also married to "Leppaludi". This charming couple own a large black cat as well. This larger than human cat is called Christmas cat. He also eats children who do not get new clothes for Christmas. Not getting new clothing is proof that you were sooooo naughty, you deserve nothing except to be eaten.
Meanwhile, via Southern Appeal, I see that the original St. Nick slapped a heretic at the Council of Nicea. (One of the commenters to the post proposes a new Christmas carol: "Deck them all for all their folly.")

The heretic in question was Arius, who was the primary advocate of what came to be known as the Arian Heresy. The Catholic Encyclopedia makes the dispute sound highly technical, which may lead you to believe that it was a dispute among scholars only. It certainly doesn't sound like the kind of thing that would become popular enough to create a major schism in the religion, which it did. There was a reason that Santa Claus was mad enough about it to punch out the fellow. The Encyclopedia says that:
[Arianism] is not a modern form of unbelief, and therefore will appear strange in modern eyes. But we shall better grasp its meaning if we term it an Eastern attempt to rationalize the creed by stripping it of mystery so far as the relation of Christ to God was concerned.
The encyclopedia then proceeds to do anything other than strip the thing of its mystery. Instead, it clouds what Arius was saying beneath a host of doctrinal points about what the Church holds.

What Arius said was that Jesus was the "son of God" in the sense that he was half a god, half a man. The Church holds that Jesus is fully god and fully man at the same time. That is one of those logical contradictions that the Church says shows that the brains of mortal men can't grasp the power of God. This is not an unreasonable position -- the finite being unable to grasp the infinite -- but it is also not obvious. In fact, if anything is going to appear strange to modern eyes, it's this position.

Arius' position, on the other hand, was immediately understandable. Greek-speaking pagans at once grasped that you could have a god that was all-powerful: Zeus was sometimes said to be (and so, by a certain cult, was Bacchus). It also had no trouble with the idea of that god fathering children, who were half-gods. God is like Zeus, only moreso; Jesus is like Heracles, only with a very different message. The Arian Heresy made conversion to Christianity very easy in much of the Indo-European world, and thus it produced a huge number of adherents.

The Church didn't agree, but it had its work cut out for it. Arius held firm, which is why Santa Claus was so angry at him. The violence didn't stop there:
George of Cappadocia persecuted the Alexandrian Catholics. Athanasius retired into the desert.... Hosius had been compelled by torture to subscribe a fashionable creed. When the vacillating Emperor died (361), Julian, known as the Apostate, suffered all alike to return home who had been exiled on account of religion. A momentous gathering, over which Athanasius presided, in 362, at Alexandria, united the orthodox Semi-Arians with himself and the West. Four years afterwards fifty-nine Macedonian, i.e., hitherto anti-Nicene, prelates gave in their submission to Pope Liberius. But the Emperor Valens, a fierce heretic, still laid the Church waste.
Sort of puts that "Christmas Witch" thing in perspective, doesn't it?

UPDATE: A little searching around proves that "Labafana" is actually "La Befana," a traditional Italian legendary figure.
As legend has it the three Wise Men were in search of the Christ child when they decided to stop at a small house to ask for directions. Upon knocking, an old woman holding a broom opened the door slightly to see who was there. Standing at her doorstep were three colorfully dressed men who were in need of directions to find the Christ child. The old woman was unaware of who these three men were looking for and could not point them in the right direction. Prior to the three men leaving they kindly asked the old woman to join them on their journey. She declined because she had much housework to do. After they left she felt as though she had made a mistake and decided to go and catch up with the kind men. After many hours of searching she could not find them. Thinking of the opportunity she had missed the old woman stopped every child to give them a small treat in hopes that one was the Christ child. Each year on the eve of the Epiphany she sets out looking for the baby Jesus. She stops at each child's house to leave those who were good treats in their stockings and those who were bad a lump of coal.
So, once again, the American Family Association is... ah, misinformed. Rather than anti-Christian, it's just the regular sort of multiculturalism.



Sovay once quipped that her cats, should they learn to speak and wish to refer to me, would call me "The Nice Man in the Hat." Now comes Theodore Dalrymple to say that hat-wearing may be what makes you nice:

I recalled the days of my childhood during which most men wore a hat, and I remembered that my father, who was not always the most considerate of men, never failed, in a gesture of genuine politeness, to raise his hat to someone whom he knew. Indeed, the etiquette of hats was drummed into me as a child as being a stage in the taming of the natural savage.

Mr Johnson, too, remembered the age of hats, a gentler age than our own, when men would remove them to acknowledge a passing hearse.
I think there really is something to this theory. The 'etiquette of hats' is learning to perform traditional courtesies that are intended as a gesture of respect for others. It is, as etiquette will be, not only morally beneficial to the person who learns it, but also useful in a practical sense. It will amaze you how much easier it is to accomplish things when the usual sources of friction -- bureaucrats, lazy store clerks, and the like -- encounter the unexpected but still recognized courtesies related to the hat. Likewise, trying to push through holiday shopping crowds is greatly eased for the man who tips his hat to the ladies he is forced to push past.
The staff of Mr Johnson’s shop told me that purchasers of men’s hats are invariably polite and charming, which is why they want a hat in the first place.
I'm not sure if I've ever been described as "charming," but at least I do aspire to "polite." A proper hat, of course, also makes you look dashing, which can't hurt either. It takes a certain amount of courage to wear one, though, in an age when so few men do. Practicing courage is a worthwhile thing, even in small matters. It informs your second nature.


An Icelandic Yuletide:

You might enjoy Army Wife / Toddler Mom's story about the tales her brother's Icelandic fiancee used to tell her. The 13 Elves of Christmas are a formidable lot, particularly if you learn to pronounce their names in the Icelandic. (I happen to know that at least two of the bloggers at Grim's Hall can do that.)


Corn & Lennon:

Against those who say that Pajamas Media contains nothing new or interesting, I should note that it was via that website that I learned today was the anniversary of the John Lennon murder. It's not a date that is marked on my calendar, as I never cared for the Beatles' music, politics, '60s or '70s culture generally, or any of the various causes that have sort of collected like lint on the Lennon image in the decades since. Lennon glasses, like Che shirts, are invariably the sign of rot.

David Corn remembered, though. He's blogged a fairly interesting piece on his one and only political speech. It deserves some comment.

Corn was apparently deeply moved by the news of Lennon's tragic death. The fact that I never cared for Lennon the man, his music or his politics doesn't change the fact that his murder was an evil thing, one that rightly excites condemnation and wrath in the heart of a good man. I certainly sympathize with anyone so moved by this or any similar event.

For whatever reason, however, Corn's wrath was directed not at the murderer, but at a sort of symbol: the NRA headquarters building, which he was walking by on an errand.

I walked down 16th Street NW, and within a few blocks I passed the headquarters of the National Rifle Association, an entire building next to one of Washington's lovely traffic circles. I stared at the building. My sadness and numbness slid into anger. I didn't know yet that Lennon's killer, Mark David Chapman, had purchased the .38-caliber handgun with which he shot Lennon, at a Hawaii gun store despite having a record of mental illness. But I did know that the NRA and its allies in the gun industry were one of the most powerful lobbies in town and that their primary concern was easy access to weapons. I started talking to the imposing building. No, I said, no, you're not going to get off scott-free here, no, no way. And an idea struck.
The NRA actually has three primary concerns. One of them is, by necessity, the defense of the Constitutional right to keep and bear arms for lawful citizens. Another -- the one that escapes Mr. Corn -- is making sure that those who misuse guns are put away forever, as for example in its Project EXILE. But its founding purpose, and the purpose in which it continues to lead the world, was to provide instruction in the safe and accurate use of firearms. In large part because of the NRA, accidental shootings have dropped every year since we began keeping records on them. The NRA, if you wanted to characterize its purpose in a single sentence, is more properly focused on "developing among the citizens a capacity for the safe and lawful use of firearms."

To put it another way: if Lennon's murderer faced a jury entirely composed of NRA members, he would be in far greater peril than if he faced a jury entirely composed of gun control advocates. For all that NRA members (myself included) defend the legal right to keep and bear arms, we also are the worst sort of foe to those who misuse the rights we defend.

But no matter. Corn was angry and young, and his wrath focused on the NRA. So he formed a protest group, which found ready volunteers in the climate of the day.
And I asked a copy shop--no Kinko's back then--to print hundreds of copies on a super-rush basis. It could in those days take a day or two to get such a job done. The person at the counter looked at the material and said, "Come back in an hour."

CAGV grew in numbers, by which I mean that several interns at the Center and some friends of mine volunteered to put up flyers around town. Mokhiber went out and bought a bullhorn..... [At a Lennon memorial] I politely pushed my way toward [the fellow in charge]. I handed him one of the flyers and asked if at an appropriate time he would let the people around him know about the rally. He looked at the flyer. The cassette player was playing "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." He said, No, you tell them. The song ended. He turned off the machine and said, "This guy has something he wants to say to you."
And so they had a rally. It was a time to emote, to express wrath, and burn off the anger they had built up over the event. It reminds me of nothing so much as a poem written by a bongo-beating fellow I once knew, who had become self-conscious of the uselessness of his "men's circle." The poem used language that built ever higher to describe the drumming circle and the fire it was laid around, with the sparks shooting up out of the fire and rising to heaven -- this last, as a symbol of the power of their emotional energy, rising to carry the light of their circle to the wider world.

'Yet though I did not say it,' I recall the poem ending, 'the sparks went out right over our heads.'

And so for Corn, who gave his one ever political speech:
The event--as far as such events go--was a success. There was media coverage. Those who had come felt they had done something with their grief and anger. And as almost always happens when a prominent act of gun violence occurs, the topic of handgun was again on the radar screen. Not because of our effort, but we had done our part. However, that moment--like all moments--quickly faded. It is now 25 years later. John Lennon is still dead. (And so is George Harrison.) The NRA years ago moved to a bigger and better headquarters in suburban Virginia. The gun lobby has had its ups and downs, but it's been mostly ups of late (such as the expiration of the ban on assault weapons). Lennon's death, it turns out, was no catalyst for action. And we have still--after all this time--not learned how to stem the tide of gun violence. Which is one of several reasons why this anniversary of Lennon's death is a sad day.
Corn is too harsh toward his society when he says we have not learned to stem the tide of gun violence. Murder rates are at an historic low. Violent crime rates, in fact, are. It wasn't protests that brought us to this boon, however: it was a combination of harsher prison sentences for the violent, an improving economy, and the spreading of the concealed carry of firearms across the United States, which results according to most evidence in a sharp decline in crime rates -- indeed, even the most hostile evidence says only that it doesn't worsen them. Of the three, the two political changes have both been NRA projects.

It is true what he says, when he says that these protests have done no good at all. Yet the NRA might be thanked. What good as has been done, has been done in part by them.

UPDATE: If I might be permitted a minor critique of PJM, I should like to note that the photo they run alongside the Corn piece, entitled "John Lennon, Handguns, and Me," would appear to be a collection of .30-06 rifle cartridges. These are not fired in any handgun, and indeed offer somewhat stiff recoil even in a rifle. It's a minor point, but given that the blogs have so often critiqued the MSM for its outright ignorance on these very matters, do try to get it right.


The Fields:

By now we've all seen the Air Marshal story out of Miami International. There are, of course, recriminations. For example, "Federal Airport Nazis Execute Unarmed Citizen." Or these comments recorded at Mark in Mexico's blog.

Yet the Air Marshals Service says, "This was a textbook scenario and they acted instinctively* based on the training." It's worth taking a look at why the training runs this way.

Essentially, this is an equation with two variables. Variable X is, "Is this guy really an armed terrorist, or not?" Variable Y is, "Do the Marshals shoot him, or not?"

If X=1 (he's a real terrorist) and Y=1 (you shoot him), nothing bad happens.

If X=0 (not a terrorist) and Y=1 (you shoot him), your career is in question and you might go to jail, based on how the inquiry into your actions pans out.

If X=1 and Y=0, the terrorist is free to act and will carry out whatever plan he has come to execute.

Finally, if X=0 and Y=0, you will answer questions about your reasoning before you're clear to return to duty -- but since you were right, nothing bad happens.

Obviously, the training has to focus on trying to get the X and Y values to match whenever possible. However, perfect knowledge is not possible, and mistakes will occur. Therefore, when choosing how to train Air Marshals, you have to decide if you will preference X=0 Y=1 situations (i.e., non-terrorists getting shot) or X=1 Y=0 situations (i.e., terrorists being free to act).

As a point of pure logic, harm is minimized by training to settle hard cases in a way that preferences X=0 Y=1 over X=1 Y=0. The harm to be done in (X=0 Y=1) is limited to two people: the non-terrorist getting shot, and the Air Marshal whose career and liberty are called into question. The harm to be done in (X=1 Y=0) is unknowable, but potentially quite high. Air Marshal training expects an entire jet full of people to be at the mercy of a terrorist, after all, as that is the normal situation in which they are likely to encounter terrorists. You could lose dozens of lives, or more yet if the terrorists should gain control of a plane 9/11 style.

For that reason, the training is appropriate. Furthermore, by exactly the same logic, the inquiry should accept cases such as this one as "textbook" and "justified." This is because the other Air Marshals will watch the outcome of the inquiry, and modify their actions accordingly. Since it is logical and necessary to prefer X=0 Y=1 cases over X=1 Y=0 cases, you want to conduct the after action in a way that will continue to maintain that preference. Unless there is clear evidence that the Air Marshal acted recklessly, the Service is acting in a logical fashion if it tends to back his actions.

What I find interesting is that, in addition to a field of practical results, there is also a field of political results. The Air Marshals Service can't afford to consider these in their training, but it happens that they encourage the same preference in training:

X=1 Y=1: No politician will condemn the Service; only fringe speakers in the media/blogspace will do so.

X=1 Y=0: Almost every politician will condemn the Service; almost every speaker will do so.

X=0 Y=1: If the Air Marshal was clearly acting recklessly, there will be stiff condemnations; however, the Service can derail most of these with an inquiry and punishment for the individual Marshal. Thus, harm is localized. In situations where the Air Marshal was not plainly reckless, most politicians will avoid comment, and speakers will tend to favor the shooting out of an understanding of the practical considerations (i.e., the first set of possible results, above).

X=0 Y=0: Since we are talking about cases where someone appeared to possibly be a terrorist, but turned out not to be, the reasoning of the Air Marshal will be called into question widely. People will ask "What if?" questions that challenge the training of the Service. Certain ultra-partisan politicians (e.g., Ted Kennedy) will state that this proves that the Service, and indeed the Administration, does not take terrorism seriously.

A rational reading of this field is this: Where Y=1, the result will either be positive entirely, positive on balance, or bad only in a way that is easily compartmentalized by punishing the individual. Where Y=0, the results will either be entirely and bitterly negative, or negative in a more balanced way that nevertheless still calls into question the usefulness and dedication of the entire Service.

Thus, as both a practical and a political matter, the training ought to be what it is. It is only logical.

* "acted instinctively" -- Not precisely, but the confusion of terms is telling. Instinct properly refers to biological responses, not trained responses. These are what Aristotle called "First Nature." However, as Aristotle himself noted, with proper and intensive training you can create a response that, while learned, feels exactly like instinct. This is your "Second Nature." This is why we say that such-and-such was "second nature to him," when we mean that a thing was so ingrained in a man's thinking and habits that it had simply become a part of his character.

Second Nature will develop, by the way, whether you train with it in mind or not. If you aren't actively and rationally thinking about what your Second Nature ought to be, and training yourself mindfully, it will become whatever your habits are. This is why Aristotle spent so much time on the subject of considering what the proper Second Nature was. He felt that it should be carefully considered using the rational part of the soul, and then carefully put into practice until it was fully adopted. Obviously, the Air Marshals Service has done its logical reasoning here, and likewise done its training. On those grounds, the Service deserves praise.