The human flaw - signandsight

An Old Song:

Sign And Sight is the online magazine that translates European, and particularly German, intellectual writing into English so that it will be available to all Europeans. The experience is new, but the thinking is not always new or exciting. Consider this article on beauty:

According to ancient Tao wisdom, it is in movement that a person attains beauty, in Tai-Chi for example. The Chinese syllable 'mei' (literally: fat sheep) means beauty. It is used to describe good food, a sense of well-being, a pleasant bodily feeling. And, ironically enough, also the United States (literally: beautiful land). So it is possible to have beauty without burdening it with ideals of physical self-improvement and abstinence. Why not just enjoy life?
The argument is not different from ten thousand pieces of multiculturalist inquiry. The West suffers from some pathology, usually caused by capitalism (in this case, the piece attacks both the modelling industry and the competition encouraged by the larger museums). By comparison with the purer cultures, less corrupted by evil capitalism, one can return to the enlightened state of consciousness destroyed by modern society. By comparison, however, "globalization" is rapidly destroying those purer, better states of consciousness by corrupting these innocent societies with the evils of the West:
What Schiller really meant - and what the Chinese believe today - has largely been forgotten: superior intellect, wise politics, expert craftmanship, human prowess. For the Chinese, only what is true and good is also beautiful, says Jullien. Essayist Dave Hickey goes a step further. In his book "The Invisible Dragon", he describes how this "classical" stance is about to be driven out of the Chinese. They too are subject to the influence of academies, museums and universities. As in Europe, these institutions search for beauty in constructs and systems. But the Chinese no more believe in concepts than they do in making sacrifices to achieve an end. Their traditional view of beauty is a celebration of change, eternal circulation and transformation. And according to Hickey, this is precisely the opposite of everything rigid and statutory embodied by institutions.

But this culture of the transformative is in retreat, and it is disappearing faster than people are aware of. As Chinese choreographer Jin Xing puts it: "Chinese bodies look weak in comparison with beautiful African bodies. And the Chinese don't have the overriding sense of envy and justice that makes bodies hard and people rich in the West."

Let us summarize before we rebut. "Classical" Chinese attitudes toward beauty are under attack by the corrupting influence of Western "institutionalism," i.e., universities, academies, museums, etc. Those attitudes, far healthier than our own, hold that only "superior intellect, wise politics, expert craftsmanship, human prowess" are beautiful, things that are "true and good." But this is being lost, lost, as Western influence and globalization destroy the ancient Chinese wisdoms.

Now to rebut.

1) Institutionalism is not new to China. Far from it. Modern Western culture, however, driven by "institutionalism," does not approach the Chinese love for the corporate and social construct. There is no institution in the West like the Chinese Communist Party, and the CCP embraces all aspects of life.

2) It is not true that the Chinese embrace only "what is true and good." In fact, the Chinese relationship to truth is this: social harmony is more important than truth. The truth is always to be avoided when it would create social discord. This, in personal relationships as in State affairs, is considered polite and proper, and is why I could never find out just when my next paycheck was coming when I lived there.

3) As for the beauty of "human prowess" and "excellent craftsmanship," academics are referred to the practice of foot-binding. "Fat sheep," indeed: both plump and helpless.

As always, I'll make my home and take my stand in the West.

New York City: Man Tries to Steal Gun to 'Rescue Schiavo'

On Thinking Things Through

The headline reads, "Man Tries to Steal Gun to 'Rescue Schiavo.'"

A man was arrested after trying to steal a weapon from a gun shop so he could "take some action and rescue Terri Schiavo," authorities said.
I thought the National Guard thing was the limit of the madness that was going to erupt around this. Just what did this guy think he was going to do, having stolen a gun and captured the hospital room? Re-insert the tube himself? Even if he could, where was the water and food going to come from? And what threat was going to keep the police at bay? You can't hold as hostage someone the government has already decided should die.

Not that good planning seems to be the fellow's strong suit. There's an old saying about bringing a knife to a gunfight, but this guy didn't even bring a knife:

Michael W. Mitchell, of Rockford, Ill., entered Randall's Firearms Inc. in Seminole just before 6 p.m. Thursday with a box cutter and tried to steal a gun, said Marianne Pasha, a spokeswoman for the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.... [The store owner] said he then pointed his own gun at Mitchell and ordered him to lie on the ground. But Mitchell fled out the store's back door before police arrived, he said.
One wonders if he'd have thought to steal any ammunition.

Davids Medienkritik: Stern's Gallery of Stereotypes: USA: The Divided Land

America, As Seen From Germany:

Kim du Toit has a link to this story, which sorts German sterotypes of Americans by how evil they think we are. "Gun-Toting Southerners" don't fare well in the German press, apparently. "Conservative Cowboy" is also not well liked by the German press. But the "Anarchist Vagabonds..."

Duty, shirking thereof.

I saw at this and immediately thought: "Ok, send him back so he can be shot." AND, I suppose that's glib. But I have no patience with this sort of behavior whatsoever.

He volunteered. He took an oath. He volunteered again to be airborne.

At least the Canadian immigration authorities recognize as much:

'Hinzman also testified he had been willing to fulfill his full four-year obligation to the Army, but not to participate in combat.

"I find Mr. Hinzman's position to be inherently contradictory," Goodman said in the ruling. "Surely an intelligent young man like Mr. Hinzman, who believes the
war in Iraq to be illegal, unjust and waged for economic reasons, would be
unwilling to participate in any capacity, whether as combatant or noncombatant."

I really hope the Army doesn't let him off easy.

New Scientist 13 things that do not make sense - Features

Wow, Indeed:

It's a banner day for Southern Appeal, which is also the source of this link. From The New Scientist, it's called "13 things that do not make sense."

Read it and marvel.



We have a tradition in my family of naming vehicles, in the same way that you would name a ship or a horse. I recently came to own a 4x4 Chevrolet Blazer (which is twelve years old, making it the oldest new car I've ever had). I decided to name her "Serenity."

Why? If you haven't previously been aware of the movie Serenity, which is due out in September, allow me to introduce you.

This is going to be one of those movies that comes from a television series, Firefly. Those with highspeed connections who want a sample can download episodes here, apparently with the approval of the studio. Watch one or two, and see if you don't go buy the DVDs so that you can see them without the wait, and in a full-size form. I assume that's why the studio has been letting them post these things.

Firefly was a Western set in space. It's not the first of that ilk (I remember watching as a teenager Sean Connery's Outland, which was just a remake of High Noon, this time set on a space station). They're usually not very good.

This one was. I think it's because it isn't a genre piece. It's a space western, but it didn't have to be. These characters are very close to real, which means they could have fit in anywhere. They just happen to be on a spaceship, in the way that I happen to be in Virginia.

I'm not the only one of the Nation of Riflemen who thinks highly of it. I have seen people suggesting it over at Kim's place in the forums, and at Doc's place in his comments. But it isn't just gunfighters and Red Americans who like it. The thing was introduced to me by arch-liberal Sovay, who adores it, and has a whole host of friends who do likewise.

Give it a try. Start with the pilot, also called "Serenity," which is listed as 1x00 parts 1 and 2 on the download page.

See if it doesn't grab you. I'll bet it will.

Southern Appeal

What About Federalism?

There's been a lot of talk about this whole Congressional intervention. I was rather surprised by it, but assumed it was Constitutional and legal under the 14th Amendment's guarantee of federal review of civil rights cases, plus Congress' Constitutional authority to define court jurisdiction. Now, longtime readers know I am one of those, trained in the discipline of history, who point to the fact that the 14th was never properly ratified. In theory, then, this was only the latest in a long series of abuses by the Federal gov't, and one that was at least kindly intentioned and explicitly limited against providing legal precedent.

William over at Southern Appeal has an excellent post explaining why I was wrong about the bill's place in American constitutional law. His post is short and clear, and lays out some background issues that he understands as a lawyer but which I did not, not having any formal legal training. I believe that it is important that we who are not lawyers, policemen, judges or the like, still yet take time and trouble to understand the law. The law is too important to leave to lawyers, and so pieces like William's -- which inform the general public of the issues and traditions at stake -- are greatly valuable. Thank you, William, for taking the trouble.

t r u t h o u t - Niall Ferguson | Sinking Globalization

Ok, I'll Bite:

Niall Ferguson asks, "Could Globalization Collapse?"

It may seem unlikely today. Yet despite many warnings, people were shocked the last time globalization crumbled, with the onslaught of World War I.
Long time Grim's Hall source The Agonist has thoughts, and links to others by Brad DeLong. Sean Paul has this to say (and in the original, there are links to all these assertions):
China is aggresively trying to secure energy supplies. They are also making kissy-kissy with the Iranians. They were engaged in a crash course for an aircraft carrier but seem to have settled on rapidly ramping up their ASW capacity (anti-submarine warfare) for now. (I wonder who the target is?) They forked over several billion dollars to help the Putin steal Yukos. And they're going to hold joint-exercises with the Russkis. (My wife still can't believe this!)

Throw in the Taiwanese and you have an explosive mix.
Yeah, that's all true. Many of us believed before 9/11 -- I lived in China in 2000 -- that China would be the next big war. We've had a break since then, as China's been letting us spend our resources while building its own.

I'm with Sean Paul on this one. China absolutely will go to war over Taiwan if it feels it has to do so. He saw it from Taiwan, but I saw it from China. Even people who were otherwise skeptical of "Marxist" tendencies in their gov't were sure of their nationalist right to Taiwan.

That's not to say we can't win. But with the need to contain the DPRK nuclear programs from becoming a feeder to terrorists and other groups, we need China. It's a delicate situation, to say the least. The best bet is to let Japan take the forward position, if they will, and they may -- the next Prime Minister in Japan is expected to be Shinzo Abe, a rough and ready fighter by Japanese standards.

But even that presents dangers. China is spoiling for a fight with Japan for historic reasons. World War II is generally understood by Chinese students, in my experience teaching them, as 'the war of Japanese aggression.' They are only vaguely aware that any part of the rest of the world was involved.

All this explains the talks between Dr. Rice and China this week, in which she offered major concessions on the DPRK (calling it a "sovereign state" for the first time). All attention remains on Iraq. The game is afoot, however, in Asia.


A Question for Soldiers:

On the train home tonight, I saw but did not have a chance to talk with a Major of the Special Operations Command. He was in his BDUs, with both the "AIRBORNE" shoulder sleeve insignia and wings. But he was wearing a black beret.

Now, I don't claim to understand this whole "beret" thing you guys do anyway (though I do get the Smokey Bear, A.K.A. the "Campaign Cover," A.K.A. a "Montana Bash" hat), but I thought I knew that Airborne soldiers wore maroon berets. I didn't see a Ranger or SF tab on the guy's uniform, but I thought he would still get the Airborne beret. Or are these things issued only to units designated as Airborne (e.g., 18th Airborne Corps, 101st Airborne Div), without regard to the individual soldier's accomplishments?

I ask because heraldry is a hobby of mine; and I remember the furor when they went to issuing black berets, which had been the symbol of the Rangers before. Now I'm wondering if even Special Operators are being told to wear the "standard" beret, or if I just don't understand the rules the Army plays by with regard to its headgear.



BlackFive has a story to tell about a fellow soldier who died right in front of him. He's also got some links.

Training is dangerous. There have been years in which we have lost no fighting men to hostile fire, but I doubt there's ever been a year that we haven't lost people to training accidents. Marches are conducted in the heat. "Confidence" courses involve obstacles that are sometimes genuinely dangerous. I remember very clearly the first time I negotiated one such: I was eighteen, a great distance from the ground, without a rope or harness, and leaping into the air to catch the next rung of a giant-sized "ladder" that went up into nothing. Get to the top, climb over the top rung, climb back down. You could have died; you didn't, and you never forget that you managed to do something that seemed outrageous.

Training in jujitsu with a Marine named Ken Caton -- who was a genuine master of the art, but it's a contact sport -- I was nearly hurt, and was rendered unconscious for (I'm told) quite a while. The geography of the hold he was applying at the time is hard to put into words, but it was a leglock around my neck, with him in such a position that neither he nor the witnesses could see my precise reaction, or be sure of how tight the hold was. I lost consciousness before I could tap out, and he held on thinking I might be bluffing.

(Actually, I have a clear memory of tapping out, but all the witnesses agree that I never did. The mind plays tricks when there's no oxygen left.)

Was all this stuff dangerous? You bet.

However, we were young men, full of fire. The stuff we did when we weren't under "adult supervision" was way more dangerous. A lot of training accidents involve machinery -- helicopters, APCs. These are being handled by professionals in a professional, if high-speed and precision, manner.

When we weren't being watched, we were handling other machines (say, automobiles) in a high-speed and precision manner that wasn't the least bit professional. I can remember one little drag race on I-575 (coming back from running the O-course at NAS Atlanta/Dobbins AFB, in fact) where we passed a guy in the emergency lane at a speed I won't bother to record, returning to the road in time to miss the concrete pillars of a bridge that rose out of said emergency lane. By, maybe, six inches.

And that wasn't the worst thing I can remember doing. Not at all. I remember my father telling me many times as a boy that he could never understand how he hadn't gotten himself killed when he was younger. I never understood -- he was always so upright, so responsible! -- until I got to be about twenty-eight. It was only then that the fire faded enough that I could look back on the train wreck of youth with clear, amazed eyes.

The military involves training and honing that natural madness. It is put to a positive rather than a destructive use, to protect the Republic, her citizens and traditions. Just remember that when you read about these things. Sometimes young men get killed doing this stuff... but some of them would have gotten themselves killed anyway, maybe faster, and with less chance of any good coming out of it.

That's what it's like to be a young man. One of any account, at least. - Spreading the message

Come On, Dean:

You've got to be kidding:

'Keep it simple' is the key to the White House, failed Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean told members of his party from around the world last night.

One major reason his party lost the 2004 race to the 'brain-dead' Republicans is that it has a 'tendency to explain every issue in half an hour of detail,' Dean told the semi-annual meeting of Democrats Abroad, which brought about 150 members from Canada and 30 other countries to the Toronto for two days.
He really said that? On the day that the nation is wrapped up watching Congress, the courts, and so forth and so on fight over the life of Mrs. Schiavo, he said Republicans represent the "brain-dead"?

Well, he did say this, too...
The Vermont's former governor cut short a campaign swing on Friday to return home after his son was picked up by police along with a group of his friends.... Dean was asked how he would win support of Democratic Party leaders given his frequent criticism of them and he responded that the leaders would come around once they got to know him.

"It is a bit of a club down there," he said. "The Democratic Party, all the candidates from Washington, they all know each other, they all move in the same circles, and what I'm doing is breaking into the country club."

On Monday, Dean winced when he heard his own words.

"That was an incredibly unfortunate phrase," he said.

"Why do I say these things?" Dean asked a press aide.
What really makes this latest comment so awful, though, is the fact that it doesn't contribute anything to the debate. The "country club" remark at least presents a coherent image that is accurate as far as it goes. It's only the timing that was unfortunate. The "brain dead" remark adds nothing, though, even if there were no such timing issues: calling your opponents "brain dead" is juvenile and unhelpful even if there are no external events that make the remarks seem so ghoulish.

Dean's not an idiot; he just sometimes plays one on TV. I recall he had some good ideas about Social Security reform. Maybe he should be talking about that. Go ahead: take an hour or two and tell us what you think. If these are your best soundbites, "keeping it simple" is just going to make it worse.