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.