Abort. Democ.

A Fascinating Discussion:

Via Southern Appeal, an example of blogging at its best. The initial proposition is well-formed, and the debate is serious and considered. Please read On Being a Pro-Life Democrat, especially for the quality of the comments.


The FBI and Lawlessness:

Those who are charged with enforcing the law on others have a special obligation to obey the law themselves. The FBI did not, and we should demand accountability from them.

FBI headquarters officials sought to cover their informal and possibly illegal acquisition of phone records on thousands of Americans from 2003 to 2005 by issuing 11 improper, retroactive "blanket" administrative subpoenas in 2006 to three phone companies that are under contract to the FBI, according to an audit released Thursday.

Top officials at the FBI's counter-terrorism division signed the blanket subpoenas "retroactively to justify the FBI's acquisition of data through the exigent letters or or other informal requests," the Justice Department's Inspector General Glenn Fine found.

The revelations come in a follow-up report to Fine's 2007 finding that the FBI abused a key Patriot Act power, known as a National Security Letter. That first reports showed that FBI agents were routinely sloppy in using the self-issued subpoenas and issued hundreds that claimed fake emergencies.
Emphasis added.

I hate to send a man to jail -- to turn a free man into a prisoner seems to me worse than killing him. Still, that is the law we have, and these high FBI officials have broken it after being specially charged, and taking a special oath, to uphold it. The lot of them who signed such documents should go to prison, if convicted.



As I was eating breakfast this morning I watched Joe Scarborough and his co-hosts on Morning Joe discuss the inflammatory, hateful, and racist statements made by Sen. Obama’s pastor, Jeremiah Wright. While Mr. Scarborough and company were quick to denounce these statements and predicted problems for the Obama campaign they relentlessly restated over and over how they were sure that these statements did not reflect the beliefs of Sen. Obama himself. They were also quick to say that it would be unfair to infer any guilt by association regarding Obama’s relationship with Mr. Wright. Commentators on other news shows were also quick to dismiss Mr. Wright’s hate speech as simply the statements of a passionate preacher.

I cannot object strongly enough to the reactions described above. When we as citizens are asked to evaluate candidates for public office we are under a specific duty to examine the people a candidate surrounds himself with, the people he seeks out for advice. This gives us an insight into the candidate’s judgment, and possibly even his philosophical outlook. Since we can’t look into the man’s heart we must take note of his actions as well as the company he keeps to gain a sense of the man. A man can’t pick his family but he can pick his advisors, and he has absolute discretion over which church he joins, what pastor he chooses to expose his wife and children to.

Mr. Wright tells us a lot about Sen. Obama. If you go over to Michelle Malkin’s sight you can access videos that show Mr. Wright damning America from his pulpit, accusing the government of purposely creating HIV to infect black children, and a host of other shockingly vile comments. This is the man that performed Sen. Obama’s marriage, that baptized his children, that provided the inspiration for his book. Apparently Sen. Obama had no problem taking his family to that house of hate to have his children instructed by this man. If Sen. Obama found the hate speech of Mr. Wright as disgusting as he should have he should have ended any association with that church and Mr. Wright the first time such garbage was uttered. He didn’t. He did make this man a member of his campaign and designated him as his spiritual advisor. NOTED!

Consequently, I find the argument that such guilt by association is unfair to be absolutely unconvincing. Candidates for office always parade a never ending line of celebrities, scholars, and statesmen to vouch for the candidate’s competence and superior electability. Candidates do this to benefit from their association with such luminaries. Just the other day on TV I saw several retired generals appear with Sen. Obama to vouch for his competence to be the next Commander in Chief. He has appeared with the former SgtMaj of the Marine Corps, SgtMaj Estrada, for the purpose of establishing his credibility on national security issues. Sen. Obama certainly wants to use his association with these retired military men to bequeath a certain gravitas. Well this works both ways. I find his long and close relationship with Mr. Wright far more revealing than a momentary stage appearance with a retired general.

Magical Thinking

Magical Thinking:

Psychology Today has an article (h/t Arts & Letters Daily) on several nearly universal types of magical thinking. What is interesting to me is that, at the end, the piece notes that several of these types have strongly beneficial effects -- and may have moreso in the future.

They also notice several ways in which science has proven that some aspects of magical thinking are actually borne out in reality. I would add two more: we know that particles entangled can instantaneously convey information, no matter how far apart they get subsequently -- what happens to one, in effect, happens to another. This supports the thought that "anything can be sacred / anything can be cursed."

But most, I want to add to this:

7. The world is alive.

To believe that the universe is sympathetic to our wishes is to believe that it has a mind or a soul, however rudimentary. We often see inanimate objects as infused with a life force. After watching The Velveteen Rabbit as a kid, I desperately wanted my own plush bear to come alive. When I asked my mom if loving something enough can make it real, she said no. It broke my heart.

The worse that she did, for your mother was wrong. Loving a thing can make it alive.

Though the scientific proof of this fact is not yet with us, the empirical proof of it is solid. The extension of qi into the sword is a thing anyone can experience. Go and see.


Ethics: On the Flag

Today's ethical discussion will treat the following video.

(The knife used, by the way, is a US Army-stamped Kabar. Among my small collection of knives, I have one just like it -- I have carried it faithfully around here until yesterday, when I shipped it home along with my footlocker.)

Some background: Once upon a time in Dawson County, Georgia, there was a local business that had a flag display by the highway. One of the several flags on display was an American flag; and one windy day, one of its stays broke and caused it to hang from only the bottom stay. I noticed this while driving past it on my way to work.

Three days later, it was still not repaired. So, I stopped, cut it the rest of the way down, and took it home to hang above my mantle in a place of honor.

Here is the ethical proposition to debate, then: the American flag is not something that can be owned by an individual, like a piece of property. It belongs to all of us, and its care to all of us. While an individual can buy a flag, if he does not take care of it properly -- or if he deliberately insults it -- any citizen is fully correct as a point of ethics to rescue it and restore it to the honor it is due.

Note that I do not say you are legally correct: the law is often unethical. I am interested in the philosophical truth of the matter, not the question of whether or not the law is correct as currently constructed. Laws can change, and if we find that the law is currently out of order with what is right, we can propose such a change.

What I want to know is your thought on the question of whether the philosophical propposition is right. If you think that ethics requires you to conform to the law (as I certainly do not; but that is a separate discussion), assume the law permitted you to do what this gentleman has done (as it yet may; you may find it hard to find a jury to convict him. If he is acquitted by a jury of his peers, that will mean that our system of law has ratified his action -- and the case will then serve as precedent for future cases. This is right and proper: our law has as part of its tradition the appeal to trial by combat, so that a man might prove his right after the fact. We no longer have the physical combat, but a man may yet prove his right before a jury of his peers. This is as much a part of our legal tradition as any other, and as valuable as any other part of it).

Assume that the law were clear on the point, if that is necessary to consider the philosophical question; or, if law and ethics are tied together for you, assume there is yet no law, and we are debating what the law should be.

Does the flag belong to us all, a symbol whose honor we are all concerned with defending? Or is it property, to be disposed of at the whim of the individual who paid for this particular bit of cloth?

St. Patrick's Day

The Feast of St. Patrick:

As we are nearing the 17th of March, I would like to offer readers the service of linking to this collection of lyrics for your favorite drinking songs, Irish songs, and other merry tunes you may not have heard. I assume you will all want to read through the lyrics to, "Do Virgins Taste Better?", for example.

Evolution and laughter

Evolution and Laughter:

Apparently Christopher Hitchens (amid what I gather was an unforgivable rant) suggested that laughter is necessary for men who want to reproduce. Cassandra asked if we think it is true, and I think it may be, as I told her:

As for whether or not a man must be able to make women laugh to stay in 'the evolutionary concept,' the answer I think is that indeed he must -- in the West. It is an unrecognized fact that the West is the major civilization in which women have had the largest voice, for longest.

In China or Turkey or Iran, much of South America, all of Africa, most of Asia excepting the parts reformed through long contact with the United States -- women's consent is not so greatly required.

It is in the West that Marie de France and others set out the rules of courtly love, and what began as an amusement for the elite ladies became the rule for the whole society. We have a concept of love and true love, and women's power to consent or refuse, that is not present in the rest of humanity.
I mention "major civilizations," by which I mean civilizations that have managed to convince other civilizations to fold themselves into it: as "the West" has absorbed both "the British" and "the Polish" and many others; and as the "Chinese" has absorbed many, and as Islam has.

Judaism has had a major effect on the world through its writing and thinking, but has not convinced any other civilizations lately to fold themselves within it -- although they used to do so, in the Old Testament days. We shall say it is a special case, and Hitchens apparently also thinks so, since he sets women who are Jewish aside. But it holds the rule: it is famously female-led, within the context of whatever other civilization its members have found themselves, and famously a producer of funny men.

It would be interesting to see if others do too: you could test the proposition by checking to see if societies in which women were granted their choice of mates placed a higher value on male humor than those where marriages are arranged, or otherwise forced.

I suspect that it would be, for this reason: humor is an excellent way to test a man's strength in the two areas where men are often weakest, which is their verbal ability and their emotional intelligence. Both are crucial factors in success in life, and both are relatively difficult to observe in the way that physical strength, stamina, and so forth are. It would therefore make perfect sense, from an evolutionary standpoint, for women to delight in humor as they do in broad shoulders and hard work.

If the civilization allows them to choose, then, whether they yield to love or refuse, I would expect humor to be a large part of the gentlemanly arts. If they are not, then humor has far less importance to men, and they will learn it less. This is not to say that there will be no humor in such societies, to be sure, but only that such societies will not place such high importance on learning to be funny; and I would think that the forms of humor would be less subtly developed, since they would be more to include people in jokes in order to resolve other kinds of social tension, than to test your intelligence and verbal skills. (For example, in China, the predominant form of humor is a sort of word play that makes fun of the fact that so many of the words sound exactly alike, but mean totally different things. This is amusing -- think "Who's on first?" but with almost all words having multiple possible meanings -- but accessible to almost anyone who is familiar with the language.)

As for why more men than women are famous comedians, it is probably for the same reason that more men than women are famous poets or authors, though women in general have better verbal skills: at the top of any profession, you expect to find genuises. Men are more likely than women to be geniuses, as they are more likely than women to be true idiots, because the IQ curve is flatter. This has been consistently observed across cultures, with women clustering more toward the center, and men spreading out more along the whole range of possibility.

A Collection of bad ideas

A Collection of Bad Ideas:

Christina Hoff Summers on the equity movement in higher education. It's a long piece, but keep going: the rabbit hole goes deep, and the thinking she showcases for you gets worse the deeper you travel.

But both college regulations and Federal force are behind the bad ideas becoming real.

Two from Dawn Patrol

Two from the Dawn Patrol:

From Mudville's Dawn Patrol, two items. First, al Qaeda makes excuses:

It is true that we have lost several cities and have been forced to withdraw from others, after a large number of [Sunni] tribal leaders betrayed Islam and when their tribe members joined forces against us. However, we are still fighting, and the 'paralysis' mentioned by the Crusaders is true only for some of the regions.
Duly noted.
Besides, it is common knowledge that any war always involves advance and retreat, so that [even] in those regions I wouldn't call our position 'paralysis,' but rather 'the [changing] conditions of the war....
Specifically, for you, the conditions are changing from "bad" to "worse."

The second item shows some American good-sense: Military officers are one of the most prestigious of careers, actors and journalists two of the least.
“Duty, honor, country: Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying point to build courage when courage seems to fail, to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith, to create hope when hope becomes forlorn.

“The unbelievers will say they are but words, but a slogan, but a flamboyant phrase. Every pedant, every demagogue, every cynic, every hypocrite, every troublemaker, and, I am sorry to say, some others of an entirely different character, will try to downgrade them even to the extent of mockery and ridicule. But these are some of the things they do. They build your basic character. They mold you for your future roles as the custodians of the Nation's defense. They make you strong enough to know when you are weak, and brave enough to face yourself when you are afraid.”
Duty, honor and country refer to the giving of yourself for something greater than you are. You may earn a few medals on the way – but in the end, joining the military and, in the event that you become an officer, leading your uniformed legions into battle in defense of your country and its ideals, putting yourself in harm’s way – means a lot more to most Americans than how many Oscars or Pulitzer prizes are collecting dust on your mantel.
Firemen, I have to note for the benefit of my father, were the most prestigious of all.


A Brief Followup:

Eric is right: I do approve. Allow me to followup his post with a few links. We've had the Schola St. George on the links bar, under "Gunfighting and Bladework," for a while. See also their list of allied schools.

Finally, if you'd just like a book, this one is one of my favorites. From the 15th century, it shows how closely allied the Western martial arts were to judo and jujitsu, as well as Japanese forms that combine weapons with existing grappling. No surprise: the human body is the same, and therefore the physics that are effective (or not) are largely the same. One chief difference was the use of gloves so that you could grip the blade of your own longsword in close quarters, and thus use it as a staff or a dagger or a hammer; and as a tool for grappling and damaging your foe.

Many of these tactics can also be employed with a long knife, for those of you who are bowie or other big-knife fighters.

Grim will approve.

Rapier wit.

SEATTLE — The golf cases propped up against the walls are full of swords, daggers and the occasional bit of chain mail. The halls of the community center ring with the clash of steel, the thud of shields and the quick snip-snip of rapiers. The books quoted are as often as not in medieval German or Latin.
Welcome to a Western martial arts conference. Not a cowboy or lariat in sight. Western in this case is Western European, as opposed to the better-known Asian variety.

These are the arts of warfare and self-defense of medieval and renaissance Europe. Also called historical martial arts, they employ bare hands, pikes, a variety of swords, daggers and rapiers in the way that practitioners of Eastern martial arts might use bo staves, Katana swords and Tanto knives.

Unlike in the East, these fighting traditions died out in Europe in the 1600s with the introduction of gunpowder-fueled weapons.

But now they're making a comeback.

"Eastern" martial arts were never supplanated by gun-powder weapons the way it happened in Western Europe. The Japanese, although very happy to use gun powder weapons, made a conscious decision to de-emphasize them (and cut themselves off from the world) which worked pretty well from the 17th century to 1868. This allowed the knowledge to still be there in living memory once people started getting interested in the subject after WWII. China, although a very early adopter of gun-powder weapons, managed to shamble along till nearly the 20th century using a polygot mix of pretty much everything, and again living memory was available to reinvigorate a what was basically a living tradition.

Western Europe for better or worse, went a different route. The immediate spread gun powder weapons starting in the 13th or 14th centuries (The English supposedly had artillery at Crecy) had, by the 1520's made guns the missle weapon of choice. At Cerignola in 1503, at Bicocca in 1522, at Pavia in 1525, men armed with guns shot down their opponents armed only with cold steel. I suppose it is tragically fitting that the Chevalier Bayard died from a arquebus ball. In someways, Chivalry died with him.

But not in others. That quote from Henry V that found the other day has another interesting little marker. "Art thou Officer?" Not knight or gentleman, although certainly that helped, but an officer. It shows how the thinking had changed even by 1600. The nobility of the west walked down a different path.

Certainly, some of the best fencing manuals date from the 16th and 17th century, but that declined over the course of time to where sport fencing was just a faint echo of the past.

The demise of birth based nobility also had something to do with it, and although there was a slight revival of things medieval in the late 19th century, that pretty well got wrecked in the general destruction of WWI. (As I like to point out).

I've noticed the growth of this over the past couple of decades. It is probably, something else in which Gygax and his game was a factor.

(via FARK, believe it or not)

New Rome

The New Rome(?):

Apparently Cullen Murphy's new book omits the question mark in its British title, but when publishing the same work in America he allows it an open question. The links above are to two reviews, one Australian and the other British.

It's a subject we've discussed often lately -- we know my opinion is that we are the latest Medievals, who also were always trying to be "the New Rome." I think the book might fire Eric's imagination, though, and I'd like to hear his take on it when he's had a chance to read it through (which I, obviously, have not done).

Resolve to win

"Resolve to Win"

Some veterans and supporters of the military are making a sixteen-day hike across country to DC. Read about their efforts. If you're in the area, you might stop in to welcome them at the Lincoln Memorial.

Marine Combat arts

Marine Combat Artists:

Miss Ladybug posts on the subject, with links and some commentary.


South Baghdad Film Society:

Tonight we had the first (long planned) meeting of the South Baghdad Film Society, which will probably be also the last meeting, as all of us are ripping immediately or soon. Still, we managed to find time at least once to do it. The film was Henry V, which should make Cassandra proud. Henry V himself was an interesting character, and the battle remarkable for the use of mobile palings as a defensive structure for longbowmen. Thus did an exhausted army defeat a fresh one, in spite of having to leave its defensive encampment.

There are some fine speeches in the film. We remember the St. Crispin's Day speech, but the "take a soldier" speech is also very good. In all, a pleasant evening, and a chance to reflect on history.

A protest

A Protest:

I realize that The Wall Street Journal is in New York City, but this is still unacceptable:

Other nations, though, should be as offended by this "cowboy socialism" as Europeans are by America's supposed "cowboy capitalism."
This is an offense against the following code:
It is with annoyance that the Dean of Students notes a comment from Sweden's Foreign Minister Anna Lindh, where she criticized President Bush for acting like the lone ranger in Iraq. . . .

Displays of ignorance of this sort were common long before the Iraqi conflict, but Ms. Lindh has distinguished herself by plunging to new depths thereof. In the Pantheon of Cowboys, the Lone Ranger (note the caps, Reuthers) stands among the Major Gods, right up there with Will Rogers, Gene Autry, The Cisco Kid, and John Wayne. There are good reasons why the Texas state police are called the Texas Rangers (an organization that pre-dated that state's admission to the Union). The deeds of the Army Rangers are even more glorious.
Here, here. "Cowboy" should never be used as an insult.