As the Olympics continue, we see some sports that were originally martial in origin. This reminds us of the Laches, in which Socrates is asked whether practice fighting in armor can actually build the courage needed for real fighting in armor. It was a critical question to Greek city-states whose survival depended on producing that kind of men: it remains a critical question.

The video is from A Knight's Tale, which (by the way) I suggest as an entertaining film. The film makes a highly risky choice in its musical score: so-called classic rock, in a Medieval setting. I fully expected to hate not only the music but the movie as a consequence, but in fact it comes off wonderfully. The film uses mostly tracks that are frequently used in modern American sports, and the effect is to make the emotions felt by Medieval characters immediately relevant to modern audiences. The film has a small amount of the usual Hollywood preaching about how we ought to feel on social issues, and a somewhat overwrought ending; but those are minor flaws. It is generally a good film, one you'll enjoy viewing again and again.

The part relevant to this discussion begins at 07:25 (although some of you, most especially Cassandra, will enjoy the earlier parts). Notice how, when "Ulric" is to strike, he does so at first with care, in a martial fashion: but after his first victory, he becomes increasingly flashy, showy, doing things (like turning his back on his foe) that no one would do in combat.

It is just that quick that the spirit of the thing is lost. Masters have made this mistake.

In Autumn Lightning, Dave Lowry writes about being instructed in Japanese swordsmanship by an old teacher from Japan. One night, after long practice, the sensei tries to convey the point.

"The swordsmanship we do, that is nothing. What is cutting with a sword? If I have an atomic bomb now, it will melt your katana and you.... We keep the Yagyu Shinkage tradition alive for another reason than fighting. Because it is like--" he paused, reaching for the right word, "it is like an antique that is living. Because we have the ryu [school of teaching], we have something of the past. We can depend on it. All the bugeisha in the old days, they are just like us. Same problems, they loved and hated, just like we do. Since they went before, they are an example for us."
In fact, the man who practices a fighting art to preserve it, as a moral guide, is doing nothing like what the samurai was doing. The samurai wanted to kill. He would change anything about his technique, in an instant, if it gave him an advantage. The man who carefully preserves kata is the opposite of him. The man who seeks to preserve unchanged the techniques as a moral lesson is nothing like the man who would change any technique for a momentary advantage.

Yet it is possible to be "like" the fighting men of old. It is possible to learn courage by practicing fighting in armor. In coming days, we'll talk a bit more about this: and perhaps I'll finally get around to answering Eric, who has long said that "chivalry" was largely a romantic ideal, whose forms we have mostly of the 19th century.


Well, We Can Too:

Feddie at Southern Appeal has a little Notre Dame film up, "Just because I can." They have to make films, because they don't have Larry Munson.

"We just stepped on their face, with a hobnailed boot, and broke their nose!"

That reminds me of a story.

Time to buy a Chicken

Time To Buy Some Chickens:

This is an outstanding idea.


McCain and Religion:

We looked at an article on Sen. Obama's faith the other day; here's one on Sen. McCain's. It's a very different kind of faith -- less intellectual, and less public:

Although polling suggests voters view faith as an essential ingredient in a president, McCain has never been a candidate to invoke God or dwell on religion. "In our case, faith is private," said his wife, Cindy, adding that once voters get to know him, "they will know he is a man of faith."
I thought this was remarkable:
About six months later, they were back in the ironically named Hanoi Hilton, and Day, the senior officer, chose McCain as the group's chaplain. His first lesson — he doesn't like to call them sermons — recounted the biblical story of the man who asked Jesus whether he should pay taxes. Jesus replied, "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and render unto God what is God's."

McCain's point was that the prisoners should not pray for freedom, nor for harm to come to their captors.

"What I was trying to tell my fellow prisoners is that we were doing Caesar's work when we got into prison, so we should ask for God's help to do the right thing and for us to get out of prison if it be God's will for us to do so," McCain said. "Not everybody agreed with that."
I imagine not! Yet it is a highly plausible reading, and one achieved against personal interests and while under extraordinary duress.

I May Go See This One

An American Carol

Now this is kind of remarkable:

That's a fair set of big Hollywood names, thrashing a well-known and influential filmmaker. You don't see this kind of infighting very often. I may have to go see this movie, just since it has my (very) distant relative George Patton as a character.

Good Point

A Very Good Point from XKCD:



I get about three of these conspiracy-theory mails a week from friends and family. I think I can honestly say that I've been diligent in pointing out the holes in them. I'm certainly opposed to Sen. Obama's election as President, and ready to use any true and fair weapon that comes to hand against him; but not untrue or unfair ones.

I normally know what to say about them, but I got one today that one I don't have an answer for. Probably some of you have seen it, and know what to say:

An AP photo appears to show Obama's school registration in Indonesia, listing his religion as Islam. I see that Obama's Fight the Smears page doesn't mention it, though it denies that he was "raised as a Muslim."

So: is the photo real? Does "not raised as a Muslim" mean that his father in law stepfather [UPDATE per ML: see comments] may have considered him a Muslim, but nobody else? Or just not him? Or what?

Edward Luttwak Strikes Again!

Goodness knows we've had our disputes with, or about, the writings of Edward Luttwak. His COIN theory drew a rebuttal from David Kilcullen (and a harsher response by Frank Hoffman that suggested he 'was off his medication'); his piece on "leaving the Middle East alone" provoked some arguments here as well (and another rather rude rebuttal). The comments to those pieces, even here at the Hall, have been contentious. One describes one of his works as a book "so bad I tried to make my officers read it so they could recognize a bad thesis when they saw it"; but another of our co-bloggers found his work sometimes "excellent" and sometimes, well, not.

So it is with some trepidation, metaphorically at least, that I offer his latest barn-burner. Called "A Truman for our times," it is a work strongly praising the foreign policy of George W. Bush. Not that it is entirely kind:

The swift removal of the murderous Saddam Hussein was followed by years of expensive violence instead of the instant democracy that had been promised. To confuse the imam-ridden Iraqis with Danes or Norwegians under German occupation, ready to return to democracy as soon as they were liberated, was not a forgivable error: before invading a country, a US president is supposed to know if it is in the middle east or Scandinavia.
Yet in the end, Luttwak asserts, the problems will not be remembered: what will be remembered was that Bush was the man who threw back Islamism in the Muslim world, made it unacceptable to support in public among the leaders of Muslim states, and made great strides in denuclearizing the dangerous parts of the world.

Read it all, and let's discuss it.


Male/Female by Website:

I see Cassidy is in a panic over her male/female rating. No need to worry! The program is very poorly designed. To get an accurate reading, it would need to look at a far broader range of websites in your history than it does.

For example, if it finds a lot of stuff like this in your history, you're probably male:

"MapQuest"? It's really not that reliable an indicator by comparison.

Via Dad and SAppeal

Locating Authority:

Via both our friend Dad29 and our friend Feddie at Southern Appeal, a little lesson in authority.

From the Westminster Shorter Catechism:

Q. 14. What is sin?

A. Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.

From the Baltimore Catechism:

Q. 278. What is actual sin?

A. Actual sin is any willful thought, word, deed, or omission contrary to the law of God.

From Senator Obama:

Q. Do you believe in sin? OBAMA: Yes.

Q. What is sin? OBAMA: Being out of alignment with my values.
Presumably, the Senator meant to say something like "one's own values," which is a highly contestable definition -- but still a far kinder reading than, "Sin is when one doesn't align with my values."

In fairness, however, read the whole interview. They ask some very difficult questions. It might be worth trying to see if you can answer them yourself. There are a few I would want a long time to consider.

A far more serious confession is here:
OBAMA: When I’m talking to a group and I’m saying something truthful, I can feel a power that comes out of those statements that is different than when I’m just being glib or clever.

What’s that power? Is it the holy spirit? God?

Well, I think it’s the power of the recognition of God, or the recognition of a larger truth that is being shared between me and an audience.

That’s something you learn watching ministers, quite a bit. What they call the Holy Spirit. They want the Holy Spirit to come down before they’re preaching, right? Not to try to intellectualize it but what I see is there are moments that happen within a sermon where the minister gets out of his ego and is speaking from a deeper source. And it’s powerful.
So bear in mind: Obama really does think that, at least some of the time, the Holy Spirit is moving him when he speaks.

That's a bold statement: that a politician's work is like a minister's; that he is doing God's own work, and speaking words inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Do you believe that? About him? About yourself?

Oh, dear.

Oh, Dear.

Victor, the Victory Elephant?

I am not sure why I get RNC emails, since I know I've never sent them any money; maybe they share mailing lists with the NRA or something. Anyway, is this really a good idea?

I guess they just mean 'victory in this year's elections,' but the word "victory" has a very different connotation right now. That fact can't be avoided. A lot has been paid for the victory we've won in Iraq. It is a word that should be used, but solemnly.

Probably this is meant as innocent fun, perhaps like the Purple Heart band-aids of a few years ago. As with that, though, there is a failure to consider how it would look to those whose minds were drawn to the war the symbol must necessarily invoke. Good intentions cannot answer for everything.

Learning to hunt.

Everything old is new again.

Hunting used to be one of those skills that was always wanted for soldiers. The Roman author Vegetius explicitly mentions the desirablity of enlisting huntsmen in his De Rei Militari 1700 years ago. The Greek author (and soldier) Xenophon, wrote On hunting some 800 years before Vegetius, in which he says:
Therefore I charge the young not to despise hunting or any other schooling. For these are the means by which men become good in war and in all things out of which must come excellence in thought and word and deed.

Smart guys, those Ancients.

Today, Mikheil Saakashvili, the President of Georgia, has a letter in The Wall Street Journal.

Arts & Letters Daily has several background pieces on the conflict that are worth reading. Because they don't do permalinks, I'll list them here: one from the New York Times, one from the Washington Post, and a second from the New York Times.

Gwendolyn, in the comments below, offered this, which I see is also endorsed by Michael Totten (himself en route to the Caucasus region).

Charles King, in the Christian Science Monitor, has a perspective on the conflict that would like to offer conditional support to Russia. I pass it on out of respect for the publication and a willingness to hear everyone out.

A bit further

A Further Thrust:

Looking a bit more into the sword site, I found this video:

It starts simply, but moves on to show some sword-binding and maneuver techniques. If you follow it to its YouTube page, there are a number of similar videos that demonstrate accurate Medieval martial arts.

One of the best ones is this (which is also noteworthy for its subtitles):

This shows a great deal of knife and dagger techniques, the fundamentals of which have not changed. Those interested in bladework may find these most amusing, and may find a few concepts worth thinking about to employ in your own training.


Sabers and Spurs:

I join Kat at the Castle in congratulating our womens' saber team for their sweep at the Olympics. Strong work.

On which topic, reader G.M. sends an interesting page for those of you who have an affection for sabers -- particularly, the British 1796 light cavalry saber.

Sure, it looks good: but how does it manage if you wanted to chop an entire six pack of bottled water in half at once? Or if you had some old tires you needed to mince?

Go see.