I love football, but I almost never get to see any of it.

The main thing is that I end up working most weekends -- seven day weeks are the standard here -- and, furthermore, I refuse to pony up the money for cable/sat TV just so I can watch football now and then. As a consequence, I almost never see a good, or even a bad, football game.

Today, however, I happened to be having lunch at a place that had the Indiana U. / Ohio State game. OSU stompied IU into the earth, winning by 31 points.

I only got to watch the fourth quarter, but I could see why OSU did as well as they did. It was the old cliche that you see in every football movie, because it's true -- they had heart. Up three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, I saw an OSU receiver take a tackle that flipped him head over heels into the ground, when he could have stepped out of bounds instead. All that, just to get one more yard.

It's hard to beat a team that plays that way. They deserve to win. As a result, they very often do.


Speaking Of...

...Winds of Change, Armed Liberal has a pair of posts taking Matt Yglesias to task over his article advocating surrender in Iraq.

I've got a test for that.

Let Yglesias, or one of his ilk, sit down with JHD's boy and a few of his fellow Devil Dogs, and explain to them that they've lost the war. If he lives through the encounter, I'll be happy to help pack for the withdrawal.

Until then, I'm not buying it.



I'm pleased to note that one of my current Senators, George Allen, was among the fifteen who voted the right way on the amendment to redirect pork money to a useful project. I'm sorry to see that neither of the Senators from my beloved home state of Georgia, however, managed to get it right.

Winds of Change had a good post about this. From now on, expect to make your own arrangements in case of disaster -- the US Senate can't be bothered with you.


For the Benefit of the Truth Laid Bear:

I oppose the Miers nomination. I'm going to guess that pretty much all the readers here know why by now, but if you're curious, the fullest expression was here.


More on the Burning of Bodies:

Some soldiers involved in the "burning bodies" incident have apparently decided to give a defense of the action in the press. This is not what you would expect given that there is a criminal investigation in progress. I am guessing that they are angry at seeing their commander smeared in the press as a war criminal, and want to defend him.

INTEL DUMP has more on the harshness of the press and even the Pentagon's own statements, as well as particulars of the Geneva Conventions that touch on the case. The questions that investigators need to answer are these:

1) Who, exactly, gave the order to burn the bodies?
2) Was the PsyOp team involved in making the decision, or did they simply choose to exploit the decision after the burnings had been carried out?
3) When did the PsyOp team learn of the decision? If they learned of it before it was executed and said nothing about the GC concerns, but simply went about planning a PsyOp, they may still be in trouble. If they found out afterwards, or if they issued appropriate warnings, they should be in the clear.

The Time report suggests that it was Lt. Nelson, acting purely on hygine concerns and after requesting local Muslim leaders to deal with the bodies properly and having them refuse. The role of the PsyOp team is not clear.

The source for the claim is anonymous -- just "one soldier." The investigation will have to sort things out. I agree with INTEL DUMP that the Pentagon has been a little overzealous in its condemnations of the people involved, though I understand why: they're trying to prevent loss of life, either through riots (such as we saw in the wake of the false Koran-desecration claims) or through excitement of young fellows who go off to become terrorists.

If the details in the Time story hold up, the soldiers outside of the PsyOp unit are almost certainly in the clear. The GCs permit cremation under exactly these circumstances (although there is the question of what happened to the ashes, but that's another story). The precise nature of the PsyOp unit's involvement is the main question at stake.

It's important to clarify that, and I'm happy to defend the investigation as I have done. On the other hand, I think it's also important to make sure that soldiers are not prosecuted for the political convenience of the Pentagon. If the facts, once clear, show a GC violation, it must be punished. If not, not, even though the Pentagon apparently really wants to show its determination to protect Muslim sensibilities. As I said in the comments of the first post, this isn't about the enemy's sensibility. It's about upholding our own law. Keeping that kind of discipline is important in war, because it is as much a protection for the soldier and Marine as any armor. It protects the soul.



I can't say that I've ever been a special fan of Thomas Kinkade, but I do agree with JHD: it's pretty cool what he's doing for the boys in the Naval hospital.


It's Always Nice... see a serious blogger cite "mama" as a source.

I do the same thing myself from time to time. ("My mama always said, 'If you want to eat, learn to cook!'")


Good News:

Congress has passed the ban on reckless lawsuits.


The Burning of Bodies:

I was not aware until yesterday that burning bodies was forbidden in Islam. Were you? Four years on from 9/11, we've all studied Islam somewhat closely, and yet there remains so much to know.

Apparently, the Airborne unit that carried out the burnings didn't know it was improper either. At least, so says the embed who took the video in this interview. It's mostly a good interview: he's clear that American military forces were extremely open, never tried to hide anything from him as an embed, and that the people who actually did the burning seem to have believed that they were only performing a necessary function for reasons of disease.

However, the PsyOps guys did know. They did nothing to stop it -- and in fact, they made it worse by using it as the basis for a PsyOp.

USCENTCOM has started an investigation.

UPDATE: BlackFive has a post about this. In the comments, I find it necessary to defend the journalist (imagine that -- a blogger defending a journalist) against some outraged folks.

DuPont isn't the enemy here. Watch or read through the transcript of the interview with him -- he is very sympathetic to the soldiers, even the PsyOps guys. He explains that the PsyOps team is frustrated because the Taliban won't come out, and that the program had generated some successes. He is plain that the Americans have never tried to hide anything, and that this was just a decision made on the spot to try and achieve a tactical purpose.

The journalist isn't the enemy this time. He's doing his job: documenting and providing witness to what we do in a way that is both honest and honorable. He has done just what he is supposed to do.

The PsyOps team are the folks who have questions to answer. They are supposed to abide by the Conventions. If they did not do so, knowingly, and if they further used the knowing violation as a weapon of war, they will have to answer for it.

The Conventions also prohibit using civilian guise as cover. The terrorists who do so in spite of the Conventions thereby endanger all civilians. It is an act of barbarism. I've argued that, B5 here has argued it, Bill Whittle has argued it.

The same principle is at work here. You may not abuse the Conventions in order to seek a military advantage. It is wrong when the enemy does it, and it is wrong when we do it.

We are the defenders of civilization. That means we have to do what we have sworn to do. The investigation is right and proper, and if there has been a violation of the Conventions, it ought to be punished.
I think those are the right principles here. I yield to no one in my respect for the US military. That respect in part grows out of the fact that it is the foremost defender of the ancient virtue we once called chivalry. We must do what is right even -- especially -- when it hurts.

Cole & Ritter

Juan Cole & Miller:

Today, while dealing with another matter, it came to my attention that Juan Cole has recently produced a paper on Judith Miller. I have not been following the Plame case with any vigor -- I have always supported the investigation, the questioning of the reporters, and await any indictments that may result. As a consequence, I was surprised to learn that Miller is suddenly an enemy of the Cole faction, who needs to be destroyed.

Well, Juan Cole is the man for the job. Still, even knowing the old fraud's history, I was a little shocked by his audacity in this sentence:

In fact, Iraq's nuclear facilities were found and ordered destroyed after the war by the United Nations inspectors, and they were extremely thorough, as inspector and former U.S. Marine Scott Ritter insisted.
A quick Google proves that Juan Cole knows perfectly well who Ritter is, and yet mentions nothing about him to suggest that Ritter's story be taken with the slightest grain of salt. Given the weight he places on that sentence in making the case that Miller is a bad actor, it's quite an omission.

It would be somewhat like introducing another former officer of Marines, to people who may well know nothing about him, simply as "noted expert on Iranian relations, Lt. Col. Oliver North."


Once Upon a Time in China:

Speaking of old friends who may or may not be dead...

A number of years ago I lived in China. My wife, an artist, had been invited to come by the Chinese government in order to study Chinese painting techniques. I had studied Chinese history and philosophy, so I encouraged her to accept the offer.

They put us in a run-down structure with the other international residents. It was an amazing place in three respects. First, they had added an extra story to the top of it (with a slate roof!) without making any consideration for the load-bearing design. As a result, there was a giant crack in the concrete up one side of the building. It honestly seemed as if it might fall in at any moment.

Second, because the water in HangZhou is not drinkable, on every floor there were giant water tanks designed to provide drinking water. These were filled with the regular non-drinkable swill from the pipes, but twice a day they would vent live steam into the tanks in order to sterilize the water. (This did nothing for the poisonous heavy metals, which were not filtered out: as a consequence, I lived on Chinese beer instead.) The steam would boil out of the tanks through valves when the internal pressure got too high. Steam rises, of course, so the entire top floor would be floor-to-ceiling invisible twice a day. As you came down levels, somewhat more of the hallway would be visible: the third floor would be three-quarters filled with steam, the second floor half covered, and so forth.

The third thing that was notable was the remarkable incidence of disease. There were two old women who were employed to clean the place, which they did once a day with cold water and no soap. There was no such thing as bleach. We had people from all over the world, and lots of folks from sub-Saharan Africa as China is making big diplomatic moves there. One of these is to invite many of Africa's top students to study at Chinese universities. (This is a wise idea, by the way; one of the ways in which the GWOT has been flawed is that it has cut down on foreign students at American universities.)

Chinese medical care is an iffy proposition, although they did require a full physical of everyone admitted. Still, we had residents coming down with foreign diseases and dying; and most everyone was sick all the time. I myself caught tuberculosis, although apparently I defeated it with the aid of the aforementioned Chinese beer.

One of my fellows there was a giant of a man from Western Australia, a fine fellow who carried a big brass lock in lieu of brass knuckles. He was a complete scoundrel: a former professional gambler, who was currently making his living by conning the Australian government into believing that he was mentally ill and in need of a full pension.

Aside from him, my wife and I were the only native English speakers in the building. Many people spoke no English at all; French was more common, among the Africans, which meant that I could communicate with them with some difficulty. So could the Australian, who spoke a number of languages in a vague way -- but when he was in serious pain, as one night he was, English was the only language he could manage.

This was shortly after we arrived. I had not met the man, though I had once before seen him around the building. He came knocking on the door, though, and I answered it.

He was in such pain as to be unable to move, except with the greatest difficulty. He had managed to lumber down the hall to where our room was -- it was only a single room, and very tiny and drafty, without bathroom facilities or anything of the sort -- and he almost begged for me to go out into the Chinese night and find him some pain medication.

My Chinese at that stage could only with charity be called "broken," but all the same I promised to do my best. As I was leaving, he stopped me.

"I have to tell you something important," he said. I nodded.

"I believe very strongly," he said, "in giving your best shot, and then taking what comes. Go forth to the first place you can find, and do your best. If you cannot find the medicine there, come back. It will be all right."

I nodded again, and left; but I had no intention of doing what he asked. He had his beliefs, and I have my own. He had taken his one shot, and spent it on asking me for help. My belief is that when you undertake a quest, you see it through to its conclusion. As a result, I must have gone to ten places trying to find someone with whom I could communicate well enough to explain what I needed and get it.

When I got back, I found the poor Aussie leaning sadly against a wall. "What is it?" he said when he saw me. "You've come to tell me that that you couldn't find anything. Well, that's all right."

"No," I answered. "I've come to bring you this." I gave him the medicine, and he went on his way.

The next day he said that the stuff hadn't kicked in for almost two hours after he'd taken it, and he had been planning to murder me in my sleep with a meat axe. However, once it finally started to work, he found himself able to drift off to blissful sleep. He and I have exchanged letters for half a decade now; I never know if there will be another one, and I suppose in truth he never knows either.

That seems to me an illustration of what I was trying to say earlier, but to be honest, I'm not sure why it seems so. The reader may try to sort it out.


An Old Friend Returns:

Grim's Hall is delighted to note that our old friend Steve D. is still alive. He was one of Grim's Hall's original readers, and sent a kind letter this morning apologizing for his long absence. Since he lives most of his life at sea, one never knows when he'll turn up or if he ever shall again.

He says he wouldn't mind if you dropped by to consider his thoughts on Iraq. For that matter, I don't guess I've mentioned my own thoughts on Iraq since the Constitutional Referrendum. They are these:

Omar's video from Mosul tells you what you need to know about Iraq and the mission there. It is a noble cause, as noble as any ever contested: to free the oppressed, De Oppresso Liber, and bring the light of liberty to their world.

It is fashionable on the anti-war side to ask, "What is this war about?" I have always offered that answer. The response is usually to scorn it: Bush didn't mention it, rarely mentioned it, mentioned other things, some of which turned out not to be as big a deal as he suggested. Yet, as far as Iraq goes, this is what I have always cared about: to end tyranny and free the oppressed, and to see a new dawn for liberty in the cradle of civilization. I heard Bush's speech at the start of the war, but I can only remember one detail of what he said: that this war would bring an end to the rape rooms. That was what impressed me, and as far as I am concerned, it is why we fight.

The success of this referrendum -- whether the Constitution had passed or failed, it was a success because of its extraordinary turnout and low violence -- demonstrates that liberty is taking hold. It will not be a smooth journey, I am sure: our own was not, but is littered with bones. Yet it is happening. We shall have the victory.

I do not know, though I think, that the victory in bringing democracy to Iraq will reduce or limit terrorism. It is not necessary that it do so to be a worthy cause. What matters is freeing men and women to live the right way, according to their own hearts, and to build the fire of freedom ever higher. Perhaps this will reduce violence in the world; perhaps it will increase it, as tyrants band together to put out the flame. Let them come. I do not fear them.

The Dangerous Life

The Dangerous Life:

I warn you that this is a long essay on a serious topic.

Ex Nihlio has a review of Serenity. It focuses on 'love, and its twin, belief.'

Everyone in the film (when they find themselves) is driven by love, but the interesting thing is that Serenity (amazingly! fortuitously!) manages to blend that love seamlessly with its twin, belief. In Serenity, there can be no true belief without a love that covers the sins necessary to defend that belief. There can be no love without foundation—without a belief in something, anything. And all of the actors in the tragicomedy are driven by their idealism—personal or political—their loves-cum-beliefs-cum-lives. They are all, to quote the movie, “true believers” by the end. And it is on that level that we connect with them—we are people who, even lacking it, long for true belief. Unconditional. Unequivocal. An excuse to love without care or worry of personal consequence. A belief that moves mountains or armies.
That is right.

Love and belief are twinned in this way. There is a deeper conflict at work, though. The Operative believes in a vision of a world without sin, and loves it so much that it covers his sins of murdering children. He can only be opposed, we are told, by men who believe in something else -- but who also truly believe.

We see that true belief gives a power that can be used for good or evil. In that way, faith is dangerous. It is dangerous in just the way Tolkien described:
’Dangerous?,’ cried Gandalf. ‘And so am I, very dangerous: more dangerous than anything you will ever meet. . .And Aragon is dangerous, and Legolas is dangerous. You are beset with dangers. . .for you are dangerous yourself, in your own fashion.’
It is therefore truth that the best thing in the world is to be dangerous. It is also the worst thing. A man should believe, and love, without fear or reservation. I believe this, and have lived this way, sometimes to great joy and sometimes to great pain.

We were talking just yesterday about the true believers who, seeking to obliterate their lives, let their faith move them to terrible things. How can we judge between the kind of faith that heals, and the kind tht poisons?

I doubt it is possible to judge between the religions, and prove that one is right and another wrong. I think, however, that we can examine the ways of belief, and show what a righteous man ought to look like. I will not tell you what to believe, but I will tell you how to believe.

Consider Robert Winston. He asks, "Why do we believe in God?" He tells an interesting tale about snake-handlers and psychologists.
Many years ago, a team of researchers at the department of anthropology at the University of Minnesota decided to put [a theory that religion was linked to mental illness] to the test. They studied certain fringe religious groups, such as fundamentalist Baptists, Pentecostalists and the snake-handlers of West Virginia, to see if they showed the particular type of psychopathology associated with mental illness. Members of mainstream Protestant churches from a similar social and financial background provided a good control group for comparison. Some of the wilder fundamentalists prayed with what can only be described as great and transcendental ecstasy, but there was no obvious sign of any particular psychopathology among most of the people studied. After further analysis, however, there appeared a tendency to what can only be described as mental instability in one particular group. The study was blinded, so that most of the research team involved with questionnaires did not have access to the final data. When they were asked which group they thought would show the most disturbed psychopathology, the whole team identified the snake-handlers. But when the data were revealed, the reverse was true: there was more mental illness among the conventional Protestant churchgoers - the "extrinsically" religious - than among the fervently committed.
Snake-handling promotes sanity? Yes, apparently, because it can only be practiced by those who have learned the right way to believe. The answer ought not to be surprising, nor to have needed a study of psychology, because it was so ably explained by Chesterton's Orthodoxy, in "The Maniac."
There is a notion adrift everywhere that imagination, especially mystical imagination, is dangerous to man's mental balance. Poets are commonly spoken of as psychologically unreliable; and generally there is a vague association between wreathing laurels in your hair and sticking straws in it. Facts and history utterly contradict this view. Most of the very great poets have been not only sane, but extremely business-like; and if Shakespeare ever really held horses, it was because he was much the safest man to hold them. Imagination does not breed insanity. Exactly what does breed insanity is reason. Poets do not go mad; but chess-players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom. I am not, as will be seen, in any sense attacking logic: I only say that this danger does lie in logic, not in imagination.
So that is part of the picture. I suggest reading Chesterton in his entirety, as time permits.

Here is another part, again from the Winston essay. It discusses another psychological theory, which happens merely to be a repetition of an old religious truth.
A Harvard psychologist named Gordon Allport... suggested that there were two types of religious commitment - extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic religiosity he defined as religious self-centredness. Such a person goes to church or synagogue as a means to an end - for what they can get out of it. They might go to church to be seen, because it is the social norm in their society, conferring respectability or social advancement. Going to church (or synagogue) becomes a social convention.

Allport thought that intrinsic religiosity was different. He identified a group of people who were intrinsically religious, seeing their religion as an end in itself. They tended to be more deeply committed; religion became the organising principle of their lives, a central and personal experience. In support of his research, Allport found that prejudice was more common in those individuals who scored highly for extrinsic religion.
What is this, but an intellectual's restatement of Matthew 6? Yet it tells us a great deal. The suicide bomber is motivated by conditioning: he is being fed a constant line of mythology by the group that wishes to move his heart. He is convinced that they believe him to be a hero, and then told what they expect of a hero. And so he 'does his alms with a trumpet in the street, that may have glory of men.'

We have identified three signs of right faith, then: it is complete, so that the faithful man sheds those things he does not believe, and focuses his heart and his life on what he finds that he does; it is mystical, rooted in imagination and courage rather than logic and conformity; and it is secret, kept within the heart, though some signs of it may shine through even from the most private rooms.

There is another: it is fearless.

To return to Firefly for a moment, there is a scene in "Out of Gas" when River finds Book reading a Bible. "Don't be afraid," she says. He looks at her, and she nods to his Bible. "That's what it says, 'Don't be afraid.'" "Yes," he answers.

Here is the Bhagavad Gita on the subject:
Many there be who come! from fear set free, From anger, from desire; keeping their hearts Fixed upon me - my Faithful - purified By sacred flame of Knowledge. Such as these Mix with my being. Whoso worship me, Them I exalt; but all men everywhere Shall fall into my path; albeit, those souls Which seek reward for works, make sacrifice Now, to the lower gods, I say to thee Here have they their reward.
And here is Chesterton:
Joan of Arc was not stuck at the cross-roads, either by rejecting all the paths like Tolstoy, or by accepting them all like Nietzsche. She chose a path, and went down it like a thunderbolt. Yet Joan, when I came to think of her, had in her all that was true either in Tolstoy or Nietzsche, all that was even tolerable in either of them. I thought of all that is noble in Tolstoy, the pleasure in plain things, especially in plain pity, the actualities of the earth, the reverence for the poor, the dignity of the bowed back. Joan of Arc had all that and with this great addition, that she endured poverty as well as admiring it; whereas Tolstoy is only a typical aristocrat trying to find out its secret. And then I thought of all that was brave and proud and pathetic in poor Nietzsche, and his mutiny against the emptiness and timidity of our time. I thought of his cry for the ecstatic equilibrium of danger, his hunger for the rush of great horses, his cry to arms. Well, Joan of Arc had all that, and again with this difference, that she did not praise fighting, but fought. We know that she was not afraid of an army, while Nietzsche, for all we know, was afraid of a cow. Tolstoy only praised the peasant; she was the peasant. Nietzsche only praised the warrior; she was the warrior. She beat them both at their own antagonistic ideals; she was more gentle than the one, more violent than the other. Yet she was a perfectly practical person who did something, while they are wild speculators who do nothing.
That is the right way to believe. It is, to be certain, dangerous. It will lead you to great pain, and only might lead you to great joy. It has led me to both. It will take you on foolish quests, and lead you to break yourself on high mountains. It will lead you to declare your love and live it out, both when the consequences are good and when they are hard. You may rise again, stronger or weaker or wiser; and then again you may not.

I think you will be the right kind of man, though, while you do live. You will be dangerous, as Gandalf or Aragorn is dangerous, and not as the evil are.

Perhaps there is more. All the faiths proclaim something better in the next world, at least for the righteous. I hope for that, too. But whether that is real or an illusion, and whatever form it may take, at least you will have lived fully and well in this world. That is all I have to promise you, for I am -- as the Havamal counsels -- only 'middle wise.' Of demons and heavens I know nothing, though I have heard much, and believe certain things; but of men and the world of men, perhaps I have learned a thing.

Judge for yourselves.
Yet Another Really Great Blog:

Well, they're not shy now are they? Still, I recognize many of the names of the contibutors as commentors I've run across on various blogs.

There's lots of intersting stuff there. Check it out.

The Legion

The Legion of Dishonor:

A genuine look at our enemy's thinking can be obtained here, by looking at their recruiting successes among converts.

“It’s striking, the number of converts engaged in terrorist activities,” said Michael Taarnby, a researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies who has studied the recruitment and radicalisation of Islamist militants.

Jean-Louis Bruguiere, France’s top anti-terrorism judge, told the newspaper Le Figaro in an interview: “The converts are undeniably the toughest. Nowadays the conversions happen more quickly and the commitment is more radical.”
They wonder what prompts such a large percentage (though still a small number) of converts to Islam to become radicals. The theory is that the enemy is actively recruiting among the small-time criminal population.
Drifters and small-time crooks: Some of the best-known extremist converts whose cases have come to trial were drifters on the margins of society.

David Courtailler, a Frenchman convicted last year of abetting terrorists, was drawn into radical circles when he converted to Islam at a British mosque and was approached by a stranger there who gave him money and an air ticket to Pakistan. Reid, Rowe and Ganczarski all had records as small-time thieves or drug dealers.

“They are people who feel devalued, despised and by becoming terrorists they suddenly become supermen, heroes,” said Roy.

Once they converted, the experts said, such people often moved towards violence quickly, driven partly by a need to prove themselves. They might also be more easily manipulated by extremists because they lacked the cultural grounding to distinguish between true and distorted versions of Islam.

“Basically, you can tell them just about anything and they’re willing to believe it,” Taarnby said.
The kind of people who make up the small-time criminal and drifter class is poor, generally not well educated nor particularly intelligent. They are easy to manipulate, which is why criminal organizations have manipulated them for time out of mind. Whether Columbian cartels, the Mafia, or al Qaeda, this type of person is a useful and essentially disposable tool.

Just what you need when your favored weapon is the suicide bomb.
In interviews with Reuters, European experts said the vast majority of those who converted to Islam did so for legitimate personal reasons. Some convert in order to marry Muslims.

Many converts were drawn, the experts said, by the appeal of a universal faith that transcended national and ethnic barriers, offered a sense of belonging and brotherhood and provided a new identity, including the choice of a Muslim name.

However, a small fraction were extremists who saw in radical Islam a vehicle to challenge and overthrow the existing world order, said Olivier Roy, research director of the French National Centre for Scientific Research.
Many of those "legitimate personal reasons" are likewise apt to draw radicals as well. You should never underestimate the power of the chance to escape an old, failed life and find a new name and a new brotherhood. Sometimes it is an honest motivation. That was, for so many, the appeal of America.

It was also the appeal of the French Foreign Legion, which drew also from this same population of Western drifters and small-time crooks, and turned them into one of the most fearsome fighting forces in the world. The converts came willingly, looking for a new life and a new pride, a life that would be lived under a new and swaggering name, and often lived in a new language -- French, or for al Qaeda, Arabic. The clean break, the heroic image and mythic past, all this drives many who have ruined their own lives to seek out a new, firm guiding hand.

Al Qaeda, by all accounts, does not train its soldiers as well as the Legion did, or does today. That is why they do not enjoy the successes the Legion have enjoyed. Nevertheless, it is no wonder that they find such a ready group of suicides. Many of these people came to them exactly because they wanted to obliterate their lives.