Bowie @ Alamo

Jim Bowie at the Alamo:

This day 1836, Jim Bowie arrived at the Alamo with thirty volunteers. I've occasionally thought of the Alamo over here, on those occasions we've had mortars or rockets. Of course we are not surrounded by an enemy army, nor in danger of being wiped out; the experience here is suggestive, more than similar. You do see "the rocket's red glare; the bombs bursting in air," quite literally in both cases, even though the insurgent's rocket of 2008 is probably somewhat less accurate than the British rocket of 1812.

That said, it does provide me the chance to reflect on the bravery of better men who have gone before. The Alamo is regularly celebrated here at Grim's Hall, and the model of gentlemen that defended her. Americans have long celebrated Crockett and Bowie -- see this collection of 'Bowie style' knives, made from the 1830s through the 1970s; others are still made today.

Bowie was a friend to the pirate Jean Lafitte, as was Andrew Jackson. As Byron wrote of Lafitte:

"He left a corsair’s name to other times,
Linked with one virtue, and a thousand crimes."

We celebrate the virtue, and forgive the crimes; may others remember us as kindly, in spite of ourselves.

UPDATE: On a related note, a question from a Fred Thompson rally:
Man: Fred, I drove over 500 miles to see you.

Thompson: Bless your heart. Let's give this man a hand. (Applause, cheers)

Man: I came over Finch Mountain in a snowstorm. (Pause) May I call you Fred?

Thompson: Absolutely.

Man: That's okay until January and I can call you Mr. President. (Laughter, more applause). Now, I've got a question.

Thompson: Yes sir.

Man: (Pause) I'm looking for a tall man who will stand tall for America. (Pause.) Who will cut the ears off of earmarks! (Pause.) Stop dead illegal immigration! (Pause.) And pull the teeth of activist judges...

Thompson: Yep.

Man: ... who take your house to build 7-Eleven! (Pause, then louder) And I want to know if you've got a Jim Bowie knife and a good strong pair (pause) of Channellock pliers! (Laughter, even more applause, calls of "That's right!" and "Hear, hear!")
The reporter finishes the report by sighing, "I hate being a Yankee."

We can certainly understand that. :)
No Business in the White House, But:

Huckabee's not someone I'd endorse. On the other hand:

"You don't like people from outside the state coming in and telling you what to do with your flag," Huckabee said at a Myrtle Beach campaign event. "In fact, if somebody came to Arkansas and told us what to do with our flag, we'd tell them what to do with the pole."
That was a great line.

Good reading

Readings for Today:

Iowahawk notes the media menace:

A Denver newspaper columnist is arrested for stalking a story subject. In Cincinnati, a television reporter is arrested on charges of child molestation. A North Carolina newspaper reporter is arrested for harassing a local woman. A drunken Chicago Sun-Times columnist and editorial board member is arrested for wife beating. A Baltimore newspaper editor is arrested for threatening neighbors with a shotgun. In Florida, one TV reporter is arrested for DUI, while another is charged with carrying a gun into a high school. A Philadelphia news anchorwoman goes on a violent drunken rampage, assaulting a police officer. In England, a newspaper columnist is arrested for killing her elderly aunt.

Unrelated incidents, or mounting evidence of that America's newsrooms have become a breeding ground for murderous, drunk, gun-wielding child molesters?
With statistics like these, I think we know the answer.

Separately, Cassandra falls in love with a guy who learned from his daughter.
What I’ve come to realize is that there are really two people inside me: the Dude Self and the Dad Self. The Dude Self has an evolutionary mandate. Namely, to get his DNA into all available fertile females. This is how I explain the compulsion toward media sluts, who, after all, sow the fantasy that women exist only for the carnal pleasure of men.

But then there’s the Dad Self. The Dad Self has to worry about the survival of his wife and offspring. It might be said that his genetic material is heavily mortgaged. He regards women differently, especially if he has a daughter. Now he must think about the kind of world in which he’d like her to grow up, and especially how he’d like other males to treat her, which is to say not as a sexual chew toy, but with kindness and respect.
I'm not quite sure why those concepts are supposed to be opposed -- I'd always thought the idea was to manage both at the same time.

Anyway, I note the story to ask: if American Dad has to learn that he has to participate in a society that treats girls as ladies, in order to protect his daughters... what does American Mom have to learn about her sons?

I have my own ideas about that, and I expect most readers can guess what they are. But I'd like to hear your thoughts.

Our Friend the Half-Wit

Our Friend the Half-Wit:

We like you anyway, BloodSpite.


Danton Loves Her, Too:

Hillary, that is.

Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton suggested Sunday that Barack Obama's campaign had injected racial tension into the presidential contest....

"This is an unfortunate story line the Obama campaign has pushed very successfully," the former first lady said in a spirited appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press.""I don't think this campaign is about gender, and I sure hope it's not about race."

Iraqi Heroes

Iraqi Heroes:

Michael Totten writes:

Iraqi Army soldiers have a terrible reputation for cowardice and corruption – especially in Baghdad – but it’s unfair to write them all off after reading the news out of Iraq’s capital Sunday. Three Iraqi Army soldiers tackled a suicide bomber at an Army Day parade and were killed when he exploded his vest....

These Iraqis deserve recognition, and they deserved to be recognized by their names. Yet I could not find their names cited in any media articles. All three of their names generate zero hits using Google at the time of this writing. I had to contact Baghdad myself to find out who they were. Lieutenant Colonel James Hutton was kind enough to pass their names on....

Here are the names of the three brave Iraqis who hurled themselves on an exploding suicide bomber.

Malik Abdul Ghanem
Asa’ad Hussein Ali
Abdul-Hamza Abdul-Hassan Rissan

They were friends the Americans and Iraqis did not know we had until they were gone.


The New Fight:

The Marines are bored:

After preparing to confront one of the most deadly insurgencies America has ever faced, and steeped in the legend of Marine aggressiveness in the counterterrorist fight, the leathernecks of Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines are fighting a pitched battle against boredom.

With violence across the province dropping precipitously over most of the past year, Marines who were girding for a brawl on this latest rotation have had to dial back their warrior ways for a softer approach.

Though their thoughts are tinged with disappointment, many are nevertheless practical about the new reality.

"There's not much going on this time around," said Cpl. Ken Dickerson, 1st squad leader with Lima Company, 3/3's 3rd Platoon. "But at least we're not losing anybody."
It's not so boring here -- we have some pretty aggressive operations ongoing. Yet it's also true that we haven't lost anybody lately. The combination of improved tactics and Iraqi cooperation with the COIN has vastly limited casualties versus last year.

Things can carry on like this just as long as they want.

Moral Instincts

Moral Instincts:

Steven Pinker's latest is in the New York Times; and while I'm sure several of you will scoff at the idea of looking toward that source for hints on morality, it's an interesting read, when taken together with Joe's piece below. It treats the moral dimension in similar terms to those we have employed in debating genetic engineering.

One of the important areas comes when looking at whether there is a rational basis for morality. He cites two:

One is the prevalence of nonzero-sum games. In many arenas of life, two parties are objectively better off if they both act in a nonselfish way than if each of them acts selfishly. You and I are both better off if we share our surpluses, rescue each other’s children in danger and refrain from shooting at each other, compared with hoarding our surpluses while they rot, letting the other’s child drown while we file our nails or feuding like the Hatfields and McCoys. Granted, I might be a bit better off if I acted selfishly at your expense and you played the sucker, but the same is true for you with me, so if each of us tried for these advantages, we’d both end up worse off. Any neutral observer, and you and I if we could talk it over rationally, would have to conclude that the state we should aim for is the one in which we both are unselfish. These spreadsheet projections are not quirks of brain wiring, nor are they dictated by a supernatural power; they are in the nature of things.

The other external support for morality is a feature of rationality itself: that it cannot depend on the egocentric vantage point of the reasoner. If I appeal to you to do anything that affects me — to get off my foot, or tell me the time or not run me over with your car — then I can’t do it in a way that privileges my interests over yours (say, retaining my right to run you over with my car) if I want you to take me seriously. Unless I am Galactic Overlord, I have to state my case in a way that would force me to treat you in kind. I can’t act as if my interests are special just because I’m me and you’re not, any more than I can persuade you that the spot I am standing on is a special place in the universe just because I happen to be standing on it.

Not coincidentally, the core of this idea — the interchangeability of perspectives — keeps reappearing in history’s best-thought-through moral philosophies, including the Golden Rule (itself discovered many times); Spinoza’s Viewpoint of Eternity; the Social Contract of Hobbes, Rousseau and Locke; Kant’s Categorical Imperative; and Rawls’s Veil of Ignorance. It also underlies Peter Singer’s theory of the Expanding Circle — the optimistic proposal that our moral sense, though shaped by evolution to overvalue self, kin and clan, can propel us on a path of moral progress, as our reasoning forces us to generalize it to larger and larger circles of sentient beings.
One of the things we discussed in detail below was the peril to the Golden Rule as a limiting rule of ethics that could arise from tampering with inherited human nature. As we are, the Golden Rule limits us: but it could as easily, and just as rationally, become a license rather than a limitation if we are allowed to edit each other.

The Zero-Sum Game system for judging morality is a basis I hadn't considered. It suffers from one obvious limitation: by its nature, it limits moral judgments to utilitarian grounds. You can use these games to measure whether our sense of ethics is in accord with practical benefits: more food, say.

A key question of ethics, however, is establishing what the good is. Aristotle asserts, I believe correctly, that the rational part of the soul is not useful here: it is the emotive part that determines what is to be desired, and the rational part is limited to means-to-the-end. The Zero-Sum Game method is thus only good as a test for whether the means-to-the-end method is effective or not. As a result, its use as a test for ethics is quite limited.

UPDATE: The long section on what the author calls "trolleyology" demonstrates something important about the dilemma mentioned above.
The gap between people’s convictions and their justifications is also on display in the favorite new sandbox for moral psychologists, a thought experiment devised by the philosophers Philippa Foot and Judith Jarvis Thomson called the Trolley Problem. On your morning walk, you see a trolley car hurtling down the track, the conductor slumped over the controls. In the path of the trolley are five men working on the track, oblivious to the danger. You are standing at a fork in the track and can pull a lever that will divert the trolley onto a spur, saving the five men. Unfortunately, the trolley would then run over a single worker who is laboring on the spur. Is it permissible to throw the switch, killing one man to save five? Almost everyone says “yes.”

Consider now a different scene. You are on a bridge overlooking the tracks and have spotted the runaway trolley bearing down on the five workers. Now the only way to stop the trolley is to throw a heavy object in its path. And the only heavy object within reach is a fat man standing next to you. Should you throw the man off the bridge?


When people pondered the dilemmas that required killing someone with their bare hands, several networks in their brains lighted up. One, which included the medial (inward-facing) parts of the frontal lobes, has been implicated in emotions about other people. A second, the dorsolateral (upper and outer-facing) surface of the frontal lobes, has been implicated in ongoing mental computation (including nonmoral reasoning, like deciding whether to get somewhere by plane or train). And a third region, the anterior cingulate cortex (an evolutionarily ancient strip lying at the base of the inner surface of each cerebral hemisphere), registers a conflict between an urge coming from one part of the brain and an advisory coming from another.

But when the people were pondering a hands-off dilemma, like switching the trolley onto the spur with the single worker, the brain reacted differently: only the area involved in rational calculation stood out. Other studies have shown that neurological patients who have blunted emotions because of damage to the frontal lobes become utilitarians: they think it makes perfect sense to throw the fat man off the bridge. Together, the findings corroborate Greene’s theory that our nonutilitarian intuitions come from the victory of an emotional impulse over a cost-benefit analysis.
That's fine, and useful. But the important questions are these: is it bad that we have nonutilitarian ethical calculations arising from irrational emotions? We may find ourselves with the power to change the conditions in which the emotions rule. Should we? Is that an improvement?

We may also find ourselves with the power to change the emotion that rules in these cases, so that emotion still wins, but not in the way it currently does. Should we? Why? What defensible answer is there to the question, "Why?"

Perilous matters, these.