A Merry New Year To You All:

This New Year's carol starts off very pious and proper; and about halfway in, descends into riot. In this way it is just like a good New Year's celebration.


Memento Mori:

As we close the year, Greyhawk reminds us of what has passed.

The only thing needed to really sell the story was a brigade to actually be "shifted" from a planned Iraq rotation. There were plenty available, but the lucky one chosen to earn Obama his headline (and an all too brief bump in American popularity polls) was the 2nd Infantry Division's 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team.
Like previous Stryker brigades, the 5th Brigade has put dozens of its troops through intensive, 10-month Arabic language training. They were tested in exercises last month....
Those months of training and preparation were scrapped (one example: they don't speak Arabic in Afghanistan) so the phrase "Barack Obama diverts 17,000 soldiers from Iraq to Afghanistan" could appear in newspapers. But while a reduction in force in Iraq as a result of greatly improved conditions there would be both welcome and overdue (and military units go where they're needed), that part of the story was the real "big lie". A mere few days later, the Obama administration would rather quietly announce that "Gen. Odierno will receive a Stryker Brigade to replace the incoming replacement brigade diverted to Afghanistan just a week ago." The 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division was scheduled to deploy to Iraq "several months ahead of the original schedule, Army officials said Monday."

Some comments from those most affected here. But while it was certainly a big story here last year, unlike the news coverage of Obama's "Iraq drawdown" and "diversion of troops from Iraq to Afghanistan", the revelation that it was all actually a complete fraud (and in fact an overall increase in troops in the combat zones) would pass without notice in the American media.


End of year update: Where are they now?...

The 5th is in Afghanistan:

Stryker soldiers say commanders failed them

...In late November, brigade commander Col. Harry Tunnell decided a change had to be made. He replaced Capt. Joel Kassulke, the commander of 1-17's Charlie Company, which had taken 12 of the casualties.

But Kassulke's former soldiers say that not only was he not to blame for the casualties, the 1-17's problems started much, much earlier.

Mismatched training

...The battalion had spent much of the previous two years training for combat, but preparing for the wrong theater -- until February, when it got orders for Afghanistan, 1-17 was scheduled to deploy to Iraq.
Michael Yon has a moving photo essay of their memorial to the soldiers they've lost on this mission.

Greyhawk ends, "Barack Obama is still President of the United States, and recently received the Nobel Peace Prize."

Finally, remember our comrades from the CIA -- that part of the Agency that gets out there, and does what needs to be done. Like the ePRTs from the State Department, regardless of the difficulties of their parent bureaucracy, the ones who 'ride out' are our own kind.

At Last

"At Last"

A young lady I'd not heard of before tonight, named Neko Case, sings here a poem that grabs the attention and holds it for its brief span.

Not bad. "I can say that I've lived here, in honor and danger," but cannot explain life; and at last, go trembling but willingly with death. No, not bad, for a death poem in the Zen tradition. For a country music singer from Alexandria, VA, quite astonishing.

Rose Parade

Rose Parade:

Bthun wanted me to mention that RFDTV will be covering the Rose Parade. They don't cut away from the equine parts of the parade, which is the whole reason to watch the parade for some.

My wife's grandmother used to be a regular ride in the Rose Parade, with a sidesaddle group.

States Take Action

States Take Action on Health Care Reform:

Utah joins the fray:

Utah's attorney general is preparing to joins a lawsuit that challenges the Senate's massive health care reform bill. Utah is one of 10 conservative states prepared to challenge the health care bill.

The reasoning behind the suit goes way beyond the cost of the legislation. The attorneys general, including Utah's Mark Shurtleff, say there are constitutional questions. Even more, they say the so-called Nebraska compromise part of the deal smells of corruption....

[The states] have constitutional questions about mandating state legislatures to enact portions of the bill.

"That's unprecedented. State legislatures can't be mandated by the federal government to do anything," Swallow says.
The Voting Rights Act springs to mind; it mandates that certain (but not all) state legislatures structure their gerrymandering apportionment in certain ways, and then submit them to Federal review. However, that is rooted in clear Constitutional authority: the Constitution itself requires the state to pass laws regarding the handling of elections, and the 14th Amendment imposes the requirement to see that there is equal protection for those who are citizens. Since the states ratified the Constitution and its amendments, this is not the same thing as the Federal government unilaterally assuming the power to order state legislatures to pass certain laws.

That, by the way, is seven constitutional challenges by my reckoning:

1) Is it constitutional for the Federal government to require US citizens to purchase a product as a condition of existence? (General question: where is the authority?)

2) Is it constitutional for the Federal government to override the religious objections of doctors and nurses by forcing them to provide abortion coverage if they are Catholic or otherwise objectors? (First Amendment, freedom of religion.)

3) Is it constitutional for the Federal government to override the religious objections of citizens by forcing them to materially support abortions by paying into a mandatory fund that will be uesd to provide them? (First Amendment, freedom of religion.)

4) Is it constitutional for the Federal government to impose the religious objections of Rep. Stupak and others on women by allowing the banning of abortion coverage? (First Amendment, freedom of conscience.)

5) Is it constitutional for the Federal government to rewrite the insurance industry's practices in such a comprehensive way, without providing just compensation for their existing investments, and a fair profit margin? (Fifth Amendment, seizure without recompense; see Prof. Epstein's paper.)

6) Is it constitutional for the Federal government to override what appears to be a clear statement by the Tenth Amendment that this is an area left to the states? (Tenth Amendment, powers not delegated.)

7) Is it constitutional for the Federal government to dictate to state legislatures what laws they will pass? (General, where is the authority?)

I'd add an additional one: is it constitutional for the Federal government to adjudicate such a dispute in Federal courts? The constitution created both the State and Federal governments, with separate spheres of authority. The 14th Amendment broadened the Federal authority to a very great degree, and brought state laws within the scope of Federal courts. However, I don't see that it likewise made the Federal courts the proper place to answer questions about where Federal power ends and State power begins.

That is a question that neither sphere of government could expect to examine dispassionately. It seems to me to be an issue that is meant to be resolved not in court, but with the democratic mechanisms. The Federal government has a clear interest in the disposition of the power structure, as do the State governments. The People are the only ones who should be making these choices.

That implies a need to answer the question through the amendment process, or the Constitutional convention process. Those move through the democratic mechanisms, in order to return the question to the People and seek a clear, new authority. No other settlement should be considered valid, I would think, given the clear conflict of interest that the court would have.

Bendigo Shafter

Grim's Hall Book Club: Bendigo Shafter

Several of you have suggested to me over the years that we do a book club, like we used to do the movie club. I think I've come across the right book for that, if enough of you are willing to commit to the project.

The initial book is Louis L'amour's Bendigo Shafter. You can probably get it from your library sytem; if not, it is available from Amazon both used and new for a reasonable price. (Grim's Hall is not an Amazon affiliate; I merely wanted to simplify your obtaining the book.)

The book is a Western adventure of the type L'amour loved to write, but it is also the fullest explanation of his ideas about how a young man should be educated. Too, it includes a number of passages that make clear his ideas about the good life, right ethics, and politics.

My idea is that we'd start with this rather pleasant read, and then follow it up by reading at least the best of the books he has his young hero read. I am thinking we could get some of you to lead the discussion on books that you are personally well-prepared to discuss: for example, Eric might lead the discussion on Plutarch, and Major Joel Leggett might take the discussion on Blackstone. That way, even if everyone can't read every book, we'd all benefit from the project.

Most of the subsequent books should be available online, as well as through libraries, which will keep the cost of participating in the club to a minimum. I think it would be illuminating.

Who would like to participate?

Security and Travel

Security and Travel:

John Derbyshire remarks that the future of commercial airline travel does not appear bright:

If, as seems likely, we are in an arms race between, on one side, crazy jihadis fired up with visions of paradise, and on the other, bored airport-security personnel on minimum wage, it looks inevitable that sooner or later the jihadis will score one. What's to be done?

• Stop issuing visas to citizens of Muslim countires? No, the jihadis are all over. This next batch is British-born.
Cops fear that 25 British-born Muslims are plotting to bomb Western airliners. The fanatics, in five groups, are now training at secret terror camps in Yemen … The British extremists in Yemen are in their early 20s and from Bradford, Luton and Leytonstone, East London. They are due to return to the UK early in 2010 and will then await Internet instructions from al-Qaeda on when to strike.
• Stop issuing visas to Muslims? Identified how? By name? What about this guy?

• Trust the feddle gubmint to maintain efficient databases on terror suspects? Ha ha ha ha ha!

• Trust the Department of Homeland Security to keep one step ahead of jihadi ingenuity? Woo-hoo hoo hoo!

• Vanquish evil at its source? Okay, how's that going? Not so well.

It seems to me that the future of commercial air travel is not bright. The business is already part-militarized; and military protocols don't mix well with commerce. A rash of successful terrorist bombings could kill off the whole industry.
The military actually handles this whole business of trans-Atlantic flights much better. I've taken military-chartered aircraft across the pond several times, and I'm always impressed with how well it compares to civilian flying. The military protocols make it much easier to do thorough security checks, smoothly and efficiently.

Too, the military prefers that you keep your rifle with you; and permits any knife under three inches in length as well. Since we still teach pugil stick fighting in the services, every one of those rifles remains a powerful weapon even without ammunition. I'd like to see the jihadi who could hijack a SAMS flight.

The TSA's personnel are less impressive than the military's; and its mindset is purely reactive. This latest nonsense about not having reading material in your lap during the last hour of the flight, for example -- the Christmas bombing was supposed to happen during the last hour of the flight, 'So obviously we need to lock that down!'

Yet the 9/11 hijackings, please recall, were designed to happen during the first hour of flight, when the planes would still be full of fuel. That was what made the planes such explosive and powerful weapons, capable of taking down skyscrapers. By focusing your eye on the last bombing, you've forgotten the first one. By obsessing about this latest threat, you've created a new opening for an attack based on the more dangerous model. They're in your OODA loop, as Ymar likes to say.

This time, that wasn't enough. The very thing that saved this last flight was jihadi inventiveness -- their very innovative bombing design didn't work, as prototypes often do not when first tried under field conditions. Their adaptiveness both allowed them to get the bomb on the plane, but was the source of the bomb's failure. This isn't the first time this problem has arisen for them, and it won't be the last.

We've got some good tools to apply to the problem -- our counterterror intelligence efforts had this guy's number, for example, if only someone had listened to them.

Meanwhile, why not take the train? At 217 MPH, you could link Atlanta to Boston in five hours; six, if you include a few minutes for stops in each Charlotte, Greensboro, Richmond, D.C., Philadelphia, NYC, and then Boston itself. We'd get a lot more out of such a line than China will out of its train: if you built it robustly enough, it could handle a substantial amount of the day-to-day business travel in America. If you're looking for a jobs program in a difficult economy, I can think of worse ones; unlike most government spending, we'd be getting something tangible out of it.

Meanwhile, train cars can be stronger than a plane's body, and can be made smaller: you can contain a bomb with one, I mean to say, segmenting the maximum amount of damage a single bomb can do. It's not a good answer for trans-Atlantic flights, but you could redirect a substantial amount of our national air travel onto high-speed rails, while foiling terrorist designs and benefitting the manufacturing and labor sectors of our economy at the same time.

May God Defend the Right

May God Defend the Right:

Trial by combat pit a miracle of God each time, by invoking his aid in bringing about a just settlement to a case decided by wager of battle. Surely the mullahs would join such a prayer today, would they not?

This is the point at which the entire Bush-and-Clinton administration strategy for Iran is coming to a head: to pressure the regime while offering at least rhetorical support to those Iranian people who seek democracy in their hearts. The current administration wanted a different strategy, of engagement with the regime; and therefore, has chosen to allow the regime to isolate the people we once encouraged.

There is little we can do but pray, as the levers of power belong to those who have set that course. We must abide the result of the prayer, and the wager it represents.

Ashura, by the way, is the day of mourning for the martyrdom of Ali, who stands at the fountainhead of Shi'a Islam. Modern men, born centuries after the battle in which Ali was killed, cut and whip themselves to shed their blood in sorrow for the fact that 'we were not there to defend you.'

Mark that well. It may be we will one day wish that we had been there, now, when it mattered.

Arctic Explorers - Reminder

Arctic Explorers and a Reminder -

I see that this week's WSJ "five best" is about books on Arctic Explorers. The fifth is by Roald Amundsen, the Norwegian explorer who was also the first to the South Pole.

Some years ago, I read The Last Place on Earth, a parallel biography of Amundsen and the English explorer Robert Falcon Scott. This account points very strongly to this conclusion: Amundsen spent his whole life preparing for his explorations, from his youthful cross-country skiing through an extended sojourn among the Eskimos through several Arctic voyages. Scott, by contrast, was ill-prepared, inefficient, and egotistical (thinking Amundsen should refrain from seeking the Pole because it was somehow "his"), and as you know his expedition all died (amongst other things, Amundsen managed to keep his dog teams for the entire journey; Scott brought ponies, who were all killed for food, and sent his dogs back long before the trip was over, hauling gear by human muscle). Yet Scott has been an inspiration to many - even to Ralph Vaughan Williams, whose Sinfonia Antarctica started as the score to Scott of the Antarctic - and was buried under stirring words from Tennyson: "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."

In exploration as in warfare, there is something to be said for the fanatic, who will perform prodigious feats of endurance and bravery. But it is the professional who wins, and brings his men home alive.

A thought

A Thought Worth Considering:

The oath-bound among us might consider the Donovan's correspondent:

[M]aybe we should beat them to the punch...convene, "on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States," a Constitutional Convention, not for the purpose of amending the Constitution, but instead, dissolving the Union.
I was touched to see that he cites not only the language that is present in both the oath of enlistment and the military officer's oath of office; but also the Boy Scout oath.

Bthun and I were discussing a recent article on the subject of a constitutional convention, as called by the states. There might be some promise in that; the math of the convention is the math of the electoral college, whereby the states are equal regardless of population density. That might permit a right-of-center revision of the Constitution, though not far right; but it could avoid a runaway constitution that decides to find a 'right to health care' and 'right to housing,' and instead focuses on rebalancing the power between the Federal government and the states.

Nevertheless, dissolving the union in this fashion is not a suggestion wholly without merit. It would use Constitutional means to prevent further abuses of the Constitution. It would preserve it, by ending it faithfully on its own terms, rather than suffering to see it ignored and abused and deformed by the base political class we seem blessed with today.

The Constitution would pass into history, but it would be safe there. No one could do it further harm. The loss of the union would have severe economic consequences, but so does continuing the union under such leadership as we have had -- not only in this Congress, but in the previous ones, Republican and Democrat alike. We are left to wonder whether the loss of unity could impose worse costs than the Federal government's enforcement of beggaring debt upon the states, and upon future generations.

There is also the specter of war, which seems more real every year. We are deepy divided against each other, and in the worst way: our visions of beauty are different. That, above all differences, will lead to blood. Our vision of beauty is the thing most important to us, the thing we will fight for even against ourselves. Against others? Oh, readily.

I will not dismiss the option, as John does. It may not be the worst thing that could come of this. The worst thing is civil war: that is the one thing that must be avoided at all costs. A civil, Constitutional decision by the several states to go their separate ways would be far preferable to a collapse into war. It would let us keep our oaths, and prevent us from having to see the Constitution treated as dead paper by the government it was meant to bind.

The Strenuous Life

Security and Disaster:

Theodore Roosevelt, born weak and asthmatic, went west and grew strong with his country. He hunted bandits and cattle and grizzly bear, led the volunteer Rough Riders up a hill in the Spanish-American War, and led his nation to a new strength and pride of place in the world. In 1899, after the war, he gave a speech called 'The Strenuous Life.'

I wish to preach, not the doctrine of ignoble ease, but the doctrine of the strenuous life, the life of toil and effort, of labor and strife; to preach that highest form of success which comes, not to the man who desires mere easy peace, but to the man who does not shrink from danger, from hardship, or from bitter toil, and who out of these wins the splendid ultimate triumph.... Above all, let us shrink from no strife, moral or physical, within or without the nation, provided we are certain that the strife is justified, for it is only through strife, through hard and dangerous endeavor, that we shall ultimately win the goal of true national greatness.
Cassandra's post of the 23rd evoked this spirit, in a fashion. She likewise finds that people are shying, not just from national greatness, but toward a life of ease. They want to be sheltered not just from hardship, but from even the sense of risk.
During the election I listened to Barack and Michelle Obama and I realized that there is a vast gulf between what they believe - their expectations - and mine. I grew up in a different America: one in which failure was always a possibility but in which there was also the promise of abundance beyond my wildest dreams. In many ways that is the world we live in now. Our homes, cars, electronic devices are newer, faster, cheaper, and more fully functional than anything I dreamed of back then.

What disturbed me about their words was the realization that they viewed struggling and uncertainty as the Enemy. Whereas I viewed those things as the means to an end; goads that made me uncomfortable but also provided the impetus to propel me from my present state into a far better existence. They made me dissatisfied but also gave me hope that tomorrow would be better than today.

I think Instapunk touched on an interesting thought in his essay. The God I grew up with was a demanding God. We were taught that man is sinful by nature and that only by constant struggle can we hope to transcend our lower selves. That was the essence and the meaning of life: constant struggle to overcome; to improve; to adapt and conquer.
Elise greatly appreciated the piece, as have others. Two things about it strike me.

First, the movement from love-of-risk to love-of-security being described has a clear model in economic theory. Joseph Schumpeter described exactly that tendency in examining why the collapse of capitalism predicted by Marx had not occurred. Marx had thought that capitalism would cause industries to trend to monopolies, which would always be able to use their capital and scale to crush startup competitors.

Not so, Schumpeter pointed out: for the big corporation will ossify. It will try to cement its position in the lead through regulations and rules and deals and alliances, and those things will slow it down. Newer competitors will be able to outperform it, because their decision cycle will be shorter and they will have less weighting their motions. (This is economics predicting the OODA loop, about fifty years before Colonel Boyd had the same realization about the importance of speedy decisions in fighter pilots.)

The Obama administration only wants to do what General Motors already did: build an unassailable system in which no one has to struggle. The CEO may make more than the union man on the factory floor, but the union man has no reason to complain: he is making a prodigious salary and has gold-plated benefits. With labor satisfied and management well-compensated, the dominance of the mighty GM machine will last forever.

It should have been edifying that one of the first tasks of the Obama administration was to bail out General Motors, to such a degree that it ended up taking an ownership position in the company. It is a failure: the model doesn't work. When it rubs up against reality, it breaks every time.

The other thing that struck me was that Cassandra doesn't share Teddy Roosevelt's love of risk and riding the ragged edge. In retrospect, she's grateful that she did, because it worked well: her children were always clean and mannerly, although-- no, because -- she was forever afraid they wouldn't be.

Roosevelt was one of my kind: he loved the risk because it was a risk. When I was reading Cassandra's essay, I was struck by her concern with "keeping up appearances." I was, I might say, shamed to admit that I never felt the impulse. There's a fine old Irish song about that:
I'm a rambler, I'm a gambler, I'm a long way from home. And them that don't like me can leave me alone. I'll eat when I'm hungry and drink when I'm dry, and the moonshine don't kill me I'll live 'till I die.
Tex Ritter did a western version of that, which he called "Rye Whiskey." That's always been my model, and it's not necessarily a good one however honorable its heritage. Chesterton wrote that it is dangerous for a man to live on a mountain, because he comes to think of other people as ants. Well to look at a mountain from below, he said, and reflect on the glory of God; but among men, where you are forced to think of yourself as only one of the many. I haven't done that, but have held apart, and sought mountains and far places; that may be my failing and the source of many bad qualities.

Still, nobody is perfect, and we are lucky to know it.
[O]ne winter night I sat up in bed next to my sleeping husband with the sudden realization that I’d done terrible things. You know the kinds of regrets you periodically remember through your life, and the way they sting every time? That night I thought about how I’d cherished grudges against a difficult colleague — perhaps because news of her serious illness had arrived that day. Right on top of it came the thought that my marriage to the father of my children hadn’t lasted nearly as long as hers, and that I’d gotten divorced — more than once. Then the abortion I had in grad school came crowding in. And so on. The memories were old and familiar, but taken together they imposed a new and heavy weight. I’d cultivated my pleasure in someone else’s pain. I’d broken solemn promises to “love and honor until death do us part.” I’d even ended a human life. And so on.

Maybe it was because I’d been reading C. S. Lewis, but sitting there in the dark I realized that I had cut myself a lot of slack.
C. S. Lewis will do that to you. It's good for you, though: it was plainly good for Cassandra. And her children, who turned out very well from what I've heard.

Whether you love the risks or you don't, then, the strenuous life is the right road. For the lovers of horses and swords, song and strong beer, bright food and powerful coffee, it's just one more source of joyous encounter. For those who are nervous about the chance of failure, it's a goad to drive them to do more than they might have otherwise done. It doesn't let you cut yourself slack.

More, it keeps the nation strong. Joseph Schumpeter's theory has proven to be the most reliable law in economics. It will prove likewise to be the most reliable law in political science.

Roosevelt and Schumpeter were right. It's the bold life that counts, and builds; it's the life that risks that has a chance to win.

Creating Brotherly Love

Creating Brotherly Love:

The Cowboy Way:

This cowboy wasn't about to let a crook rustle him out of a good truck.

A Kalispell man chased down the thief who stole his pickup truck and held him for police despite being stabbed twice in the arm. And he kept his cowboy hat on the whole time, said Kalispell Police Detective Kevin McCarvel.

The man started his Ford F-250 diesel pickup late Monday afternoon to warm it up before leaving work. But when he walked out of the office at about 5 p.m., he saw his truck being driven away, McCarvel said Wednesday.

The truck owner ran and jumped in the bed of the truck and used his cell phone to call police.

"The nice part about it was the victim in this was obviously giving directions the whole way," McCarvel said Wednesday, "so it made him pretty easy to find."

The truck traveled six to eight blocks before the thief pulled over and took off running.

The 26-year-old truck owner quickly checked the cab, thought the thief had taken his wallet, grabbed a hand gun and began chasing him on foot.
He caught the thief, who pulled a knife on him. Sadly, the thief is in custody tonight, having survived the encounter by a compound of miracle and mercy.

The Boar's Head

The Boar's Head:

Joe was right: this is a fitting tune for the feast.

Joy to you all.

Brotherly Love From Popeye

Popeye's Brotherly Love:

This cartoon happened to be playing on television today while we were over at Grandma's house. It's a fairly concise summary of the argument that justice doesn't imply a presumption against the use of force.

Not a bad bit of philosophizing, for a Popeye cartoon; and a reminder, on Christmas Day, that those of us who wish for brotherly love must always stand prepared to create the peace in which it flourishes. This is the world we were given, and our duty in it.

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to all the guests and friends of the Hall.

COL Howard

Respects, Sir:

Via SWJ, an obituary:

Retired Army Col. Robert L. Howard, 70, who died Wednesday in Waco, was a Medal of Honor winner who at the time of his death was believed to be the most-decorated living American soldier. Howard will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery...

Howard, who grew up in Opelika, Ala., enlisted in the Army in 1956 at the age of 17 and retired as a full colonel in 1992.

In Vietnam, he served in the U.S. Army Special Forces and spent most of his five tours in the secret Military Assistance Command, Vietnam-Studies and Observation Group, or MACV-SOG, which was...
That's all right. That unit needs no introduction here. Here was a man, ladies and gentlemen.

Christmas at the movies

Christmas at the Movies:

Mark Steyn has a list of great war films featuring Christmas.

Greyhawk, meanwhile, had the best Christmas-and-war movie I've seen in an age. This is what every soldier's familiy dreams of, though only so few can have it. But for those few, we ought to be happy.

Hawk also has a caption contest.

Did We Win?

So... Did We Win?

Today has some very odd stories all over Memeorandum. I'm starting to think that the health care bill has died on us, while showing every sign of rocketing to a successful close.

I'm not sure why this is happening. I mean, I know about the polls; and I recognize that the left and the right both hate it. I understand that it's a terrible mess, and I've got no idea why anyone would actually want to pass it. However, until today I've been convinced that passing it was the first order of business on the minds of the national Democratic party.

It came through the House on a squeaker, though; and the Senate version passed with a zero-vote margin to spare. Now Congress has to come home on recess, to constituents who are very angry about the whole thing. When they come back in January, apparently the President wants to do something else for a while -- until after his State of the Union speech, at least.

Meanwhile, constitutional challenges to the program continue to mount. Here's another one:

Conservative critics contend that the provision violates the Constitution's "takings clause," which says "private property [cannot] be taken for public use, without just compensation."

Democrats counter that the mandate is necessary to make the planned overhaul of the health-care system work, and ensure that as many people as possible participate in the system. Under the Senate bill, individuals who don't purchase coverage would face a financial penalty up to $750.
The reply to the charge that the law is unconstitutional is, "It's necessary to our plans"? Shouldn't that call the whole project into question, then?

Yes, it should, especially given the Fifth Amendment (Prof. Epstein), First Amendment (re: abortion, both sides), Tenth Amendment (this appears to be an area constitutionally left to the states) and no-obvious-authorization-in-the-Constitution-anyway issues.

I'm starting to wonder if the weight of all this, especially its poisonous polling, is starting to weigh it down. After a symbolic end-of-year victory, the Senate will adjourn. What happens in the New Year? I'd have thought a quick conference committee, and a done deal; but perhaps not, after all.
The Rule of Three:

Jokes get funnier the more often you tell them. It builds expectations in your audience, who know the punchline is coming, and just can't wait to hear it. Remember that clever joke from the White House about how Ms. Dunn's favorite political philosophers were Mother Theresa and Chairman Mao? They were angling at the irony of the juxtaposition, you know, playing for laughs.

Isn't it even funnier this time?

Mao on a Christmas tree! The irony, the irony! Using the Warhol image gives it just that same edge of plausible deniability that Ms. Dunn was striving to maintain with the Mother Theresa linkage. We can say it, but you can't prove we meant it.

Mt. Rushmore with the Obama face added is a nice touch, too. B+, all around.

China Pollution

Pollution in China:

A far better photographer than I am captures a few images of the 'miracle of China.' He has a real talent for clarifying the image: all my photos of China are a little unclear, because of the soot in the air. He manages to get very sharp images and color, which took some real talent.

Next time someone tells you that China is poised to take over the world, remember what you see here.


On the Need for ROTC:


Anyone who had ever studied cavalry tactics would know better than that.

Actually, you'd think that anyone who had any experience with football would know better. Failing that, though, the cavalry would have straightened them out.

Shalt Steal

Thou Shalt Not Steal:

Far be it from me to argue theology with a priest, but...

But his advice was roundly condemned by police and the local Tory MP. Father Jones, 42, was discussing Mary and the birth of Jesus when he went on to the subject of how poor and vulnerable people cope in the run-up to Christmas.

'My advice, as a Christian priest, is to shoplift,' he told his stunned congregation at St Lawrence and St Hilda in York.

'I do not offer such advice because I think that stealing is a good thing, or because I think it is harmless, for it is neither.

'I would ask that they do not steal from small family businesses, but from large national businesses, knowing that the costs are ultimately passed on to the rest of us in the form of higher prices.

'I would ask them not to take any more than they need.'
Now, Christianity does have a strong sense of sympathy to the thieves and beggars, the poor and forsaken. Jesus himself was not unkind to a thief or two, although that's more the Easter than the Christmas story. Furthermore, I understand the concept that it's better to shoplift than to commit armed robbery; and I'll accept for the sake of argument that it's better than prostitution.

Nevertheless, I think this is a fairly radical departure from normal Christian ethics. Surely it's Christian to forgive, yet say "Go forth, and sin no more"; but I'm not sure it's fitting to say, "Go forth and sin, but try not to be piggish about it." It's surely Christian to say, "Charity is the greatest good"; it's arguably Christian to say, "The government should enforce charity through taxes where it is insufficient"; but I'm not sure it's right to say, "Go ahead and steal from big chains, as it's just another way of creating a transfer payment from us to you."

But, again, I'm not a priest. I'm just a man who's interested in the subject.

Stupid Congress Tricks

Foolish Congress Tricks:

This is not the best idea that anyone ever had.

There ’s one provision that I found particularly troubling and it’s under section C, titled “Limitations on changes to this subsection.”

And I quote — “It shall not be in order in the Senate or the House of Representatives to consider any bill, resolution, amendment, or conference report that would repeal or otherwise change this subsection.”

This is not legislation. It’s not law. This is a rule change. It’s a pretty big deal. We will be passing a new law and at the same time creating a Senate rule that makes it out of order to amend or even repeal the law.

I’m not even sure that it’s constitutional, but if it is, it most certainly is a Senate rule. I don’t see why the majority party wouldn’t put this in every bill.
The long term effects of this will be harmful even from Sen. Reid's perspective. One thing that capitalists are very good at is finding and exploiting loopholes in the law. If you've set up a rationing board -- that is apparently the subsection that can't be altered or repealed -- to govern capitalistic doctors and hospitals in their provision of services, they will eventually figure out where the loopholes in your law are.

The system will be gamed, because every system involving serious money is always gamed. With billions of dollars at stake, you can bet there are going to be some clever lawyers working at sorting out just where and how they can do it. And since you rammed the law through long before you had time to fully digest it, the odds of it being perfect and loophole free approach zero.

So, even if you're Sen. Reid, you're going to want to make some changes down the line. When you go to do it, though, you'll find that you've locked yourself out.

Two More

Two More on "Who Wants This?"

Ezra Klein has an unusually useful piece, responding to Jane Hamsher. Perhaps because it's blue on blue, he avoids the usual rhetoric (like the other day, when he was asserting that bill-opposers simply prefer to let thousands die), and lays out a careful case for what he sees as the bill's good points. Klein is something of an insider in this matter, so his writing is useful for seeing how the bill's authors would like you to understand their intentions. Most likely, they really do see themselves in roughly this way: normally people want to think well of themselves, and it's helpful to see how they construct that view.

I do agree that the refusal to buy insurance is the 'best deal' in the plan. I was reading that as a flaw in the structure of the plan, but he seems to be billing it as a 'feature, not a bug,' as they say.

So that's the case for 'why this bill is really a good thing.'

On the cynical side, Reclusive Leftist has a piece that asserts that the bill is really about trying to capture campaign contributions. Generally I think cynicism is a bad way to go about living your life; but when pondering Congress, a certain amount of it is clearly warranted.

Southern Baptist Taliban

Mastering the Topic Sentence:

Writing courses will tell you that you need to construct a sentence that will express your main point in a clear, easy to understand fashion. It's quite an art to be able to capture an entire article in a single sentence. It's not very easy to do it in an opening paragraph.

I think I may have discovered a technique for approaching the problem. Sometimes, the best thing to do is to look for your escape clause:

...the Taliban’s plans for women far exceed the darkest imaginings of the Southern Baptists...
Really, that's the whole article right there. The qualifier put in to avoid objections neatly captures everything she wanted to say. 'The Taliban are far worse than the Baptists, but they're along the same line.'

Things are getting better recently, though, she finishes:
There’s no doubt that many women’s lives are better than they were a century, even a half century, ago. Women can vote and own property. Abortion has been legalized in many countries, at least for the moment. But organized religion, and the anxieties and terrors it encourages and employs as a means of social control, have fought—and continue to fight—these positive changes, every step of the way.
I'm not familiar with the Baptist effort to prevent women owning property. As for abortion, you know, I used to feel as Bthun said yesterday: it was a topic I wanted to avoid at all costs. My longstanding philosophy was that I was opposed to abortion, but would excercise that opposition purely within my private sphere of action. I was content to not cause any abortions, and to leave others their full range of choices as well.

More and more, though, I'm not sure that's tenable.

A Toast to Miss Langtry

A Toast to Miss Langtry:

Judge Roy Bean, as portrayed by Walter Brennan. He was rarely given the lead, but he was a fine player all the same.

Const. Issues w/ Healthcare

Constitutional Issues:

On the left, Riverdaughter writes that the health care bill is an unconstitutional violation of her freedom of religion.

With anti-abortion measures, women are not just subject to the state, they are forced to recognize a religious presence in their lives whether they have faith or not. Men do not need to recognize any faith. They are allowed complete freedom of conscience.

In fact, a crisis of conscience is only respected when women decide to end a pregnancy. If religious people decide to kill innocent civilians as the collateral damage in a proxy religious war halfway around the world, the rest of us still have to pay taxes for this endeavor regardless of our crisis of conscience.
Actually, there are two precise parallels for the other side in the health care bill. The absence of a conscience clause means that religious people are also being stripped of their right to freedom of religion: if they are health care workers, they can be forced to perform procedures they find evil. They are forced to participate in a system that is hostile to one of their most basic, personal beliefs.

Further, just as in the 'paying for a war we don't support' metric, the Federal taxes collected will pay for abortion coverage nationwide. Even if your state 'opts out,' you're still on the hook.
Under Reid’s “manager’s amendment,” there is no prohibition on abortion coverage in federally subsidized plans participating in the Exchange. Instead the amendment includes layers of accounting gimmicks that demand that plans participating in the Exchange or the new government-run plan that will be managed by the Office of Personnel Management must establish “allocation accounts” when elective abortion is a covered benefit (p. 41). Everyone enrolled in these plans must pay a monthly abortion premium (p. 41, lines 5-8), and these funds will be used to pay for the elective abortion services. The Reid amendment directs insurance companies to assess the cost of elective abortion coverage (p. 43), and charge a minimum of $1 per enrollee per month (p. 43, lines 20-22).
So, really, it's "fair." Or, rather, completely unfair, but to everyone equally.

That said, I think she has an excellent idea that I'd love to see adopted as a Constitutional amendment. We need to allow individuals to opt-out of taxes for things they don't support.

I envision something like an IRS form with check boxes for things we're actually willing to pay for out of our pockets. ("Your full tax bill is $21,085. However, if you choose not to support Social Security and Medicare, deduct $12,345, recognizing that any failure to support these programs in any year makes you permanently ineligible for benefits. If you choose not to support the military, deduct $2,109, recognizing that you'll still get the benefits of the Army, you freeloader. If you choose not to support the US Institute of Peace, deduct $25, recognizing that there were no real benefits to be had anyway.") A computerized 1040 should be able to do the math without too much hassle.

Congress would be free to recommend budgetary levels for various program: they could recommend 10% of your total tax bill be devoted to the military (thus, 'deduct $2,109 if you don't support the military.') However, they'd be limited to spending only what came in, and no more. If they absolutely needed more for a given purpose, they could sell a special bond issue for that purpose. If it didn't sell, well, too bad.

I can't think of anything that would be more effective at restraining the size of the Federal government than giving individuals more control over how much money we really send the Feds.

UPDATE: In addition to the First Amendment issues, Prof. Richard Epstein cites some serious Fifth Amendment problems. His argument appears to be that people who have invested in building a corporation, say an insurance company, have a right to just compensation if that corporation is effectively seized as a public utility. There is apparently quite a bit of constitutional law on the subject, and the Reid bill appears to the professor to violate that law in a number of different ways.

As to which, I never did hear a satisfying answer as to how establishing an 'individual mandate' was a legitimate constitutional power of Congress. I'd still like that to be carefully accounted for before we proceed; but failing that, since the concept appears to be to rush this through before it's available for careful accounting, it's another probably source of litigation.

Nothing for Anyone

Nothing for Anyone:

So, why are we considering passing this health care bill? It's vastly unpopular, yes; and not for no reason! It's got taxes on 'Cadillac' health plans, which the unions hate, as do the gainfully employed in general. It's got no public option, no Medicare buy-in, yet mandatory insurance requirements, which the Left hates. It's got government forcing you to buy something you may not need or want, which the economic conservatives hate. It's got a mandatory montly fee for abortion, which social conservatives hate. Libertarians hate everything about the plan. Doctors apparently don't like it. The elderly are justly concerned about the death panel cost-controlling aspet; the young are justly concerned about being forced to buy very costly insurance they don't really need, given the minimal salaries that accompany inexperience and youth.

Who is the constituency for this bill? Insurance companies? Congress? Is there any demographic of Americans who really wants this thing?

UPDATE: I may have expressed myself badly before, so let me clarify. I understand that legislation is the art of compromise, so that even with a good bill, there will be parts of it that everyone doesn't like. In that regard, this might be read as a 'good' bill, because every faction has 'given' something.

The problem is, I don't see the other side: what's anyone getting? The papers all say that we'll be getting 'coverage for thirty million uninsured,' but I can't see that we are: the penalty for not buying insurance is much less than the cost of maintaining the insurance. So, we'll continue to have millions of uninsured -- it's just that they'll have the right to buy insurance when they want it. We could easily have tens of millions more uninsured, as people realize there's no reason to pay the freight to obtain the health care they want.

The House bill's rather heavy-handed response to this is to criminalize 'willful failure' to maintain insurance. That's no solution, though: it'll cost much more to keep tens of millions of people in prison than it would to pay for their health care. (After all, in prison you have to pay for their health care, and also feed and house them, and monitor them 24/7). They may be hoping to imprison a few 'examples' to terrorize the rest of us into compliance, but that won't work on the target population any more than the anti-drug laws have worked. Instead, you'll end up with another unevenly or rarely-enforced statute, openly mocked by the class of people it's meant to control.

We're getting all these sacrifices. We'll be paying much higher taxes in a variety of ways. Those of you with employer-sponsored health care will probably lose it, as the employers find it cheaper to pay the penalty versus keeping the coverage. If you don't, it'll be taxed as a 'Cadillac' plan. (You have too much insurance for our own good!) If you have no insurance, you'll be free to buy it; and if you don't, you'll be taxed for that (or possibly thrown in jail, but again, I can't imagine the government has the stones to pull the trigger on that option to the degree necessary to make it effective; and even if they did, that only increases the cost to the government).

The American Spectator article mocks:

I will be able to drop my coverage completely and save myself almost $4,000 a year, knowing that if I ever get sick and need services, I can sign-up and get coverage immediately. Not only that, but I will be able to sign-up, get the service I need, and drop the coverage the next month.
Yet even that isn't true, since 'the service I need' may not be covered by the government mandated plan -- especially for a costly 'older' American. And other plans will be either less affordable (Cadillac!), or unavailable.

Meanwhile, the laws mandating emergency rooms to treat anyone who shows up will remain in place. So, really, for those at the very bottom -- the ones who have the most trouble organizing their lives -- nothing will change at all. They won't buy the 'we can't turn you away' insurance until/unless they need it, and only for as long as they need it; and they don't need it at all, because they can continue to do what they do now, demand free care and then walk away from the bill.

I'm honestly not seeing the upside. What is anyone getting out of this? We aren't getting a nation of happily-insured people. We aren't getting happier doctors. We're not even getting abortion-on-demand-for-free, for those who wanted that. Neither are we getting a conscience-clause or a refusal to mandate that we all pay for abortions for those who wanted that. It appears that everything anyone thought was good has been negotiated away.

Who is the constituency who wants this?

Geologists love beer

Geologists Love Beer:

One hundred seventy-five kegs is quite a bit for a single week, but God love them for it!

“Science doesn’t work when people keep secrets and don’t share their data,” said Daniel Jaffe of the University of Washington. ”And what could be better to help with the free flow of information?”
A very fine point. We wouldn't be in this position with the CRU if they'd had enough beers with enough people.


"Happiness is an Activity"

A philosophy professor I once had used to define Aristotle's idea of happiness that way: "Happiness is an activity, and the particular kind of activity that it is, is rational activity in accord with excellence."

Toward which, a map of red/blue states as refined from the last three elections:

...and a list of the happiest states. "A new study found that a person's self-reported happiness matches up with objective measures of state-level happiness." What did these unified studies find?

1. Louisiana
2. Hawaii
3. Florida
4. Tennessee
5. Arizona
6. Mississippi
7. Montana
8. South Carolina
9. Alabama
10. Maine
11. Alaska
12. North Carolina
13. Wyoming
14. Idaho
15. South Dakota
16. Texas
17. Arkansas
18. Vermont
19. Georgia
20. Oklahoma
21. Colorado
22. Delaware
23. Utah
24. New Mexico
25. North Dakota
26. Minnesota
27. New Hampshire
28. Virginia
29. Wisconsin
30. Oregon
31. Iowa
32. Kansas
33. Nebraska
34. West Virginia
35. Kentucky
36. Washington
37. District of Columbia
38. Missouri
39. Nevada
40. Maryland
41. Pennsylvania
42. Rhode Island
43. Massachusetts
44. Ohio
45. Illinois
46. California
47. Indiana
48. Michigan
49. New Jersey
50. Connecticut
51. New York
There are few blue states in the top twenty, Maine, Hawaii, and Vermont. Hawaii, as we know, is really its own little world. The others are part of the Northeast, but eccentrict members of that club. Vermont has the best firearms laws in the United States, so that the NRA often refers to "Vermont-style carry" as the ideal. Maine, we know from our studies of armed forces recruiting, boasts military service well above average for the Northeast, and the highest percentage of service academy admissions of any state.

Now, look at the cluster from 40 down -- even a few above 40, but the very bottom of the list. Indiana, where there is a severe and sustained economic crisis, is the only pink state on the list. The rest are the deepest blue parts of the country.

One of the state-based criteria for happiness was population density, so one could argue that the study was biased against populous states of the sort that tend towards blue policies (because that's where the blue-trending political organizations are concentrated: unions, for example). Yet the person-by-person 'self-reported' happiness lines up with these things. That would seem to confirm that, far from being 'bias,' population density is a fair standard for happiness.

Confer. I'm interested in your thoughts.

Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes:

While tooling around on Hulu last night, I found an ad for a new Sherlock Holmes movie that is to be coming out. It will have to be good indeed, if it is to compare with the best of all such films.

Now, that's a classic.

Fistful $$$

A Fistful:

Hulu is running "A Fistful of Dollars" for the next thirteen days -- the Yuletide, roughly.

I'm sure few of you need to rely on it. I think I have a copy or two of the thing around here somewhere. But it's always nice for those who might be away from their collections, if they can get past the international filters.


"A Really Cool Book About Vikings":

Our friend (and occasional co-blogger) Joel Leggett had a very nice review of Lars Walker's recent book, West Oversea.

Those of you looking for Christmas gifts might want to support one of our friends and fellow-Hall members; and from what Major Leggett says, it sounds like a very appropriate gift. I have been meaning to get a copy myself.

The Force of History

The Force of History:

So cites Carlin Romano, writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education. He wants those outraged over the recent Swiss minaret ban to think deeper:

Forgive me if I, too, do not weep that 57.5 percent of the Swiss, now hosts to a largely moderate Muslim population of Turks and former Yugoslavs, want to keep their country a quiet car among nations. I am still busy weeping for the Armenians, the first people in their corner of the world to officially adopt Christianity, almost eliminated from history due to regular massacres by the Muslim Turks among whom they lived for centuries.

Is bringing in the Armenian genocide too big a stretch when contemplating an electoral act about urban design rather than a state policy to implement ethnic cleansing?... What about the Crusades? The Inquisition? America's genocide of Native Americans? Church bells and belfries? Jordanian denial of citizenship to Jews? Nineteenth-century European colonialism in the Mideast? Islamic discrimination against gays, Jews, women, Christians? Serb persecution of Muslims in Bosnia? The Battles of Tours (732) and Lepanto (1571)? Wahhabi fundamentalism? Swiss collaboration with the Nazis? Swiss protection of Jews from the Nazis? It's enough to make one's head swim.

Perhaps we'll all need "Advanced Context" as a required liberal-arts course once the anarchy of cybercommentary takes over all intellectual debate. Allow me, then, in this amorphous, pluralistic environment, to return to the Armenians. Because it may well be that persuading people about appropriate context in large moral matters can't be done a priori, but only, so to speak, pragmatically—you juxtapose the context you think relevant with the issue at hand, and see whether it makes a difference to what anyone thinks.
If that's the standard, you may as well not bother. Analogies to history never persuade anyone of anything they don't already believe. For one thing, it's too easy to grab a different analogy that 'proves' something different, and argue its relevance instead.

For another, there are often radically different interpretations of the same event. The phrase "O. K. Corral" has been invoked on the floor of Congress numerous times as an argument in favor of gun control measures that would limit firearms to policemen and officers of the law. If such measures are meant to avoid the O.K. Corral, how to interpret the fact that it was precisely such a law that precipitated it? It was the attempt to enforce Tombstone's gun control law that was the proximate cause of the gunfight. A even worse problem is that the survivors of the losing side got themselves deputized by the Sheriff and went after the town and Federal marshals. A police-officer-only model of gun control would have done nothing to avoid the shootout, or reduce the violence that followed it.

The one thing that did reduce the violence is the very thing that Congress most hates to consider: citizen vigilantes, who informed the participants that any future shootouts had better be conducted outside of town or there would be some hangings. This maneuver was so effective that historians still have trouble deciding exactly what happened in the rest of the war between those factions, as very little of it occurred close enough for nonpartisan witnesses to view.

So we might respond: 'If I were to accept your proposed context of the O. K. Corral, then, Senator Such-and-So, logic would suggest that we could reduce dangerous violence by avoiding gun control laws, but endorsing lynch mobs.'

Will that convince him, even after you've accepted his context? Of course it will not. This is because his historical argument has nothing to do with why he was pushing the policy; it was merely a tool for him. Destroy that argument, and you have still not touched his reasons for wanting the policy.

These are likely to be emotional, not logical: as with our discussions on Aristotle, it is normally the non-rational part of the soul that determines ends. The rational part determines means. All he will learn from your argument is that he needs a different means to his ends.

If you want to change his desired ends, you need a non-rational argument. Beauty is such an argument: love is. History is not, but myth can be.

That is one very good reason why we need to make myths as well as histories. We need them both.

Milblogs Go Silent

Milblogs Go Silent:

I'm sure that most of you are familiar with the problems MSG Grisham has been having with his local school board. His command is in a difficult position, and I sympathize with their desire to have good relations with the local government. I'm sure that it makes perfect sense for them to believe that telling him to cool it is a good response, since it will make the pain of the principal go away, and he (unlike she) is under their authority. Soldiers are often asked to be the adults when the civilian world pitches a fit, and to suck up the sacrifices needed to make that same world feel comfortable and good about itself. This is generally unfair, but part of the honor in service lies in just how much more weight you are bearing than those who choose the easy life.

Still, were I forced into such a situation, and were it my commander, I would want him to support me. And were I in C. J.'s position, I would want my friends to support me. So, though I imagine I can see where the command is coming from, the Golden Rule suggests we should back our friend, and ask for him what we would want for ourselves.

Several Milblogs will be going silent for the day in solidarity, including BLACKFIVE and this one. The originators of the concept prepared the following statement and asked that I publish it.

Army Master Sgt. C. J. Grisham has always led from the front, from combat that earned him the Bronze Star with V device, to doing right by the men he led. His honesty won him readership and respect, from the White House on down. Yet, when he stood up for his children in school, his command did not stand by him. You can read more at Military Times to get the full story.

Please donate via PayPal; or you can log into PayPal on your own, go to the send money page, and put in his email: dj [underscore] chcknhawk AT yahoo DOT com; or, you can send donations directly to:

Grisham Legal Fund
c/o Redstone Federal Credit Union
220 Wynn Drive
Huntsville, AL 35893
Please write "Grisham Legal Fund" in the memo line if you use this option.

Milblogs have been a vital link in getting accurate news and information about the military, and military operations, to you. Today, many milblogs are gone and others are under attack from within and without. Today, you have the chance to imagine a world without milblogs, and to do something about it. Make your voice heard by writing your congressional representatives and others, and by making donations as you see fit.

John Henry & Mushrooms

John Henry & Mushrooms:

Joe's remarks on John Henry made me recall a famous story. It was retold in the version I first encountered by Taisen Deshimaru, a Japanese zen master and martial artist who taught widely in the West. I wrote, in the comments below:

Joe just needs to come down and spend a week splitting wood with me. After that, I think he'll have a new appreciation for old John Henry. After all, he sure was a hammer-swinger.
A fair response would be for my good friend Joe to bring a pneumatic woodsplitter along with him. Actually, my neighbor has one he's offered to loan me anytime I want it, but I continue to split wood with an axe. Perhaps this is why:
Master Dogen had gone to China to find true wisdom, to understand Zen. He studied many things but he did not really understand. In those days the religion of Buddhism, of Zen, was very widespread in China and he went from one temple to another. Nevertheless, he was not satisfied with the teaching he received so he decided to go home to Japan.

Then one day he came to another temple. It was summer, and very hot. There was a very old monk there working, drying mushrooms. Old and frail as he was, he was spreading the mushrooms out in the sun. Master Dogen saw him and asked him, "Why are you working? You are an old monk and a superior of the temple. You should get younger people to do this work. It is not necessary for you to work. Besides, it is extremely hot today. Do that another day." ...

The old monk's answer was most interesting and has become famous in the history of Soto Zen. It was a satori for Master Dogen. The monk said to him, "You have come from Japan, young man, you are intelligent and you understand Buddhism, but you do not understand the essence of Zen.... If a young monk helped me to do the work, if I were to stand by and watch him, then I could not have the experience of drying these mushrooms."
What was the line from that movie? 'A duellist of the wood-cut school'?

In any event, it's not without value. I don't know that the pneumatic drive could do it better than me anyway, since most of the work is in moving the wood into the right position for splitting, and then stacking it once it is split. You wear out your back with those parts, which no machine seems to want to do.

Splitting is easy. It is a joy. So, I imagine, was driving the steel for John Henry: to be a man moving in the image of his creator, as Johnny Cash put it. Or another -- Thor's hammer and Dagda's club; or the tales in the front of the Kalevala about the breaking of the great tree in the morning of the world. That's a thing men have done for a long time, and gods before us; and we are men who still do it.

That thing is valuable in and of itself. Perhaps it is the chief value.


Sir Winston:

Remembering Churchill:

Winston Churchill led the life that many men would love to live. He survived 50 gunfights and drank 20,000 bottles of champagne. He won the public schools’ fencing cup and rode in the last cavalry charge of the British Army. He created British Petroleum, invented the combat tank, and founded the states of Jordan and Iraq. And of course, by resisting Hitler, he saved Europe and perhaps the world.
It's true: many's the man who would have loved to live a life like that.

A Republic Descends

Rumors and Portents:

A rumor, which has been out there several hours now with no one stepping up to deny it that I can find:

According to a Senate aide, the White House is now threatening to put Nebraska’s Offutt Air Force Base on the BRAC list if Nelson doesn’t fall into line.

Offutt Air Force Base employs some 10,000 military and federal employees in Southeastern Nebraska. As our source put it, this is a “naked effort by Rahm Emanuel and the White House to extort Nelson’s vote.” They are “threatening to close a base vital to national security for what?” asked the Senate staffer.

Indeed, Offutt is the headquarters for US Strategic Command, the successor to Strategic Air Command, and not by accident. STRATCOM was located in the middle of the country for strategic reasons. Its closure would be a massive blow to the economy of the state of Nebraska, but it would also be another example of this administration playing politics with our national security.
Meanwhile, signs point to a Congress losing its grip:
A House subcommittee approved legislation Wednesday aimed at forcing college football to switch to a playoff system to determine its national champion,


The legislation, which goes to the full committee, would make it illegal to promote a national championship game "or make a similar representation," unless it results from a playoff.
The Supreme Court sits in council, and wonders at the laws put before it.
You can serve federal time for interstate transport of water hyacinths, trafficking in unlicensed dentures, or misappropriating the likeness of Woodsy Owl and his associated slogan, "Give a hoot, don't pollute." ("What are you in for, kid?" your new cellmate growls.) Bills currently before Congress would send Americans to federal prison for eating horsemeat or selling goods falsely labeled as "Native American."

"Is that the system we have, that Congress can say, nobody shall do any bad things?" an exasperated Scalia asked Drebeen.
What is going on in Washington, D.C.?

Ballad of John Henry

The Ballad of John Henry:

'I'll die with my hammer in my hand... but I'll be laughing.'



I already know what I'm getting for Christmas... it's a Stihl chainsaw. Thanks to everyone for their recommendations, and good stories about woodcutting past.

Following the spirit of Cassandra's post, here is our tree. It's a six foot cedar I cut off the property (with a single blow of the axe -- not a giant tree, I mean to say).

"Fine and dandy, Grim," you might be saying, "but what's at the other end of that rug?" Well, that's the other part of Cassidy's post I should emulate.

It's not Buckaroo's first Christmas with the family. It is, though, the first year that he and I will be here at the same time.

Finally, on the friends-and-family side, I'd like to direct you to The Donovan's latest. All I can say is that, when you reach one of these livestock moments, it's important to chose your soundtrack carefully. All the best, John.


On Cures for Homosexuality:

National Review offers a backhanded 'defense' of a practitioner.

Therapists such as Mr. Cohen are an object of special hatred for organized homosexuality, and that lobby probably has never had so prominent a voice as Miss Maddow’s. To be sure, Cohen is a distinctly unsympathetic figure. His psychotherapeutic work is pure New Age goo, but that is to be expected: Psychotherapy is pseudoscience. At its least destructive it amounts to idle chatter; at its worst it is a reality-displacing religion substitute, advancing beliefs that are every bit as fundamentalist and anti-rational as any desert jihadist’s, if not so violent.

In this context, there is nothing uniquely offensive about Mr. Cohen’s brand of pseudoscience. America offers a splendiferous bouquet of preposterous belief systems from which the connoisseur of the absurd may choose....

Miss Maddow, strangely, made much of the fact that Mr. Cohen is not a licensed psychotherapist, as though being a chartered practitioner of witch-doctoring were preferable to being a freelance operator.
I think that was meant to be encouraging!

Domestic Terrorists

...And Just To Round Out the Morning:

Greyhawk discusses domestic Islamic terrorism, and cites a piece from Small Wars Journal.

The great concern from a strategic perspective is that governmental officials will start to drink their own 'spiked punch' and delude themselves into believing that the many terrorist incidents listed in this essay are in actuality the actions of mentally unstable and delusional individuals and nothing more. This would mean that our domestic intelligence and interdiction capabilities are performing flawlessly with the ensuing pats on the back, 'atta-boys', and political kudos being exchanged....

What is now needed is a governmental and federal law enforcement debate focusing on the broader spectrum of the domestic radical Islamic threat. This new debate on 'Ones and Twos' should revisit conventional views on terrorist groups and their organization. Specifically, while non-state warfare can be waged by larger radical Islamic cells, i.e. those which have been successfully interdicted such as the 2002 Lackawanna, New York (Muktar al-Bakri et al); 2005 Lodi, California (Hayat family et al); 2007 Fort Dix, New Jersey (Duka family et al); and 2009 New York (Najibullah Zazi et al) groups, it must also ask whether cells composed of ones and twos are not now also part of this threat spectrum....

In the process, some consideration should be given to openly informing and educating the American public about the broadening radical Islamic threat spectrum.
I expect the consideration will focus more on the reasons not to do that, which include: 1) the government's belief that the American people are perpetually just that close to becoming an anti-Muslim lynch mob, and 2) the danger of increasing a perception in the Muslim world that America sees itself as at war with Islam. America's policy, since 9/11, has been to state loudly and frequently that we do not believe radicalized Islamic teachings are the true faith of Islam, and to declare respect for "mainstream" or "moderate" or "true" Islam as one of the great religions of mankind.

Not only are we fighting two counterinsurgency campaigns in Muslim countries, but there remains the global recruiting problem. And, indeed, to the degree that the government appeared to be coming out against Islam, the domestic terror problem is actually increased as a threat. Muslims who now don't feel alienated from the United States might come to feel alienated, when the government starts putting out documents explaining that their community's members might pose a threat even if they aren't affiliated with any known terrorist or radical group.

You could begin and end the report with paragraphs on how radicalized Islam is not true Islam, and reiterating America's respect for true Islam; you could put a watermark on every page that stated "Americans respect and honor true Islam!" Even so, a report that suggests that Muslims 'even in ones and twos' are potential terrorists is going to have a negative effect.

What would be wiser would be to harden the American population against a generalized threat. To a certain degree, the population has been hardening itself for some time. Liberalized conceal-carry laws are one way that the population has become much more capable of self-defense. Another is the massive surge in firearm and ammunition purchases since the election of President Obama.

Anyway, that's your cheery report for this morning: domestic terrorism, Iranian nuclear weapons, and an American population that is beginning to speak openly of the need for civil war. I don't suppose boredom is going to be a problem for anyone these next few years.


Iran's Mask Slips:

It was never a very convincing disguise anyway, but this puts paid to it.

The technical document describes the use of a neutron source, uranium deuteride, which independent experts confirm has no possible civilian or military use other than in a nuclear weapon. Uranium deuteride is the material used in Pakistan’s bomb, from where Iran obtained its blueprint.

“Although Iran might claim that this work is for civil purposes, there is no civil application,” said David Albright, a physicist and president of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, which has analysed hundreds of pages of documents related to the Iranian programme. “This is a very strong indicator of weapons work.”


Mark Fitzpatrick, senior fellow for non-proliferation at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said: “The most shattering conclusion is that, if this was an effort that began in 2007, it could be a casus belli. If Iran is working on weapons, it means there is no diplomatic solution.”
It was always difficult to imagine the Israeli prime minister who would endure Iran's nuclear program passing a certain point. That was true even if you could make a plausible claim that it was for civilian, peaceful use.

If Iran follows through this time on its pledge to swap fuel for uranium, it might buy time for some other approach to be tried by the community of nations. However, this exposes their negotiations for what many of us have always suspected that they were: merely a ploy. A ploy to do what? Why, to buy time!

The diplomatic options therefore become much less attractive, even if Iran actually does follow through on the swap. It's clear that they're continuing to refine uranium; all the swap does is push out the time until they have enough for a bomb. However, if they need that time anyway to overcome the remaining techincal challenges -- including this one, which they have apparently been trying to solve since 2007 -- they stand to lose nothing from the swap. They do gain the appearance of cooperation and good faith, however, which might protect their program from military action... just... long... enough.


Dad29 says, "Gadzooks!"

And a hat tip to the gentleman for the photo.

"Prepare for war: live free or die." This kind of thing is a good argument for freedom of speech. Some would say this kind of thing is incitement, but you can't incite people who aren't already pretty mad. If they are mad enough to be incited in Missouri, the boys in D.C. are lucky if someone thinks to warn them in time to head it off.

And how much time do we have? If this fellow speaks for more than himself, the idea is to give 2010's elections a chance. Since you'd have to allow time to see if the change did work, though, I'm guessing you'd want to push out your prospective timeline for the shooting to start until summer 2011. That should be about the time that we should be rotating troops home from Afghanistan in large numbers. They may come as our soldiers from Iraq have come, well-satisfied with victory; or they may come angry, if the timeline aspect of the war plan proves only to leave the Taliban in control of areas their brethren have died to defend.

That will be an interesting few months, I expect. If you wish to head off that war, and we should all wish that, there is still time. Much hangs on Afghanistan, and much on how long it takes for Congress to abandon this lust for spending that has overtaken it. We should support our fighting men, and try to rein in the politicians.

Wren Song

The Wren Song:

The wren, the wren, the king of all birds:

Some people theorise that the Wren celebration has descended from Celtic mythology. Sources suggest that the Druids used the wren in augury and might have studied its flight, amongst other birds, to derive predictions about the future. It may also have been introduced or influenced by Scandinavian settlers during the Viking invasions of the 8th-10th Centuries.

Various associated legends exist, such as the wren bird being responsible for betraying Irish soldiers who fought the Viking invaders by beating its wings on their shields, in the late first and early second millennia, and for betraying the Christian martyr Saint Stephen, after whom the day is named. This mythological association with treachery is a probable reason why in past times the bird was hunted by Wrenboys on St. Stephen's Day....
A merry song, with an interesting tale behind it. How well suited for the season, and the Hall!
Decorating the Hall:

What? The catapult is a holiday tradition, here.

Times Sq Gunman

The Difference Between A "Gunman" and a "Gunfighter":


Times Sq. gunman held weapon like rapper

A Times Square bloodbath was narrowly avoided because the machine-pistol-toting thug who fired at a cop flipped the gun on its side like a character out of a rap video, causing the weapon to jam after two shots, law-enforcement sources said yesterday.

When scam artist Raymond "Ready" Martinez held the MAC-10-style gun parallel to the ground, it caused the ejecting shells to "stovepipe," or get caught vertically in the chamber, the sources said. The gun is designed to be fired only in a vertical position.

If he had fired the weapon -- which had another 27 rounds in the clip -- properly, Martinez, 25, could have killed the hero cop pursuing him and countless others walking through the swarming tourist mecca Thursday morning.

Instead, Sgt. Christopher Newsom was able to return fire -- killing Martinez with four shots before anyone was hurt.

Get some, sergeant.

Seriously, though... what a maroon.
Some Further Thoughts on Just War:

National Review meditates:

In fact, however, the classic just-war tradition began, not with a presumption against war, but with a passion for justice: The just prince is obliged to secure the “tranquility of order,” or peace, for those for whom he accepts political responsibility, and that peace, to repeat, is composed of justice, security, and freedom. There are many ways for the just prince (or prime minister, or president) to do this; one of them is armed force.
The whole essay bears consideration.
Congratulations, Navy.

Oh well, there's always next year.

Ode to Sawdust

Ode to Sawdust:

Where a poplar fell
Now stretches, most precisely,
A white angel.

Philosophy @ Lowes

On the Mighty Chainsaw:

Since we bought the new place, I've been cutting and splitting a lot of wood. There are downed trees all across the property which need to be cleared, and which of course can be used to heat my house next year -- some of the wood has been down long enough to burn this year, even.

For that reason, I'm thinking of buying a more powerful chainsaw to handle the things that are just too tough for my little lightweight Mac-Cat. Doing some comparison shopping tonight, I ran across Lowes' "Guide to Buying a Chainsaw." It begins as follows.

A chainsaw is one of those tools that can be described thusly: When you need one, nothing else will really do.
That's quite true. Nothing else really will.