Rants and Raves

Opinion, commentary, reviews of books, movies, cultural trends, and raising kids in this day and age.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

An example of what I study

As some of you know, one of my scholarly pursuits is the study of bias and propaganda. Specifically, how bias is expressed, either consciously or unconsciously, in reporting.

I don't think I'm stating anything new when I say that within my memory I've never seen an election where the major media, with the exception of FOX, was so openly in the tank for a presidential candidate. (FOX is pretty openly for McCain as well - but then they don't pretend to be neutral.)

At any rate, this is an example of the kind of thing I look for - bias expressed in the choice of as little as one word, which may very well be unconscious.

The following is from an MSNBC article on campaign rumors, which cover both sides in an apparent attempt to be fair. Please notice the followinging excerpt.


Rumors increase in last days of campaigns
With just days before the election, untruths spread virally over the Internet

AP Tuesday, Oct. 28

'Who wrote Obama's autobiography, `Dreams From My Father?'' asked conservative Web site and talk show hosts last week, hinting that the writing was so sophisticated and used similar styles, including 'water metaphors,' that radical William Ayers must have been the true author. He wasn't. Obama was. 'Utter hogwash,' said Obama organizers debunking the claim.

No, they didn't “debunk” the claim, he denied it.

I've seen similar misuse of language when someone says they "disproved" a claim, when in fact they dismissed it.

I believe I see a subtler phenomenon in the article as a whole, involving the choice of rumors but that's more open to subjective interpretation. This is not.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

And speaking of interviews

Here: http://blogs.orlandosentinel.com/entertainment_tv_tvblog/2008/10/obama-campaign.html

you can find an interesting article from the Orlando Sentinel. I'm going to cut-and-past it here for reasons that will become apparrant.

Obama campaign cuts off WFTV after interview with Joe Biden

WFTV-Channel 9's Barbara West conducted a satellite interview with Sen. Joe Biden on Thursday. A friend says it's some of the best entertainment he's seen recently. What do you think?

West wondered about Sen. Barack Obama's comment, to Joe the Plumber, about spreading the wealth. She quoted Karl Marx and asked how Obama isn't being a Marxist with the "spreading the wealth" comment.

"Are you joking?" said Biden, who is Obama's running mate. "No," West said.

West later asked Biden about his comments that Obama could be tested early on as president. She wondered if the Delaware senator was saying America's days as the world's leading power were over.

"I don't know who's writing your questions," Biden shot back.

Biden so disliked West's line of questioning that the Obama campaign canceled a WFTV interview with Jill Biden, the candidate's wife.

"This cancellation is non-negotiable, and further opportunities for your station to interview with this campaign are unlikely, at best for the duration of the remaining days until the election," wrote Laura K. McGinnis, Central Florida communications director for the Obama campaign.

McGinnis said the Biden cancellation was "a result of her husband's experience yesterday during the satellite interview with Barbara West."

Here's a link to the interview: http://www.wftv.com/video/17790025/index.html.

WFTV news director Bob Jordan said, "When you get a shot to ask these candidates, you want to make the most of it. They usually give you five minutes."

Jordan said political campaigns in general pick and choose the stations they like. And stations often pose softball questions during the satellite interviews.

"Mr. Biden didn't like the questions," Jordan said. "We choose not to ask softball questions."

Jordan added, "I'm crying foul on this one."

What did you think of the interview?


Again, here's the link for the interview: http://www.wftv.com/video/17790025/index.html

However, all I get is "The stream for this video is currently unavailable."

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

It's called 'the interview'

Republicans are all abuzz with this pronouncement from the Democratic vice-presidential candidate.

"It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy. The world is looking.... Watch, we’re gonna have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy....

"I can give you at least four or five scenarios from where it might originate… And he’s gonna need help. And the kind of help he’s gonna need is, he’s gonna need you - not financially to help him - we’re gonna need you to use your influence, your influence within the community, to stand with him. Because it’s not gonna be apparent initially, it’s not gonna be apparent that we’re right."

Conservatives are triumphantly citing this as Joe Biden admitting Obama's weakness on the foreign policy/national defense front. And indeed the language is not that of a loyal subordinate supporting his leader, but of a compassionate friend soliciting help to get a buddy through a bad time.

It also seems like an implicit admission that Obama's opponents are right about how to confront hostile powers, and his own supporters are clueless.

Look again, "...we’re gonna need you to use your influence, your influence within the community, to stand with him. Because it’s not gonna be apparent initially, it’s not gonna be apparent that we’re right."

Democrats must be pounding their heads with frustration at good old Joe “gaff-a-minute” Biden sticking his foot in it again. If Obama loses this election at the last minute, I shouldn't like to be in Biden's shoes, his own party is going to crucify him.

Though I'm not an admirer of his, I suggest Biden has an important point we should pay attention to.

The implicit assumption made by proponents of what's called a “hard-line” or “realistic” foreign policy is, that the behavior of thug nations resembles the behavior of thug individuals.

Contrariwise, the assumption of those holding the view that overflowing goodwill will assure peace among nations is, almost everyone is at bottom as decent as the people they know.

That last assumption seems impossibly naïve to anyone who's spent any time at all on the wrong side of the tracks, but people who hold it can't really be blamed. It is after all what your mother always told you, “Be nice to them and they'll be nice to you.”

I'm sorry, but your mother lied.

Assaults seldom come without warning, there is an identifiable five-stage process, well-documented by violence professionals. The five stages in order are: intent, interview, positioning, attack and reaction.

When thugs, and by extension thug nations, are looking to assault someone for whatever reason, profit, pleasure or to gain the respect of their fellow-thugs, the second stage is always the interview.

The interview can last from seconds to years, but the sole interview question is, “Can I get away with this?”

What Biden did was to call attention to the fact that there is no lack of intent around the world, and the interview is coming.

I think he's notifying the anti-war Democratic base there will be a point at which Obama has to show the world he's ready and able to take a hard line, if there is to be any hope of a reasonably tranquil administration.

It had to be said. It's possible Biden said it too soon, but as he pointed out, there won't be a lot of time after the election.

What he didn't point out was, the interview is already underway.

A squadron from the Russian navy’s North Sea Fleet set sail on Sept. 22 bound for a maritime exercise with the Venezuelan navy.

Monroe Doctrine anyone?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Martial Arts research: Combatives, part 2

Review and History

In part 1 I mentioned that close combat training needs for military, police and civilians are different in focus.

Military personnel need training to quickly kill or incapacitate an enemy at close quarters when their primary weapons are unavailable, malfunctioning etc.

Police and corrections officers need to restrain and control subjects without causing them serious injury, which all things considered requires a much higher level of skill.

Civilians need enough skill to escape from assault and/or abduction. Civilians, sometimes have an option not available to military or police - submission.

If your wallet is all an armed aggressor wants, safest bet might be to just give it to him.

(And please don't give me grief about gender-specific language, armed thieves are almost always men. And I must stress, this is NOT an invariable rule. A fair number of the beatings mugging victims get are gratuitous, i.e. received after the money has changed hands. Some thieves evidently, take offense if you don't carry enough money for them to take.)

There is however, a considerable area of overlap.

Soldiers in anti-insurgency operations are increasingly having to function as cops (and social workers, judges, civil engineers, etc) or may have to use police-like restraint and control techniques to capture enemy personnel alive for interrogation.

A civilian in a hot situation may not have an avenue of escape, or may be with someone they cannot bear to abandon - even if it's the wisest thing to do. (You have to consider if survival odds for both are increased if one can escape and summon help. And, the perps may be less willing to murder the one(s) left behind if they know there is a someone out there who can identify them.)

Abduction attempts are perhaps the most nightmarish scenarios. Caught in such a situation, the unequivocally best course of action is total all-out resistance. NEVER let anyone take you to what criminologists call with grim understatement, the "secondary crime scene."

The horrible truth is, against an armed kidnapper, it is better to resist and be left wounded (or even, God help us, dead quickly) than to submit.

Home invasion creates a similar scenario, except in this case the secondary crime scene comes to you.

In such a case, potential victims may have to be as ruthless as the predator after them.

And oh by the way, if I haven't turned your stomach enough yet, the most likely abductees are precisely the people who appear least able to resist - and predators have a fine-tuned sense for this.

Now I have to break and stress something - close quarters combat training is not the answer to your security needs. It is part of a whole range of things you must consider, most of which are beyond the scope of this post. Again (and again and again) I urge you to look at Marc "Animal" MacYoung's website No Nonsense Self-Defence - and his books and videos. What he doesn't cover, he shows where to look for it.

It's here: http://www.nononsenseselfdefense.com/

OK, back to "combatives."

Modern combatives seems to start with a small group of men, of whom one stands out, William E. Fairbairn of the Royal Marine Light Infantry, Shanghai Municipal Police, and trainer of British commandos, US Army Rangers, and OSS operatives.

That last is important, for reasons we'll go into.

Fairbairn and his partner Eric A. Sykes (who some sources say was a bit miffed at Fairbairn getting all the publicity) developed a rough and tumble fighting method based on Japanese jujitsu and Chinese boxing for police operating in one of the roughest cities in the world at the time.

During the war they jointly designed the Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife, though it actually looks to me like an update of the medieval misericord dagger.

They had one of the worst situations to deal with: a criminal class desperate enough to be willing to resist arrest and die rather than submit, in an environment where a fair number of criminals had close quarter combat skills.

Fairbairn at one point in his life, spent some time at the Kododan in Japan, home of judo (which was at the time much closer to its roots in combat jujitsu.) His Chinese boxing (or "Kung Fu") may have been picked up in a sort of here-and-there use-what-works way.

Kennedy and Guo point out that more Chinese martial artists may have learned their fighting skills this way than the stereotyped image of joining a school with a respectable lineage and study for years and years.*

In any case, though too old for active service in WWII, he was one tough dude and the British and American militaries took advantage of his skills.

Fairbairn's teaching refined the skills of an American, Rex Applegate, already a pretty tough customer. Applegate, who died in 1998, was the last survivor of the WWII generation of combatives instructors**. He later developed his modification of the Fairbairn-Sykes knife, the Applegate-Fairbairn knife, more suited to "knife fighting" than commando-style silent sentry removal.

Applegate was in charge of a lot of the training of the OSS.

At the same time, the U.S. Coast Guard independently (as far as I know) created their own close quarters combat training program. They commissioned Jack Dempsey, "the Manassa Mauler," heavyweight boxing champion from 1919 to 1926 and told him "make 'em tough."

Dempsey was not just a boxer, but a brawler in work camps and saloons. His book written from his Coast Guard experience, "How to Fight Tough" actually has little of sport boxing in it but a strong influence of wrestling and jujitsu.

In closing, I'd like to point out a couple of things to ponder. One is that a naval force seems an unlikely institution to stress close combat. But the Coast Guard are an odd hybrid, during peacetime they're cops, during wartime they're an arm of the Navy.

As part of their duties policing the sea lanes, they do a lot of boarding, which the Navy hasn't seen much of since the days of sail and buccaneers.

Second, surprisingly the OSS (Office of Strategic Services, the WWII precursor of the CIA) may have had training needs closest to those of modern civilians.

The military takes men who are judged to be of adequate fitness, and makes them even tougher with rigorous training. However, the amount of time that can be devoted to hand-to-hand training is very limited, compared to all the other stuff they have to learn about weapons use and maintenance, battle formation, etc.

However, with the move to a professional military, command has found they can devote more time to it, and that the training pays off in a way having little to do with the likelihood of close quarters combat in battle, fighting spirit. There is probably no better way to develop fighting spirit than hand-to-hand combat training.***

However, the OSS had a different selection criteria. They had to have men (and women such as the late Julia Childs) who had language skills, and could pass as native speakers in occupied Europe.

This was the primary consdieration, all others were secondary. Thus they had to develop methods of training civilians, who were more likely to be academics than brawlers, how to fight effectively with fists, knives and pistols.

Next: Modern combatives and martial arts.

* See: Chinese Martial Arts Training Manuals: A Historical Survey

**Caveat: Charles Nelson was a WWII vet and learned some of his skills in that late unpleasantness, but he began his career as an instructor after the war ended.

***Research has turned up references to this in classical Chinese military manuals which say that training in Chuan Fa (boxing, Chinese root of the Japanese word "kempo") is seldom of use in battle, but useful for developing fighting spirit.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Perfect Storm of the Left

The perfect storm of the Left is gathering.

A discredited president, an unpopular war, a tanked economy, and the fruition of a generations-long infiltration of America's schools and media is building to gale-force.

The opposition candidate is demoralized and cannot articulate, or even define, his positions. Indeed, to this day he seems oblivious to the damage he's done to the First Amendment with the bill that bears his name, McCain-Feingold.

Next year, barring a major upset, we will have a born-and-bred Hard Left president, and a compliant congress.

Think Russia, 1917, or the end of the Weimar Republic.

But perhaps it won't be that bad. Perhaps it won't be the Soviet Socialist States of America/National Socialist American Workers Party. Perhaps it'll only be Chicago politics writ large.

Forty years ago, Bill Ayers and his consort Bernadine Dohrn's comrades battled the police of the Daley dynasty in the streets of Chicago. Today, Ayers and Dohrn and their comrades have joined forces with Daley II's machine.

Daley I elected John F. Kennedy by delivering Illinois' electoral votes to the Democratic Party. Now his heir is helping the now-grown kids whose heads were busted by his daddy's cops elect their protoge president of the United States.

Do you find this odd or ironic?

I don't. I've read history, I've read Machiavelli.

This is the end of the Long March of the Left. This is the time they come down from the Sierra Maestre.

I do not mean a mere victory for the Democratic Party. Would it were only that!

I've been occupied lately covering the local election to the North Dakota state legislature. The three incumbents in our district (one state senator, two state representatives) are Democrats, and all decent, honorable citizen-legislators well worth listening to on the state issues.

On the national level, their party has been captured by the Hard Left - and I think I've detected signs of their being uncomfortale with this. All of them, for example, are avid hunters and gun owners.

Their Republican challengers would like to tie them to the national party on this and other issues, but it just doesn't come up in the context of state politics.

I don't know how far this applies in other states - but I know I shouldn't like to be a local Democrat who doesn't get with the national program under a Leftist regime.

Think Kronstadt, think Old Bolsheviks.

Starting I think a year after Obama takes office, if there is a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, it's going to get very bad.

If the Republicans succeed in keeping a one or two-vote filibuster number, how much do you want to bet the news media can find a scandal or two to knock at least one Republican politico out of congress?

For years I've said the Hard Left cannot win in this country, because they've made a major strategic mistake, they don't like guns and they've made it too plain they despise the profession of arms.

Your revolution is not likely to get far when you alienate the police and military, and don't learn to fight yourself.

Now look at this:

July 2, Colorado Springs: "We can not continue to rely only on our military in order meet the national security objectives we've set. We've got to have a civilian national security force that's just as powerful, just as strong, just as well funded."

Don't just read it, LOOK AT THE DAMN THING! That's what it took for it to sink in for me, and I have to look at it again every few days to remind myself that it's real.


Do you wonder what color shirts they'll wear?

Who do you think they'll be recruiting from? Teenagers? Disaffected minorities? Illegal aliens even, as part of an "amnesty" and "path to citizenship"?

Surly kids with badges and guns, joy forever unconfined!

Now see: "The Barack Obama Truth Squad" http://www.kmov.com/video/index.html?nvid=285793&shu=1

Now go here http://bidinotto.journalspace.com/
and check out the videos Robert has provided under: Welcome to the New Progressive State

Now consider these trial baloons floated by the Democratic Party.

1) Reinstating the Fairness Doctrine, resulting in the blandification of media political coverage and the disapperance of talk radio.

2) Union card check replacing a secret ballot, giving carte blanche to union organizers to send thugs around person-to-person to "invite" them to demand a union at their workplace.

3) Legal challenge to laws requiring photo ID at voting places - if this isn't an invitation to wide-spread voter fraud, then please tell me what the hell it is.

See here: http://rantsand.blogspot.com/2008/01/is-this-for-real.html

Now ask yourself how much packing the Supreme Court would need to reach a different decision in a future case?

The mass of the American people still do not realize the team they are about to elect are not moderate-to-leftists who'll triangualte to the Center in order to govern.

I suspect we are about to see a huge case of buyers' remorse - about the time it's too late.

Obama's Left pedigree has been well-documented. His utter contempt for the First Amendment is obvious to any who will bother to consult the above cited examples.

And still it comes.

Next: Who's to blame?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Ivy League elitism, some observations

Note: Either before of after you read this post, try this one by Victor Davis Hanson on the subject of elitism: http://www.victorhanson.com/articles/hanson092808.html
I like to think one will enrich the other.

Some years back, a young friend of mine, the son of one of my oldest friends, asked me to coffee for some advice.

Seems he had this decision to make, he'd just graduated from Oklahoma University with a degree in business and had two offers. One was to go to work in the oil industry for a man who'd been his mentor during college. The other was to go to Harvard for an MBA.

The first thing I said was, "Why the hell are you asking me? You know I'm not a business person."

"Well yes, but I value your opinion."

So I took a deep breath and said, "OK, but if you screw up your mother's going to kill me. My opinion is, beyond a certain minimum you have to have to establish credibility, more experience is almost always better than more formal education."

He took my advice. My mother was horrified.

"You didn't tell him to go to Harvard?" she practically screamed.

So he went to work for his mentor. In time (very short time at that,) dissatisfied with American business culture, he founded his own natural gas distribution company, known for being very innovative as I understand. Since then he's been in lots of different things, founded several companies, made lots of money and gained a reputation as a bold, risk-taking entrepreneur.

Not long ago I visited him and reminded him of our conversation.

He replied, "Hell yes! I don't even let anybody with an MBA east of the Mississippi in my office. I tell them, 'Get our of here! You're losing me money just standing there.'"

Digress for a joke. This is one they tell at MIT, I'm told.

Q: "What does a graduate of the Harvard School of Business do?"

A: "He goes home, inherits his father's business, and hires someone from the MIT School of Business to run it for him."

It's no secret we've got a lot of Ivy Leaguers in the top echelons of government, and they tend to lean Left, to say the least.

"But how can that be?" I hear someone ask. "Ivy Leaguers tend to be snobby and aristocratic, and the Left is the enemy of privilege and aristocracy, and for the little guy."

Yes, no, and no. More later.

There's been a lot of talk on the Left lately, much of concerning the appeal of Sarah Palin, decrying an atmosphere of "anti-intellectualism" on the Right and in middle-America in general, largely based on expressions of scorn for "Ivy League populism."

After all, aren't the Ivy League the best schools in the country?

Well aren't they?

Not having been priviledged to go to one, I don't know from personal experience. Having known a fair number of Ivy League graduates, I have to say, maybe but...

I am somewhat more familiar with the support system of the Ivy League, though my experience is way old. I refer to the network of prep schools, the Ivy League of high schools that are the feeder schools for the university-level IL.

Some observations:

-Though generally a very rigorous education, there have always been provisions for legacies, the not-especially-bright sons of the wealthy, to graduate from these schools with either a "gentleman's C" or a curriculum of "gut" courses.

Note that Brooke Shields (not just a pretty model/actress, but daughter of socialites connected with Italian nobility at not too great remove) graduated from Princeton, evidently without ever taking a course in history, science or math.

You can't gut your way through the two American schools that really are for Real Genius* only: MIT and CalTech.

-The Ivy League has taken up affirmative action with a vengeance. Of course, this means they've had their pick of minorities from among the schools vying for them and can afford to maintain standards to some degree. But there is evidence that they have done their share of lowering admission standards and watered down courses for the sake of "diversity."

Why should we be surprised they do it on a large scale for diversity's sake when they've been doing it on a smaller scale for snobbery's sake for generations?

Look up Michelle Obama's Princeton senior thesis on the web. No it hasn't been "surpressed," no such luck. I've downloaded it myself.

What it is, is a collection of rambling incoherencies, atrocious syntax and occasional gramatical lapses worthy of a cow college freshman.

I'm truly sorry if that seems harsh, but it actually helps understand why this woman could be so pissed-off at America. Princeton wasn't helping her be the best she could be - it was patronizing her.

I'd be pissed-off too.

-But they can hire the best minds in academia, and you can study with them!

Can you? How often?

Thomas Sowell pointed out that the Ivy League may hire the biggest guns in academia - but you might never see them as an undergrad.

The big guys are expected to enrich the reputation of the institution with research and publishing. You'll see their grad students in class.

-The intangibles: the ethos of the Ivy League schools was modeled on the English university system, designed for the education of a ruling class. It was anti-democratic to be sure, but the notion was that with privilege comes duties and responsibilities.

Elder sons of the English aristocracy were expected to conserve and protect family fortunes. And though we mostly hear of their excesses and failures, by and large they did a fairly good job for a fairly long time.

Younger sons with smaller competences were expected to man the ranks of the officer corps, ministry and civil service, paying for their privilege by doing the low-paid but essential work of holding a civilization together.

How many Ivy Leaguers enter the military these days? John Kerry publicly proclaimed military service was for losers. Nowadays an Ivy League education is all about "social justice."

So here's my theory and the point of all this: what passes for the aristocracy of America has hollowed out, the state of the Ivy League is both a symptom and a major contributor.

An aristocracy can last as long as it's willing to do it's own fighting and enough of its own work to understand the connection between work, wealth and what protects that wealth.

Now look at the disconnect between the IL and the military.

Look at the disconnect between the degree curricula of an immense number of higher education majors, and anything having to with production of wealth.

Look at the Leftward slant of the IL, and let me pose a question.

Who is the Left really rebelling against? Is it the upper class?

They are the freakin' upper class!

They're rebelling against the middle class, from whose ranks historically came those who've risen to replace upper classes that grow rotten at the center.

But what about types like Obama and the Ivy League minority recruits?

So how does a rotten upper class rebel against a large and vigorous middle class?

By going to the disaffected minorities for recruits. The bright among them are invited into the upper class, bypassing the traditional route through the middle, so they don't pick up annoying middle-class egalitarian values along the way.

Those left behind, and those who have dropped into the lower class**, the "lumpen" elements, are a large potential army of foot soldiers. (See the BBC documentary on soccer hooligans in Britain, more later.)

We'll return to this later, I'd like to hear from some of you.

*"Real Genius" is an early Val Kilmer vehicle, a wonderful movie about a school obviously modeled on CalTech.

**See Eric Hoffer's "The True Believer." One of the crucial sources of recruits for a mass movement is the newly poor, the memory of whose former status "is a fire in the blood."

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Martial arts movie review: Redbelt

We got "Redbelt" through Netflix and watched it the other night, I recommend you do also.

But first, google "David Mamet" and "ju jitsu" and you're sure to find some reviews that miss the point entirely, such as here http://thesop.org/index.php?article=11290

Now it could be that they have no understanding of, or interest in martial arts. Or perhaps they don't understand honor, an integral part of the plot. Or, could it be that the Left establishment is mad at the writer, and ju jitsu practitioner, David Mamet.

Mamet, once hailed as America's most gifted playwrite, is in somewhat bad odor with the arty Left since he penned, "Why I Am No Longer a Brain-Dead Liberal,"

see here: http://www.villagevoice.com/2008-03-11/news/why-i-am-no-longer-a-brain-dead-liberal/1

and published it in The Village Voice, all honor to them for doing so!

The movie stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mike Terry, a Brazilian Ju jitsu teacher who studied in Brazil with "The Professor," played by martial arts legend (briefly, in a non-speaking role) Danny Inosanto.

(Full disclosure: I studied with students of Danny and have quite a lot of seminar-hours training with him directly. Of course, so have thousands of others. He also granted me an interview for my Master's thesis many years ago, for which much thanks Guro!)

Now durn it, I can't tell you too much about the plot without spoilers, but the basic outline is old and well-known: a teacher who doesn't want to fight in a tournament setting, because he is only interested in perfecting his combat skill, is forced by the machinations of villains to do so.

Terry is the honorable man trying to live as best he can in a world which places no value on honor.


No. The great archtypical stories can always be told anew, because we never grow tired of hearing them.

Terry is betrayed by almost everyone he trusts, except his senior student who pays a terrible price for loyalty, and a wounded soul who comes into his life by accident, and who he shows how to become strong and whole after surviving a rape.

The woman is in fact, one of the precipitating causes of the troubles that befall him and his student. Not the only one, her part in it is accident, compounded by the villany of the Hollywood types Mamet plainly despises. (Well, he would know...) But she is the only one who accepts responsibility and tries to make it right - which is ultimately her salvation, and Terry's.

OK, so there's lots of slam-bang martial arts action, right?

Well, actually no.

There's training scenes leading up to the climactic fight, which is par for classic martial arts movies, Eastern or Western. See "The 36th Chamber of Shaolin," or "Scaramouche."

The scenes are fairly brief though. It does build up to a climactic fight, which lasts maybe a minute.

Most of the movie is background and buildup, with long dialog scenes. But it works. The ending will knock your socks off if you have any understanding of a warrior's honor at all, and it's making me grind my teeth with frustration not to describe it and spoil it for you.

Thats' the review, here are some thoughts:

-Chiwetel Ejiofor, who you may remember as The Operative, from "Serenity" worked for two months every day to get ready for this part.

"Two lousy months!" I hear you shout.

Well yes, but as he pointed out this was two months every day one-on-one with master teachers. Consider the total hours spent twice-a-week at lessons, the way most of us train, and two months begins to look like - a lot of weeks. And, I believe he was not starting from zero as a complete beginner, based on the moves he showed in "Serenity."

-The art in the movie is Brazilian Ju jitsu, the family art of the Gracie and Machado families. The point Terry is making, that turning an art into a sport degrades combat effectiveness is true.

But, BJJ is a duelist's art. It was perfected in one-on-one encounters where proud men who love to fight, fought for fun and honor. Encounters were originally without rules, or very few ones, in arenas in Rio, but they were still one-on-one and fought to submission or unconsciousness.

In other words, it's a combat sport. A very rough one for sure, but in combat, as opposed to a duel, your enemies never come at you one at a time (as Grand Tuhon Leo Gaje says.)

It does have great effectiveness for sure. It's been made the basis for the H2H (Hand to Hand) training of the Army Rangers for example, and I'd say no martial artist can afford to be without some knowlege of it on board.

-David Mamet announced to the world he is no longer "a brain-dead liberal" and that took some courage in the world he lives in.

I wonder how much studying and becoming competent in a martial art had to do with that?

I mean the courage, and the conversion.

The martial artist, in the tradition of the lone samurai, is usually an individualist, almost an anarchist. Because he knows that when the rubber meets the road, your personal defense is your own responsibility and no one else's.

The true martial artist is also in touch with the dark parts of his own nature, the place where the "killer instinct" lies, thankfully dormant in most people. The martial artist looks it in the eye and tames it, a process I call "domesticating the killer ape."

In the process, it's almost impossible to maintain Left illusions about human nature.

So go see the movie. If nothing else, you'll piss off a Leftie.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Martial Arts research: Combatives, part 1

Some time ago I published a post on my study of Pekiti Tirsia Kali here:

A few weeks back I flew down to Dallas for training with Grand Tuhon Leo Tortal Gaje - an opportunity I try not to miss. However, with work and funds, it may be a while before I can connect with my brothers in the art again - that and Grand Tuhon may be running for governor of Negros in the Philippine in 2009 and not available for a while. I'm following that development with close interest.

So what am I doing these days, stuck up here where everybody's idea of martial arts is Tae Kwon Do for kids?

Nothing against TKD, and in fact I may be enrolling my son in it for the exercise and social activity. At age seven, I can't teach him what I do. But the fact is, it's very rarely taught as a serious martial, as in warlike, art these days.

TKD is interesting in that respect. Though it was founded within the memory of living men, its combat effectiveness has degraded unusually quickly in historical terms.

A generalization of course. There are still TKD teachers who take fighting seriously, if you know where to find them. But for Korean teachers who take real combat seriously, you might look up Tukong Moosul.

That's a problem all martial arts face when they get away from an emphasis on function and start to stress sport or purely spiritual development. They modify technique and training for safety purposes, or preserve ancient forms simply because they're ancient, with little understanding of the function behind the form. The oriental tradition of apprenticeship, where knowledge was given out in drips and drabs over a long period of time doesn't help either.

There's a saying about the students of Yip Man, the Wing Chun master who taught young Bruce Lee, among other martial arts luminaries.

They say the first generation of Yip Man's students were great fighters, the second generation were great technicians, and the third generation lived off the reputation of the first and second generations.

That's an uncomfortable thought for me. I'm a fourth generation student in the Yip Man line, or third in the Bruce Lee line, and I'm afraid it shows...

So, what am I doing to keep and improve my level of skill and readiness?

One thing I'm doing is creating an exercise program that incorporates martial moves into the fitness routine: sit-ups combined with punching with with hand loads or striking with Kali sticks, bag work, and striking the hanging tire with the sticks. (More later.)

Another thing I'm doing is research, particularly research on combatives.

There has never been a better time for research. Amazon.com has the used book option for purchasing a lot of classics on military combatives, and a fair number of cheap new or used DVDs are available and military manuals can be found online

Combatives is a term for what might be called a subset of martial arts training originally designed for the military, though there is now significant development in police and civilian combatives.

The idea of combatives is, to give a military or police recruit useful hand-to-hand and personal weapon skills in as short a period of time as possible.

Military training is overwhelmingly occupied with weapons training and lots of other stuff. The time they have to devote to close-combat skills amounts to hours in Basic, and not a lot more in advanced training.

This is of increasing concern to the military. It turns out that lo and behold, in the modern age close combat has become increasingly more likely, not less, with operations moving more and more to urban areas.

Police and corrections officers constantly face the necessity of closing with resisting suspects to restrain and control them - law and public opinion doesn't allow them to say, "Screw 'em, just shoot the bastard."

And civilians increasingly want courses that teach them quick and dirty, without a life-long commitment to training.

So they want effective stuff that's easy to learn in a short time by people who aren't martial artists or athletes.

Want some super powers while you're at it? If there were such a thing, the serious martial artists would be teaching it to their students too.

These needs require some thoughtful and tough-minded planning. For example, when I tell women concerned about self-defense, that the best and quickest option for them may be to learn to use a knife and carry one, a great many react with what can only be described as horror.

With apologies to liberated women everywhere, the physical limitations of women versus men mean that a woman will have to train a hell of a lot harder and longer than any man to have any chance at all of prevailing in a physical, unarmed encounter.

The good news is, that one need not necessarily prevail, in order to escape.

And here we come to the difference in emphasis between military, police and civilian needs in combatives.

A soldier needs to train to quickly kill, or completely disable, an opponent in the comparatively rare situation where firearms are not in play. Keeping in mind that almost always, a combatant has a knife as backup, or an empty or malfunctioning rifle as a club-like weapon.

Police or corrections officers face unarmed struggle when subduing suspects or prisoners on a regular basis, but are obligated to use sub-lethal force whenever possible, and may face a world of trouble if they kill or seriously damage the opponent.

This actually requires a higher level of skill than a soldier may need. The good news is, law enforcement officers may have the opportunity to train over the course of their careers, and often have the luxury of piling on to a suspect/prisoner in numbers. If they don't have the numbers, the restrictions on using firearms, tasers, etc are less.

For civilians, the good news is that what they need to do in a hot situation is escape, not kill or restrain. The bad news is, civilians are generally not in anything like the physical shape military personnel and police maintain.

Next: history and review.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Electoral rhetoric, can anyone communicate anymore?

Note: A slightly different version of this appeared as my weekend op-ed in the Valley City Times-Record and was written and submitted before the Biden-Palin debate that night.

Verdict: Palin didn't do too bad. Partisans called if for their favorite in both cases, which means at least a draw. Republicans have been quite forthright in criticizing Palin's performance in the Couric interview.

Point remains, if you can't whup Joe freakin' Biden in an honest debate, you're not ready for prime time.

Doesn't mean she'll never be ready though. Either way, she's earned her scars in the big leagues.


“Men do not long continue to think, what they have forgotten how to say.”
C.S. Lewis

I suppose it's no secret that I'm not entirely thrilled with any of the candidates on either of the presidential tickets.

That's a litotes.


A litotes (lee-TOE-tays) I said. That means a deliberate understatement, especially when expressing a thought by denying it's opposite.

“Donald Trump is not exactly a poor man,” for example.

It's a term in formal rhetoric, for what's commonly called “a figure of speech.” In rhetoric, there are names for different kinds of figures of speech – hundreds of them.

So what the heck does that have to do with the fate of America and the Free World?

I'm making a point about the importance of a leader being articulate – and that, by the way, was what's called a rhetorical question, or “erotema.”

Rhetoric, the art and science of speaking and writing persuasively, is part of the trivium, the first three of the seven liberal arts, composed of logic, rhetoric and grammar. Trivium is the root word of “trivial,” because a scholar in the Middle Ages was expected to know this before he went to college. And in those days you could enter college at 14.

Nowadays, if we encounter logic and rhetoric at all, it's as college freshmen and soon forgotten. And I'm afraid it shows in our public discourse.

Right now, Democrats are crowing about John McCain's wooden, uninspired and soporific delivery and Sarah Palin's deer-in-the-headlights performance in the Katie Couric interview.

And don't tell me she was ambushed by an obviously hostile interviewer. I can see that, but it goes with the job description. An expression about heat and kitchens comes to mind.

Republicans are pointing to how Obama's soaring eloquence changes to fumbling hesitancy the second his teleprompter breaks down, and Joe Biden's inability to even modify speeches he steals whole, to fit his own life story.

A “gaff” was how I heard that described. No, once is a gaff. A repeated pattern over one's entire career is a plagiarist too arrogant and lazy to even paraphrase.

Face it, the last presidential candidates we've had who could deliver a knock-your-socks-off speech, were Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.

So what? Surely the content of the ideas is more important than how they're expressed? After all, neither Washington, Jefferson nor Madison were accomplished public speakers. Dan Rather would have torn any of them apart in a press conference. It wasn't until Lincoln that we got a really world-class orator as president.

But folks, for good or ill, this is the TV age, and the electorate is addressed in person, in their living rooms far more than in the pages of newspapers. We've gotten back to our roots in Athenian democracy where our leaders have to stand up before an audience and explain themselves to the whole people.

The study of rhetoric was born with democracy in Athens, and developed further during the early Roman republic. It stagnated during times of monarchical despotism, and only revived with the rise of parliaments. Unfortunately, it seems to be stagnating again, and that does not bode well for our republic.

Though the word today has a somewhat negative connotation, similar to “propaganda,” it actually marks the emergence of the idea that there might be a better way to secure the cooperation of large numbers of people, than “Do this or I'll kill you.”

Persuasive speaking and writing are to some degree a talent, but they can be learned and improved. Some people were born with better voices than others, but that can be improved too. Take a course, join Toastmasters.

If you can't express yourself persuasively, it raises legitimate questions about how well you really understand what you are trying to say. Studies of athletes, for example, have shown a close connection between the ability to describe something and the ability to do it well.

If you don't understand the techniques of persuasion, you are left vulnerable to the crudest kind of appeals to emotion, prejudice, verbal abuse and ultimately to the default option of force.

After all, what are the “liberal arts” but the knowledge necessary to live the life of a free citizen?

Note: Another plug, the best online source for rhetoric is the Silva Rhetoricae, maintained by a professor at BYU.