Rants and Raves

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

Saturday, November 29, 2008

A bad time for lovers

There has been a bit of Net buzz lately over Kay Hymowitz's two articles about the marriage and dating scene, published this year in City Journal.

Hymowitz first looked at the scene from the point view of women's complaints in the Winter 2008 issue, Child-Man in the Promised Land here: http://www.city-journal.org/2008/18_1_single_young_men.html

"Now meet the twenty-first-century you, also 26. You’ve finished college and work in a cubicle in a large Chicago financial-services firm. You live in an apartment with a few single guy friends. In your spare time, you play basketball with your buddies, download the latest indie songs from iTunes, have some fun with the Xbox 360, take a leisurely shower, massage some product into your hair and face—and then it’s off to bars and parties, where you meet, and often bed, girls of widely varied hues and sizes. They come from everywhere: California, Tokyo, Alaska, Australia. Wife? Kids? House? Are you kidding?

Not so long ago, the average mid-twentysomething had achieved most of adulthood’s milestones—high school degree, financial independence, marriage, and children. These days, he lingers—happily—in a new hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence and responsible self-reliance. Decades in unfolding, this limbo may not seem like news to many, but in fact it is to the early twenty-first century what adolescence was to the early twentieth: a momentous sociological development of profound economic and cultural import. Some call this new period “emerging adulthood,” others “extended adolescence.”

Then evidently she received a deluge of mail from angry, resentful men, and had another look - from the point of view of twenty-something men, in the Autumn, 2008 issue, Love in the Time of Darwinism, see here: http://www.city-journal.org/2008/18_4_darwinist_dating.html

"It would be easy enough to hold up some of the callow ranting that the piece inspired as proof positive of the child-man’s existence. But the truth is that my correspondents’ objections gave me pause. Their argument, in effect, was that the SYM (Single Young Male) is putting off traditional markers of adulthood—one wife, two kids, three bathrooms—not because he’s immature but because he’s angry. He’s angry because he thinks that young women are dishonest, self-involved, slutty, manipulative, shallow, controlling, and gold-digging. He’s angry because he thinks that the culture disses all things male. He’s angry because he thinks that marriage these days is a raw deal for men.

Here’s Jeff from Middleburg, Florida: “I am not going to hitch my wagon to a woman . . . who is more into her abs, thighs, triceps, and plastic surgery. A woman who seems to have forgotten that she did graduate high school and that it’s time to act accordingly.” Jeff, meet another of my respondents, Alex: “Maybe we turn to video games not because we are trying to run away from the responsibilities of a ‘grown-up life’ but because they are a better companion than some disease-ridden bar tramp who is only after money and a free ride.” Care for one more? This is from Dean in California: “Men are finally waking up to the ever-present fact that traditional marriage, or a committed relationship, with its accompanying socially imposed requirements of being wallets with legs for women, is an empty and meaningless drudgery.” You can find the same themes posted throughout websites like AmericanWomenSuck, NoMarriage, MGTOW (Men Going Their Own Way), and Eternal Bachelor (“Give modern women the husband they deserve. None”).

I have to say, I think it's admirable of Hymowitz to turn around and consider that there is, after all, another side to the problem.

Perhaps I'm not well-qualified to speak to this issue. For one, I haven't dated an American woman in about twenty years. For another, I've been married for eight years - a new personal best in relationship longevity for me.

When I was last single in America, my experience was not good. I wrote in a previous post, 'Have some free relationship advice' here: http://rantsand.blogspot.com/2006/12/have-some-free-relationship-advice.html

I'm a survivor of two really bad long-term relationships. I won't go into the details because, 1) they're really not relevant, and 2) in spite of the Oprah-age, let-it-all-hang-out culture we live in, I think it's vulgar. Suffice it to say, together they consumed a total of ten years of my life and had repercussions that echo to this day.

It wasn't until the end of the second disaster (nice word that, it means "evil star"), that I realized I had made the same mistake as the first. The first was excusable, I was young and new to the serious relationship scene. The second time, I thought I'd hooked up with a partner who was different in every way from the first - physically, intellectually and personality-wise.

What I realized too late was that they had both had something in common that overrode all their basic differences - they were unhappy people.

I have had no personal contact with either of these former partners for many years. I have heard of them though, and the evidence would seem to indicate they are both still unhappy people. (One is married with two grown children and still cruises bars, less and less successfully as she ages. The other had divorced husband number five when I last heard of her. That game isn't going to get easier as she approaches 60 either.)

Slightly better were relationships with single mothers raising children with zero help from the fathers, financial or otherwise. Yes they wanted a meal ticket, but at least showed evidence of being willing to show gratitude for it.

In that whole period of my life, the best relationship I had before I left for Poland was a purely utilitarian one. I was working on finishing my Master's, she was in the middle of a divorce and neither of us had time for complications. We were introduced by mutual friends, and used to meet for conversation and physical release, no strings attached.

Understand, I liked her just fine, she was good company. And she probably liked me too. But we walked away without a backward glance, in spite of some good times together. I remember her quite fondly, but I probably think of her least often - and I suspect the same is true of her.

It would be easy for a man to blame this on American women - and some do. (See: http://www.americanwomensuck.com/)

I recently had a conversation with a friend in Texas who is getting his doctorate in Mathematics, so his income prospects are pretty good. He's good-looking, well-travelled, cultured - and single.

He told me, "If a woman expresses an interest, about half the time I've found she's setting you up for humiliation."

If I'd had time though, there are a couple of women I could have introduced him to. Both in their 30s, intelligent, great personalities (I've known both of them since they were kids), real lookers - and single.

I could even have introduced him to another academic (not American), who is highly intelligent and goddam gorgeous. You'd think she'd have to beat off potential suitors with a club.

I've never seen her at a social function with a date.

What the heck is going on?

Well, women are delaying marriage for career reasons. This is actually not new, Thomas Sowell pointed out that this was actually more common in the early 20th century than it became in the 1950s - so perhaps this is the upswing of another one of those cycle things.

And yet something is different this time around. A woman may have married later back then, but she was expected to arrive without the baggage of kids with no father in sight (unless she was a respectable widow), and any sexual history was supposed to be discretely buried.

Some conservatives blame the Sexual Revolution and Women's Liberation.

Well, the Sexual Revolution deserves a re-thinking for sure. Birth control, and antibiotics, delivered us (for a while at least) from our biology - but not from our nature.

“Sexual liberation ought logically to have brought in a time of ‘naturalness,’ ease, and candor between men and women. It has, on the contrary, filled the country with sexual self-consciousness, uncertainty, and fear.” - Wendell Berry

People who sleep together regularly, tend to fall in love, get possessive, sexually jealous and all that old-fashioned stuff. Unless they are emotionally retarded, or deliberately, by a conscious act of will, shut off a part of themselves from their partners.

(Or unless they are sleeping with someone they are at least adequately attracted to - and don't like. And believe me, there is something enormously liberating about that -in a thoroughly soul-corrupting sort of way.)

And what we kept running into was, young girls who become sexually active, on a level below rational thought, want to get pregnant. It's one of those basic biological drives that extreme environmentalists (like Marxists) don't want to believe in.

Can there be any other explanation for the combination of readily available, effective birth control and the skyrocketing rate of out-of-wedlock births?

For nearly two generations, newly-discovered antibiotics could handle nearly all common STDs. Then our vacation from history was over with, first herpes - then AIDS. In essence, we were thrown back to our grandparents' world of incurable STDs. AIDS, was the new syphilis.

Women's lib started as a righteous demand for women to be let into the work force and judged on their competence like anyone else, and for men to stop patronizing them.

Watch some of those TV commercials from the '50s and early '60s if you don't think that last was a valid complaint. They are absolutely cringe-making in the patronizing attitudes towards women they display.

Then it got hijacked by lunatics. Now whatever it's about, it's not equality. The Larry Summers affair at Harvard demonstrates that with certainty. Women on colleges across the country demanded the right to punish a man - not even for an opinion, but for a tentative speculation based on a demonstrable truth. For Thoughtcrime in fact.

But who started this? Anthropologist Lionel Tiger (what a wonderful name!) speculated that Women's Lib was a response to men abandoning their responsibilities of support for partners and children. Which for women is scary enough to drive them pretty crazy.

My generation's contribution to Men's Lib, "Like wow, this fatherhood trip isn't my thing. See ya."

Tiger speculated the implicit message of Women's Lib was, "If you won't support us, then give us your damn jobs!"

I could speculate forever, but won't here, yet. I'm getting too far from what I'm really sure of.

I will venture one guess, two things are different from previous times of great social change.

One is that while previous codes of morality and behavior may have been harsh, they were at least based on a generally good understanding of what human nature is, and formulated rules accordingly to control the excesses of behavior that we are prone to by nature.

They didn't know about evolutionary biology, back in Old Testament times, but they had what I call a "pre-scientific intuition" of its consequences.

In these times, the lingering legacy of the extreme environmentalist position has it that there is no fixed human nature, or that "human nature is infinitely plastic" (Sir Arthur C. Clarke, who really ought to know better) and can be molded to whatever form we desire.


The other piece of philosophical lunacy is that there is no fixed reality and that truth can always be redefined contextually.

The consequences of this are far-reaching and show up in unexpected places. One of which I suspect may be the youth suicide rate. The notion that there is no place to plant your feet is terrifying for young people.

What all this adds up to is, here and now, it's a bad time for lovers.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Are we a generation of wussies? part 1

My wife just brought a book from our local library she thought I'd like. (She bought herself a set of Thomas Carlyle on sale.) I opened it at random and found this passage:

"It was silent in the woods, but something horrible happened everyday. Once the crows fell upon Friend Hare's small son who was lying sick, and killed him in a cruel way. He could be heard moaning pitifully for a long while. Friend Hare was not at home, and when he heard the sad news he was beside himself with grief."

The book is "Bambi, A Life in the Woods."

Yes, the book the Disney movie was based on, written in 1923 by Felix Salten. The author was born Siegmund Salten in Budapest in 1869. He was taken to Vienna by his parents as an infant, after Vienna admitted Jews to full citizenship.

He actually wrote two books about Bambi, and a few more where Bambi appears as a minor character. I understand they're all as dark as this.

Bambi was translated into English in 1928 and became a hit. Disney made it into a movie in 1942.

Salten's books were banned by Hitler (an animal-lover and vegetarian) in 1936, and in 1938 he moved to Switzerland, where he died in 1945. So I guess at least he got to see the smashing of the Reich.

This was a fortuitous coincidence, because a few nights ago I covered the 25th annual Buck Show, sponsored by our local Wildlife Federation.

There I was, feasting on chili in a crowd of families, many with small children, surrounded by tables laden with deer heads.

Awards were given for antlers in the categories of typical and non-typical, mule and whitetail deer, according to a complicated formula used by the national Boone and Crockett Club. There is a junior division for ages 14-17, and you could see the pride in their parents eyes as their boys, and girls, got their recognition for the bucks they'd shot.

I was aware of course, that a lot of city folk would think this appalling. Especially when I saw one curious youngster reach out and touch a buck's eyeball.

About that time, I saw the news reports about Michael Vick plea deal resulting in three-years probation. Vick is already serving a 23-month sentence for his involvement in dog fighting.

Dog fighting is illegal in the U.S., and cockfighting illegal in every state except New Mexico, Louisiana, and Oklahoma.

When I was travelling in Baja California, sleeping on beaches some years back, I camped next to a cockfighting arena near La Paz once. Very popular, with a big sign on the wall advertising, "Gallenas!"

Vick's case evoked a surprising degree of rage in people. My former roommate in D.C. knew Michael Vick, and pointed out Vick's numerous and significant contributions to charity were not getting any mention at all in the media, so great was the indignation.

Another NFL player, "Pacman" Jones, has a record of assaults, one leading to a man being paralyzed, and has yet to do serious time. Anybody who isn't a football fan heard of this?

There has been serious discussion that if Vick returns to the NFL eventually, his life might be in danger from outraged animal advocates.

I love dogs. There are people I'd rather see put down than some of the dogs I've known. But I still cannot believe the extent to which so many people want to take this man's freedom and ruin his livelihood - over a bunch of damn dogs!

So here's what I'm getting at. Some of us who've worked in the gritty jobs necessary to keep civilization running have been always been aware that Americans, and presumably all citizens of comfortably developed countries, seem to share certain unspoken assumptions.

They think food comes from a supermarket, clean water comes from a tap, and when you flush, sewage goes - away.

To put that breakfast bacon on your plate, a hog had to be killed and butchered.

Is it cruel?

Yes. Nature's cruel.

And you don't get a pass by being a vegetarian. Agriculture involves massive loss of animal life, directly from the process of plowing, planting and reaping, and indirectly from the loss of habitat.

Not to mention that when you wipe out, or severely limit predator species, you must become the predator to maintain nature's balance.

Only people insulated from raw nature by civilization can afford sentimental notions about it.

And, this seems to have consequences in the political realm.

Is it possible to be too civilized?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Ruminations: God, guns, and drugs; praise the Lord and pass the .40 caliber ammunition

*Look over the conservative/libertarian columnists, and in some places you'll see a, "Well, maybe it won't be so bad" attitude.

Steve Chapman:

Accusing Obama of socialism is unwise for three reasons: 1) It's not true, and 2) it makes the accuser sound like an idiot, and 3) it distracts from Obama's true inclinations, which are worrisome enough.

These days, no one believes in socialism -- defined by the late, left-wing economist Robert Heilbroner as "a centrally planned economy in which the government controls all means of production." A socialist wouldn't favor government aid to the automakers or the banks. He'd propose that the government take them over and run them for the benefit of society. But you haven't heard Obama or anyone else suggest that.

The president-elect is not unaware of the superiority of capitalism. His book "The Audacity of Hope" contains a testimonial that could have been plagiarized from Ayn Rand: "Our Constitution places the ownership of private property at the very heart of our system of liberty. The result of this business culture has been a prosperity that's unmatched in human history. Our greatest asset has been our system of social organization, a system that for generations has encouraged constant innovation, individual initiative and the efficient allocation of resources."

Of course Obama believes the government should do more to help the poor and vulnerable. If redistributing wealth makes you a socialist, though, you have to apply that label to the legendary libertarian economist Milton Friedman, who proposed a "negative income tax" to assure everyone basic sustenance.

It's weirdly like what I saw in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Soviet Empire, only the opposite sequence; a period of intense jubilation, a shout of "Great God Almighty free at last!" followed by a period of intense depression and pessimism, "Omigod look at the mess we've got to clean up!"

In this case it's "We're doomed, we're doomed!" followed by "Whew! Maybe we've dodged the bullet again."

*Chapman goes on to point out that Obama's willingness to "experiment" and his admiration for FDR is worrisome. It is now generally, if sometimes grudgingly admitted among economists, that FDR's constant "experimenting" with the economy prolonged the Depression until WWII lifted the country out of it.

A "cure" Robert Heinlein once described as, "Masking the symptoms with a high fever."

People with capital didn't dare invest it anywhere because they just didn't know what the heck the government was going to do next.

*And speaking of war, notice that Obama has negotiated an agreement with the Iraqi government to stay another three years?

Well that's only a little more than twice as long as the 16 months he promised it would take him to pull us out during the campaign.

The fact is, no non-incumbent presidential candidate can safely make foreign policy promises before he gets that first intelligence briefing with the threat assessments and secret stuff the rest of us aren't allowed to know about.

*Case in point. Remember that non-existent yellowcake uranium that was at the center of the Iraq WMD controversy and Valerie Plame affair?

Well, 550 metric tons of it are being processed for use in Canadian nuclear reactors even as we speak. It's been in the MSM, it just didn't get shouted from the rooftops. In fact, the underwhelming interest in the story is kind of... overwhelming.

Apparently U.S. forces found it some time ago, and have been sitting on it all along. Bush could have used the info to defend his war, but didn't because he was advised not to for security reasons, until it could be gotten out of Iraq.

By then of course, it was too late to do his reputation any good.

I sure hope the Canadians are giving us a break on the price of electricity from those reactors.

I wonder what would have happened if we'd had the reactors to use it in?

Would we have been accused of "going to war to steal Iraq's uranium?"

*One of the startling, and to some reassuring things Obama did, was appoint Rahm Emmanuael his chief of staff.

This was reassuring to Jews and gentile supporters of Israel who were worried (or who should have been) about Obama's penchant for hanging around with PLO types.

Emmanuel is the son of an Israeli sabra, and actually went to Israel to volunteer during one of their unpleasantnesses with their neighbors. He had a non-combatant position with one of those designations that says something innocuous like "mechanic" but screams "intelligence."

However, for those of us of libertarian bent who thought we were going to get at least something out of this administration, it turns out he's an ardent Drug Warrior.

Damn it, it's been years since revelations that a president's son smoked pot in the White House, a Republican president's son at that! We've just had eight years of a president who's known to have done pot and blow in his youth, though he denied it. Now we've got a president-elect who freely admits he smoked reefer and snorted coke in his college days.

If you'd told me in 1970 we'd still be locking people up for blowing reefer in the Year of Our Lord 2008 - I'd have laughed in your face.

I guess you'd have had the last laugh about now.

*One of the things some find worrisome about Obama is his attitude towards guns.

Columnist (and professor of criminology) Mike Adams said in response to claims that Obama would establish tyranny over America, "No he won't, because the 46% who voted for McCain are arming themselves to the hilt."

(Mixed metaphor, unless he meant they're all going out and buying swords. "I'll give up my broadsword when they pry my cold dead hands off the hilt.")

I've read anecdotal accounts that gun buying is wa-a-a-ay up, so I asked around local dealers.

It's not a large sample, but what I've heard is you can't get an assault rifle for love or money. I'm afraid the days of $100 Kalashnikovs are over.

I did find out however, that a company I'd never heard of called Hi-point, makes a well-reviewed automatic, available in .380, 9mm, .40 (the now-common police cartridge, with a 10-round magazine) and .45. Prices are around $200 retail.

I've seen Colt .45 Commanders priced at a thousand dollars in pawnshops! And a Ruger .45 I saw was $400 used.

I guess Hi-Point is the new Ruger, formerly the source of cheaper good-quality guns.

The only negative thing I've read so far is, they're kind of funny-looking. (And as I look at them, I kind of wonder if that's the model they used for the futuristic-looking guns Christian Bale kicked butt with in 'Equilibrium.')

Well, that and they don't have a slide release. That means when the last shot in the clip is fired, the slide locks back, like every automatic. But when you shove a new clip in you can't just push the slide release with your thumb and let it slam shut while chambering a new cartridge. (A very cool-looking move you must admit.) You have to pull the slide back with your off hand.

I think one could live with that. (Play on words intended.) If you're in the deep doo-doo and emptying a ten-round clip, you'd damn well better be firing from cover.

*One thing that did change in this election is, the pols are no longer following the rules of civilized gang warfare.

With politics as with the traditional Mafia, there was a rule that could be stated, "If you're not a player, you're not a target."

We saw that change with Joe the Plumber.

That can't be good.

*In this months issue of Smithsonian magazine, there's an article on the Sufis in Pakistan.

I've mentioned previously I'm a cheerful agnostic. Though I respect the Judeo-Christain tradition at its best, I haven't got an opinion on religious dogma I'd stick a finger in a match for.

What I haven't gone into before is, a religious tradition that interests me deeply, is Sufism.

This might come as a surprise to those who know my opinion of Islamic jihadism and our war against it. Unless you know that the jihadists consider the Sufis as heretics even more worthy of death than kaffirs like us.

Most of my knowledge of Sufism comes from the English-language writings of Idris Shah, and I have no way of knowing if he's a "typical" Sufi, or if that adjective has any meaning when talking about the People of the Path.

I mean to write more about this in the future, but for now, the Smithsonian article does not delve deeply into Sufism, but it's interesting.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

With friends like these, capitalism doesn't need enemies

Note: This appeared as an op-ed in the Valley City Times-Record.

These are grave times for the Republic. America has unwittingly elected a president with roots in the Hard Left, whose mentors and models are hard core Marxists.

When he takes office, the mask comes off. He's going to replace our free-market system, that made American prosperity the envy of the world, with a European-style socialism, where the government micromanages the “commanding heights” of the economy and subjects our sovereignty to the rule of unelected international bodies unaccountable to our constitutional limits on government power.

Oh wait, George Bush already did that.

Earlier in Bush's career, he engineered the Medicare prescription drug benefit, originally projected to cost merely billions. It didn't take long for those estimates to rise into the trillions. Oops!

Then there's the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, authorizing the United States Secretary of the Treasury to spend up to US$700 billion to purchase “distressed assets.”

“Distressed assets,” is government-speak for “bad investments.”

I'd like to announce to my readers that I'm opening an investment firm selling distressed assets. I can be reached care of the T-R. Please be patient if you can't reach me right away due to the deluge of phone calls from eager customers.

And now, Bush has gone and done something at the G-20 economic summit that's probably not on most people's radar, because it involves high-finance stuff that's kind of dense for those of us who aren't accountants or investment bankers.

What happened was, Bush agreed to subject American regulatory bodies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission, to the supervision of a European entity called a College of Supervisors. They'll examine and critique our regulatory standards, demand changes they feel are necessary, and tell them what they think should be done about things like executive compensation and investment practices.

I'm getting outside my area of competence here. I can't tell from news reports how much power over our economy has been ceded to the European Union, or what the likely consequences will be.

What I can say is, our regulatory bodies will be taking advice from the economic managers of a federation of countries that can't arrive at a constitution acceptable to a bare majority in any given country, has a worker productivity rate at least a third less than America, and accepts as normal for good times an unemployment rate we'd consider a recession if not a depression.

They also have a crippling debt load much like ours, which they accomplished while maintaining minuscule armed forces most of our our state National Guards could whup in a fair fight, with a little help from the Boy Scouts.

Just before that G-20 summit, Bush delivered what some thought was the most eloquent speech of his career. Not a long list to be sure. Bush doesn't do eloquence, as even his most loyal supporters agree.

In it he defended capitalism to the leaders of the developed world, and urged them to "fix the problems we have rather than dismantle a system that has improved the lives of hundreds of millions of people around the world".

I agree. I've lived and worked in countries making the transition from socialism to market-oriented economies, and believe me it's something to behold.

So what the heck is Bush doing? He doesn't even have to do it for political expediency. The measures are tremendously unpopular, and he's a lame duck president anyway.

It is seldom we see such a disconnect in what a person professes to believe, and what he does – even for a politician.

But with friends like this, capitalism doesn't need enemies.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Who's to blame? part 1

If you go here:


there is an admirably succinct article by Peter Robinson on why the Republicans are, to put it bluntly (which he doesn't, but he's a gentleman and perhaps I'm not), traitors to the cause of liberty.

Robinson recounts a dinner conversation he had with Milton Friedman, at which he complimented Friedman for basically winning the case for free-market economics in academia, in a time academia had gone overwhelmingly left.

Friedman demurred, "The challenge for my generation," he said, "was to provide an intellectual defense of liberty. The challenge for your generation is to keep it."

Robinson cites recent Republican sins against free markets and constitutional liberty: the prescription drug benefit, the farm bill, and McCain-Feingold.

And now, a lame-duck Republican president is about to extend the Wall Street bailout to Detroit automakers. In doing so, he's cut the legs out from under any Republican argument in favor of letting the market sort itself out.

The son-of-a-bitch could not wait and let it be the fault of the Democratic president-elect.

And to add insult to injury, he's doing it after broadcasting what some have described as the most passionate and articulate speech in his career, in favor of free market capitalism.

Free men can face our enemies unflinchingly, but God save us from friends like these!

After I published my article, 'The Perfect Storm of the Left' I was asked by several friends and comrades who I blame for this.

Here's my answer. I blame you; conservatives, libertarians and Objectivists.

Leftists can't help what they are. Leftism is an idiocy, a pathology. Leftists are over-educated for their intellect, which makes the world a terrifying place for them.

Twentieth-century rationalism showed them a universe unimaginably big, and terrifyingly indifferent to them. Unable to find a god anywhere in it, wounded to the core by the revelation of their own insignificance, lacking the internal resources to find significance in their own lives, they became easy meat for anyone who promised them a personal god in an omnipotent, omnibenevolent state.

In the last analysis, leftism is pitiable. After the intellectual baggage has been stripped away by the catastrophic collapse of the Marxist planned economies, and the creaking, clanking, slow-death of the Social Democratic welfare states, what you have left is the heart-rending cry of, "I am alone, I am afraid, help me!"

Next, I rip the right a new one.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Veterans Day in our town

Note: A slightly different version of this appeared in our local paper as an op-ed.

“People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”
George Orwell

My wife was reading my Veteran's Day article about USAF Lt. Col. (ret.) Nick Soulis' presentation at VCSU last Thursday.*

Wow!” she exclaimed, “He flew over the Himalayas? How many people were there to hear him?”

“Not many,” I replied, “about a dozen I think.”

She was dumbfounded. She had originally tipped me off about the presentation and was irritated she couldn't come herself.

She couldn't imagine why more students wouldn't want to hear what an old WWII pilot had to say about his war. But then, she's a soldiers daughter and was raised on war movies – often American ones at that. Her father is a retired Polish Army officer who loves American war movies.

I sometimes wonder if that's what we have in common. We come from different countries, different generations, and grew up speaking different languages. What we do have in common is a weird sense of humor, and the fact that we're both military brats.

My father retired a Captain in the Navy Medical Corps, her father a Major in the Secret Chancellery of the Polish Army. My mother was a Navy nurse, her grandmother was a member of the underground army during WWII. When they met for the first time, her father presented mine with a Polish officer's saber. So our children have grandfathers who were officers on opposite sides of the Cold War.

Everything changes in time.

Their military experiences were far different of course, and not entirely positive. My father retired at a time when our country was rent by a still-ongoing debate as to whether, and when we should send our military abroad, and shaken to the core by the revelations of the My Lai massacre.

Her country's military were acutely, humiliatingly, aware they were treated as the local auxiliaries of an occupying power. And the role of Polish forces in crushing the Czechoslovakian freedom movement in 1968 is deeply embarrassing to this day.

The legacy in both our countries, is an attitude towards the military in the present generation of young adults that ranges from indifferent to actively hostile. This is expressed, as I saw last Thursday, by a disinterest in military history and the reminiscences of old veterans who in their youth, saw the world descend into madness.

Valley City has a fortunate relationship with the military. Our experience is mostly with the citizen-soldiers of the local National Guard. These men and women are less transient than regular military, more rooted in our community, more settled. And after being sent half a world away, they return to us, not to a duty station among strangers.

Some of them have served in Iraq. Soon, some will go to Kosovo, and in the future perhaps to Afghanistan, if our new president follows through on his campaign promises. These are ancient lands, consumed by divisions older than the history of our nation, and a debate rages as to whether our involvement in their affairs will do them, or us, any lasting good.

The experience of the Second World War generation would seem to incline them one way, more recent experience another. The differences might tell us a lot about why, and if, and under what circumstances we should send our young men and women in harm's way, far away.

I confess to being deeply conflicted about where the Guard is sending our friends and neighbors. Iraq, Kosovo, Afghanistan. All three? None? Any one or two of them?

I don't know what the judgment of the next generation will be on any of these. But I strongly suggest when they are called on to reminisce about their war - listen.

* VCSU is Valley City State University, a small but quite well-regarded local university.

Mr. Soulis is an insurance agent in a neighboring town, and was invited by our local university to talk about his experiences as a B-29 pilot during WWII. Soulis flew out of India across "the hump" to bomb the Japanese in China, and later out of the island of Tinian to bomb the home islands of Japan.

What was startling to me, was his memories of the aftermath of the two atomic bombs.

After the Hiroshima bomb, they heard nothing from the Japanese government for two days. So they dropped the Nagasaki bomb.

Again, no communication.

Soulis actually flew another mission dropping incendiaries on Japanese cities days after Nagasaki.

He said, "Nobody wanted to get killed on the last day of the war."

After the mission he went to sleep and was woken up by somebody shouting, "The war's over! The war's over!"

His last mission in B-29s was to fly over the battleship Missouri as the Japanese envoys signed the articles of surrender.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Ruminations on power

“Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts – absolutely.”
Lord Acton

*It seems to me that virtually all of the disagreements between – and within, political factions are about power, it’s nature and uses, on scales ranging from interaction between individuals to interaction between nations. Further, questions of morality and rights can be broken down into questions of the uses of power.

Questions of “rights” for example, tend to get bogged down in conflicts over the definition of rights.

One extreme defines rights in a purely negative way, the “right” to act in certain ways without interference by any other men.

The other extreme defines rights as positive obligations of men to other men, for example the “right to a job”, i.e. the obligation of someone with a job to give, to give it to you.

*I wonder how many people who speak of a "right to an education" remember that a pedagogue once meant a slave who carried the books of a student to school?

Or that after the Roman conquest of Greece, Greek scholars were sold in Roman markets to be tutors to the children of their conquerors?

*Government is not eloquence, it is not persuasion, it is force. And like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a terrible master."
-George Washington

The position I call "naive libertarianism" recognizes the danger and potential for corruption by power, and reacts by calling for the abolition of organized power.

Right. When does that ever happen?

When George Washington made that eloquent and incredibly perceptive observation, he was not suggesting that we abolish either government or fire.

Power will be used, that is a given. The question is how?

*Also a given, there will always be a most powerful nation or alliance of nations. Of all the nations in the world today, is there another you would prefer it to be?

*"As above so below." I have noticed that relations between nations and groups that act like nations are not so different from relations between individuals, in terms of the uses of power.

I don’t want “parity” with the punk on the corner who mugs little old ladies for his drug money. I want overwhelming superiority. I want him so afraid of me he will soil his pants at the thought of messing with me.

That’s the first goal, two alternatives are tied for second place.

It would fill my heart with gladness were he to repent of his ways and become a useful member of society. Then we could be friends and my life would be richer from knowing that no human being is totally unredeemable.

Failing that, I’d like him dead or incapacitated.

It’s not that I prefer the latter, it’s that it’s the cheaper alternative in the short run. Changing a life requires sustained effort and the cooperation of the one being changed. It can happen – but the smart money’s against it.

"Most men can stand adversity. If you really want to test a man's character - give him power."
-Abraham Lincoln

*The kind of people I like to associate with, are the kind of people who don't want power over other people. I mean the power to make other people do their will, as opposed to sufficient to make people leave you alone.

Persuasion to obtain freely given cooperation, is time-consuming and often exasperating. But you sleep better at night, and don't have that feeling of having to watch your back quite so much.

But... does this lack of interest in power put free men at an inherent disadvantage with the power lovers?

Is this why we've got the government we've got?

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Ruminations after the election

*If you're depressed about the election, you might to here http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=MGEzN2MxYTQ5MDE2YTc5M2Y1MzFkNThlNjZiNGI4ZmM=

and read Bill Whittle's essay about how "we're going to whip them out of their boots" come next time.

It's a reference to Phil Sheridan turning a Union rout around to a stunning victory during the Civil War. Whittle is one hell of a writer, which got him promoted recently from blogger to National Review Online columnist.

Now go read it. Then come back and read this:

Sheridan's Ride
by Thomas Buchanan Read

Up from the South, at break of day,
Bringing to Winchester fresh dismay,
The affrighted air with a shudder bore,
Like a herald in haste to the chieftain's door,
The terrible grumble, and rumble, and roar,
Telling the battle was on once more,
And Sheridan twenty miles away.

And wider still those billows of war
Thundered along the horizon's bar;
And louder yet into Winchester rolled
The roar of that red sea uncontrolled,
Making the blood of the listener cold,
As he thought of the stake in that fiery fray,
With Sheridan twenty miles away.

But there is a road from Winchester town,
A good, broad highway leading down:
And there, through the flush of the morning light,
A steed as black as the steeds of night
Was seen to pass, as with eagle flight;
As if he knew the terrible need,
He stretched away with his utmost speed.
Hills rose and fell, but his heart was gay,
With Sheridan fifteen miles away.

Still sprang from those swift hoofs, thundering south,
The dust like smoke from the cannon's mouth,
Or the trail of a comet, sweeping faster and faster,
Foreboding to traitors the doom of disaster.
The heart of the steed and the heart of the master
Were beating like prisoners assaulting their walls,
Impatient to be where the battle-field calls;
Every nerve of the charger was strained to full play,
With Sheridan only ten miles away.

Under his spurning feet, the road
Like an arrowy Alpine river flowed,
And the landscape sped away behind
Like an ocean flying before the wind;
And the steed, like a barque fed with furnace ire,
Swept on, with his wild eye full of fire;
But, lo! he is nearing his heart's desire;
He is snuffing the smoke of the roaring fray,
With Sheridan only five miles away.

The first that the general saw were the groups
Of stragglers, and then the retreating troops;
What was to be done? what to do?--a glance told him both.
Then striking his spurs with a terrible oath,
He dashed down the line, 'mid a storm of huzzas,
And the wave of retreat checked its course there, because
The sight of the master compelled it to pause.
With foam and with dust the black charger was gray;
By the flash of his eye, and his red nostril's play,
He seemed to the whole great army to say:
"I have brought you Sheridan all the way
From Winchester down to save the day."

Hurrah! hurrah for Sheridan!
Hurrah! hurrah for horse and man!
And when their statues are placed on high
Under the dome of the Union sky,
The American soldier's Temple of Fame,
There, with the glorious general's name,
Be it said, in letters both bold and bright:
"Here is the steed that saved the day
By carrying Sheridan into the fight,
From Winchester--twenty miles away!"

Whittle says:

"It has been a source of delight for me these past few days to see nothing but evidence of this, all across our defeated lines. Nowhere have I heard a shred of defeatism or despair. On the contrary. In point of fact, the magnanimity and graciousness I have seen in defeat in so many places on the right tells me that this is an eager and seasoned army, one able to look defeat in the face and own up to the errors in tactics and strategy that got us there. And nowhere do I see a call to abandon our core principles and sue for terms, but rather that our loss was caused precisely by our abandonment of the issues which we hold dear and which have served us so well on battlefields past."


On the other hand, with all due respect to a great thinker and writer, I've read plenty to the contrary.

Example, the continued sliming of Sarah Palin, not by the left-wing media and triumphant Democrats - but by anonymous McCain staffers.

Also see here: http://townhall.com/columnists/AmandaCarpenter/2008/11/07/conservative_bloggers_feel_spurned

Amanda Carpenter, "Conservative Bloggers Feel Spurned."

"After Barack Obama swept John McCain in the 2008 election and the Democrats expanded their majorities in the House and Senate, high-profile conservatives began plotting strategy meetings to invigorate the party.

"Younger, conservative bloggers complain they were left out.

"The most-discussed meeting was held at the Media Research Center President Brent Bozell’s Virginia home for roughly 20-leading voices, including American for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist, the Leadership Institute’s Founder Morton Blackwell, American Spectator Publisher Al Regnery, pollster Kelly-Ann Conway and Chairman of ConservativeHQ.com Richard Viguerie.

"One particularly passionate online activist told Townhall he called three sources trying to get an invitation to the meeting only to be told there was “no room.”"

Is this what we've got to look forward to? A conservative Old Guard that would rather lose than make way for new blood?


Folks, I'd like to agree with Bill Whittle. Though I've never met him, his writing bespeaks a man of exemplary courage, conviction and brains.

Go here http://www.ejectejecteject.com/ and check out his essay "Tribes" to see if I write truly.

There is an Arab saying, "The courage of your friends gives you strength."

I think of Whittle as a friend and comrade I haven't met yet. And his courage certainly heartens me.

And yet, I am afraid of the malign influence of Washington.

There is something in that miasmal atmosphere that affects even the staunchest advocates of constitutional government, limited, distributed, and balanced. (In Milton Friedman's definition of classical liberalism.)

The redouts of freedom are today found in foundations and think tanks that the friends of liberty established when the Hard Left occupied academia. Some wonderful work has been done by organizations such as CATO, Heritage and numerous others.

And yet, (there always seem to be "and yets" don't here?)

Once established and funded, many foundation seem content just to exist, provide jobs for the like-minded, and put on conferences where they basically preach to the choir.

Or to put it bluntly, as soon as they establish an office in D.C. they seem to become Beltway snobs.

Perhaps that's unfair, a fellow in Washington pointed out to me that the choir has a life outside the choir loft. Choir singers are often the first to hear the word, and the first to repeat it to the community.

There are exceptions, the FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education http://www.thefire.org/) actually fights legal battles championing individuals actually being persecuted for exercising their rights to free speech on campus.

I must note, their offices are in Phildelphia and New York.


Remember the Republican sweep during the Clinton administration?

The one that caused Clinton to say, "The era of Big Government is over"?

Wonderful news. Except the Republicans found themselves quite comfortable at the trough and became even bigger pigs than the ones they replaced.

Now they've been thrown out, and deservedly so. Which should delight anyone with a sense of justice, but for the fact they've been replaced by a coterie whose leader has promised to reorganize the economy so that half of the population works for a living, and the other half votes for it.

That's impossible of course. The most thoroughgoing welfare states can only support a two to one ratio of producers to consumers, and that only for a while.

Which is not to say they will not make the attempt, however disastrous it turns out.

The horrible thing to contemplate is, the outgoing administration has made them a present of a half-socialized banking system to start off with.


George Bernard Shaw made that perceptive remark, "Anyone who promises to rob Peter to pay Paul, can always count on the support of Paul."

When people quote that, I wonder how many remember that Shaw was a Fabian Socialist who admired both Hitler and Stalin?

I wonder if Shaw was warning against such an economic program, or if he was prescribing tactics?

Friday, November 07, 2008

Obama and Elliot Ness

Note: A slightly different version of this appeared as an op-ed in the Valley City Times-Register.

The longest election campaign in our history is over. America has elected the first African-American president.

No matter what you think about President-elect Obama's politics, resume, and past associations, that one fact gives a certain heady feeling. America has outgrown its past and once again proved to the world, history need not be destiny.

The outcome was no surprise to anyone who's been watching. Obama's followers exuded a religious fervor. McCain's most enthusiastic supporters regarded their candidate as damage control at best.

But as the election returns rolled in Tuesday night, for some reason all I could think about was, The Untouchables.

I'm dating myself, but I don't mean the 1987 move with Kevin Costner. I'm thinking of the series starring Robert Stack as Elliot Ness, which ran from 1959 to 1963, and featured the voice of legendary, and infamous journalist Walter Winchell.

The series was about an elite police unit in Chicago, battling the mob machine during the Prohibition years.

In one dramatic episode, which takes place in 1932, the actor Joseph Wiseman plays a mob chemist, who happens to be crippled and can only walk with the aid of crutches. This however, doesn't prevent him from murdering a few people over the course of the episode.

At the end of course, Ness arrests the chemist. As he's taken into custody, he pleads frantically, “I'm just a poor cripple, what could I do? What could I do?”
Ness picks up a newspaper and shows him the banner headline, “Roosevelt Wins by a Landslide!”

“You could have been elected President of the United States yesterday,” Ness replies.

Tuesday, November 4, 46 years after that episode aired, 54 years after Brown v Board of Education ended legal segregation in schools, and 143 years after the 13th Amendment to the Constitution outlawed slavery in the United States, Barack Obama was elected President of the United States.

A good deal of the Democratic campaign involved grievance-mongering. It's only to be expected, if you campaign on “change,” you have to start from the position that what you have now is bad enough to risk the uncertainty of change.

Our local Republican candidates (in state legislature District 24, North Dakota) also campaigned on change, as every challenger does, but couldn't make the case that what we have now was worth changing. And in the end, change for change's sake didn't sell here.

Now here's the irony.

Obama began his political career peddling the politically Left assumption that America is a broken country, which needs dramatic, extensive, systemic change. It is an article of faith among the Left that America was flawed in its founding, and remains a country of bigotry, injustice, and oppression.

As he neared the summit of his ambition, this theme became more and more muted in Obama's rhetoric, and was symbolically renounced when he severed his ties with America-damning preacher Jeremiah Wright, and America-bombing professor Bill Ayres.

Opponents scorned this a political expediency. I prefer to think of it as political necessity. Religious fervor may bring you to power, but cannot help you govern.

President Obama renounced his ties with the grievance-mongering demagogues because his very success is proof they are wrong. America is still the land where a man is more than his birth and background.

And from this day forward, whenever anyone pleads for special treatment under the law because America is broken, and after all what else could they do, the answer is, “You could have been elected President of the United States.”

And congratulations Barack Hussein Obama, 44th President of the United States of America. May you be worthy of the trust the nation has placed in you.

Tomorrow this space goes back to being the Opposition, in hope that we won't have to become the Resistance some day. But for today, a gentleman takes his losses with dignity and congratulates the winner.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Martial Arts research: part 3, Combatives and Martial Arts

I went over something of the history and origin of combatives training in parts 1 and 2.

Modern combatives originated from the necessity of teaching military recruits something useful of close quarters combat in a minimal amount of time.

What happened most often was, a skilled martial artist would pick a small number of his favorite techniques from a number of systems, judged to be effective in the most common situations for the circumstances he was training them for.

For an example, see here: http://www.amazon.com/Dirty-Dozen-Techniques-Self-Defense-Situation/dp/1581603177/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1225551295&sr=1-2

Of course, when you have recruits who, by circumstance or choice, are going to be in the military for a long time, it's natural to want to extend and deepen the training with more techniques.

At some point after adding a whole lot of techniques, what you have is another martial art.

That's what some of Fairbairn's diciples have done, see: http://www.defendo.com/

And lately, you have had militaries deliberately setting out to design a new martial art from the ground up. See: Tongkut Moosul, Krav Maga, Haganah, KAPAP and Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP).

You'll notice that three out of five on that list, come from Israel.

This should not surprise anyone, Israel was and is, one of the primary battlegrounds of "asymetric warfare,"(1) which is the most significant driver of modern martial arts development.(2)

This was necessary because formal martial arts had too often become either
sports (3), classical combat forms preserved as traditional cultural practices (4), or physical exercise to promote spiritual development (5).

Militaries, and law enforcement, had to return to the roots of martial arts to find the combat effectiveness that had been lost.

This they did by turning to older forms of sport martial arts (6), and by looking to parts of the world where men still fought seriously, such as the streets of Hong Kong and Taipei, and the jungles and villages of the Philippines.

In sum: combatives is not a new development, it is martial arts returning to their source and orignal purpose.

Next: Old is new again.

(1) Asymetric warfare, to put it bluntly, is when you have to power to exterminate your enemy, and won't.

This kind of delicacy is relatively new to history, and pretty exclusively western.

Ghengis Khan used extermination of whole cities which refused to yield, or violated Mongol customs by killing envoys*, as a matter of policy.

Democratic Athens did it once during the Peloponesian War at Melos, and almost immediately regretted it.**

Subduing enemies who hide among civilians, as opposed to, "Kill them all. The Lord will know his own"*** requires soldiers to go among hostile or wavering populations and dig out the enemy up close and personal.****

* Sometimes rulers of cities and nations who thought their subjects might be less than enthusiastic about fighting to preserve their rulers' lives would murder Mongol ambassadors. Then their people would have to fight for them.

** Euripides staged The Trojan Women the same year as the slaughter by Athens of all male inhabitants of Melos above the age of 10.

*** Oliver Cromwell's orders during the Irish campaign.

**** The parallel development driver in civilian martial arts was the outlawing of private warfare, duels and feuds, in modern western societies.

(2)Another is the Philippines, which I'll deal with later. (The primary arts I practice are headquartered in Israel and the Philippines respectively.)

(3) Judo, Tae Kwon Do, sport Karate, etc.

(4) Kenjutsu and the more esoteric arts such as Ho-jutsu (traditional Japanese gunnery with matchlocks), and Yoroi kumi-uchi (wrestling in traditional samurai armor)etc. Modern Chinese Wu-shu falls into both categories.

This category is important, because if the forms still reflect the original training for combat reality, the function can still be recovered by analysis of the movements and comparison with other arts.

For example, Yoroi kumi-uchi is practiced by two armored men wrestling for position to see who can pull an armor-piercing dagger and get the other first. The art's relevance has unexpectedly revived in an age of dragon-scale body armor.

(5) Tai Chi, modern budo such as Aikido etc.

(6) For how this might be done, take boxing for example. It's a great study, and many Asian martial artists consider the handwork among the most advanced in the world. More than many other martial arts, western boxing teaches "the continuous and returning fist" and the art of delivering punishing blows while maintaining good cover.

It is however, hemmed in by a lot of rules that reduce combat effectiveness, and the gloves protect the hands, which restrict hand formations and allow techniques like hitting the skull with knuckles - almost guaranteeing breakage bare-handed.

To "weaponize" boxing, one might get competent at it, study the fouls - and practice them. Practice on the heavy bag with light gloves, and perhaps take up the archaic fist conditioning (though that's a little hard-core for most tastes.*)

*Bare-knuckle boxers used to punch to the head with a standing fist (Chinese "Sun" fist) rather than the palm-down flat fist. They also used to condition the fists by soaking them in brine, brine and whiskey, or horse piss.