Saturday, May 30, 2009

Is Obama getting tough in North Korea?

When I saw the headlines of the above article, “Gates: Nuclear-armed N. Korea not acceptable,” and read the Google lead, “The United States will not accept North Korea as a nuclear-armed state, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Saturday at an international conference,” I was just glancing at the headlines before going off to feed the dogs.

I rolled that idea around in my mind as I worked: Shoot, if the US really forced North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons, that would put a big harpoon right into the middle of Iran’s Nuclear Weapons ambitions. If the US clamped down on NK militarily, for that is what it would take barring China’s help, Iranians would be sure to elect a president who wasn’t going to get them into that kind of trouble.

As soon as I could, I rushed back to my computer and read the whole CNN article and watched the CNN videos CNN referred me to. Alas, everything I read and saw contradicted the impression I got from the CNN headline and lead-in. The US was not going to get tough with North Korea. Gates didn’t think there was anything to worry about. The North Korean missiles didn’t have the range to reach the US. There was no troop movement to indicate that NK was going to move on the South Korean and US troops at the 1953 cease-fire line.

A statement by Clinton ended up sounding amusing. She began tough, the same way the UN article did. She said North Korea had made choices and those choices would have consequences, but as she got to the point where she needed to describe those consequences she repeated that there would be consequences and then added the very weak statement, in a stuttering and stammering fashion that those consequences would be added to. Rather than back up the idea that the US might do something, the UN was invoked. The naughty North Koreans had violated a UN resolution so additional consequences will be incurred by North Korea. I couldn’t help coughing a bit at that. I watched her and she said all that with a straight face as far as I could tell. Remarkable!

Our history isn’t terribly long as national histories go, but one thing we might have learned is that weak American presidents are invariably challenged by someone. If some president is elected on a platform of playing nice, enemies are sure to think this he is a weakling and try him out in some way. As it turns out (consider this advice for those who voted for Mr. Nice) we seem to get into more violent trouble when electing a Mr. Nice then we probably would have if we had elected Mr. Tough. The bad guys want to try out the toughness of Mr. Nice. Think here of how far Nikita Khrushchev pushed the Nice President Kennedy. He was forced, much against his will and against his experience, to learn how to be tough – and he wasn’t very good at it. We came as close to a nuclear war then as we ever had.

Think also of the nice President Jimmy Carter. He was so nice that he opposed that nasty Shah of Iran, got him ousted and replaced by the Ayatollah Khomeini. Let’s not forget the nice Jimmy Carter or avoid giving him all the credit he is due for our current Iranian difficulties. The Ayatollah thanked you, or would have if he weren’t so nasty, and Ahmadinejad would too if he weren’t giving all the credit to Allah who must surely have pulled the wool over Carter’s eyes.

And now we have the nice Barack Obama as president. He is ably being assisted by the nice Mr. Gates. Mrs. Clinton isn’t quite as nice, but she is trying to be. Obama does seem to be smarter than Kennedy. I don’t know if he is smarter than Bill Clinton, but maybe he won’t be so distracted by scandals. Maybe he will be able to apply his intelligence to the challenges at hand. Both North Korea’s Kim Jon-Il and Iran’s Ahmadinejad have been challenging him. He hasn’t been over matched so far; which is good. Kim Jon-Il is ill and his successor may be one of his descendants. Will this successor carry on the policies of the Dear Leader? If he does, and he isn’t very experienced, perhaps he may not try to test Obama too much. But if he tries to prove himself as being tougher than his father and grandfather, there could be trouble.

And Ahmadinejad isn’t in a good position for testing Obama too much just yet. He has an important election coming up and there are opposition candidates that seem formidable. Some are saying that negotiating diplomatically with Obama wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. But if Ahmadinejad is reelected, he may believe that the Mahdi still has some important work for him to do before he returns. That important work might be, if we can believe Ahmadinejad’s statements, scary.

So Obama could follow in the footsteps of earlier nice Presidents and let the bad buys do whatever they liked until they actually did something to the US or its people that they couldn’t ignore. Kennedy had to keep missiles out of Cuba and Carter had to try and rescue hostages from Iran in Operation Eagle Claw in 1980. It bears repeating that neither Kennedy nor Carter were very good at this sort of thing.

If Obama intends to let North Korea stay nuclear and doesn’t mind if Iran becomes so then I wish he would instruct his cabinet to quit confusing me by trying to sound tough from time to time. Talking tough in headlines and then sounding very weak in the rest of the article may accomplish some American political goal, but it won’t help get rid of North Korean and Iranian nuclear weapons. But if somehow Obama could learn to be tough up front, preemptively, before he is later forced to learn how to be tough, that would be an impressive and effective thing.

You don’t avoid war, Mr. President, by being as nice as possible. You don’t avoid it by refusing to study it. Doing those things make you see a victim to our enemies. You avoid war by being as tough as necessary and by studying war. You can’t avoid it if you don’t know what it is. And studying war may teach you that it is sometimes prudent to do a little war now in order to avoid a big one later on.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Walking Ridgebacks late at night

One person questioned the late hours I chose to walk the girls. But there is an old saying, that may have originated in India, that only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noon-day sun. Something like that is true of San Jacinto as well. I wouldn’t take the girls out in San Jacinto’s noon-day sun. Indeed it sometimes takes until about 22:00 for the temperature to drop below 70 degrees. So the chief reason I walk the girls so late is that it takes until then before the night has cooled off enough to make a walk enjoyable.

A second reason would be that there are fewer cars on the road. Thus, when we cross one of the unlighted roads to get onto an unpaved farm road, there are fewer cars to have to watch out for.

A third reason is that it seems to be quieter and darker and more enjoyable. We can see the stars more clearly.

But I do recognize the implied criticism: most people would not walk their dogs as late as I walk mine. I’m reminded of my old free-diving days. In some diving spots, I would pass hundreds of people lying on the beach or playing in the knee-deep surf, but once out past them, where the fish were, where I would be diving, I was alone. People do seem to like to cluster together and shy away from rough and difficult seas. No doubt that is part of the reason I have been criticized for taking my girls down to the river during months when the weather is cooler. Most people would stay on the beach, or in this case on their neighborhood streets or in fenced “dog parks.” I suppose I would do that if I were to become handicapped, but short of that I prefer more interesting walks. With just a little training, a little practice, a little physical conditioning, one can get out to the more interesting places where the fish are.

As far as I know, there are no laws prohibiting me from walking my dogs as late as I like, but we do as Americans and Europeans have laws controlling our coming and going, and it wasn’t always like that. David Fromkin on pages 154-5 of The Way of the World, quoted the historian A. J. P. Taylor to say, “’until August 1914 a sensible, law-abiding Englishman could pass through life and hardly notice the existence of the state, beyond the post office and the policeman. He could live where he liked and as he liked. He had no official number or identity card. He could travel abroad or leave his country for ever without a passport or any sort of official permission. He could exchange his money for any other currency without restriction or limit. He could buy goods from any country in the world on the same terms as he bought goods at home. For that matter, a foreigner could spend his life in this country without permit.’

“The French academic Andre Siegfried, it was reported, recalled that before the war, ‘he had once gone around the world with only one piece of identification: his calling card!’ The economist John Maynard Keynes remembered how easy it had been, on an impulse, to send a servant to the bank for gold, and then go ‘abroad to foreign quarters, without knowledge of their religion, language, or customs,’ and how the ordinary Englishman ‘would consider himself greatly aggrieved and much surprised at the least interference. But most of all, he regarded this state of affairs as normal, certain, and permanent. . . . The projects and politics of militarism and imperialism, of racial and cultural rivalries . . . were little more than the amusements of his daily newspaper, and appeared to exercise almost no influence at all on the ordinary course of social and economic life, the internationalization of which was nearly complete in practice.’”

Neither Fromkin nor Taylor answer the question of whether anyone walked his dog late at night in those peaceful days prior to 1914. But setting that aside, what has gone on between then and now to create such a different world, for it wasn’t just Britain where what Taylor described was true, but Europe, the U.S. and much of the rest of the world. The world had become Europeanized and the predominate view was that universal peace had been achieved. But beginning with 1914 we had two world wars, a number of revolutions and other wars, the decolonization of the European empires and the world seemed far less safe than it did back before 1914.

Walk your dog late at night? There might be muggers out there or gangs or terrorists or berserk veterans suffering from post-traumatic shock. Best to risk the noon-day sun than subject yourself to threats like those. Maybe so. Maybe so. Maybe so.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Ridgebacks, Guilt, Iran, and North Korea

Someone asked me what Sage was doing during the event I described in the “Good Samaritan Ridgeback”: I didn’t mention her because she wasn’t doing any anything relative. She was being as insensitive as I was. While Ginger was looking, and pulling back toward the person in trouble. Sage and I were both content to continue on with our walk.

Since the local police haven’t shown up at my door to question me about why I was assisting Rene in his flight, I am tentatively assuming that Rene, if he was fleeing, wasn’t fleeing from anything terribly serious. Furthermore, he didn’t seem as though he were anxious or worried about anything. Even the thought of being stranded in the middle of nowhere while his friend Chris scoured the streets of San Jacinto for him didn’t seem to worry him too terribly much. Perhaps he was confident that if he got into further trouble, God would send another Ginger to rescue him.

Why did I worry? The Policeman was rude and surly; which might imply that he thought I was guilty of something. And, to paraphrase Clint Eastwood from the Unforgiven and Franz Kafka from The Trial, “we are all guilty of something.” Sure, I was following Ginger’s lead, but I didn’t disagree with her. It is good to help people in trouble. But if as the surly cop caused me to think, the person in trouble was fleeing a crime, then I might be guilty of something. I might be forced to prove that I was not complicit in Rene’s crime, and how could I prove that. Following Kafka some more, I didn’t know what the crime was; so how could I prove I wasn’t guilty of it? Yes, I was out walking my Rhodesian Ridgeback girls, but did I have any witnesses? No. No one was watching us as we went out for our walk. No one saw us until we encountered Rene. How was it I knew Rene’s name and the name of his friend Chris if I wasn’t guilty? The guilty flee where no man pursueth, but if we are all guilty . . .

And this caused me to reflect on the nature of our society. It is patterned more after the Leviathan of Hobbes than after the ideas of Rousseau. Hobbes thought men were basically evil and needed to be controlled. Rousseau thought men were basically good and needed to be encouraged. So the policeman as a representative of our Leviathan was right in being surly and rude to me for I was basically evil and needed to be treated with suspicion. I am not in totally sympathy with Hobbes, for after all some people out late at night are just walking their dogs, but I am not in total sympathy with Rousseau either.

We have seen that in France and indeed much of Europe, the Islamists are not treated as an evil group bent upon destroying the European way of life. They are treated as unruly boys that need to, perhaps, be given something constructive to do. The image of Fascists seeing evil wherever they looked is still too fresh in the minds of Europeans. They want to view events through rosy glasses for awhile. Well, as I have argued in several notes, that doesn’t seem a wise course of action. If they were to examine the doctrinal beliefs of the Islamists, they might be a bit more worried about them. Sayyid Qutb, the doctrinal father of Arab Islamism believed that Mohammad’s Jihad, the one that was interrupted by his death and the failure of his followers, should now be continued, by force, until the entire world embraces Islam. To view the Islamists as unruly boys is at least as bad as my imagining myself guilty of some unknown crime – one would think.

And Obama seems to be in the European-Rousseau camp. He is clearly not in sympathy with the Bush-Hobbesian strategy that opposed an “axis of evil.” There is no evil, Obama might say, only poorly educated people, and if people like Ahmadinejad and Kim Jong-il would only sit down with him long enough, he could put them on the right path.

If anyone were to take the trouble of examining this blog for what I (an admitted Conservative) say about Obama, they would have to admit that I have been exceptionally gentle with him. I argued against his being elected, but after he had been, I wished him the best as he engaged in his diplomatic experimentation. I still do. I didn’t think Ahmadinejad was going to listen to him, but perhaps that effort of his, the announced willingness to negotiate with Iran is having some effect. I notice that there are individuals in Iran who oppose Ahmadinejad and would like to receive Obama and listen to his diplomatic arguments. If Ahmadinejad is defeated in the upcoming election and replaced by someone more amenable to diplomacy, then I would count that as an Obama victory and give him credit for it. And, of course, by “diplomacy” I mean the elimination of Iran’s nuclear ambitions through diplomatic means.

I must add, however, that it doesn’t seem likely that any Ahmadinejad successor would abandon Iran’s nuclear ambitions. It would be a great victory if Obama could achieve that, but it doesn’t seem possible. Various intelligence agencies are watching Iran’s nuclear progress with different concerns in mind. Perhaps our CIA is after mere intelligence, intelligence that will merely keep Obama informed, but the information gained by Mossad may be evaluated in terms of some milestone the Israeli government has in mind, e.g., if Iran reaches point X in their nuclear development, we had better go ahead and bomb the heck out of their facilities. Benjamin Netanyahu is no Barack Obama.

I’m sure Obama understands this. His statement to Netanyahu that he wouldn’t remove anything from the table, that he wouldn’t deny Israel the right to defend itself – sort of, implies that he understands this – sort of. At present Israel can have no confidence that Iran won’t bomb Israel once it obtains the capability. Yes, there are people who believe that Iran wouldn’t do that, but can Israel base its national safety on such optimistic thinking? If you were living in Israel would you feel confident if your leaders told you that even though Ahmadinejad has promised to bomb Israel, once he finally gets Atomic weapons, he won’t dare do that? Would you vote for a leader who held such a belief? Or might you favor someone like Netanyahu who would make the decision to bomb Iran if he deemed it necessary?

So Obama may well have set concerns about Iran aside for the present. Ahmadinejad will be reelected or he won’t. Israel will bomb Iran or it won’t. Later on Obama can get back into Iranian issues. In the meantime he is more worried about North Korea. There is no Israel over there near North Korea ready to bomb North Korea’s nuclear facilities if they go too far – and, indeed, they seem already to have gone too far. There could have been an Israeli equivalent if Japan were better armed. Yes, Japan is still mistrusted in the region, but so is Israel in its region.

A Japan that has forsworn war can be tolerated as what it claims to be, but if Japan rearms to protect itself from North Korea, then some will worry that the Samurai of old will be reawakened into a new Japanese military spirit, and if that happens Japan will be much more of a threat than North Korea could ever dream of. I don’t believe that would happen. Japan is a great economic power and wouldn’t sacrifice that for a resurgence of their bad-old-militaristic days. And to have an adequate defense force isn’t the same as a resurgence of militarism.

My inclination, if Japan would cooperate, would be to arm Japan such that it was capable of defeating North Korea on its own. We could justify that as a defensive measure. North Korea’s most notable trait is bellicosity. They belligerently challenge almost everyone (not China so far). Japan has a right to defend itself. Let Japan once again become a major military power and then, after that, let Japan make its own decision about what to do about North Korea. But Obama, likes Rousseau more than he does Hobbes, and he isn’t likely to do that. He will join those in the area waiting for Kim Jon-Il to die. Rumors are that he is ill and may die soon. Of course if Kim Jong-un, Kim Jon-Il’s grandson succeeds him, things may not change much. It is Kim Jon-Il’s hope that they won’t. In which case not only would the North Korean situation not have changed after Kim Jon-Il’s death, it may well have become worse.

As to our Missile Defense programs, it does seem a rather unfortunate political decision for the Obama administration to be cutting those back just as North Korea has made major breakthroughs in its nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile programs. Many issues are too complicated for the average American to understand, but that one seems to fit tidily in a sound bite. If you read a discussion of Gates’ thinking, e.g., It does seem as though the programs being cut might deserve to be, but cutting the Missile Defense Agency Budget by $1.2 does seem to add weight to the idea that Obama is going to shy away from military defense. Do we really need a more warlike president at this stage of world history? We are probably not going to be able to tell that until after the fact. What fact, you might ask? I heard a military expert say that the current North Korean missile would be able to reach Indianapolis – a fact like that.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Good Samaritan Ridgeback

Ginger, my six-year-old Rhodesian Ridgeback thinks about things. I sometimes catch her staring at me when I am talking – as though she is understanding a lot of the words I’m using. I encourage this. I used to have a German Shorthaired Pointer who wouldn’t take “no” for an answer when she wanted to go on a walk. Ginger doesn’t do that. She will take “no” for an answer, but I need the exercise and try to go along with her as much as possible. And that’s true of other things she wants as well. When she sits by my desk and stares at me, I try to figure out what she wants and accommodate her – as long as it isn’t one more treat -- when she’s had enough.

Last night we were walking west on Ramona Blvd. We had just crossed over to the north side of the street. My plan was to walk down toward Sanderson as far as the sidewalk would let us and then return. It was about 23:00. A car came toward us from the west. Its engine seemed erratic and it sounded as though something was dragging. I had heard that sound before – a tail pipe or muffler dragging on the road. The driver turned right onto Harvest which is right next to the Potter Ranch Park.

Oh well, I thought, and tried to walk on. We had a long way to go. But Ginger didn’t want to go. She kept staring back in the direction of the malfunctioning car. I could just see the front of it behind some trees. Then the driver pulled it around so it was facing Ramona Blvd and turned his lights out.

Oh well, I thought to myself again. “Come on Ginger let’s go.” But she continued to stare in the direction of the car and I thought, “what if it’s a woman and Ginger is hearing her crying?”

“Okay, Ginger. We’ll at least walk by and see what’s going on.”

As we approached the car a young man got out. I asked, “do you need any help?”

“Someone ran into my car,” he said.

Now this has happened to my wife on a couple of occasions. She has come back to her car in some parking lot to discover that someone has run into her, and typically hasn’t left a note. “Ah,” I said. “Did you call someone to come pick you up? Do you have a cell phone?”

“No,” I don’t have one,” he said. Then he brightened, “do you?”

“Yes,” I said digging into my pocket and then handing it to him.

He called a friend named Chris, identified himself as Rene, and tried to describe where he was but couldn’t manage it. I live not so far from there, but had a tough time describing where Rene was. San Jacinto had scrimped on street signs. Also, we were in what some might describe as the Boonies. There were no stores or gas stations near us. There wasn’t a sign at the corner of Harvest and Ramona Blvd, and there may not have been one on Ramona Blvd and Sanderson. Chris had a very hard time understanding how to get to where Rene was stranded. But I thought he finally understood my directions.

Rene then looked at me appreciatively and said, “It’s as though God sent you here to help me.”

“It wasn’t me, Rene. I was all set to go on, but Ginger wouldn’t hear of it. She thought you were in trouble.”

“Oh,” he said and knelt down and put his arms around Ginger’s neck, and called her “Mama. He seemed very emotional. Ginger, Good Samaritan though she may have been, wasn’t at all sure she wanted Rene’s affection. She visibly squirmed, but tolerated the attention. Rene planted a kiss on her head and stood up, shaking my hand for the second time.

By this time I thought it was best to return home. We hadn’t gotten too far before Chris called me, apologizing. He said he had confused Sanderson for Stetson in his thinking and was thoroughly confused. So I gave him a new set of instructions – which took some time and then we went home.

An hour or so later I put the girls in the Jeep and drove back to make sure Chris had found Rene. I saw a car behind Rene’s and turned onto Harvest thinking it was probably Chris. It wasn’t. It was a policeman. He was sitting in his vehicle presumably communicating with someone on his car phone. I rolled down my window and asked, pointing to Chris’s car. “Is he there, was he picked up?”

The cop said, “I don’t’ see anyone there.” He was surly and rude..

I added, “He had car trouble. I called a friend of his to come pick him up and just stopped by to see if he had.”

The cop didn’t look up or respond to what I said; so I drove on. I rarely see a cop when we go out for a walk and it didn’t seem likely he would be assuming Rene’s car was abandoned quite so quickly.

I thought this over as I drove home. Rene did say someone ran into him. Maybe he was in an accident. Maybe he should have stayed at the scene but didn’t. Maybe he was involved in a hit-and-run.

“Ah Ginger,” I said to her later. “I thought you were a Good Samaritan, but you may just be an “accessory after the fact.” But by the time she was on her blanket and about to go to sleep. She opened her eyes and rolled them toward me with little interest and then closed them again. She leaves matters like that entirely up to me.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Arms Control in National Parks and the Roman Empire

A bill just signed into law will permit citizens to carry loaded guns in national parks. This is a huge setback for Gun-Control advocates because it shows that the Democrats, despite being in the majority, are not going to line up with them. A majority in America still favors Second Amendment Rights.

We should spend more time comparing the positions of Gun-Control advocates with those of earlier Centralized Governments. I listened to one Gun-Control Congressmen last night advancing the idea that some camper will be sure to shoot a fellow camper because he mistook him for a bear. You never hear that the Gun Control people want guns out of the hands of citizens in order to keep them from challenging Centralized authority. But read any history of a major autocratic regime and you will find it taking the guns out of the hands of its citizens. On May 10th I described the Weapon’s Control of 8th Century Japan ( ). Now consider Rome in its later period:

From David Fromkin’s The Way of the World, From the Dawn of Civilizations to the Eve of the Twenty-First Century. On page 78 he writes, “Even those who enjoyed the benefits of the peace that Rome, at the height of her power, brought to the Mediterranean and parts of the Middle east displayed what a historian of the later empire, A. H. M. Jones, has called ‘passive inertia,’ which was probably in large part due to the fact that for generations the population had been accustomed to being protected by a professional army. The civil population was in fact, for reasons of internal security, forbidden to bear arms. . . . Citizens were not expected to fight.’

“According to Jones, ‘The Roman empire seems never to have evoked any active patriotism from the vast majority of its citizens. . . . Rome was to them a mighty and beneficent power which excited their admiration and gratitude, but the empire was too immense to evoke the kind of loyalty which they felt to their own cities.’. . .

“. . . Like Alexander’s empire, Rome’s was created entirely by an army. The commonwealth was not a joining together of people who chose of their own volition to federate and become one. The army garrisons stationed throughout the empire were there to keep invaders out but also to keep Rome’s subjects down. The army was needed not only to defend and attack but also to occupy and police. As Rostovtzeff observed, ‘Without such an army the world-state could not continue to exist, it was bound to fall to pieces. . . .”


Well this doesn’t sound like anything going on in present-day America – or does it? The Left-Leaning Gun Control advocates have the reputation of being the least patriotic in present day America. Why would they want to remove guns from the hands of the more patriotic Second-Amendment Rights people? .

Imagine a Left-Wing Centralized Government here in the America, a Government setting about to advance all its Welfare State and Socialistic programs. What are such people going to worry about if not the ordinary patriotic non-Socialistic American citizen? Will they sit easy in their seats of power knowing that they want a different form of government then that advocated by our Founding Fathers and that all those Second-Amendment Rights Americans are out there some place taking target practice and then coming home and cleaning their guns while watching Westerns?

Lest a left-wing paranoiac imagine I am intending some sort of threat, let me hasten to say that I am not. I am drawing attention to motives of arms control people in earlier periods and arguing that those same motives inspire the arms control people of America today – not the fear that some camper is going to be mistaken for a bear. Their fear is akin to a coward’s fear when confronted by a more courageous individual: “Someone hold him; so I can do whatever I like.”

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

What's up with my Ridgebacks?

Someone asked what was up, presumably with my Ridgeback girls and my thoughts about dogs.

The other night we felt an earthquake. The girls wanted to run out into the back yard to see what it was; so we did that. It’s hard to get my lazy girls up for anything other than a walk or food. Although if they hear a cat or a really strange noise, or feel something jolt the house; that will do it too.

In regard to the “second dog quest,” half the time I think I should make the best choice for a second dog; which might be an Amstaff. The rest of the time I think it wouldn’t be worth the aggravation to worry about the law, what people think, and other unknowns like what would our home-owner’s insurance company think if they knew I had an Amstaff. It would definitely be better to stick to Ridgebacks from the standpoint of aggravation reduction. Everyone in my neighborhood who pays any attention to me at all knows I have Ridgebacks, even if they don’t know what they are. They are used to them. Even the Home-Owner’s association salesman met Trooper; so no one should have any squawks about Ridgebacks.

And it is probably funny to think about “downsizing.” Night before last we were out some place dark and the girls had their heads into something in the bushes a bit too long. I suspected something nasty. I had both leashes in one hand, and was able to jerk them out of there without difficulty. . . But, on the other hand, the Amstaffs at Sierra Amstaffs are absolutely gorgeous! But, of course, Sage is absolutely gorgeous as well.

We still occasionally encounter strange things at night. Night before last we were walking on the dirt shoulder alongside our “main drag,” a two lane road called Ramona Blvd. A car would pass us about every minute. Way up ahead I could see someone coming toward us on the same side of the street we were on; so I shined my flashlight on the girls, letting whoever it was know that we were coming toward him. It turned out to be a very drunk man staggering toward us with a bottle of whisky in one hand. He had his hands stretched out at 90 degree angles to his body, presumably for balance. The hand with the bottle was as steady as the one without; so perhaps the bottle wasn’t full. He wasn’t so drunk that he didn’t see us, and got out on the asphalt to go around us. He was very near the center line. I don’t know what the girls thought of him but they jerked about on their leashes wanting to go check him out. I had to pay attention to them to keep them under control. At about the time I convinced them we were going on rather than going back to investigate that strange looking and, presumably, strange-smelling, creature, a car came in the same direction the man was going. I turned around to watch. The man never turned around but he did veer slightly toward the shoulder. It didn’t look like the car did much veering. Maybe he didn’t even see the man. At least he didn’t hit him.

We went on and probably walked about 90 minutes and the only other creature we saw of note was a small dog that was scurrying along on the Ramona shoulder toward Sanderson, which is a true main drag with cars moving at high speed. But there were people living in a couple of houses before then; so maybe he was just out for a stroll and returning to one of them. He was moving fast and looked like he knew where he was going. Hopefully, he did.

Tonight as we were heading out for our walk a lady was pulling out of her drive-way several houses from mine. She asked how old my dogs were. I told her Ginger was 6 and Sage 4. She said the reason she asked was that she had lived in the neighborhood for 7 years and remembered my Ridgeback and thought it must be getting pretty old by now. “Ah no. That would have been Trooper. I lost him several years ago when he was about 12.”

“Was he like them?”

“Yes he was. They are Rhodesian Ridgebacks. Ginger here looks quite a lot like Trooper did.”

“Nice looking dogs.”


“Heading out on your nightly walk.”

“Yeah. Got to go late after it’s cooled off.”

“Have fun.”


And that is about all I’ve been up to.

The Movie "Doubt"

I watched the movie “Doubt” in which Meryl Streep plays the formidable Sister Aloysius. The movie is set in 1964 during a time when priests were being exposed as pedophiles. The priest in this case is Father Ryan played by Philip Seymour Hoffman.

There might be doubt about whether Father Ryan was an active pedophile, but he was fairly well exposed by Sister Aloysius who accused Ryan of having improper thoughts about the altar boy, Donald.

Sister Aloysius bluffs him by pretending that she spoke to a certain nun at his last parish who knew what he did. She then demands that he ask for a transfer and he does. Before that Father Ryan seemed resolved to fight her.

Perhaps people question whether he really was a pedophile because Sister Aloysius breaks down at the end of the movie and confesses to Sister James (played by Amy Adams) that she has serious doubts. But note that she doesn’t identify them. She tells Sister James that Father Ryan got a promotion to a larger parish. The only regret she has about what she did was that the Church didn’t back her up. It gave Ryan a promotion. It was clearly moving away from all the things she revered.

Amy Adams in an interview gushed about how provocative the movie was because everyone could come to a different conclusion about what the movie meant. I liked her better as a nun. If we eliminate the question of whether Ryan was a pedophiliac then we are left with the doubts Sister Aloysius has about the Church and perhaps about God Himself. She tells Sister James something to the effect that when you go after evil you move a step away from God. That seems to be the root of her doubt. She doesn’t doubt the traditions of her organization. She still opposes ball-point pens and secular music. But Vatican II instituted some changes that many in the church were reluctant to accept. Sister Aloysius is depicted as one of those who resisted the changes. In her mind the Vatican II changes included the acceptance of the pedophiliac Father Ryan.


Isaiah Berlin in his essay “the Pursuit of the ideal” writes, “. . . I came across Giambattista Vico’s Scienza nuova. . . Vico seemed to be concerned with the succession of human cultures – every society had, for him, its own vision of reality, of the world in which it lived, and of itself and of its relations to its own past, to nature, to what it strove for. This vision of society is conveyed by everything that its members do and think and feel – expressed and embodied in the kinds of words, the forms of language that they use, the images, the metaphors, the forms of worship, the institutions that they generate, which embody and convey their image of reality and of their place in it; by which they live. These visions differ with each successive social whole – each has its own gifts, values, modes of creation, incommensurable with one another: each must be understood in its own terms – understood, not necessarily evaluated.”

I have noticed that it has been easier to get along with and relate to Catholics since Vatican II. Catholics became less dogmatic, more worldly. When we say such things, if we are believers, then we find it almost impossible not to evaluate this process. Christians are not supposed to become “more worldly.” They, whether they are Catholic, Protestant or Orthodox are supposed to be “in the world but not of it.” But of course that principle is abstract and perhaps capable of some of Amy Adams interpretations.

Most of us modern Christians would probably think that we can use ball-point pens and sing Frosty the Snowman without losing our salvation. We think that if our spiritual beliefs are oriented toward Christ rather than the world that we are okay. But critics of Sister Aloysius’ stripe would refer to this in such terms as “easy believism.” She would want more evidence that we were holding true to our traditions. She would like to see more asceticism.

But Vico and others note not only that there are many different cultures and traditions, but that all that still exist are in a state of change. Change has occurred and will continue to occur, regardless of what it is we believe. Vico suggests that we probably shouldn’t evaluate this change, just note that it occurs. If Sister Aloysius read this, we would expect her to snort and roll her eyes. Can’t fool her.

Monday, May 18, 2009

"Dangerous dogs" and Public Housing in New York City

A friend from NYC took partial exception to some things I wrote yesterday in “Pit Bulls, Rottweilers and guns in New York City.” I shall be disagreeing with him partially.

He described a traumatic experience in which his own dog was attacked by a pit bull and in which he had to kill the pit bull before it would let go. In another incident a few months later “a man in Brooklyn had half his face torn off as he attempted to save his dog from a pit bull . . .”

Then he wrote,

“The problem with these large or dangerous dogs -- in the city in general not merely in public housing -- is that, too often, the people who own them are not qualified. Attacks are not uncommon, and every month or so, one reads about children killed by large dogs owned by stupid masters. This problem is compounded by the reality of city life -- that people are compacted together, and in this concentrated population of apartments and high rises are more easily exposed to random dog violence arising from stupid or cruel masters.

“Additionally, these large dogs are often used as defensive measures by drug dealers and other felons, especially in urban public housing. Nine times out of ten, the dogs in housing projects are there to protect illegal activity, not personal freedom, and sometimes maim police or even firefighters.”

My prejudices against NYC:

Thinking about NYC is for me like thinking of Dante’s Inferno or the planet Lieutenant Ripley landed on; so I admit to being prejudiced against the city. I thought Garden Grove in California congested and retired early so I could move to a relatively small rural town. But the large congested cities often inflict the laws they intend to solve the problems caused by their congestion on the entire nation – the uncongested part as well as the congested. How can they do this? When you add up all the people living in cities and compare that number to the people that don’t, they have the votes, and they don’t intend to leave the rest of us alone; so we read about the traumas of NYC and worry about our uncertain future.

Number of people killed each year by dogs: Let’s look first at the actual threat toward people: According to the Humane Society 300 people were killed in the US between 1979 and the 1990s: The Humane Society compared that to deaths by coyotes and mountain lions and by comparison that seems a lot, but when you consider that the US population is 300,000,000 then 300 doesn’t seem like a lot.

The last time I checked the estimates of the number of people killed by dogs each year, the high number I found was about 30.

Notice another statistic, if it can be believed: says that more than 20,000 dogs are killed every year in dog fights. It doesn’t say whether these deaths occur entirely in the US.—probably not, but some of them do and some pit bulls are taught to be vicious by drug dealers as my friend suggests, but is it better to focus on the dog or on the people training the dog to fight or protect drugs?

This sounds very like the gun argument. Guns are used to kill a certain number of people every year; therefore let us ban guns. The people pulling the triggers or training pit bulls to fight or guard drugs aren’t mentioned nearly so much as the implements of their criminal behavior – at least not in the sense of wanting to create a principle (law) to solve the problems.

Are certain breeds inherently dangerous? For every story like the one my friend has, lovers of pit bulls can produce a hundred in which their beloved pit bulls frolic with or protect their children. Certain breeds are inherently dangerous in the same way an automobile is dangerous. If a person doesn’t learn to drive properly then he may kill someone. Death by automobile occurs about 42,000 times each year in the US.; which to my untrained rural eye seems a more serious problem than Pit Bulls. Laws have been passed to force prospective drivers to meet some minimum standards regarding driving ability. Before banning cars or pit bulls, NYC might consider creating more stringent tests for prospective owners.

Relative danger of dangerous dogs. Here are some interesting comparisons from :

Killed in car accidents


Killed by the common flu


Killed by murders


Killed in airline crashes
(of 477m passenger trips)

120 (1)

Killed by lightning strikes


Killed by Anthrax


Is the American Staffordshire Terrier a “dangerous breed”? I had occasion to study this breed a bit, looking for a smaller dog that might compliment my Rhodesian Ridgeback on hikes in the future. The Amstaff, or AST, as they are called was the first breed recognized by the AKC. This occurred in 1936. Fanciers liked certain qualities in the Staffordshire Terrier but wanted something larger and less pugnacious, something that would make a good all-around farm dog. They liked the old pit-bull look, but they didn’t like the aggressiveness; so they spent time “softening” the breed. Thus, today, you can buy an AST, give it a small amount of training, socialize it by letting the neighborhood children pet it and have an excellent family dog. But wait, you might say. Didn’t Michael Vick turn some Amstaffs into fighting dogs?

Yeah, he did. Unfortunately you can do that will a whole long list of dogs. You can treat them in such a way that they can become vicious. The list that the NYC authorities began with probably included most of those breeds. If it can be made vicious, then ban it seemed to be their philosophy.

I still like the idea of an Amstaff. I can imagine having a Ridgeback male of about 90 pounds and an Amstaff female of about 40 pounds. I think they would suit the circumstances I face in the places I like to hike very well. My Amstaff would be no more dangerous than my Rhodesian Ridgeback. However, I must concede, dog fighters don’t seem to want to use the Ridgeback; so no one is proposing to outlaw them (well maybe they are. I haven’t seen the initial NYC Housing Authority list). Dog fighters like the Amstaff; so despite the wonderful dogs a breeder near me produces, they can be treated in a way that was never intended by the developers of the breed and made vicious. Laws may be passed to attempt to eliminate the Amstaff because it can be used by dangerous people. Does that make sense to anyone that doesn’t live in NYC?

The Dream and the Reality. We know what happened to the Soviet Union. Marx, Engels and Lenin had a great dream of a communist paradise. Lenin brought this dream into reality in the sense of putting it to the test. It failed. Interestingly the Soviet governmental structure survived long after the actual experiment had failed. Here in the West, not just in the US, we have been subjected to similar if less radical experiments. Public housing is one of them. Liberals thought they were doing good, but the recipients of this example of tax-payer largesse haven’t turned into the “Noble Savages” that Rousseau anticipated. Rousseau has long since been proved wrong and all the experiments conducted in his name have proved wrong as well. The Savage produce isn’t noble, just savage. Most of the liberal programs the West has been subjected to year after year have failed. Here is another one. Now if some from NYC and other cities that have Public Housing claim the experiment hasn’t quite failed just yet, does this mean they are still hanging onto the dream? That is inconceivable to me. It is easier to think that like Stalin they are hanging onto their power after the death of the dream.

Public Housing in New City The following is from Chapter 5 of a book by Phillip Thompson, Housing and community development in New York. The chapter is entitled “Public Housing in New York City”: “Public housing across the country has a number of well-known problems, including poor design, inadequate funding, a large concentration of very poor people, lack of social services for residents, high crime rates, and bad management. New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) historically has earned a reputation as the showcase public housing authority in the country. However valid this reputation in the past, high rates of resident unemployment, lack of social services, crime and an outdated management structure have eroded NYCHA’s luster. NYCHA faces a difficult and uncertain future.”

Don’t we all, Mr.Thompson. Don’t we all.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Pit Bulls, Rottweilers and guns in New York City This is an article describing the new New York City Housing Authority ruling that prohibits the Doberman pinscher, pit bulls, Rottweilers and mixed breeds based on these three breeds as well as any dog over 25 pounds. The “Dog Federation of New York” opposes this new ruling and provides a petition by which any New Yorker may protest.

I oppose increased government control of almost anything; however Public Housing is already Government Control. It is a “State” Organization, with a Welfare-state goal: to provide and manage housing for people who can’t afford it.

So if the real goal behind the Village article was to cause the people living in Public Housing to live within their means and was part of a broader set of controls, e.g. “No TVs larger than 32 inches, no cars with engines larger than 2.8 liters, no Blackberries, no more than 7 pairs of shoes for women and 4 pairs for men and no dogs larger than 25 pounds” I would take the dog restriction as part of the Welfare-State paraphernalia and not single the dog part out for special grousing. The State would be saying in effect, “we are providing this public housing to you at tax-payer expense because you can’t afford housing on your own. However, the Tax Payer is not willing to provide amenities he would consider to be luxuries.”

But notice that the Village article says “New York City Housing Authority has gnawed its list of prohibited breeds down to just three: Doberman pinschers, pit bulls and rottweillers — all of these either full breed or mixed breed.” This tells us that the authority isn’t worried about the those living in Public Housing having luxuries. It tells us that “they” (at least the part of the Authority that didn’t want their list gnawed down, have an ongoing agenda to ban protective dogs -- in the same way some other people (or perhaps the same ones) want to ban guns. In a centralized society that wants control of its citizens, it has always been thought risky (to authorities) for ordinary citizens to have the means of self-defense. New York City has been in the forefront of restricting the means of self-defense. Which City, after all, inspired the Charles Bronson “Death Wish” movie?

This is not a new thing. We have a record of this sort of thing occurring in primitive European nations. Read the history of some breeds and you will learn that some of them were denied the ordinary citizen just as weapons were denied him.

But this restriction of the peasant, serf or ordinary citizen didn’t occur just in Europe. Restrictive laws of the sort favored in New York City occured in autocracies, autarchies, monocracies and their like throughout the primitive world. For example, I am currently reading A History of Japan from Stone Age to Superpower. On page 15, Kenneth G. Henshall writes, “. . . in 645 [the Soga clan] was overthrown in a coup led by Fujiwara no Kamatari (614-99). The Fujiwara were to dominate court life in Japan for some centuries to come. . . Kamatari put in place a number of ambitious reforms based on the Chinese model of central government. These reforms are known collectively as the Taika (Great Change) Reform(s) of 645.

“One major reform was the nationalization of land. . . Other reforms included taxation in the form of produce and not simply labour . . . Unauthorized weapons were confiscated.

“Chinese-style law codes were drawn up in connection with these reforms. They emphasized the authority of the emperor and thus the centralization of power, and they also addressed the rationalization of bureaucracy. . . Though not always carried out as intended, ritsuryo law during the eighth century permitted a small group of around 400 officials to control a country of about 5 million people.”


I have emphasized the control of weapons and protective dogs in the “primitive world” only to stress that the seeking of this sort of control has a very long and pervasive tradition. We know that the “Founding Fathers” of the United States opposed this sort of control They wanted control to reside with the people and not with “400 officials.” They attempted to create “Rights” and an “emphasis” that would prevent insofar as possible a return to more primitive forms of government. The implication was that our Republic comprised a more advanced form of government than those previously mentioned. But is this true? Can any nation tolerate such individual freedom? Rulers “naturally” want to protect their rule and themselves. And one of the best ways of doing that is to limit the ability of the ordinary citizen to resist them. Are we, perhaps being led by New York City, into returning to a more primitive form of government?

It is not easy to answer this question. Our modern world has been complicated by the efforts of Lenin and the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was the grand Marxist experiment to among other things show that man was heading toward a perfect communal existence where man (being by nature good) would take what he needed and provide to the common society what his gifts enabled him to provide. Everyone would live in peace and harmony, and man’s basic goodness would be evidenced once the evils of Capitalism were removed. Instead of that very-attractive peace and harmony, we saw the purges and executions of Stalinism. The “Communist” experiment conducted in the Soviet Union was an utter failure.

Surely that would be enough to kill the Marxist Dream, but we know it didn’t. It exists in the Welfare State of European nations and in the Welfare-State thinking of “Authorities” in such places as New York City and San Francisco. Perhaps Stalin didn’t get it quite right, they argue, but that doesn’t mean that Marx was wrong, and it doesn’t mean we can’t do better. Surely, they tell each other, we shall get it right next time.

The “Authorities” of the Soviet Union became cynical over time. They gave up the Communist Dream but kept the Stalinistic controls. But, Europeans tell themselves, perhaps we weren’t ready for the Big Marxist dream, but we can dream Little Welfare Dreams where we all have Medical Insurance, job protection, “decent housing” etc. Surely everyone wants that.

We have enough information, if we are paying attention, to know that Governmental Controls will by definition restrict the rights (to an extent defined by the Authorities) of the controlled. Yes, we still live in a Republic here in America, most of us. We can still to a very large extent vote in the sort of “Authorities” we want.

But if you in NYC vote for Authorities to take care of you, then it is only fair, they will tell you that you allow them certain sorts of protection. Turn in your guns if you haven’t already done so, and turn in your protective dogs. All you need is a little 25-pound dog to sit in your lap and give you comfort. We, the authorities, will take care of the rest.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Is the US the world's policeman?

David Fromkin wrote Kosovo Crossing, American Ideals Meet reality on the Balkan Battlefields in 1999. It might seem that this book must be dated. For example, on his final page he writes, “Moreover, the power equations of the 1990s were uniquely favorable to President Clinton’s initiative. There were no global forces of consequence to stand in his way. It is hard to believe that America’s luck in being the world’s sole superpower will last for long. The Kosovo war may turn out to be, for all we know, the last crusade of the sole-superpower age.”

We are a bare ten years after his book and we have experienced two additional crusades. But what Fromkin says about the US after Kosovo seems to apply to the US today, namely that we have learned our limits – or perhaps it would be better to say that we are much further down the learning curve (of learning our limits) than we were 10 years ago. On page 195 Fromkin says “Sometimes it is a cumulative effect that makes a country bump up against its limits. In America’s case, the accumulation may come from an inability to walk away from our victories. In 1950, the United States repelled North Korea’s attack on South Korea, but we still, half a century later, keep an army on its frontier standing guard against a recurrence. The Cold war came to an end in the years 1989-94, but 100,000 American troops remain in Europe, protecting against we know not what.”

Fromkin’s principle seems true. We haven’t been able to walk away from our victories in Iraq and Afghanistan. The implication here is that we only have men and money enough for a certain number of these initiatives. But do we fully understand these limits? We obviously didn’t understand them as well as Fromkin thought we should in 1999 and though we do surely understand them better today, for example we have understood the limit that Afghanistan and Iraq have placed upon our ability to use preemptive military power to destroy Iran’s nuclear capability. We I haven’t heard that we have lifted our “military option” from the table,” but maybe our “limit,” the limit imposed by Afghanistan and Iraq has lifted it for us.

Fromkin’s book isn’t so much about Kosovo and the Yugoslavian wars but about America backing into the powerful position it somewhat reluctantly holds today. He repeats what many historians have said, that America was an isolationist nation trusting in the protection of two oceans rather than in a powerful army. It got into World War One late, didn’t suffer too terribly much and came out better than any other participant. It was at that time the most powerful military force in the world, but that was only a theoretical consideration because it did not exercise that force. In fact it went about disarming as quickly as possible so it could return to its isolationism.

It was still isolationist at the time World War II broke out. Maybe Roosevelt understood what was at stake, but he was one of the tiny few in America who did. He did not have to make the first initiative in regard to a declaration of war in Europe. Once Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and America considered itself at war with Japan, Hitler declared war on the U.S.; so our “national security,” and “national interest” were seen to be threatened by both the Japanese and the Germans during World War II. The American people understood and supported our war efforts with enthusiasm.

The Cold War we found ourselves in after World War II became “hot” in a proxy sense when we carried out our first exercise of “containment” against Communist aggression in Korea. Fromkin makes the interesting point that while we went about containing the aggression of the North Koreans, we were ourselves “contained” a short time later. MacArthur did defeat the North Koreans but he didn’t stop as soon as he ought to, and when he got too close to the Chinese border, hoards of Chinese came across to confront him. MacArthur realized that he didn’t have the manpower to defeat China and so sought the use of Atomic weapons, but Truman refused him and shortly thereafter fired him. America had been “contained.” It was not willing to cross the line into an atomic war; so it was effectively contained by China’s willingness to oppose America’s conquering of North Korea.

And we were “contained” later on in Vietnam. We lose sight of this in other considerations, the largest one being that our containment of Communist aggression (esp. Soviet Russia) resulted in the collapse of the USSR. But, Fromkin would want us to understand, along the way, along this path that resulted in the defeat of Communism as a serious threat, we were contained on more than one occasion. Even in Cuba we were contained. We make much of forcing Khrushchev to remove his atomic weapons, but we fail to draw attention to the continuing presence of Soviet Forces in Cuba. They remained in Cuba throughout the Cold War in violation of our Monroe Doctrine.

Our military actions in opposition to the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Saddam regime in Iraq can be seen as being in our “National Interest” but only if some statesman like Roosevelt is availed to explain it to the American public. That didn’t happen so we as a nation are befuddled by much of what went on. We can see the Afghanistan war as important. It was an act of revenge, of getting the forces that got us on 9/11. But what was our rationale for our war in Iraq? I believe it was a good decision but only because I studied the matter on my own. There was no Roosevelt out there telling the American people what I had to learn on my own. Why weren’t these matters explained to our public? We should have been putting for our reasoning in better terms than, for example, Colin Powell did at the UN before the UN rejected America’s bid for UN support in Iraq.

Have we lost our ability to explain ourselves to ourselves? It would seem so. Consider the first action against Saddam when he invaded Kuwait. How was that in our “national interest”? I don’t think we had a formal “treaty” with Kuwait, so we can’t lean too heavily on a treaty obligation, but Kuwait did understand (as so many nations in this present world understand) that any protection would come from us. And if someone said we went into Kuwait for the oil, well, they would be correct in a sense. Most of Kuwait’s oil went to Japan, but we should realize that it is in our “national interest” to protect Japan’s “vital interests” which includes their flow of oil. If we won’t keep oil flowing to Japan, then Japan is going to have to do it themselves, and after their militaristic adventures in the early part of the 20th century they don’t really want to. And having been on the unpleasant receiving end of those military adventures, Japan’s neighbors don’t really want to them to. So with little fuss or fanfare we initiated a “police action” and chased Saddam’s army out of Kuwait. Our “national interest” was protected by means of protecting Japan’s “national interest.”

In Fromkin’s prologue he writes that he will attempt to use the conflict in the former Yugoslavia to answer questions of “when, why, and how should the United States send its troops overseas in an attempt to resolve conflicts if they do not threaten the nation’s physical security?” Fromkin writes on page 195, “It is a political truism that ‘the United States cannot be the world’s policeman.’ As a matter of fact, whether or not it should be, the United States already is the world’s policeman.” Fromkin’s little book, outdated though it might be in some respects, does provide us with insight into our American dilemma: We cannot be the world’s policeman, and yet we are.

Perhaps we need to move back toward our isolationist roots and take a position something like the following: Yes, we recognize that we have the most powerful military fighting force in the world, but it is expensive and we intend in the future to use it with more reluctance and selectivity. Perhaps there may be occasions when we will be expected to be the “world’s policeman,” but we no longer want to initiate such policing actions. From now on we hope to behave like our Jacksonian forebears. We will fight, but you who want our aid are going to have to talk us into it. Bring, you nations who want our aid, your reasons and indicate the level of support you and your allies expect to provide. We led in the fight against Communism during the Cold War, but those days are over and we expect our ongoing military activities to be more narrowly defined.

What would we lose by such an approach? We would lose world leadership but I have read a fair amount of our world’s recent history and haven’t been impressed with our “world leadership” so far. We would lose our ability to engage in adventures like the humanitarian adventure in Kosovo and the strategic adventure against Islamic militarism in Iraq

What would we gain by such an approach? We would have our status as the World’s Policeman put on a more secure and stable footing. Yes, we are the only nation capable of being World’s policeman, but we aren’t going to “initiate” policing action. If someone in the world wants our help, let them call us: US911. And just like many ambulance services are doing today, “if you call for our ambulance, you are going to have to pay a fee.” Also, we plan to walk away from all victories. The requestor will have to arrange for maintaining the peace after we leave. For after fighting, we intend to return back between our oceans.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Japan -- the rise of the Warrior Class

Yesterday I referred to the pacifistic 8th century Japan: When Japanese leaders eschewed violence and degraded their military forces, the ordinary farmer had to resort to defending himself and his property; so when a group of warriors, the Azumabito, showed up from the East, the farmers were delighted. At last, after nearly 100 years of pacifism, a force existed that might shield them from Japanese bandits and Ainu living in the North. But the success of the Azumabito and the desire on the part of the farmer to have a more effective military doesn’t mean that Japanese leaders learned their lesson. The imperial court continued on with its pacifistic leanings. And, interestingly, it managed to flourish, even setting a pattern for flourishing, together with more warlike Farmer clans.

On page 239, Sansom (in A History of Japan to 1334) writes, “It may be taken for granted that, especially in the provinces remote from the capital, almost every farmer was a warrior.”

The nature of the pacifistically inclined Japanese capital was such that rather than replace it, as might have happened in Europe, the Farmer clans were content to control it. If a great clan leader got the emperor to appoint him as regent, and if his children married into the emperors family, that was better in his thinking than killing the emperor and becoming emperor himself.

On page 241, Sansom writes, “It is relevant to point out here, in this account of the rise of a military spirit, that bloodshed was distasteful to the civilized statesmen who administered the codes. In accordance with Chinese theory penal legislation was regarded not as an essential instrument of government, but rather as something to fall back upon when other measures failed. Thus in the Heian period, which for all its shortcomings was civilized and peacefully inclined, the laws were administered in a mild manner and there was great reluctance to inflict the death penalty or indeed any drastic punishment. Amnesties were common, and perhaps for that very reason crime flourished. Some of the hesitation to take life, or even to wound, no doubt arose from Buddhist sentiment and perhaps from superstitious fear of vengeful spirits. But the Minamoto and the Taira [the warrior clans] (in their early days at least) had no such scruples, and were quite ready to take life in order to preserve order and to further their own interests.”


It is interesting that the goals of European and American Liberalism bear a striking resemblance to the policies of the Japanese Imperial Court during this period. The EU has determined that a nation can’t be a member unless it abandons capital punishment. “Cruel and Unusual Punishment” is condemned. Penal institutions have been renamed “Correctional Institutions.” The goal is no longer to punish criminals for their crimes but to “rehabilitate them” as though their criminal acts were failures in their education.

I’m reminded too of the British pacifism and appeasement of Hitler by Chamberlain, with support from many British leaders of the day, but when that failed, a Warrior, Winston Churchill was waiting in the wings like the Minamoto and Taira Warrior Clans to take the necessary military action.

We can see that the Japanese governmental structure is more clearly cut than leadership structures in the West. The British who tried pacifism, most of them, readily got behind Churchill when it was time to fight. By the same token, if the Democrats, the home of America’s Liberalism, is convinced that a war is necessary, it will rise to the occasion – without abandoning its opposition to capital punishment, and what the American Right Wing calls the “coddling of criminals.”

We can see in Japanese history that a “softening” took place in Japanese leadership. No emperor during this period had the will to become a military leader and restore or maintain order. Instead, those more mundane tasks were relegated to the Farmers, i.e., the Warrior Clans. But it should be noted that the farming clans were led by Japanese aristocrats. “The Taiho code, foreseeing the proliferation of imperial offspring, had decreed that in the sixth generation from an imperial sire his descendants were to be deprived of princely rank and title and assigned family names and ordinary titles of nobility. . . Of these ex-princes those who bore the name of Taira or Minamoto were most numerous.” So we can see that the farming clans of Japan were not the sort of farmers we are used to in our American Midwest. The leaders were descended from royalty, and the farmers they led, thanks to the Court’s policies of pacifism, were warriors used to defending their farms and their people.

Could Western Liberal policies result on the sort of anarchy that gave rise to the Warrior class in Japan? Yes, of course. If Liberal experimentation, following Rousseau’s belief that men are essentially good, ceases to maintain effective military and penal intuitions, then mankind, not able to live up to Liberal Ideals, will betray the Liberals and anarchy could follow. After that, the correction will occur, and as we have seen in the case of the Japanese the correction is far more extreme than the mild military and penal solutions that the pacifistic leadership abandoned. Unless we are willing as nations in the West to maintain military and penal order; then what follows (in perhaps 100 years – as long as it took in Japan) will be worse than what they presently fear, i.e., whatever they imagine the modern-day Republican party, and equivalent parties in Europe, stand for.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Weapons Control in 8th Century Japan

A History of Japan to 1334, was written in 1958 by George Sansom who on page 104 tells us, “By 720 . . . there remained – especially in the northern provinces of Mutsu and Dewa – a very large number of turbulent people, including Japanese who had thrown in their lot with the Ainu. These irreconcilables made frequent raids upon settlements to the south of their own encampments. They were stubborn fighters, and the military forces sent to help the settlers were unable to hold them in check.

“The reason for this failure was that the military provisions of the Taiho code were quite inadequate. They had introduced a scheme of national military service under which all males from twenty to sixty years of age were liable to be called up for military duty, either in the provincial forces or in the guard regiments stationed at the capital, or in special frontier forces formed to operate against the Emishi (‘barbarians’) or against attacks from the mainland, which at that time were not thought impossible. But surprisingly for a people with so belligerent a tradition, the ruling class in the eighth century was predominantly civilian in outlook, preferring compromise to violence and, no doubt owing to the influence of Buddhism, averse to bloodshed. In 701 the possession of weapons by private persons had been forbidden, the uniform of the officers of state included no deadly implements to symbolize their powers, and the profession of arms was not respected. . . .”

“. . . During the eighth century the shortage of trained men was such that the frontier forces were unable to hold back the Ainu raiders, and the government was obliged to introduce new military measures. In 792, under the Emperor Kammu, the principle of universal military service (which had never been fully applied) was dropped and the government of each province was left to form its own force by conscripting able-bodied young men . . . But this system never really came into force, and there was no organization responsible for keeping the peace in the name of the Crown. . . Contemporary accounts give a picture of disorder and violence, of the depredations of armed bands, so threatening that the farmers were obliged to arm in their own defence . . . .”

“It was in such conditions that there began to arise a class of private warriors which in course of time was to dominate the whole country. . . .”


What was going on in 8th century Japan, and does it have any applicability for the US? To imagine something comparable happening here we might need to assume that an “American Pacifist Party” took control of the government. I have debated many of these pacifists and they don’t like my taking them to extremes. Of course they would defend their nation, homes and family, they tell me, but their mind set would be completely different from such “warmongers” as myself. So something like that seems to have been going on, a government largely pacifistic was responsible for defending Japan against the depredations of the Ainu and the disgruntled Japanese who lived in the North. We read that they didn’t do a good job of it, but they seem to have kept on in this fashion for nearly 100 years. Finally in 792 Kammu tried to correct matters by putting the military on a more reasonable footing but it seems to have been too late.

What happened back then wasn’t like what might happen in a modern day authoritarian regime. I described Russia’s current concern about guns in But Russia isn’t trying to turn everyone into a pacifist. The underlying implication insofar as gun control is concerned is that Russia is saying the individual citizen doesn’t need a gun because we will defend him. Whether that sort of system would work is debatable, but it isn’t the mindset of 8th century Japan. The Japanese weren’t quite saying that they wouldn’t defend their citizenry, but they were no longer practicing the use of arms. If no one had weapons, if no one was used to them, what sort of a soldier would such a person make if he was suddenly called into service?

We know that the Japanese in the 8th century didn’t do well against the Ainu, but this ought to have been expected. If a nation takes the official position that it doesn’t like violence or war and then creates laws that reflect that position, it shouldn’t surprise them if their military forces lose effectiveness. And yet they probably didn’t realize that. If they hated war, they probably didn’t study it. They didn’t realize that an effective military force must be well trained in the use of weaponry. Its individual soldiers must take pride in their profession, not be ashamed of it; so when the official position was to be ashamed of the military profession that sentiment obviously “trickled down.”

So what happened next? The Azumabito or “Men of the East” showed up. I’m not sure who they were. They seem to be Japanese but they weren’t subject to the government. They were highly trained fighting men and the Japanese citizens embraced them as saviors. “. . . their praises were sung in early Japanese literature.” The arrival of the Azumabito seems to mark the end of the Japanese pacifistic experiment.

We can see here that the Japanese attempted to be pacifistic, as far as possible, as far as the pacifists I have debated would like to go. Their experiment lasted longer than the Socialist experiment in the USSR. We know that it didn’t work. The system was authoritarian. It had the power to enforce its will. Unfortunately, the administrators of this system didn’t know what they were doing – or rather they knew, but didn’t know it wouldn’t work. They had theories and ideals and they put them into practice, but from a practical sense, a sense they didn’t understand, they were engaging in experimentation. When this system failed, failed over a long period of time, a new more effective system came along to replace it.

I believe that the more that pacifism is forced on a nation, the more warlike it will ultimately become. Rather than retain a reasonable, effective, fighting force, 8th century Japan sought pacifism insofar as they thought practical, It was tried until the people were sick of it. The Japanese feared for their lives. The Azumabito came to their rescue and were treated much as Patton’s forces were treated in France in 1944.

I would never say that pacifists don’t mean well. I believe they do, but their ideas don’t work. As a species we don’t fit their theories. I’m sure that if those kindly 8th century Japanese administrators could be brought forward in time and observe that a reaction to their ineffective polices gave rise to the Bushido and contributed to the creation of one of the most warlike nations the world has seen, they would be astounded.

The Dog Wars -- guns & dog bites

A person wrote me about gun control. It seemed good to her to keep guns out of the hands of people who might kill children. But that isn’t the issue. The issue is something very different.

The first concern is that one of the first things an authoritarian state does, historically, is remove guns from the hands of its citizens. Are we moving toward becoming an authoritarian state? There has always been a concern about that. Our founding fathers were worried about it and put restrictions on the Executive branch of government. Another balancing measure was to prevent government from taking the guns away from its citizens. They had the experience of Britain and other monarchies doing that and wanted to prevent that every happening in the US. Is that still a concern? Many on the right think so.

To illustrate another aspect of this matter, years ago I was a rifle instructor in the Marine Corps. I had charge of the “unqualified detail” which consisted of Marines who failed to qualify their previous time out. Some of them had never qualified. As a coach I got all my shooters qualified, but in the process I learned something about each one. We coaches confided to each other that we hoped we never ended up living next door to some of those guys. They were not very trustworthy with guns. The public tests where a person had to show he was adept with guns before he got a license seemed a good thing to me because the focus was on the individual. The test determined ‘yes’ or ‘no’ about his qualifications to own a gun.

In a different realm, some individuals have committed crimes such that the courts have determined that they should never own a gun. I am very much in favor of preventing these people from owning guns.

But the American gun laws have a different focus. They seek to prevent all people from having guns. Oh yes, I know that the current bills don’t address all people, but they tried that, to get a national gun law through congress and that failed; so they are nickel and diming the public in hopes of achieving he same result. Gun bill after gun bill is being proposed throughout the nation and many are making it into law.

I wrote a note the other day quoting from Kaplan’s Warrior Politics. Page 125 has the following: “Television correspondents at the scene of catastrophes . . . manifest an impassioned tunnel vision in which sheer emotion replaces analysis: nothing matters to them except the horrendous spectacle before their eyes – about which something must be done! The media embodies classical liberal values, which concern themselves with individuals and their well-being, whereas foreign policy is often concerned with the relationships between states and other large groups. Thus, the media is more likely to be militaristic when individual rights and suffering are concerned, rather than when a state’s vital interests are threatened.”

Kaplan was referring to foreign affairs. Correspondents would focus upon individuals being killed, bodies bags, etc rather than larger issues. There was a strategy in place to oppose Communism and the Vietnam War was intended to carry on that strategy, but that was never discussed, whether our efforts in Vietnam truly opposed communism or not. Instead they discussed individual deaths. We were overwhelmed with pictures of body bags.

The reverse, sort of, was true of Kosovo. Now individuals were being killed by the Serbs, so picture after picture of individual deaths were presented to the American public such that we were finally impelled to send forces to Kosovo and Bosnia to “stop the killing.” The Correspondents were not hard on the American military for dropping bombs on Serbian civilians, including babies, because we were stopping the killing.

Move now into the realm of “gun politics.” A single shooting incident will be focused on in the same way. Look a child, or several children are being killed. Their solution is virtually always going to include a request for “tougher gun laws.” In many cases the killers are already criminals and by law denied the right to have guns. Their answer to that is that if all guns were taken off the streets, no one would have a gun; which seems an absurd thing for them to say until we remember that their desire to remove all guns from public hands is their long-held hope. For them “emotion replaces analysis.”

Moving back to dogs now, we see the same sort of thing prevail. One bite by a pit bull or Rottweiler and someone is going to propose a bill to make them illegal or restrict the owning of them in some way. Emotion replaces analysis!

I used to do a lot of “Free Diving” which is a sort of underwater hunting. Without breathing apparatus one dives down with a spear gun and hunts fish. I did that for many years. Typically, when someone heard what I did, they would ask “aren’t you afraid of sharks?” Emotion for them replaced analysis. How many shark attacks have there been on the California coast? I don’t recall the exact number but it is tiny. The same sort of thing is true of “the dangerous dogs.” Which breed is responsible for the most dog bites? The last time I checked it was the Cocker Spaniel. Are the anti-dog people trying to outlaw the Cocker Spaniel? How could they? Who could generate much emotion about outlawing the Cocker Spaniel? But the Pit Bull & Rottweiler look fierce. Correspondents can’t get worked up over them.

It would be easier for the Dog-Control people to get worked up over deaths caused by dogs, but they have problem. It is hard to avoid analysis if they talk about that. The average of dog deaths in the US over the last several years is 17. That is, in all of the United States, all 300 million of us, only 17 will be killed in an average year by dogs. Do they want to make a law affecting all dogs because 17 people were killed? Well, yeah they do. They tell us 74% of the deaths were caused by Pit Bulls, Rottweilers and Presa Canarios. Disclaimer: I note that the lead in statement says 33 were killed in 2007 but further down when it lists deaths by state it says 15. In any case the number is very small. Do we have deaths by car accidents? Motorcycle accidents, skate board accidents, bicycle accidents, slipping on soap in the tub accidents. I would wager that all of those would exceed the dog bite deaths. But it is hard to put the fierce face of a Pit Bull on those things – emotionally. If we move away from deaths and get back to “all dog bites” then we were back into Cocker Spaniel territory.

Here’s an article that suggests Dachsunds are now the dog that may be biting the most people. It begins, “Forget pit bulls, Rottweilers and Rhodesian ridgebacks. It’s the sausage dog that’s the most aggressive breed.” Well, whoever wrote that article probably doesn’t think much “softening” has gone on in the Rhodesian Ridgeback.”

This should give the anti-dog people some comfort: “. . . it is at least a hundred thousand times more likely that a ‘Pit Bull’ will be killed by a HUMAN, than the other way around.”