The world as I see it
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  • Incident on the Way to the Airport

    Posted on July 5th, 2010 Helian No comments

    I was taking my son to the airport this afternoon when we noticed a guy in a pickup truck in front of us driving erratically.  He drove dangerously close to the ditch on the right, then started drifting over the center line into the left lane.  It was a country road with thick woods on either side,  so it would have been nearly impossible to avoid him.  Eventually, he drifted far over into the left lane before correcting himself and almost running into the ditch on the right again.  As he once more drifted left, three motorcyclists approached us and passed safely by.  They’ll probably never know how lucky they were today.  Shortly thereafter, he drifted erratically to the left, across the opposite lane, and up a hill, almost tipping over before coming to a stop in our lane with two blown tires and smashed up doors and fenders.  Apparently the truck was damaged too badly to move, so he began blowing the horn with his feet.  We called 911 and waited in the parking lot of a nearby recreational area.  When the police came, he was sitting on a guard rail, apparently completely stoned.  After checking to see if he was injured, they searched him, and found an ugly looking knife.  They immediately knew who he was.  He had been involved in another incident a week earlier, in which he had resisted arrest.  One of two officers who questioned him had been involved in that affair as well, and said he was lucky that three brave motorists helped him subdue the man on that occasion.  He had appeared completely incoherent, and hardly capable of walking, but when the officers pulled out the cuffs, he suddenly began resisting fiercely.  He was a young, strong, man, and it was all they could do to subdue him.  One of the officers had to taser him, and the effect was almost unnoticeable.  Once he was on the ground and in handcuffs, he became a great deal more voluble.  It was like being in the middle of an episode of Cops.

    I gained a great deal of respect for our county police.  They were well spoken, didn’t use more force than was absolutely necessary to subdue the man, and acted with admirable professionalism throughout the incident.  When you see something like this up close and personal, you realize how hard their job really is.  They take a lot of abuse, but I take my hat off to the two pros I saw in action today. 

    It makes you think about the wisdom of riding a motorcycle.  I had a couple of dirt bikes myself in my younger days, but managed to get through that phase with only a few bumps and bruises and a scar on my chin as a souvenir.  Those three bikers we saw today might just have easily have been killed, and they would have had no chance of getting out of the way.  At least in a car you have a fighting chance. 

    I doubt they’ll be able to keep the dopehead responsible for today’s incident in jail for long.  When he gets out, he’ll climb back into another pickup truck, license or no, and will be a death sentence on wheels for some unsuspecting motorist.  If it has to come to that, I hope he is the unsuspecting motorist.

  • Tony Hayward sans Sackcloth and Ashes

    Posted on June 20th, 2010 Helian No comments

    The media in the U.S. have been making a big fuss about a sighting of BP CEO Tony Hayward at a yacht race. Apparently he’s supposed to be walking around in a circle hitting himself on the forehead with a board like the monks in Monty Python’s “Life of Brian.” I don’t blame him. He seemed to take the self-righteous hazing he endured at the hands of our grandstanding politicians with a good grace. Rep. Joe Barton, who apparently hasn’t learned that it’s a breach of protocall to refer to McCarthyism by its proper name if it’s for a good cause, actually dared to apologize for the public flogging. However, he quickly got back into line after a judicious jerk on his choke chain. As for Hayward, it seems to me that watching a yacht race is not really a mortal sin. He deserves a break, and hitting himself on the forehead with a board probably won’t significantly slow the flow of oil into the Gulf.

  • World War II Claims Three More

    Posted on June 2nd, 2010 Helian No comments

    A World War II bomb took the lives of three brave men who were working to disarm it on Tuesday. The 1000 kilo blockbuster was found buried 30 feet deep at the building site of a new sports arena. It’s amazing how casually the German people take stories like this. It’s already disappeared from the websites of Spiegel, Focus, and Stern, three of the countries biggest news magazines. It’s almost as if the three had died in a car accident. I suppose it’s to be expected; the commonplace isn’t news. Another 500 pound bomb had been found at the same site a week ago and disarmed without incident. Between them, the three experts had already disarmed more than 700 others!

    I can only agree with a German commenter:

    Isn’t there any other way that one could protect the lives of bomb disarmers in these modern times, for example, with robots? Those who put their lives on the line for others deserve our deepest respect, and their families our sympathy.

  • On the Promise of Genetic Engineering for Alleviating Public Transportation Issues

    Posted on July 20th, 2009 Helian No comments

    So I had to fly out to LA yesterday. I took my window seat in the plane and, having seen the shrieking children in the lobby, sat back with oriental fatalism to await their inevitable arrival in the adjoining seats. To my surprise, they perched many rows in front of me. I breathed a sigh of relief, never suspecting that a much grimmer fate awaited me.

    It came in the form of a rotund woman with a moon-like, expressionless face. She sat in the aisle seat, and began a verbal assault on the passive woman next to her, who occasionally returned a mechanical nod. Her voice was shrill, piercing, and metallic, occasionally punctuated by a laugh with all the charm of fingernails dragged across a blackboard. She kept it up, never wavering, never faltering, never slackening, for the whole-damn-trip.

    I thought I would get a reprieve in the form of a tray of food that a merciful flight attendant brought her, but it was a vain hope. She kept up the barrage without missing a stroke even as she shoveled it down. The ordeal only ended after she had blocked my exit for a few more excruciating moments while she exchanged “pleasantries” with the captain about his skill at landing the plane.

    My question is, if we have become so skilled at genetic engineering, and so advanced in the various sub-fields of computer science, couldn’t we give evolution a little nudge? How about breeding a new class of humans with radio buttons in their skulls so you could turn them the hell off on public transportation, perhaps administering a fatal shock to their cell phones in the process? Throw me a bone here!

    Well, dear readers, every cloud has a silver lining. I finally escaped, and, hardened infidel that I am, when I did I experienced the joys of paradise. You know what they say about hitting yourself on the head with a hammer. It feels so good when you stop.

  • Norman Hsu, Hillary Clinton, and the NPR Narrative

    Posted on May 21st, 2009 Helian No comments

    …so I was driving to work this morning, listening to Public Radio for want of better entertainment, when the voice in the box mentioned “Norman Hsu” and “Democratic fundraiser” in the same breath. Noting an involuntary elevation of my left eyebrow, I reflected that times must be hard and good help hard to find at NPR for the morning shift to stray from the narrative so egregiously. In a moment, though, all was made clear. You see, the Democrat in question, according to the announcer, was none other than Hillary Clinton. Obviously, she is far from recovering the odor of sanctity she lost when she challenged the Chosen One. Silly me, for suspecting even for a moment that the folks at NPR would botch their talking points. No doubt they felt that it would do Hillary no harm if they delivered a therapeutic reminder of what will happen to her if she even thinks of running again in 2012. Checking the story on the Internet, I confirmed that it was being played in pianissimo by the MSM, and, if mentioned at all, emphasized the Hillary angle. The narrative lives!

  • Torture: The Liberals, the Conservatives, and the Rabbit People

    Posted on May 15th, 2009 Helian 2 comments

    I, personally, am opposed to torture.  I also consider the notion that water boarding, sleep deprivation, and similar “enhanced interrogation techniques” are not torture absurd.  Whatever one cares to consider it when inflicted in a carefully controlled training situation, water boarding is most definitely torture when inflicted on an enemy not once, but 80, 90 or 100 times, by tormenters who are confident they will not be held to account for their deeds.  Resistance to torture doesn’t have to be a moral decision, just a practical one.  Nations that torture weaken themselves by playing into the hands of their enemies, handing them an effective propaganda tool.  Anyone who was following the European media at the time the Abu Ghraib story broke knows how effective and damaging such propaganda can be.  For democracies, at least, condoning torture carries a high political cost.  The damage it does to the national security of a democracy by allowing its enemies to seize the moral high ground and by eliminating its own moral authority in the world greatly outweighs any plausible advantage that could be gained by it.

     

    Individuals who support torture live in an imaginary world in which the victims are always their enemies, persons certainly guilty of terrorism or worse, regardless of whether they have had a trial or whether there is any plausible evidence against them.  The principles embodied in the American Bill of Rights don’t matter, as long as their precious security is at stake.  In the end, though, that security is a chimera.  Those who believe that torture will only be applied to the “others,” never to themselves, live in a dream world.  In the first place, nations that torture provide their enemies with justification for torture, putting their citizens, and especially their soldiers, at risk.  In a world that condones torture, the idea that the old rule, “What goes around, comes around,” doesn’t apply is not only stupid, it is suicidal.  In a world that condones torture, every individual is a risk.

     

    History has demonstrated that the state is the most effective terrorist, just as it is the most effective killer. It was to protect us from the state as torturer and killer that or forefathers established prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment, the assumption of innocence until proven guilty, protections against arbitrary imprisonment, and all the rest of the freedoms we treasure for ourselves, and should treasure for others.  The conservatives in the USA who cheer so loudly for “enhanced interrogation” are wringing their hands at the same time about the expansion of government power and what they perceive as the approach to socialism.  If the state is really in danger of becoming so evil, is it wise to cheer so loudly for torture?  What if the state really does become evil?  What if it occurs to the leaders of that evil state to engage in the wholesale torture of those who, after all, were torture’s most zealous defenders?  What?  You think “It can’t happen here?”  Was the history of the 20th century nothing but a bad dream?  No, it wasn’t a dream.  It was a reality that could happen here quite as well as it happened elsewhere.  In such a world, our genuine security depends on standing by the principles we never should have abandoned in the first place, including rejection of torture.  

     

    Sometimes I can’t even believe we are having this debate. A bunch of religious fanatics gets lucky and kills 3000+ people, and we are suddenly in a “war,” and have to throw all our liberties out the window.  Going on a decade later, we are still at “war,” and anything goes, as long as we can bamboozle ourselves into believing that our precious “security” requires it.  It reminds one of the constantly warring states in Orwell’s “1984.”  I suspect Orwell would have detected a very familiar ring in the arguments being fobbed off on us today to justify this constant state of “war.”  We have over 25,000 firearm deaths every single year in the US, and over 40,000 traffic fatalities. Is anyone suggesting we throw out the Bill of Rights and introduce a police state because of that? Hundreds of thousands have died defending the liberties we are now supposed to casually discard because we are all so terribly threatened by the evil terrorists. What fine Americans we are, what brave defenders of the faith our fathers fought and died for!  One successful attack, and all we can think of is crawling under a rock and bleating about our illusory “security.” One successful attack that in no way threatens our existence as a nation and, suddenly, we are drawing dire parallels with the need to suspend habeus corpus during the Civil War. What wimps we have become, what rabbits!

     

    The right in the US really seems to have taken leave of its collective senses on this issue.  They really seem to believe that the torturers will never turn on them, that they will somehow, against all odds, be immune to the disease they are so blithely promoting.  The idea that the people who are given the authority to apply torture will always be philosopher kings, or, for that matter, are even likely to be capable of distinguishing those in the act of carrying out a nuclear attack from innocent civilians rounded up based on no or faint evidence is nonsense. History has proved it nonsense time after time. Those who condone torture have forgotten or never learned the lessons of history.  Our founding fathers were well aware of those lessons.  They didn’t suffer from our modern delusions about the benevolence and justice of the state as torturer.  That’s why they took the stand they did.  If we abandon their stand in pursuit of a hollow security we might as well give up the fight. We will have become the mirror images of the people we are fighting.

     

    When one looks at the ideological divide in the US today on the matter of torture, one can only shake ones head.  The right openly condones it.  They give Nathan Hale speeches defending it, as if it were some kind of a holy cause.  For them, no one can be truly “patriotic” who opposes it.  For the left, it is just an ideological bludgeon that they find a convenient tool for attacking their enemies.  One hears no reasoned arguments against torture.  Instead, in place of reason one finds nothing but the usual pious posing from the “moral high ground.”    In other words, they oppose torture more or less for the same reasons the Bolsheviks opposed it before 1917; because it is a useful political tool. 

  • What did she know and when did she know it? The torture Nancy Pelosi “didn’t know about,” as described in the Washington Post, November 23, 2005

    Posted on May 15th, 2009 Helian No comments

    The rest of us knew about it in 2005. Isn’t it funny how Nancy is only finding out about it now? An excerpt:

    “The first three techniques … involve shaking or striking detainees in an effort to cause pain and fear. The fourth consists of forcing a prisoner to stand, handcuffed and with shackled feet, for up to 40 hours. Then comes the ‘cold cell’: Detainees are held naked in a cell cooled to 50 degrees, and periodically doused with cold water. Last is ‘waterboarding,’ a technique that’s already been widely reported. According to the information supplied to ABC: ‘The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner’s face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt.’ ABC quoted its sources as saying that CIA officers who subjected themselves to waterboarding ‘lasted an average of 14 seconds before caving in.’ “

  • The Supernatural Shakespeare

    Posted on May 8th, 2009 Helian No comments

    Let me stand aside for a moment and allow Shakespeare to elaborate on yesterday’s post for me.  To wit, from Sonnet XIII,

     

    “O, that you were yourself! But, love, you are

    No longer yours than you yourself live here.

    Against this coming end you should prepare

    And your sweet semblance to some other give.

     

    It’s hard to read Shakespeare’s first 15 sonnets with any biological insight and still conclude the man was a mere mortal.  It beggars the imagination to think he could have written something like that 250 years before Darwin.  The world is burdened with the tomes of philosophers who completely missed the point, but this man nails the essence of human existence with a few lines of poetry. 

  • The Blithedale Romance

    Posted on May 5th, 2009 Helian No comments

    At the moment I’m reading Hawthorne’s “The Blithedale Romance,” a fictional account of his experiences during the year he spent at the experimental community of Brook Farm.  I haven’t picked up Hawthorne for a long time, probably because I was unimpressed with him when we were required to read his works during high school.  Perhaps it’s better to leave the more serious and complex authors to a later time, when one is better able to appreciate them.  In any case, I’m seeing a lot in Hawthorne I never saw in high school.  I suspect I’ll be looking at more of his work.  The quote for today is from the book, and describes Hollingsworth, a specimen of what H. L. Mencken would later call the “uplift.”  He is one of those familiar characters who is out to save mankind in one way or another.  In Hollingsworth’s case, the passion is prison reform.  However, Hawthorne’s description of him is an excellent fit for the professional saviors of the world of a later time; Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, et. al.  His words have a prophetic ring today:  “This is always true of those men who have surrendered themselves to an over-ruling purpose.  It does not so much impel them from without, not even operate as a motive power within, but grows incorporate with all that they think and feel, and finally converts them into little else save that one principle.”  “They have no heart, no sympathy, no reason, no conscience.  They will keep no friend, unless he make himself the mirror of their purpose.”…and, completing the banner quote-  “They have an idol, to which they consecrate themselves high-priest, and deem it holy work to offer sacrifices of whatever is most precious, and never once seem to suspect–so cunning has the Devil been with them–that this false deity, in whose iron features, immitigable to all the rest of mankind, they see only benignity and love, is but a specturm of the very priest himself, projected upon the surrounding darkness.”  Nuances of Turgenev’s Bazarov, no?  I suppose we’ve been warned about these types in every age, but never took the prophets seriously.

  • Jordanes and human nature

    Posted on May 4th, 2009 Helian No comments

    Today’s quote (“Or else, as some maintain, they exposed the males, destroying the life of the ill-fated child with a hate like that of a stepmother”) drew my attention because it shows that the ancients (or near ancients – Jordanes, the author, lived in the 6th century) were well aware of certain aspects of human nature.  Cinderella, of course, is another, more recent example of awareness of the phenomenon Jordanes refers to.  In order to believe that obvious human traits don’t exist, one must, somehow, be able to overlook what Jordanes and so many others have considered self-evident.  The trick is to blind ones self ideologically, in the fashion of Ashley Montagu and Richard Lewontin.