Friday, July 30, 2004

Drive-By Cowards


Last night as I biked two blocks, on my way home from Jessica's place, I was attacked by some kind of drive-by shooting. At first, I didn't know what it was, I had just made a left turn and I remember a car behind me slowing down and firing several things which whizzed by me. Bullets, I supposed, and kept pedaling. I just wanted to get away from the attackers. I was a fairly dark, but big target, but with a flashing red light on the back of the bike to signal the middle of the target. I didn't feel getting hit or see any blood, which was good. And then the car was gone. And I went half a block to my place and went inside.

As I was getting into my place, I thought that maybe they were shooting paintball things and not bullets. I had a backpack on, in the direction of the attack when it happened. So I took it off and surveyed it. Sure enough, there was some green ooze on one part of the pack. Some idiot hooligans had decided they would shoot at random strangers in the night with their new semi-automatic paintball gun.

It's a pretty cowardly act to randomly attack someone who isn't expecting it and then drive off. Those who get their kicks from this kind of stuff are sick. It reminds me of what a convicted felon once said. He said that criminals think they're tough when they hold a gun to someone's head. But really, they're cowards. How much more cowardly could you be then to force someone to do something under pain of injury or death? "Gangstas", punks, or whoever they are may think they're macho and tough, but it's quite the opposite. I hope they learn to be real men, and not cowards, especially before it's too late.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Mill on War


"War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself."

John Stuart Mill, English Philosopher (1806-1873)

Monday, July 26, 2004



I read it again.

The first time I read Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, I had just come from my own space-time journey through the Cascade mountains and emerged on the other side with a new appreciation of time, which is what struck me most about the book. Seeing the universe in four dimensions, stars appearing as luminous spaghetti in space time, etc.

This time however, I was reading an anti-war book, the Horrors of War being the most prominent thing many people think of when they think of War. Vonnegut and his main character Billy Pilgrim being no exceptions.

I believe the author isn't necessarily against stopping a madman bent on killing millions and taking over the world (he doesn't say one way or the other). But I do think he is adamantly against how military operations in modern wars are often carried out, which is a different question entirely from "Should we go to war to stop injustice?" He is particularly horrified by the wiping out of an entire civilian town overnight by fire-bombing, which he compares to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by God Almighty. I'm horrified at what happened in Dresden too. It seems an unjust way of carrying out military operations, and even the contemporaries of the commander who ordered it seriously questioned its legitimacy (which implies that there may be legitimate and just military operations).

In any case, I didn't even know about the fire-bombing of Dresden until I read Vonnegut's book the first time. I didn't know that it was perhaps the single largest military massacre in all of history, probably killing more people than the atomic bomb did in Hiroshima, and using just conventional weapons (estimates of the death toll range from 30,000 to 135,000). But I don't think it's analogous to Sodom and Gomorrah. The Royal Air Force and the United States Army Air Force were not acting on orders from God to kill everyone in Dresden. They were under human orders from human commanders, fallen, frail, and fallible.

Vonnegut claims to be, like Lot's wife, looking back at the terrible destruction. When Lot's wife did it, it was against God's command, and she became a pillar of salt. Vonnegut claims also to be a pillar of salt doing what is forbidden. But in this case, I don't think the Lord has forbidden him to look back. What happened in Dresden should perhaps never happen again. And in order to understand that and never repeat it, one must look back.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004


The States of the Union

A coarse-grained view of domestic travel.

Here are the states of the USA I've been to (in red):

I notice that I have avoided a large cross-like swath of the midwest, have somehow skipped out on parts of New England, missed South Carolina and Georgia, didn't know what to do with Michigan, and have yet to brave Alaska. I may go to Michigan in the near future and see what John is up to once he moves there, and Sid is in Connecticut, so a trip to visit him is in order at some point.

ps: If I wanted to totally nerd out, I could draw my 'trajectory' from birth to the present through the US, or maybe make this into a color coded time-density plot showing how long I've been in each state, e.g., redder for longer times, bluer for shorter times...

pps: you can create your own visited states map

ppps: It would be neat to have something like this for the Mexican and Canadian states, the EU countries, etc.

Thursday, July 08, 2004


Lord of the Rings: Natural and Theological Virtues

Natural Virtues. Tolkien’s heroes use ancient weapons against evil: they strive for and often exemplify the natural, cardinal virtues of wisdom, justice, courage, and temperance.

In Tolkien’s world, these natural virtues take on a Christian character. Here a simple-minded hobbit can make a wiser choice than a sophisticated aristocrat of Gondor because of his humility. Justice is tempered with a mercy that a pagan would not comprehend. Again and again, Gollum is spared his just punishment because of pity. At first the hobbits are as shocked by this pity as pagans would be, but in the end it saves the quest when Gollum destroys the Ring.

Courage, too, becomes Christian in this story. The quest to destroy the Ring has almost no chance of success, but the fellowship does not set out in pagan fatalism. Rather, they have an almost Christian hope in what is not seen.

Peaceful acceptance of death and the unknown is part of temperance for mortals.

Theological Virtues. Tolkien depicts the natural virtues as perfected and fulfilled by the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity.

Gandalf speaks of faith and hope to Frodo regarding the quest, telling him he should take comfort in knowing that someone besides Sauron meant him to have the Ring, Frodo does not understand him. Only much later do he and Sam realize that their experience is part of a greater story in which they can place their faith. Similarly, in the beginning Frodo disapproves of Bilbo’s pity and charity towards Gollum. This pity is at the heart of the story: we hear in all three volumes that “the pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many.” Pity is not a mere feeling here but a duty, as Gandalf sternly tells Frodo: “Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.” The pity he commands is closely akin to the forgiveness of Christian charity.