Archive for November, 2015

“…Didn’t help.”

Some thoughts on “The Mercy”, by Philip Levine and 2015.11.13

The ship that took my mother to Ellis Island
eighty-three years ago was named “The Mercy.”
She remembers trying to eat a banana
without first peeling it and seeing her first orange
in the hands of a young Scot, a seaman
who gave her a bite and wiped her mouth for her
with a red bandana and taught her the word,
“orange,” saying it patiently over and over.
A long autumn voyage, the days darkening
with the black waters calming as night came on,
then nothing as far as her eyes could see and space
without limit rushing off to the corners
of creation. She prayed in Russian and Yiddish
to find her family in New York, prayers
unheard or misunderstood or perhaps ignored
by all the powers that swept the waves of darkness
before she woke, that kept “The Mercy” afloat
while smallpox raged among the passengers
and crew until the dead were buried at sea
with strange prayers in a tongue she could not fathom.
“The Mercy,” I read on the yellowing pages of a book
I located in a windowless room of the library
on 42nd Street, sat thirty-one days
offshore in quarantine before the passengers
disembarked. There a story ends. Other ships
arrived, “Tancred” out of Glasgow, “The Neptune”
registered as Danish, “Umberto IV,”
the list goes on for pages, November gives
way to winter, the sea pounds this alien shore.
Italian miners from Piemonte dig
under towns in western Pennsylvania
only to rediscover the same nightmare
they left at home. A nine-year-old girl travels
all night by train with one suitcase and an orange.
She learns that mercy is something you can eat
again and again while the juice spills over
your chin, you can wipe it away with the back
of your hands and you can never get enough.

This has been on my mind today, as I’ve been reading too much about the blinkered reactions to the horrible events in Paris. Despite the rhetoric from many of our politicians, I don’t think this is a war that can be won by bombs or guns. Invading Syria and Iraq may damage Daesh, but it won’t change the fact of the death cult that they and others have been cultivating for decades. After all, it’s looking increasingly like all of the attackers in Paris were EU citizens. Most of the 9/11 attackers were Saudi.

And for the sake of a horror inflicted by a few, we would magnify that horror by shutting out the poor, starving, and war-weary. That won’t win this war either. A starving, stateless mass, bombed out of their homes and rejected by the free peoples of the world is a loss in and of itself. Not to mention the coup it provides Daesh’s propagandists.

Bombs won’t win this war, because the enemy isn’t attacking us from Syria or Iraq. They’re attacking us from Belgium and Saudi Arabia. Keeping out refugees won’t help, because Daesh is recruiting from our societies directly.

So this is not a war of bombs, and it’s not a war of migration.

Everything I see tells me that this is a war of ideas and culture. Perhaps of a kind not fought before in human history. This is the first war of a world where communications are instant and ubiquitous. And the only way to win it is to prove that free, open societies are better than the closed, fearful, backward one that Daesh wants to create.

And we don’t prove that by turning our backs on the refugees of Daesh’s horror. Quite the opposite. We win this war by offering a hand to those that Daesh turned out. We make sure they know that where Daesh destroyed their homes and livelihoods, we will gladly let them build new homes as our neighbor. So that the whole world can see that free societies are immune to the evil perpetrated by monsters like Daesh.

We win by showing that terrorists can kill people. Who we will mourn, and avenge with careful, decisive, swift action. But that after, our societies will be just as free and open as they were before. And ultimately the provocateurs will have accomplished nothing.

All the while we welcome with open arms those fleeing the horror that Daesh is creating, and help them to build their new lives in a free country.

I suppose I can’t guarantee that that’s what wins this war. But I think it’s got a much better chance than bombs. And if we give up our liberty and compassion, I’m not sure how much winning the war would even matter.

A spirited defence (sic) of English spelling

In the art of rationality there is a discipline of closeness-to-the-issue –trying to observe evidence that is as near to the original question as possible, so that it screens off as many other arguments as possible.

The Wright Brothers say, “My plane will fly.” If you look at their authority (bicycle mechanics who happen to be excellent amateur physicists) then you will compare their authority to, say, Lord Kelvin, and you will find that Lord Kelvin, is the great authority.

If you demand to see the Wright Brothers’ calculations, and you can follow them, and you demand to see Lord Kelvin’s calculations (he probably doesn’t have any apart from his own incredulity), then authority becomes much less relevant.

If you actually watch the plan fly, the calculations themselves become moot for many purposes, and Kelvin’s authority not even worth considering.

The more directly your arguments bear on a question, without intermediate inferences –the closer the observed nodes are to the queried node, in the Great Web of Causality –the more powerful the evidence. It’s a theorem of these causal graphs that you can never get more information from distant nodes, than from strictly closer nodes that screen off the distant ones.

Jerry Cleaver said: “What does you in is not failure to apply some high-level, intricate, complicated technique. It’s overlooking the basics. Not keeping your eye on the ball.”

Just as it is superior to argue physics than credentials, it is also superior to argue physics than rationality. Who was more rational, the Wright Brothers or Lord Kelvin? If we can check their calculations, we don’t have to care! The virtue of a rationalist cannot directly cause a plane to fly.

“I still sleep on the right side”

One of these days I will just embrace my super fandom and turn this into a full-time Silversun Pickups blog.

But today cannot be that day, because, to my great sadness and shame, I managed to miss them performing this amazing acoustic set at Sun Liquor here in Seattle last month. Definitely worth listening to the whole thing, but if you’re the impatient type, you should at least jump to 27:26 and listen to them tear through “Lazy Eye”.

A dialog on immigration

OPENO: Hello, friend! Something seems to be on your mind.

RESTRICTES: Yes, Openo, I am troubled. This migrant crisis in Europe has reawakened my concerns about immigration to the West in general. While I’m sympathetic to the plight of those fleeing civil war (though not to economic migrants), I think that Westerners on both sides of the Atlantic are being extremely foolish and letting sentiment and blank slate ideology blind them to the long term, irreversible consequences of their decisions.

OPENO: Then we have very different attitudes. My “sentiment” leads me to believe that the migration from poorer to richer countries will – despite the difficulties associated with any large change – be in the end a great benefit not only to the immigrants and their descendants, but to the host nations as well. Perhaps we can use reason and evidence to bridge this gulf between us. Can you elaborate on your position more?

A very well-written hypothetical dialog ensues. Highly recommended reading.

“We only want it with the lights out”

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Magic Blue Smoke

House Rules:

1.) Carry out your own dead.
2.) No opium smoking in the elevators.
3.) In Competitions, during gunfire or while bombs are falling, players may take cover without penalty for ceasing play.
4.) A player whose stroke is affected by the simultaneous explosion of a bomb may play another ball from the same place.
4a.) Penalty one stroke.
5.) Pilsner should be in Roman type, and begin with a capital.
6.) Keep Calm and Kill It with Fire.
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