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April 4, 2004

Cancelled contract
Posted by Teresa at 12:55 PM *

There’s been a huge flap in the blog world over Kos’s (of The Daily Kos) lack of sympathy for the four mercenaries who were recently killed, incinerated, and dismembered in Iraq. Partly this was because they were mercenary security personnel, and Kos, who grew up in El Salvador, has no reason to think well of contract mercenaries as a class. Partly it was because five members of the regular US ground forces in Iraq were killed the same day, but got no attention paid to them. Kos is former U.S. military. It would bother him.

What I wanted to say was that I heard the news about the four mercenaries getting torched from an old friend of mine who’s former career US military himself, and has experience in field operations in areas where mercenaries are also active. My friend, who normally laments each new report of casualties in Iraq, was not all that concerned about the well-being of a bunch of contract mercenaries in Iraq. “Maybe it was retaliation for something they did,” he said, “but maybe it was random, and they’d have done the same to any foreign military coming along that stretch of road just then.” He also observed that “Contract mercenaries are the guys you use to do the stuff the regular military refuses to do,” but that the regular military gets blamed for it.

Kos and my friend have a right to their opinions. Besides, they know a lot more about this than I do.

Comments on Cancelled contract:
#1 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2004, 01:34 PM:

The “independent contractors” scene from Clerks keeps going through my head.

#2 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2004, 01:39 PM:

If you haven’t seen it, here’s the script. Search for the phrase “cup of joe”, and read down from there.

#3 ::: Josh ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2004, 01:56 PM:

Partly it was because five members of the regular US ground forces in Iraq were killed the same day, but got no attention paid to them. Kos is former U.S. military. It would bother him.

Except that the reason the killings in Fallujah got more press is not because contrac workers/mercenaries were killed, but because of what happened to their bodies afterwards. It's the same reason the killings in Mogadishu got covered the way they did.

And while your friend is entitled to his opinion, it's worth noting that from everything I've heard the men who were killed were providing security for a convoy of trucks delivering food to the Iraqis.

#4 ::: Josh ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2004, 02:21 PM:

Oh, and you should check out Phil Carter's blog. He's got some interesting posts up about the issues surrounding contract workers in Iraq; apparently the government requires the civilian companies it's contracting with in the reconstruction to provide their own security (although the government pays for it). Apparently the civilian companies are looking for ex-special operations forces veterans, and are willing (and able) to pay far more than the Army. As a result, it's entirely possible that a number of veterans who might otherwise re-up with the military are signing on as private security.

#5 ::: Sandra McDonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2004, 02:26 PM:

Whether they were mercenaries or missionaries, soldiers or social workers, they were killed horribly and their corpses terribly violated. None of us can see into the hearts of the dead men to discern whether they deserved such a fate, but all of us should fear the kind of mob mentality reflected in the gleeful faces of the men and boys who committed these crime.

I'm former U.S. military too, and that's my two cents worth...

#6 ::: Kip Manley ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2004, 02:30 PM:

The dextral side of the blogosphere is gleefully using Kos's gaffe--since he's apparently repudiated the words he used, if not so much the sentiment, "gaffe" is pretty appropriate--anyway, the sorts of people who oh so helpfully point out to Democrats they steps they should take to run a "better" campaign are howling for Kos's head, and Democratic apparatchiks are all too ready to hand it over. --So much for the Popular Front.

#7 ::: Travis J I Corcoran ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2004, 03:16 PM:

The problem with arguing


Kos and my friend have a right to their opinions

is that it makes it look as if there's another side to the argument.


NO ONE, to the best of my knowledge, has ever argued that Kos and others don't have the right to their opinions. Some of us just argue that those opinions are nasty, cold-hearted, and wrong.

#8 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2004, 03:41 PM:

See also: Atrios' recent post on this and his link to Mark Stoller's statement:

I'm going to describe a character assasination attempt, the first one of import, in the blogosphere. This is a complicated story. It involves exploiting a heavily reactionary media environment to strike at speech for political purposes. It reveals a bipartisan problem, because blogs carry some characteristics that make them uniquely vulnerable to exploitation. And it's something that's going to happen, again and again, to both Republicans and Democrats, because of the surfeit of information and mainstreaming of online politics.

Whatever you feel about Kos' retracted statement, I think it's a mistake to let Bush advocates turn it into a talking point for their campaign. The Bush campaign has begun to show a certain amount of fear over the Blogosphere similar in kind, if not in degree, to their fear over Richard Clarke's testimony. They're attempting to apply the same smear-innuendo-outrage tactics to weblogs.

#9 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2004, 03:43 PM:

Followed their mercenary calling,
And took their wages, and are dead.

What is the class of contract mercenaries?

Who is the you in "the guys you use"?

#10 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2004, 04:12 PM:

I think the US has gone entirely too far with outsourcing the military.

Sure, it started with outsourcing food service to civilians, and maybe that made sense (though I could make a good argument that it makes no sense at all). Then we had the civilian techreps tagging along to keep the more advanced gear working. But then there's outsourcing security and front-line combat to civilians, and that goes beyond the pale. We're giving military missions to people who aren't in the chain of command, who don't fall under the UCMJ, who have a murky legal status, who answer to, who are accountable to ... who? If the taxpayers are paying for them in any case (at inflated rates, I might add), the troopers with firearms in a combat zone should be people who stuck their hands in the air and swore to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic, and are legally held accountable for doing just that.

Security is the legitimate concern of the state, and, in my opinion, the state is the sole legitimate source of lethal force.

Requiring contractors to provide their own armed security brings us back to the railroads and coal companies hiring Pinkertons. That had a horrifying enough history that it should lead us to think twice, then three times, before commiting similar mistakes now in a foreign land.

#11 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2004, 04:42 PM:

Clark --

Houseman was talking about a 'mercenary army' in the sense of one that is enlisted on terms of being paid a salary, rather than one enlisted on the basis of concern for some civil duty or noble passion, or one socially constructed by a means involving land tenure and social class.

Specifically, he meant the Edwardian Imperial British Army, the one that got itself killed in 1914 holding the line in France for long enough for the mass volunteer army to get put together and shifted in behind it.

There was a lot of late Victorian controversy over having a (nominally) class blind army; the reforms involved were in part opposed on the basis that such an army would lack the proper motivation, and refuse to fight at any excuse.

So despite Dickson's use of it in the Dorsai books, the Houseman poem isn't really about what Machiavelli or modern usage would describe as a mercenary; it's an ironic remnant-feudal use, addressing a viewpoint where war is a class-linked trade and not a profession. (A viewpoint Houseman is kicking in, at best, the shins.)

In Kos' case, I figure a Salvadoran has an involuntarily earned complete pass on anything he cares to say about the presumed motives and putative conduct of mercenaries paid for by American money.

In the specific case, well, look, it's not like mutilating the corpses is surprising. It's not even (to my mind) a big deal; it's one of the things that traditionally happens in every culture, and something Americans have engaged in from time to time. It's no more disturbing than what people look like after DPICM hits them, and certainly not as disturbing as traditional Afghan tribal practise, which involves keeping the victim alive for a day or so.

Being assaulted by a mob is one of the things that happens, will happen, that you certainly choose to have happen when you start that kind of war and engage in that sort of occupation. It's a predictable, straightforward part of the butcher's bill. (And I doubt this is the first time it's happened, too; I think it's just the first time the video footage has escaped American censorship and been seen by a wide audience.)

BushCo have been cranking up the pressure on this particular powder keg for months, in a display of military incompetence unequalled in US history. Should it stop venting and become a general uprising, as it increasingly has the potential to become, it's going to result in the destruction of the majority of the combat power of the US Army.

Any idiot can see this happening. Minimal competence would take steps to address it. Instead, we've got a bunch of the sort who benefited heavily from the introduction of Velcro shoe closures yeeking about barbarity as a distraction from their incompetence.

A barbarity they themselves chose -- along with a great many others -- when deciding to support an unjust, aggressive war irrelevant to the actual security concerns of the United States.

#12 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2004, 05:07 PM:

Just for the record, I don't think anybody deserves to be shot dead and have their corpse defiled. As I observed at the time, they may have been mercenaries or contract employees or whatever, but they had mothers and sweethearts and other people who loved them.

Also for the record, I think if I'd grown up in El Salvador and then served honorably in the regular US military, as Kos did, I might well have said something very much like what Kos said.

Also for the record, it was a dumb thing for him to say and he took too long to climb down from it.

Also for the record, very few of the people acting as if Kos had personally defiled the Statue of Liberty have the moral standing to shine Kos's shoes.

Also for the record, I think the Kerry campaign is being foolish, but to Kip Manley I'll remark that the "Popular Front" concept means that sometimes the people you ally with will do things you think are stupid. If it's "so much for the Popular Front" every time that happens, it wasn't much of a front. The reason I'm for Kerry and expect to continue being for Kerry isn't because I think the Kerry campaign "deserves" my support. It's because I think I deserve to live in a country not run by the Bush gang. As I keep saying, we're not fighting for a liberal utopia; we're fighting for the re-establishment of normal American political life, which compared to what's now happening to our country seems like a pretty worthwhile goal, complete with all its uncomfortable compromises and corruptions.

We're busy this weekend. Very likely I'll have more to say about this in a bit. Meanwhile, a big "what he said" to Atrios, and I'm definitely going to be thinking over the changes he's instituting.

#13 ::: Gareth Wilson ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2004, 05:18 PM:

"Kos and my friend have a right to their opinions. Besides, they know a lot more about this than I do."

Certainly. Kos has every right to say that the multilation and murder of four men causes him to feel nothing, and to say "screw them". Even if his reaction depends on not anything the men did but just which legal occupation they belong to. I'm sure you'll take the same open-minded attitude to similar comments about spammers, trial lawyers, tax collectors and teacher's union officials.

#14 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2004, 05:43 PM:

It seems obvious to me that "contract security" is as much a euphemism for mercenary now in Iraq as "special volunteer" was a euphemism for mercenary in the Congo in 1964.

We as a people should be questioning the reason we are employing troops who need to operate under a euphemism.

One reason these people are being employed at all could be that Rumsfeld is discovering that our allies aren't hurrying to provide troops and that the UN isn't interested in hauling our steaks out of the fire, while Gen. Eric Shinseki was quite right when he predicted the force level that would be required. Rumsfeld is trying to cover his own errors by hiring "contract security."

#15 ::: Kip Manley ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2004, 05:48 PM:

Pith does not necessarily equal communication, and short and pointed does not necessarily equal pith, and evolving circumstances notwithstanding, anyone who's kept in mind my cantankerous voting history is certainly spot-on in reading what I said as "Pfft! I'm taking my ball and going home, since once again the Democrats have failed to live up to my ideals," when what I really meant was, "Given the way the rules on this one have been drawn up by the other side, anybody hanging Kos out to dry has pretty much given up on the Popular Front, and boy does that seem like a stupid idea, hence my snarky dismissiveness."

I hesitate to tinker with perfection, but maybe we need a corollary? "Just because you're on their side, doesn't mean they have any idea you're on their side"? Atrios has a good point about how Kerry himself almost certainly has no idea this controversy is brewing (yet), so boy, is it dumb to blame him. --"Just because they aren't on your side doesn't mean you don't have good reasons to be on their side for the next few months"? I pretty much decided I wouldn't vote for Kerry when he came out in favor of amending the Massachusetts constitution to forbid same-sex marriage (but allow civil unions, yes yes). But I have every reason in the world to want to consign Bushco to the outer darkness; that desire will almost certainly in November translate to my blackening the bubble next to Kerry's name.

So maybe I'm not the best cheerleader for said Front. But whatever happens, this attempt to villify Kos and any campaign contributions from Kos's site and by extension Kerry has got to be stomped and stomped hard. There's outrage brewing, but we need some kind of full-court press or some other sports metaphor, stat. In a sane universe, the Democratic party as currently constituted would make a perfectly respectable opposition party for the sort of stuff I'd like to see happen. --But we've got to get to that sane universe first, agreed.

(And really, I don't mind being held up as an object lesson here. It's an important lesson.)

#16 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2004, 05:56 PM:

Gareth Wilson addresses Teresa:

"Kos has every right to say that the multilation and murder of four men causes him to feel nothing, and to say 'screw them'. Even if his reaction depends on not anything the men did but just which legal occupation they belong to. I'm sure you'll take the same open-minded attitude to similar comments about spammers, trial lawyers, tax collectors and teacher's union officials."
And I'm sure that the right-wing bloggers and pundits who have been piling on to Kos will of course repudiate eliminationist rhetoric whenever it emits from one of their own, like for instance Bill O'Reilly's recent call for a "final solution" in Fallujah.

Or all those lovely remarks from the Reverend Moon recently, delivered to adoring audiences of right-wing lobbyists and congressmen, about how we'll be "solving" the "problem" of homosexuality shortly, just as soon as the Reverend achieves his God-given destiny as overseer of the nations of the earth. I trust the weblogs of the Right will be all over this.

I'm certainly sure that highly placed officials in the Bush Administration would never appear on radio shows hosted by people with years-long records of race-baiting and bigotry. Indeed, I'm quite sure that Republicans, conservative webloggers, and the White House will be very careful never to associate with, or link to, people who talk freely and enthusiastically about killing overseas civilians, or blowing up the New York Times, or forcibly converting other countries to Christianity. Or people who put up a picture of a thirteen-year-old girl and compare her jokingly to a dog.

Because of course the political Right in this country is so very, very careful to police itself and dissociate itself from extremist or violent sentiments. So naturally it's incumbent on every single liberal in America, certainly including every weblogger and political campaign, to get out there and grovel if one single prominent person says one single dumb thing.

Oh wait. No, I don't think that at all.

Hey, come to think of it, neither do you.

Nice try, though.

#17 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2004, 06:04 PM:

These are asides, no doubt including run-on sentences. I do not mean them to be particularly argued. I intend rather to point out or acknowledge differences of something - framing or perspective perhaps.

Oh surely not military incompetence unequalled in all of U.S. history? - I'd vote for MacArthur but I'm not that sure myself.

I'd argue too that as usual with contractors or industrial temps the pay is reasonable and total cost not so bad. I wonder am I to take it that there exists a fair rate?

(fair as distinct from market of the sort people often mean when they call the market rate price gouging)

The published figures often encompass housing allowance, mess and uniform and all the rest - medical and family allowance and transient housing, space available transportation and many more things. With contractors there is an automatic cut-off and cheap readjustment.

That is doing it with expanding and contracting regular forces (with all the politics of base siting, growth and closures) may well be the better way to go. Using reservists implies more casualties than using regulars; not using reservists implies more deaths too. Reservists make delays inevitable; delays mean deaths. (you can't win, you can't break even and you can get killed sitting the game out)

Who would argue for snatching critical skills with a draft and plunging them immediately into this or any conflict?

I suggest the contractor pay is not exorbitant in the marketplace under the circumstances. Given cost to train, a fair rate might well match a private practice dentist in a well set-up office with 3 chairs and a hygienist don't you suppose?

Defining a mercenary or what the regular military refuses to do might be an interesting historical exercise. Notice the folks in the Dock in France for actions performed in one uniform (perhaps not an Army uniform but how else to describe it?) at Oradour-sur-Glane were mostly active duty French Army at the time of trial.

#18 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2004, 06:08 PM:

Abraham Lincoln Brigade good; contract security bad?

#19 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2004, 06:21 PM:

Kos and my friend have a right to their opinions

Why, yes. Just as Ann Coulter has the right to say all liberals are traitors, Fred Phelps has the right to say that gays are evil and should burn in hell, George Bush Sr. has the right to say that atheists aren't really citizens....

You're deflecting the point of the discussion by raising an argument nobody made--whether or not a person "has a right" to a particular opinion. The question is not the right to hold opinions, it's the quality of the opinion.

I'm rather disappointed in the retreat to such a flimsy rhetorical trick.

#20 ::: sennoma ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2004, 06:25 PM:

There's another little something here, on which Body and Soul recently touched: why is the nation that wields the single greatest, the most overwhelmingly unopposable military force in the world hiring itself a bunch of Myrmidons? I can think of no clean reason not to do military jobs with military personnel, but I can think of plenty of dirty ones. Much the same goes for requiring civilian contractors to provide their own security.

#21 ::: Laurie Mann ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2004, 06:29 PM:

There's a difference between saying "X has no right to this opinion" and "X is being stupid." I read a little of the flameup on Kos and some people went way beyond "X is being stupid."

There's also a difference between saying something and saying it in a specific context. Coulter can say whever she wants on her TV show. Phelps goes way over the line when he spews hatred at people's funerals, as he is wont to do (like picketing the very straight, very Presbyterian minister Fred Rogers for daring to say "I like you just the way you are.").

#22 ::: Scorpio ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2004, 06:34 PM:

The so-called Kerry blog dumped Kos off the blogroll for that statement, whereupon Atrios announced a new policy. He wrote and asked to be removed from the blogroll at the blog site, and while he will urge donations, he closed the account at the Kerry campaign that would track donations through his blog.

Basically, if the so-called Kerry blog lets right wing astroturf affect their behavior, Atrios is not willing to be directly associated -- he'd rather have his freedon of speech.

You know, the right never feels disgraced by hate speech from its supporters. It would behoove the Democrats not to yield to demagogues, because it is that sort of yielding and oversensitivity that gets them branded as weak.

Howard Dean! The spine transplant is being rejected! Help!

Scorpio
Eccentricity

#23 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2004, 06:37 PM:

But that's exactly the point. Saying that somebody "has a right to his/her opinion" is a dodge--it throws up an argument nobody has made as a distraction, and fails to address the actual criticism, e.g. whether the argument is stupid, venal, expressed in an unacceptable manner, or what have you.

I'm sure Phelps's supporters offer the same "right to his opinion" comment to divert criticism of the real issue, namely his inexcusable protest tactics.

Issues about how paleocons on the other end of the spectrum would never apologize for their outrageous crap, or how criticism of Kos went over the line, are entirely separate issues. They do not address the point of whether liberals should be condemning Kos and whether his opinion is justifiable.

#24 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2004, 06:38 PM:

And because I just can't keep up:

You know, the right never feels disgraced by hate speech from its supporters.

So we should sink to their level?

#25 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2004, 06:50 PM:

I tried looking back through the Daily Kos to find the commentary in question, but I'm not able to locate it, unless it's the bit where he (Kos) discusses the reasons why hiring mercenaries in a war like this (impunity, etc) seems like a questionable practise. Which post was it precisely?

(BTW, Kos's comments, while they sound a little incendiary based on what I've heard, hold no candles to some of the opinions I've seen out there. Suffice it to say, there are supposed doves out there that look like utter shitheads. As Patrick notes, nobody deserves to be shot dead and have their corpses defiled in such a manner.)

Speaking of independant contractors, we just learned that my BF's dad (ex-military, but currently a civilian) is likely headed to Iraq to work on the water supply and filtration systems there. He might be there for as long as two years, and I worry about him going over there, particularly reading stories like this in the news. Sigh.

#26 ::: Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2004, 07:14 PM:

Scorpio said:

The so-called Kerry blog dumped Kos off the blogroll for that statement, whereupon Atrios announced a new policy. He wrote and asked to be removed from the blogroll at the blog site, and while he will urge donations, he closed the account at the Kerry campaign that would track donations through his blog.

Basically, if the so-called Kerry blog lets right wing astroturf affect their behavior, Atrios is not willing to be directly associated -- he'd rather have his freedon of speech.

Well, actually, that's more or less the opposite of what Atrios actually said, which was, if the right-wingers are going to be able to hold John Kerry accountable for every thing said by any blogger who accepts John Kerry's paid ads, Atrios thinks it would be better for John Kerry if Eschaton put some distance between itself and the Kerry campaign.

So, same effect, completely different motivation.

#27 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2004, 07:28 PM:

Deprived of context

That said, I feel nothing over the death of merceneries. They aren't in Iraq because of orders, or because they are there trying to help the people make Iraq a better place. They are there to wage war for profit. Screw them.
.....
Unlike the vast majority of people in this country, I actually grew up in a war zone. I witnessed communist guerillas execute students accused of being government collaborators. I was 8 years old, and I remember stepping over a dead body, warm blood flowing from a fresh wound. Dodging bullets while at market. I lived in the midsts of hate the likes of which most of you will never understand (Clinton and Bush hatred is nothing compared to that generated when people kill each other for politics or race or nationality). There's no way I could ever describe the ways this experience colors my worldview.

No need to say that my mindreading skills are lacking - not all fan are Slans - but from what I knew of Blackwater before this happened I would not say the dead were trying to make war for profit. For fun and for free maybe, that I might say. There may well be merchants of death in the world just as there are merchants of oil for palaces. I doubt the DLI type is merchants of death though I don't doubt they dealt in it.

#28 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2004, 08:29 PM:

The problem with "contract security" is that it's a vague term. It could mean anything from the guy who keeps hackers off your hard drive, to the rent-a-cop down at the mall, all the way to the paramilitaries and the esquadrones de muerte. It's amorphous. One group sees "contract security" and imagines the rent-a-cop, another sees "contract security" and imagines Mad Mike Hoare. Who the hell knows what Rumsfeld thinks when he imagines "contract security"?

Kos seems to look at "contract security" and see death squads. Teresa's friend seems to look at "contract security" and see "deniable black ops."

Were the men in Iraq either kind of thing? Perhaps, perhaps not. But it is not a good thing for a major democracy to leave that question open in its own citizens' minds, let alone the minds of the rest of the world.

#29 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2004, 08:41 PM:

Clark --

MacArthur had big holes in his head, but he had a notion of objective, and I don't think he ever expected -- metaphorically or literally -- a man he'd just kicked in the balls to thank him.

The entire BushCo Iraq strategy is predicated on the idea that if they just kick the Iraqis hard enough, the Iraqis will learn to say thank you.

The problem with a mercenary is that they're responsible for their conduct, not the contracting power. Avoiding the appearance that this a desirable thing is supposed to prevent respectable governments from hiring any.

#30 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2004, 08:47 PM:

Kos and my friend have a right to their opinions. Besides, they know a lot more about this than I do.

This seems to me as if the word "earned" belongs between "have" and "a."

In other news, seven US troopers died today, in rioting and insurrection by the Shiites of Iraq.

I seem to recall that the Shiites, if no one else, were supposed to be the big supporters and beneficiaries of the US invasion. They're also unlikely to number a lot of unreconstructed Baathists.

Unless I'm wrong about this, the rioting today is a result of the arrest of a Shiite cleric's deputy, an arrest at first denied then confirmed by the US. That arrest followed the cleric's declaration that he was now the sword of Hamas and Hezbollah, or words to that effect.

I'd been under the impression that one of the goals of the invasion was to create a stable, secular, pro-Israel state in Iraq.

I don't see how the current situation is any kind of a step on that path.

#31 ::: Josh ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2004, 09:04 PM:

This seems to me as if the word "earned" belongs between "have" and "a."

So, what, those of us who haven't served in the military can't criticize Kos in this situation?

#32 ::: Scorpio ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2004, 09:08 PM:

I said:
[snip]

Basically, if the so-called Kerry blog lets right wing astroturf affect their behavior, Atrios is not willing to be directly associated -- he'd rather have his freedon of speech.

Kevin Maroney replied:
Well, actually, that's more or less the opposite of what Atrios actually said, which was, if the right-wingers are going to be able to hold John Kerry accountable for every thing said by any blogger who accepts John Kerry's paid ads, Atrios thinks it would be better for John Kerry if Eschaton put some distance between itself and the Kerry campaign.

So, same effect, completely different motivation.

True enough either way. They can't pin an Atrios misstatement on Kerry that way -- it leaves Atrios the freedom to err without making any backlash point directly to the Democratic campaign.

What Kos said would not have reflected there if they had not taken that reflection upon themselves by listening to the outraged wingnuts.

No, we don't have to sink as low as Republicans who shelter Coulter and Limbaugh and Phelps, but we don't have to go bat$hi+ and act like Kos has cooties, either.

I don't really *care* what nutcases "hold Kerry accountable" for -- but if making a case out of plastic flowers is your thing, if you feel a need to answer every poo-bit that their two-year-old games playing raises -- well, have at, and excuse me while I tune you out.

Scorpio
Eccentricity

#33 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2004, 09:10 PM:

Those who weren't in El Sal during the 1980s shouldn't criticize the visceral reaction to the phrase "contract security" that Kos seems to have.

#34 ::: Mark Atwood ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2004, 09:27 PM:

When I see "contract security" I think of a local man I know who is, at the very minute, gearing up to leave his home and his life here for a one year contract in Iraq to provide protection for a technical crew there, and also to provide financial security (read "pay off the mortgage" here) for his family.

#35 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2004, 10:09 PM:

No, we don't have to sink as low as Republicans who shelter Coulter and Limbaugh and Phelps, but we don't have to go bat$hi+ and act like Kos has cooties, either.

What is the proper response to someone whom one usually thinks is thoughful and intelligent, but who puts up an outrageous, indefensible opinion and then sticks by it out of stubbornnes long after it's clear that opinion is vile and wrong?

a) Insist "he has a right to his opinion"
b) Criticize anyone who criticizes the opinion on the grounds that the other side supports their people who say ridiculous things
c) Note that there are worse opinions
d) Warn that criticism of this opinion leads to fracturing a united front
e) Go ballistic and attack the speaker in a foam-at-the-mouth manner

I'd say "none of the above," myself. But e) is apparently what Kos got a lot of on his blog, and a) through d) have all been posited here as defenses to Kos's statement.

I guess I am just stunned at the idea that anyone could respond to Kos's statement with something other than revulsion. Civilly worded revulsion, perhaps.

#36 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2004, 11:02 PM:

Mark Atwood is quite right. Not every "contract worker" toting a weapon in Iraq is a former South African commando getting $100,000/year to perform "wet ops". A lot of them are just people taking on some extra risk in exchange for a shot at a slightly better life, and trying to do a good job under difficult circumstances. Also, as I observed before, they all have mommies, even the former South African commandos. Or at any rate somebody who loves them and probably doesn't deserve to see their incinerated body parts hung off a bridge.

Jim Macdonald is also right: if anyone has a right to a little slack for popping off about mercenary soldiers, it's probably someone who (1) grew up in Central America and (2) served with distinction in the regular military of the United States.

Which brings us to Josh, who asks: "So, what, those of us who haven't served in the military can't criticize Kos in this situation?"

I dunno. I've criticized Kos, I haven't been in the military, and so far, no lightning bolt. What exactly are you suggesting?

Teresa's observation that Kos "has a right to his opinion," much criticized in this thread as a nefarious attempt at misdirection, was in the context of the torrent of liquid pigshit being directed Kos's way. Hard though it may seem to believe, even in the blogosphere, there's such a thing as proportionality.

As Randy Paul has pointed out, Glenn Reynolds has said some pretty nasty and poisonous things on occasion, like gloating over the heat-related deaths of elderly French people, or using the bombing of the UN headquarters in Iraq as an occasion to slag off the UN, before the bodies of the dead relief workers were even cold. Somehow I forget the immense wave of disapproval pointed Glenn's way on those occasions, and the coordinated attempts by left-wing activists to shun and shut down the guy's blog, while poisoning his professional relationships to the greatest extent possible.

The point isn't that Glenn Reynolds is evil (he's not); the point is that the response to Kos has been disproportionate. Mark Kleiman went so far as to say that associating with Kos was the same as "lying down with dogs." Tacitus announced that money raised by Kos for Democratic candidates was now "dirty money."

This sort of rabid language isn't merely levelling justly-earned criticism at a stupid remark. This is a campaign to obliterate the guy and his works. Kos should have realized earlier that he's now a public figure who puts a lot at risk when he shoots off his mouth. The question for the rest of us is, what does this herald for other webloggers with audiences that reach beyond the immediate circle of our family and friends? As Atrios has observed, nobody wants to be the next Sister Souljah moment. I want to sleep on it before deciding, but I'm definitely tempted to adopt the Atrios Rules.

#37 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2004, 12:23 AM:

Oh, look. It's Mark Atwood.

Mythago, I'm sorry that parts of this discussion fall outside your previous imaginings. I'm at a loss for what to tell you. I can't prove via my own protestations that I'm not a cold-blooded monster with alien motivations and sensibilities. I will point out that several other people in this conversation, whom you'll have previously seen being quite human in all observable respects, have also had these supposedly incomprehensible reactions to the recent news and to Kos' take on it. Perhaps there's something more complicated going on.

Jim Macdonald is right. I should have said that Kos and my unnamed friend have earned a right to their opinions. I stand by my observation that they know a lot more about this than I do. Jim Macdonald's no slouch on this subject--saw service in-country in Panama, if I'm not mistaken--and I'm surprised that there hasn't been more engagement with his several substantial posts here.

As for Kos:

First, I am just plain amazed that so many lefties can't think of a single reason why someone who's from El Salvador might have pungent opinions about contract mercenaries. Granting him the right to those opinions only if they're expressed in suitably mournful, pious, and genteel terms strikes me, if you'll excuse me for saying so, as a piece of mealymouthed prissiness.

Kos doesn't represent himself as a military analyst, but is there anyone here who'll claim to know more than he does about the US military presence in Iraq, or do better sociological analyses of everyday life in the US military? Who among you didn't read his weblog when the war was in its hot early stages?

Kos is a man of substance, a thoughtful and knowledgeable commentator, and he's earned the right to have his opinions given more consideration than we've seen these last few days. If in this instance we heard the voice of the man rather than the political commentator, who is going to stand up and say that that's contrary to the spirit and practice of blogging?

I have no time for, and no respect for, right-wingers who feign a horror and distress they manifestly cannot feel over Kos's language in this one instance. We've all seen the kind of language they commonly countenance--when it's spoken in their own cause. This is hypocrisy on par with fornicating vulgarians like Gingrich, Hyde, Livingston, and Chenowith pretending to be shocked by misdeeds of Clinton's that would scarcely have filled a long weekend in their own social calendars.

Those further toward the center and left of the political spectrum who've jettisoned Kos with such unseemly haste are fools. Kos has been their help and support all along. I doubt they're as concerned as they should be over leaving him vulnerable to those who wish him ill, but I wish to hell they'd notice that they've left him vulnerable to those who wish them ill.

#38 ::: Josh ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2004, 12:43 AM:

I dunno. I've criticized Kos, I haven't been in the military, and so far, no lightning bolt. What exactly are you suggesting?

I wasn't suggesting anything, I was legitimately asking, because what I wrote seemed the most likely implication of Jim Macdonald's comment.

#39 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2004, 12:59 AM:

I can't prove via my own protestations that I'm not a cold-blooded monster with alien motivations and sensibilities.

With all due respect, huhwhat?

I pointed out that you (and others, as you note) made a common and lame rhetorical defense of an opinion, which is to say that the holder is entitled to it. Well, yes, we're all "entitled" to our opinions, whether or not we've earned them. That does not in any way address the defensibility of those opinions.

As long as I'm being baffled here, I'll add that I don't think it's "mealmouthed prissiness" to condemn people for cheering on mutilating and displaying corpses like trophies. That has nothing to do with Kos's opinion of contract soldiers, what the contractors' actual jobs are, whether the invasion of Iraq was justified, or the price of tea in China. "Mercenaries are evil, and I ought to know," however correct--and I'm certainly not disputing Kos's experiences here--do not, in my opinion, justify saying "...so it was OK to mutilate, burn and hang those corpses from a bridge, because after all, they were mercenaries before they died."

Should I put on my tinfoil hat now?

#40 ::: sennoma ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2004, 01:16 AM:

I guess I am just stunned at the idea that anyone could respond to Kos's statement with something other than revulsion.

What stuns me is the number of conspicuous-compassion assholes falling all over themselves to express their revulsion. Kos made me wince with his ill-phrased opinion; the resulting plague of whited sepulchres is making me sick to my stomach.

#41 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2004, 02:07 AM:

mythago :

....cheering on mutilating and displaying corpses like trophies.

Who did that? When?

I read the Kos quote. He didn't do any such thing. He didn't cheer it on ... he said he didn't care.

He failed to weep for them. Given his background, you probably wouldn't weep for them either.

Josh:

No, the implication didn't have anything to do with being in the military; lots of people have been in the military without ever having met a mercenary. The implication was about growing up in a country filled with US trained-and-backed mercenaries, graduates of the School of the Americas, paramilitares, contract security. It would color your perception when you heard that some contract security died.

#42 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2004, 03:46 AM:

Gah. I was almost hoping you'd not involve yourselves in this mishegoss. When Jordin first outlined the thing to me I basically shrugged. I'm afraid those deaths, yea even the mutilations, didn't have that sort of visceral effect on me either. Which shocked Jordin I think, but I've always maintained he's a nicer person than I. He said perhaps his view was affected by too much Dickson and the Dorsai, and I think he's probably right. The only thing that kept the Dorsai admirable was their absolutely iron code of honor and the culture around it. Permit me to suspect that mercenaries hired from all over the world, who're only there for the money don't have that sort of iron code. No, no one deserves to die, horribly or otherwise but I just can't get all bent out of shape about this one. Now, the 20 year old kids who are being killed and maimed and sent back to battle when they're not ready. That I can get upset about.

I'm also pretty upset about the attack on Kos and the attempt to set up a meme that you're responsible for what anyone says on a blog you link to or advertise on. I really think Matt on Blogging of a President does a good job at laying out the story and what's wrong. I'm sorry Atrios has taken it all to heart and done what he did. I think it's letting the purveyors of pseudo-scandal win. I link to both items in my blog (marykay.typepad.com/gallimaufry). I find the trend very scary as I see it as an attempt to undercut the power the internet gives us to affect the political world. I wish I had more time to write about this. It's nearly 1am though and I have to get up early tomorrow...

Patrick: Glenn Reynolds may or may not be evil; I don't know. I do know that he is intellectually dishonest which I seem to think is worse. (Interesting the things you learn about yourself after all those years) And it's why I quit reading him.

MKK

#43 ::: Alter S. Reiss ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2004, 04:11 AM:

I have to agree that the essential problem here is the amount of ground that "contract mercinary" covers.

In Israel, for instance, much of the security for public places is handled by private security companies. Were someone to explain how they were unmoved by the death of the guy wanding people at a bus terminal because that guy was a private citizen and the bus company mostly owned by the government, I'd think it a rather stupid remark. This is independent of what they think about the situation in Israel, or where they grew up. Yes, these people have guns, and are authorized to use them, at their discretion. And, yes, the government is employing them through a proxy.

This is completely different from a situation where the government is hiring mercinaries to deniably kill trouble makers, or to engage in military adventurism without having the numbers show up on casualty rolls, or any of the other situations where paying people with guns plays a more sinister role.

I mean, even in those cases, those are still people, and being completely unmoved by people's deaths isn't necessarily an admirable trait, but where people are doing bad things, I've got no problem with that.

The thing is, in Iraq, you have a complex situation. Unless the US government is willing to provide security for every single organization, local or foreign, that does business in Iraq, there is going to be a need for armed security guards. Maybe this is something that the police should be handling, but given that things in Iraq are the way they are, I see nothing immoral in hiring people with guns to keep various business interests safe. And I can't see much reason to deny those people the same moral standing as the guy with a metal detector outside a bus station.

But, in Iraq, you have an ongoing military campaign. And this campaign is of the sort that I wouldn't be at all surprised to hear involves mercinaries hired to do very bad things to people, for reasons that are moraly problematic, at best.

(As an aside, the level of military training that these people will have gone through isn't a filter that can reliably be used to tell the difference between the sort of functions mercinaries are being used for; if you're hiring a man to carry a gun, hiring ex-military is a perfectly reasonable way of knowing certain pre-requisites are met.)

Given that we don't know what sort of job the guys killed were doing, it seems reasonable to give them the benefit of the doubt. Given the relatively low cost of sympathy, witholding it is rather petty, and public airing of the lack of sympathy seems rather dumb. Yes, there are reasons why Kos is less inclined to grant that benefit of the doubt. That doesn't change the fact that I find his statements in this case rather dumb. I'd like to think that I've earned the right to say that, here. By being a person with a computer, and all.

That said, the rush to disavow Kos, and attacks on those who fail to disavow Kos are. . . well, they're a number of things, all of them bad. This is the sort of thing that the Bush campaign has been doing -- being shocked and hurt by the other guy doing things that they do all the time. Kos said something tactless, and in my opinion at least, dumb. If you generate a sufficient quantity of prose, sooner or later, you'll say things that are tactless and dumb. If I were a daily reader of a blog in which I saw something like that, I might put in a comment. Hell, I might even talk about it other forums. But this isn't the sort of thing that needs a communal shunning, and by implying that it is, those whose politics are opposed to Kos', they're playing a dirty game. If he gets shunned, it reduces the number of their outspoken opponents by one, and serves warning to others to reduce their output, lest they say something less than perfectly smart. It also establishes their side as the one of moral probity, and Kos' as the side of dangerous lunatics. If Kos isn't shunned, well, obviously, anyone who doesn't shun him is in complete agreement about everything he had to say.


It is for this reason, more in sorrow than in anger, I urge people to remove from their blogrolls, and return donations made in the names of anyone who've attacked those who failed to attack Kos. It is my deepest regret that they've chosen to use tactics of this sort, and I hope only that something, something, something, and etc.

In terms of American military incompetence, you can find many, many examples of both strategic and tactical foolery, if you go back and look closely, same as anywhere else in the world. My vote is for the Battle of the Crater, but I could suggest a number of others for the crown of least intelligent thing the US Arned Forces have done.

#44 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2004, 04:57 AM:

I would like to respond to lots of different things in this thread, but given that so many of them are at the top of the thread it doesn't seem a reasonable usage of the comment box.

That said I'll observe on MKK's point: "Glenn Reynolds may or may not be evil; I don't know. I do know that he is intellectually dishonest which I seem to think is worse. (Interesting the things you learn about yourself after all those years) And it's why I quit reading him. "

An intellectually honest evil person would at least be able to tell you something about their motivations, in cases of extreme intellectual dishonesty such as Reynolds most of your effort has to be in parsing out the misdirection and lies, I'm sure a good libertarian such as himself would recognize this is not a good use of resources and would compliment you for ignoring his b.s.

#45 ::: Anna in Cairo ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2004, 07:55 AM:

I would also recommend today's Knight-Ridder article about how Arabs are just not so shocked about these 4 guys' gruesome deaths. Why, because they have been watching gruesome footage from Iraq of Iraqi civilians dying that US citizens have not seen. Also, they see gruesome footage of Palestinians being killed on a daily basis as well, the most noteworthy recent example being Shaikh Yassin. The fact that the guys are mercenaries does not make it easier to summon up the requested outrage.

I am outraged at the fact that the American people were bamboozled into a repeat of the 19th century British model of colonialism, for reasons which were not true. Because of this adventurism, these 4 guys, and lots and lots of Iraqis, and lots and lots of american soldiers and other soldiers from "coalition countries" are dead and there will be a lot more to come. That is the tragedy.

#46 ::: David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2004, 09:06 AM:

The discussion's reached new depths over at Kathryn Cramer's blog, where someone has been forging obscene comments from, among other people, me and Kathryn herself.

#47 ::: John (B). ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2004, 09:37 AM:

Hmm... when I was paying my way through university by working as a security officer my mates and I used to say that the kinds of people who became security officers were those who couldn't even manage to get themselves a taxi license... and we also used to say that the first place to look when something went missing from a site was inside the duty guard's bag.

In my own experience security guards tend to be fairly unpleasant and amoral people (I would say immoral, but I don't think they've given enough thought to questions of ethics for them to have made a choice to do the wrong thing) and whenever I hear of security personnel being involved in any context I suspect the worst. I don't know whether the individuals killed in Iraq were involved in any morally culpable activities but it certainly would not surprise me to find out that they were.

In any case, leaving aside my feelings about the security industry as a whole, I would have to admit that I didn't feel an awful lot when I saw the footage of these guys' deaths. But then, I don't feel terribly much when I read of regular soldiers being killed either. In my view they are all legitimate targets in an ongoing conflict. The manner in which these men died was unfortunate and unpleasant, but none of the armed personnel serving in Iraq were conscripted and all of them willingly signed up for jobs that they knew involved the prospect of shooting people and being shot at by others.

I'm not in any way glad that these four men died and I find it hard to believe that the mutilation of their corpses was at all justifiable, but we invaded Iraq and can't pretend to be surprised that some Iraqis aren't too happy about it. If we want the killings in Iraq to stop then we either need to convince an overwhelming majority of Iraqis that we did them a favour by invading their country (which seems a bit unlikely) or suppress their resistance through overwhelming force (which seems to be impossible).

But if we can't convince the Iraqis to stop killing our personnel or force them to stop doing so then the killings are just going to continue. I suppose we could always withdraw our occupying forces, but then, given that the coalition governments had to make up stories before they could even convince themselves that they had any right to invade Iraq in the first place, running home again before the conflict was actually over might just make them all look a little bit silly...

#48 ::: Paul ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2004, 09:49 AM:
"Because he had a good agent, he had a good contract. Because he had a good contract, he was in Singapore an hour after the explosion. Most of him, anyway."

According to the AP, the Iraqi Press Office is is packed with party hacks. One hopes they all have very good contracts.

#49 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2004, 09:52 AM:

Well, leaving aside the question of how much we should or should not condemn Kos comment, what thoroughly cynical use is being made of it by his political opponents and a few useful idiots closer to home and how far guilt by association is supposed to go in our little online world, there is what I think is a slightly more urgent question.

According to Time, people who are currently in the military and stationed in Iraq feel more or less the same way Kos and Teresa's friend do about the contractors, and say that the iraqi people feel the same. Lot of cowboys, everyone over there seems to feel, just in it for money and kicks. Natural targets.

One reason: we're sending men over there who are completely unprepared for what they're going to be facing. The for-profit contracting organizations, which appear to be taking a huge rake-off from that thousand or two a day, ship out warm bodies without giving them adequate training. Some of them are entering a war zone without having taken a defensive driving course.

That's not just wrong, it's incredibly stupid.

It seems to me that what we have here is not only a public relations disaster where we can least afford one, but another situation where pious demands to support our men and women overseas by not saying anything Instapundit finds objectionable is joined with a profoundly callous disinterest in making the minimum effort to keep those men and women from dying for no good reason.

#50 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2004, 09:54 AM:

I really don't see Bush's adventure ending anywhere except with the creation of an Islamic Republic in Iraq, firmly anti-US and anti-Israel, controlled by the clerics, supporting international terrorism with money and men.

And Osama laughing.

#51 ::: Ailsa Ek ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2004, 10:09 AM:

OK, we're at war and some guys died. Nastily, apparently. For them, it's the end of their world. For their families, it's probably mind-numbing tragedy.

...

This is very frustrating. Words are not coming here.

...

My father in law served in Vietnam as a combat pilot. My grandfather was a sargeant who earned a battlefield commission in World War One. I imagine there were days where they saw more than five of their own killed horribly in less than an hour. Why am I supposed to cry over five guys who weren't even drafted?

And that's not even starting on why Kos should be expected to have any favorable feelings at all towards American mercenaries.

One the one hand, if we don't want the boys getting killed, we should bring 'em home so they can go back to getting killed in smaller numbers at wargames. On the other hand, if Kos wants to be not sorry that some American mercenaries got killed, I'm all for letting him and us all goign on with our lives and finding someone else to virtually dismember.

I wish this were better written, but I've spent half an hour staring at it, and I really have to get back to my Passover cleaning. Only an hour left to burn my chommetz.

#52 ::: Ailsa Ek ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2004, 10:13 AM:

And while I was hemming and hawing, John (B) said it much better. Oh well.

#53 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2004, 10:34 AM:

What stuns me is the number of conspicuous-compassion assholes falling all over themselves to express their revulsion.

Sorry, but I'm not about to express or refrain from expressing my opinion because a bunch of other people might say the same thing, for whatever reason. If that makes me an asshole in your eyes, I believe that says more about you than about me. (Amusing as it is to be accused of being
a "whited sepulchre." First time for everything, I s'pose.)

He didn't cheer it on ... he said he didn't care.

My error, then, though I still believe Kos's opinion (which, let's all not forget, he has a right to) is incredibly wrong. However evil or loathsome or "I hate him" a person may have been in real life, what happened to the slain men in Al-Fajullah was wrong Even the Islamic clerics of the town, who certainly had zero sympathy for the killings, spoke out against this.

I mean, shoot, if it's no big deal to mutilate and display human corpses if they were scumbags in life, maybe the US should bring back gibbets for particularly disgusting criminals.

#54 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2004, 10:44 AM:

There are miles and miles of moral space between, say, Wackenhut and Blackwater. Security guards are substantially different from mercenaries (and make no mistake -- these guys, were the later -- soldiers of fortune). Even the latter doesn't deserve what these men got, but there's a world of difference between them, salaried employees of a private military organization, getting it, and a guard or member of the actual, governmental military getting it.

On a side note, these are exactly the "Private Security Forces" that hardline libertarians see being paid by insuraance companies to take over the work of the military.

#55 ::: Lis Riba ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2004, 10:47 AM:

And while your friend is entitled to his opinion, it's worth noting that from everything I've heard the men who were killed were providing security for a convoy of trucks delivering food to the Iraqis.
Actually, the official story is that

A Blackwater spokesman said the men were guarding a convoy on its way to deliver food to troops under a subcontract to a company named Regency Hotel and Hospitality.
Food to troops, not food to Iraqis. But even that's raising questions.

Warblogging.com asks what happened to the food shipments (no signs of any feasts that night in Fallujah), and notes

It's certainly a possibility that these Blackwater employees weren't providing security for food shipments while driving through Fallujah. After all, why route the food shipments through Fallujah? Fallujah is a town so dangerous that the American military personnel — heavily armed and armored or not — completely avoid the town unless executing a specific military mission within the town. Why on earth would "civilians" — even armed civilians — be escorting food through such a town driving in unmarked white SUVs?
Furthermore, Billmon points out that the company they were allegedly delivering food to -- Regency Hotel and Hospitality -- does not appear to exist prior to this incident. It's not in Google nor LexisNexis, nor has anybody been able to find records of who these people are.

#56 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2004, 10:59 AM:

You might find these two links illuminating when talking about who these guys are and what their mission was:

Time Magazine

Blackwater USA

#57 ::: Astoria ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2004, 11:13 AM:

'A Blackwater spokesman said the men were guarding a convoy on its way to deliver food to troops under a subcontract to a company named Regency Hotel and Hospitality'

The new Prime Minister would like two sacks of raw potatoes, a company of Heavy Pike, and the New Sepran treasury sent up as soon as possible.

#58 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2004, 11:33 AM:

Why am I supposed to cry over five guys who weren't even drafted?

You know, of all the reasons to argue about these issues, this completely baffles me. What does being drafted have to do with anything? Humanitarian aid workers aren't drafted--they're not even like members of the armed forces, who signed up but have no choices as to where or whether they're deployed--yet I like to think we're all horrified when some militia group decides to make a point by killing a Red Cross or Doctors Without Borders volunteer.

#59 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2004, 11:43 AM:

Kos doesn't express outrage at the death of four "food delivery" guards. And he's automatically evil, and the Democratic party flak in Washington does the predictable, and throws him to the dogs.

But Kathleen Parker calls for the murder of somewhere around, oh, three-to-five million people. She starts...

I suppose it would be considered lacking in nuance to nuke the Sunni Triangle.
But so goes the unanimous vote around my household - and I'm betting millions of others - in the aftermath of what forevermore will be remembered simply as "Fallujah."

So, where's the outrage? Let's nuke the whole "Sunni Triangle." How many towns and cities is that? Where does the fallout go?

And, yet, some party flack decides that Kos is now an untouchable. This is one reason why the Democrats keep losing. When an ally is attacked, they hide -- or join in the attack.

By the way, this food convoy? Where are those trucks? Why did this four hang, but the truck drivers, in far less maneuverable, and far slower, flatbeds manage to get away? Of course, the raiders were perfectly happy, after nailing the lead and trail vehicles, to let a few trucks, loaded with supplies, walk away.

It's almost as if they perfectly executed page one of the standard urban ambush guide (nail the lead and trail vehicles, trapping the rest in between the wrecks) but forgot to turn the page, and just wandered away while the flatbeds got around the wrecks and headed onwards.

And why did these "professionals" drive into a city that was so hostile that the Marines would only enter it when carrying out very specific strikes, and would then leave the city as soon as the mission comes out. Yet, these four just happen to be driving though in two white SUVs and a bunch of flatbed food trucks, which have never been seen, and have dissappeared into the mists.

And if this food was for troops, where are those troops? They weren't in the city. Where was this delivery supposed to go?

This doesn't add up. Hell, this isn't even math. The cover story is so full of holes that Hollywood would reject the plot.

But we can just nuke them, so why should we care?

Besides, Kos is evil.

#60 ::: Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2004, 11:46 AM:

You know, I don't have a blog, and I'm not the most articulate guy, but this link pretty much sums up my opinion on this topic:

http://www.fightingdemocrat.com/images/supportkos.png

#61 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2004, 11:54 AM:

Erik, Kathleen Parker is the poor man's Ann Coulter. There's no point in reading her crap except to wonder if, perhaps, liberals ought to rethink their position on the strictness of involuntary committment laws.

#62 ::: colleen @ del rey ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2004, 12:18 PM:

The anger and hatred of Americans I can certainly understand. The wanting Americans out of their country I can understand. I can even understand the killing of Americans.

But nobody deserves to have their bodies dragged around and mutilated and paraded to the media like carnival trophies.

#63 ::: Rick Heller ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2004, 12:36 PM:

The difference between the reception of outrageous statements from the left and right is that when the right express indifference to the deaths of non-Americans, most people don't care. When the left expresses indifference to the deaths of Americans, people are upset.

Strangely enough, if the same Russian who we were willing to nuke 15 years ago comes to the US and takes out citizenship papers, or an Iraqi exile does the same, all of a sudden we care for him.

This seems like weird behavior, but I believe it has deep genetic roots. I see national identity as an abstraction of kinship relations, and our in-group preference is an attempt to promote the survival of "people like us."

It may seem that ideally, we should value all people across the planet equally. But that is not a point of view that can succeed in national politics right now.

#64 ::: Ailsa Ek ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2004, 12:41 PM:

Conflating mercenaries and emergency aid workers just doesn't work. Both chose to be there, yes, but there are a few differences beyond that.

That guys toting guns at the head of a convoy into enemy-held territory get killed is not surprising and not to my mind tragic. If they were peopel who were sent there against their will and had no desire in the world to be the guys toting guns in a convoy, that lends tragedy to the affair. Today's military is all volunteers, although rather a lot of them weren't exactly counting on something like this coming up. Mercenaries don't even have the "Hey, just because I enlisted doesn't mean I expected to go to war" excuse.

#65 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2004, 12:58 PM:

Not sure about the geographical size of "the Sunni Triangle" but if the population is in 3-5 million range (up to 1/5th Iraqi pop?), would a similar scenario be the UK using its nuclear weaponry to take out Eire & Northern Ireland if the IRA similarly treated some if the occupying troops in N Ireland? There are quite a few IRA sympathizers scattered around that island. Let God sort 'em out!

Of course, the UK mainland is a bit close. They might worry about fallout. Perhaps if some warlike Maori activists terminated the British High Commissioner/US Ambassador & attached staff with extreme prejudice, Aotearoa (pop ~4M) would cop it.

After all, those pacific islanders are used to having radioactivity floating around: French fallout, American ...

#66 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2004, 01:11 PM:

Both chose to be there, yes, but there are a few differences beyond that.

More than a few. I was addressing your point that those guys "weren't even drafted." I just don't believe that whether one was drafted has much to do with anything. If a WWII soldier eagerly signed up because he believed he was saving the world from the bad guys, would that have made his death any less tragic?

#67 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2004, 01:18 PM:

Am I the only one who thinks this discussion has gone...well, off the deep end? Only wackos ever seriously discuss nuking anybody, ever. Does that need to be part of our presumed-sane discussion at all?

I don't feel competent to express an opinion about the central matter of this thread, but I'm reading it with interest. I hate to see it derailed by discussing such things, though the fact that right-wingnuts are saying it is relevant.

#68 ::: colleen @ del rey ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2004, 01:36 PM:

Xopher --

I don't think anyone [except Kathleen Parker] is being serious about nuking anyone. I read Epacris's statements as facetious. Er, at least I hope they were.

Mythago --

I agree, it doesn't matter what anyone's status in Iraq is when they are killed. They were still human beings who are still just as dead, and Dubbya is still ultimately the one responsible for putting them in harm's way in Iraq, whether directly or indirectly.

#69 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2004, 01:58 PM:

colleen, I meant that there's no point in discussing why Parker's idea is wacko - we can assume that.

#71 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2004, 02:07 PM:

Just using the SF idea of putting some odd idea in a familiar place/over-familiar idea in an odd place to point out the inherent properties of the idea, myself.

Ronald Reagan completely lost any of my human sympathy (already disagreed with policies) when I heard him joking about raining millennium-toxic fire-death onto innocent civilians (who he called "The Evil Empire" to disguise their humanity).

The more people use that kind of hateful rhetoric, the more likely some of the loopier types who can get their fingers onto buttons might do something. Unfortunately, some of the religiously inclined might also think they'd welcome it.
One tries not to be to depressed with these thoughts. After all, there's lots of other things closer to hand to be depressed by.

#72 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2004, 02:40 PM:

I agree. I also agree about Reagan. (I've gotten shocked responses from friends when I've said that I hope his Alzheimer's is making him suffer terribly...I remind them that I have friends from college who might be alive today had he made some attempt to deal with AIDS in a timely fashion.)

#73 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2004, 02:49 PM:

Captain Arnold's Armpit Avengers are 'contractors'!?

#74 ::: Scott Lynch ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2004, 02:50 PM:

Xoph, no one on this thread is actually discussing nuking anyone; they're just mentioning the fact that assorted right-wing nutmonkeys have no problem talking a HUGE line of militant shit in their own little echo chambers, and that their teeth-gnashing in response to the occasional "too hot for blogdom" comment by a lefty/centrist is comical hypocrisy.

I used to read InstaPundit on a daily basis, and I think Mary Kay has the situation cold: Glenn was, at one point, tolerably balanced, but a persistent lack of self-examination has set in, and nowadays the "indeeds" fly thick enough for self-parody.

Or, to paraphrase Kevin Drum: "Boy, I bet the self-correcting nature of the blogosphere will kick in, and you'll be retracting your factual errors any minute now, right Glenn? Any minute now... still waiting... any minute now..."

Anyhow, I'm not so sure that the topic of nukin' people is so untouchable that it should preclude us from even discussing people who like to talk about nukin' people. Especially when we verbally kick the shit out of them. Does that make sense?

#75 ::: Tayefeth ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2004, 03:02 PM:

Sadly, my in-laws talk perfectly seriously about nuking large numbers of people as retaliation for terrorist or mob violence. Their favorite idea for a suitable reaction to the WTC attacks was "turn Afghanistan into a sheet of glass". Last spring, at least my father-in-law was all for doing the same to Iraq. I got an earful from both of them when I suggested that, as practicing Christians, perhaps their first response shouldn't be "an eye for an eye". Apparently, in their universe, "turn the other cheek" only applies when you've been lightly slapped, not when you've been really hurt.

#76 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2004, 03:13 PM:

This may get a little long (and my frustration is great, because I am having to retype it, after I managed to screw up an edit in the preview... don't make the mistake of trying to change the viewed text; the part above the comment box, it'll void the transaction), but I've spent the past hour, or so, reading the various materials.

Kos doesn't represent himself as a military analyst, but is there anyone here who'll claim to know more than he does about the US military presence in Iraq, or do better sociological analyses of everyday life in the US military? Who among you didn't read his weblog when the war was in its hot early stages?

I might, and no, I didn't read him back then. :)

I have to say that, apart from general sympathy for the dead, I don't feel much for them. They took a risky job, and they earned a lot of money, and the reason they were offered so much money was that they might get killed.

And make no mistakes about it, they got a lot of money. The going rate for that sort of contract is, roughly, $1,000 a day.

I first heard about it when I arrived to hang out with some friends. One of them pointed to the Blackwater Web Site and said, "I hear they have four openings."

We laughed. Bitter, dark and a trifle empty, but we laughed. The two of us who were back from Iraq, and the one who had just been told he wasn't going.

Mercenaries may have more than the base motive of profit,but whatever other motives they have, the money plays a big part.

Which bothers me less than the other part... lack of oversight. These guys are not Hammer's Slammers, they aren't Dorsai, they aren't even condittieri, the are more like The Cowboys, in the movie Tombstone, answereing to almost no one, and having the local law wink at their misdeeds.

Read the March Esquire. If I'd done the things the writer says he did, I'd be in the brig. Lt. Col.s who did similar things have been cashiered, and rightly so.

I might feel more for them were they actually hired to be an army. Then again I would also expect them to be more answerable if that were the case, but as it is now, when they step over the line (and out into the light) what happens is the company is told to send that worker home.

People have made much hay about the way the bodies were treated, they have even condemned the troops who didn't go out to retrieve them. That doesn't bother me.

I'm not even sure I'd be all that upset if no one had gone out to save them, but then the New Guy gets point.

So I can't condemn Kos for his opinion, and if I were going to censure him, it wouldn't be more than to say, "I disagree," and move on. I certainly wouldn't abandon him.

Nor can I say I am shocked that this was done. Not when I know we paraded the bodies of Udai Qusai.

And I can't agree with those who do rip into him, not when I see the likes of Coulter, and Kramer, and Limbaugh, and, and, and..., being accepted, praised and rewarded for the bile and vitriol they spew, in all its acid horror. as though they did no harm.

I don't recall many of those who are attacking Kos, and his defenders, reacting in horror to suggestions that we use the gold-plated skull of Bin Laden as a ceremonial goblet at presidential inaugurations, nor that it would be wrong to spend days, even weeks, publically executing Ayman al-Zawahiri and then making it a public pissoir.

Until I see more balance, I just have to say that Kos's opinion is just fine with me.

But then I am less civilized than I was a year ago, so perhaps the flaw, if any, is in me.

#77 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2004, 03:15 PM:

"People...people who nuke people...are the nuttiest people..."

Scott, I was reacting to Epacris' post wherein an analogy was drawn to nuking Ireland. My point was that we don't need "closer to home" analogies to persuade us that nuking the Sunni Triangle is an insane idea. Since I was trying to keep the discussion from being derailed, I must now confess that it was counterproductive!

Yes, we should point out the coldhearted callous impractical stupidity of people like Parker (and, it appears, Tayefeth's inlaws).

Speaking of which: Tayefeth, perhaps you could point out to them that J of N asked forgivenes ever for the people who were nailing him to the cross...while it was still going on. (I know this would open a can of worms.) If you decide to go with it, I suggest that this coming Friday might be a good time...

#78 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2004, 03:19 PM:

I've been under a freeper spam attack all day from (I think) some of the very folks involved in the Kos thing. I've posted many IP numbers that other bloggers might enjoy banning.

#79 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2004, 03:28 PM:

Again, cross-posting creates an appearance of undue flippancy...

Thanks for that post, Terry. Thoughtful as always, and clearly expressed.

#80 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2004, 04:36 PM:

Anybody know how to track people who are able to change IP addresses fast, especially addresses in sequence?

#81 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2004, 04:41 PM:

I didn't read Kos' blog, in fact, this is the first blog I've read and I've only been skimming it since TNH wrote about Andrew & Joe's wedding.

I do, however, know something about working as a contractor in a war zone. In my case, installing software on a sub in the Gulf (before I retired on disability). Not all contractors are what you would consider mercenaries. This was the same kind of work I did for my company regularly, it just happened to be in a war zone. (Why me and not the guys who worked for me? I was better at writing patches in the field and I was single.) I made my regular salary for it.

We all take risks balanced against reward and for some people, the choice to serve in dangerous situations is worth the reward. That the military is outsourcing so much work indicates not just that the military itself can't handle that work, but that they may not have the kind of expertise required.

I'm an atheist, damage to corpses doesn't particularly bother me, but I'm not happy when people get killed supporting a stupid Presidential war.

#82 ::: sean bosker ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2004, 05:03 PM:

It seems like burnt bodies now ranks up there with 'the children' when it comes to making a political point.

I am horrified every time I see a charred corpse, whether it's an Iraqi baby with the pacifier still in its mouth (remember that one?), or the recent spectacle.

The display of the proper amount of human compassion in reaction to various atrocities has become political capital. It's like a public show of piety, and turning events into an ouch-fest doesn't help much when it's time to figure out what is actually going on.

The truth is, (as I see it) the Bush administration promised to liberate Iraq and democratize the region. Rumsfeld's strategy, as Jim M. has mentioned, was to accomplish this with a smaller force than his generals wanted.

Well, Iraq is a nightmare now. Whether or not you pity the dead, there are not supposed to be charred bodies hanging from bridges in Iraq. This adventure has gone spectacularly wrong. That's the real issue, not whether or not we shed tears at their passing.

I post regularly on a politics board where one of the posters is a contract security worker in Baghdad. He's a nice guy, based on his online personality. His take on the situation is that this new cleric is making a bid for power and things are looking very, very bad. He is writing evacuation plans, Iraqi workers are not showing up to work, and his colleagues are talking about Saigon.

#83 ::: sean bosker ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2004, 05:18 PM:

That mercenary who posts from Baghdad, this is his latest:

Shit, I am still here (and drinking...)

Just heardm a big explosion 10 mins ago (VBIED??), followed by some .50 cal machine gun fire, then 1 min ago 6 outgoing mortar rounds. I think it has started...

Thanks guys for your support, almost have to laugh, I am sitting here with an American Intel Offcier and my boss who is South African, giggling, wondering what will be next.

#84 ::: colleen @ del rey ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2004, 06:05 PM:

Terry -

Yours was the first post [or, actually, the first mention I've seen at all in any sort of media] about the way the US military and the US media shamelessly exploited the body of Hussein's son. I remember thinking when I was seeing that poor bastard's bloody photo all over the airwaves that it was a remarkably barbaric thing to do.

My brother, ever the staunch Bush-supporter since 9/11, explained that it was necessary to keep showing off the dead body so that the Iraqi people would know he was dead, to send a message "to those crazy people."

So in a way, I guess the Iraqi militants who paraded the bodies of those mercenaries around were doing the same thing, right? Sending a message to us crazy people here in the United States?

I understand killing your enemy in battle is sometimes necessary. I really do. I don't understand the need to take great pleasure in doing so, which is what it seems happened in both cases.

Either way, it's incredibly barbaric.

Am I happy there are paid mercenaries in Iraq? No. However, do I think a man deserves to die simply because he is paid $1000 to watch over a food convoy with a gun? Not really.

#85 ::: Rick Heller ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2004, 06:21 PM:

Xopher,

I think hoping that Ronald Reagan dies a painful death qualifies as wingnut territory.

It reminds me of Jerry Falwell praying for the death of liberal justices on the Supreme Court.

#86 ::: Douglas ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2004, 07:44 PM:

Teresa's comment of April 05, 2004, 12:23 AM: was the most cogent and lucid statement I've read.
I particularly loved the sentence "This is hypocrisy on par with fornicating vulgarians like Gingrich..." Magnificent.

Speaking as a South African conscript in the apartheid wars of last century, I have every sympathy for Kos' view. If I'd been captured and 'necklaced' in the course of that nasty business, it would have been no-one's fault but my own, for not having the courage to resist conscription. A mercenary should likewise have the courage of his convictions or at least his paycheck. The mercenaries I knew weren't expecting to die in bed - but they each thought they were good enough not to come in second..

#87 ::: Michael Weholt ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2004, 08:15 PM:

It's 8:15pm EST and I heard (I believe) that Kos is going to be interviewed on Air America during the current show ("Majority Report"). That's 1190 AM in NYC. Or, www.airamericaradio.com.

#88 ::: Michael Weholt ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2004, 08:19 PM:

Oops. Eastern Daylight Time. Whatever.

#89 ::: Tm ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2004, 10:20 PM:

f Xphr thnks Rgn shld d pnfll fr nt spndng ll h cld n ds prvntn, h mght rmmbr tht thr wr (r) lt f thr dsss t thr whch kll mr ppl, r lss wll fndd, nd gt lss ttntn. Ppl wh dlbrtl ngg n dngrs bhvr (ncldng smkrs) dn't nd t b pshd p t th hd f th lst pst ppl wh hd n chc n hw thy bcm ll.

#90 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2004, 10:59 PM:

Actually, the idea that AIDS suffererers are all "people who deliberately engage in dangerous behavior" and thus less deserving of sympathy is, hmm, what's the word? Really totally despicable. Beneath contempt. Thanks for playing, and have a nice day.

#91 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 12:24 AM:

Indeed.

No one deliberately catches AIDS. Meanwhile, most Americans deliberately engage in dangerous behavior. If nothing else, most of them drive. Many smoke, or drink, or both. Others don't get enough exercise, don't maintain a reasonable weight, don't look both ways when they cross the street. If they're not sterile and they're not celibate, women engage in dangerous behavior all the time. Fragile old people insist on living in solitary independence when they'd be much safer in a rest home. And little kids! No prudence there at all. They step on rusty nails, swallow plastic toys, pull down pans of hot grease off the stove, play in abandoned buildings, toddle into swimming pools, and explore the world by putting filthy bits of it into their mouths.

And yet, funny thing, our immediate response to all these other people's sorrows and misfortunes is not to tell them that they brought it on themselves by engaging in risky behavior. We give them help and sympathy. We remind ourselves that it could just as easily be us.

People who want to make an exception to this when it comes to the gay population aren't doing it because gays engage in risky behavior. They do it because they don't like gays.

One thing we know, statistically speaking, is that there are plenty of members of the washed-clean-in-the-spirit self-identified-as-Christian population who've had pretty darn irregular personal lives. God may latterly have forgiven all their sins, but if they haven't developed AIDS it's a matter of their luck, not their virtuous behavior.

One more thing. I find I doubt that Tm/hnd1@mndsprng.cm has personally experienced serious, long-lasting ill health. In my experience, people who've gone through that tend not to talk about illness as something you do or don't deserve. We know better.

Let us now return to our regularly scheduled topic.

#92 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 01:39 AM:

Abraham Lincoln Brigade good; contract security bad?

When I joined up, back in '73, one of the questions they asked was whether you'd been a member of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. If the answer was "yes," Uncle Sam didn't want you. So, no, Abraham Lincoln Brigade not good. Abraham Lincoln Brigade bad. "Contract security" they didn't ask about, that I recall. Perhaps because that euphemism hadn't yet arisen.

(Not that a whole lot of veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade were trying to enlist, I'm sure. The list of forbidden groups was ... astounding. The Black Dragon Society?)

#93 ::: James Angove ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 03:05 AM:

Oh. Good. Lord Whatsit there is a not exactly spammer. I don't think you can call it spam, anyway.


I'm not a violent man, but I'd love to really harm the person who came up with that outwar shit.

#94 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 03:39 AM:

Jim, for some reason probably inexplicable if you are not me, I am suddenly imagining a story set in late-war Saigon, with Eric Blair in a boonie hat and Hemingway and Parker sitting sloshed somewhere, looking speculatively at the US Embassy roof. While in the background, members of the Black Dragon Society (not a religious order) lurk foreshadowingly.

If you want to run with that, be my guest, though I suspect it's a job for Lucius Shepard. Or maybe Phil Dick.

#95 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 06:27 AM:

Xopher: Thanks, but it was less well put the second time.

I'd be silent at present, but 1: I am unable to sleep after a very nice passover and 2: some of the things here are, as ever, weighing on my mind.

As some of you may imagine, I am not who I was a year ago. I am, in fact far from what I ever thought I'd be. I find myself more cynical, and more idealistic than I ever was.

Good, and bad, for me (and perhaps the world).

Someone above said they didn't think anyone deserved to die because they chose a profession which pays a grand a day. I agree.

But, and I know not how to properly express my feelings, that $1,000 does affect my level of sympathy when they buy a farm. They knew what they were doing, and theyt took the risk. It's the same thing I agreed to when I signed up, and the moreso when I extended (twice).

If I buy the farm I feel sorry for Maia (my [far] better half) and my friends, but for me, well I made my bed.

It's been an interesting day, my closest friend in the army (one of a scant half-dozen people I'd get myself killed to help) was over for the seder, and we were talking about this topic.

The issues of Passover, and of Iraq's relation to it were in my mind while I was pouring the madiera (my need to cook absorbed much of what is my normal part in the seder conversation) were in the back of my mind.

How I am not who I was a year ago was also present.

There are parts of me which I wish weren't present.

They are the parts which value life so much more highly than they did.

I value life so much more because I have come to see how cheap it is (or can be) and until six lbs. of pressure (and a small modicum of fear) are all that stand between you, and sending someone else to eternity I don't think anyone can really appreciate how cheap life can be. I'd have traded a leg, an arm, perhaps even one of both (or two of one) to come home. Instead I got an auto-immune problem (and count myself lucky)

Like Kos I CAN'T imagine going to a place like that for mere money. And I can't imagine (having been there) that anyone with a moral compass, and 1/2 a brain, would be willing to stay there without some greater compulsion.

I'm blathering (but feel that here I can blather, so I beg your forgiveness).

We (as a nation) have traded our ideals for something, and the proof is that we are not willing to commit our military to really doing the job. We would rather spend more money to let someone else take the heat, lest we be morally involved, and then (for reasons I can't comprehend) when some of the mercenaries (and I do understand that some of the support [the KBR assholes who {sometimes} deliver the mail, for example] are not all in that category) get killed, treat them like heroes.

Feh. They go tpaid their money and they took their chances, and they don't deserve the same level of national grief as a soldier.

The had every chance to do it for the same reasons I do, and they chose to go for the big paycheck instead.

Terry

p.s. Tm's ilk can come and talk to me about dangerous behaviours... I have dead friends who died because of Reagan's lackasdaisical (combined with the American Red Cross) attitude toward the problem. The just had the misfortune to suffer a need for blood in surgery. If they survive the exchange I can only hope they no longer earn disemvoweling (which I suspect I'm courting, but hey... sometimes one needs to go out on a limb).

TK

#96 ::: Tom ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 09:23 AM:

As to Teresa's thought that I lack sympathy because I do not know about serious diseases, I have a particularly unpleasant progressive degenerative disease for which there is no cure, and am quite familiar with the situation AIDS patients are in.
As to Patrick's comment, I did NOT say that all AIDS patients are in their situation because of their own behavior. However, I think it arguable that the majority of them are, and that this should put them rather further down the line for research than those with, for instance, congenital diseases.
I should also point out that I have had a number of friends who have died from AIDS, Hep C, etc. While I have mourned their loss, I had to realize, as they did, that they were in holes they dug themselves. Most of them admitted that their behavior was really careless, and that they put themselves where they were.

#97 ::: Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 10:43 AM:

I'd like to point out that mercenaries sign up not only to risk their lives, but to risk killing other people. It's that last part that makes doing it for money less than entirely palatable. It's one thing to endanger your own life. It's entirely another to deliberately put yourself in the way of doing harm.

#98 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 12:31 PM:

Rick Heller - I didn't say I hope Reagan dies a painful death. I said I hope he's suffering now, and in fact I hope he lives a really long time (note also that "suffering" is not necesarily physical). Get your facts straight. If you think that sentiment also qualifies as wingnut territory, then I wonder what you call the people who think we should nuke the Sunni Triangle? Wing-wingnuts? Or if you think those two things are comparable, what color is the sky on your planet?

Patrick & Teresa: Thank you.

Tom: My college friends who have since died of AIDS are not in the category you describe. I went to college in the 1970's; they were infected before the syndrome was even identified; no one knew that there was such a thing as what we now call "risky behavior." Unless you just think that having homosexual sex, period, means you're "digging a hole" for yourself, in which case [deleted to avoid disemvowelment and/or banning].

#99 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 12:39 PM:

One other thing, Rick Heller: I also do not, and would not, pray or do magic for Reagan to have a painful death, or even to make him suffer now. In my religion we distinguish between thought and action, and my vindictive hope will never be put into action, be it spiritual or physical. Even if I hadn't taken an oath to that effect, I'm a better person than Falwell, and intend to stay that way.

#100 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 12:39 PM:

I don't think there's a guaranteed distinction between mercenaries who work for money and soldiers who sign up for loyalty. A lot of people end up in the military because there's no other work they can find. I expect that some mercenaries, like other people, look for work that they can have some respect for.

#101 ::: Abigail ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 12:54 PM:

John B. wrote:

"In any case, leaving aside my feelings about the security industry as a whole, I would have to admit that I didn't feel an awful lot when I saw the footage of these guys' deaths. But then, I don't feel terribly much when I read of regular soldiers being killed either. In my view they are all legitimate targets in an ongoing conflict."

And Colleen said:

"The anger and hatred of Americans I can certainly understand. The wanting Americans out of their country I can understand. I can even understand the killing of Americans."

And for the life of me I can't comprehend why no one has so much as blinked at either comment. Maybe it's that I'm Israeli, and IDF soldiers are my classmates, friends and, in 18 months, my brother, but how can anyone say such a thing? I don't agree with the policies that might place my brother at a border crossing in the West Bank, and I believe the Palestinian people have a genuine grievance against my people, but I can't even imagine the mindset that would allow me to take that sympathy and twist it into allowing them to kill off my people.

A cousin visiting from the States once pointed out that, when soldiers get killed in this country, everyone grieves. I know that I always listen for the names of any slain soldier, just in case I knew them. This is a difference born in Israel's small size and the fact that the IDF is not a volunteer army. Still, Americans seem, to me, to sometimes possess an unbelievably callous attitude towards their own soldiers that I just can't understand.

#102 ::: Bill Blum ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 01:37 PM:

Lydia Nickerson wrote:
It's one thing to endanger your own life. It's entirely another to deliberately put yourself in the way of doing harm.

So, what about working for a defense contractor, and thereby indirectly enabling others to do harm?

#103 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 01:42 PM:

Tom:

Sick people do not deserve to be sick any more than well people deserve continued good health. You're confusing actuarial tables with moral imperatives, and more, assuming those moral imperatives to be universal.

However, I think it arguable that the majority of them are, and that this should put them rather further down the line for research than those with, for instance, congenital diseases.

One might as defensibly argue that research into socially communicable diseases should be prioritized over congenital based on the risk to the whole of the population. Strikes me as dangerous to argue either way.

#104 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 01:47 PM:

pericat, you're right. And one could easily turn that into an argument that congenital diseases should not be treated at all, since we need to eliminate them from the genome, and treating them slows down that process. And then that people who have them shouldn't get treated for anything. And at the bottom of that slippery slope, people who have any less-than-perfect feature (myopia, frex, which I have myself) should be sterilized. Or killed. And then the definition of 'perfect' gets defined by the power class. And then...

It gets bad real fast.

#105 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 01:50 PM:

As to Teresa's thought that I lack sympathy because I do not know about serious diseases, I have a particularly unpleasant progressive degenerative disease for which there is no cure, and am quite familiar with the situation AIDS patients are in.

Tom, that does make me feel more like responding thoughtfully to your comments: I can guess that you fail to see why Reagan's attitude to AIDS was vilely wrong in part, at least, because you have no sympathy to spare outside your own situation (for which, I may say, I have every sympathy).

As to Patrick's comment, I did NOT say that all AIDS patients are in their situation because of their own behavior. However, I think it arguable that the majority of them are, and that this should put them rather further down the line for research than those with, for instance, congenital diseases.

Nope. A very small minority of AIDS patients are in their situation because they deliberately went out and got infected. This indeed puts them into a different and special category of Completely Bloody Stupid, but doesn't apply to the vast majority of AIDS patients, who got infected by three routes: a blood transfusion: sharing needles: having sex.

There are people to be blamed for blood transfusion being a route of infection, but they're not the blood donors or the blood recipients.

There are people to be blamed for needle-sharing being a route of infection. One of them is the (former) Chief Constable of Edinburgh and the Lothians, who decided in the early 1980s that a needle-exchange programme was wrong and bad and wrong because it just "encouraged" addicts. (Indeed it did: it encouraged them to use only clean needles to inject IV drugs, and never to share a needle.) As a direct result of that decision, for quite a while Edinburgh was referred to as "the AIDS capital of Europe" - because once HIV got into the pool of addicts in that area, it spread with horrible rapidity, because addicts were sharing needles. And - which was why the mainstream press were concerned - many of the addicts supported their habit via prostitution, which the mainstream media worried would mean HIV would be transmitted to "innocent victims". (It never occurred to them to think of a heroin addict who wanted to use a clean needle and couldn't get one as the innocent victim of a Chief Constable's criminal decision.)

There are people to be blamed for sex being a common route of HIV transmission. Not the people who had what they thought was harmless innocent fun with a friend or a stranger: but the people who refused to fund safe-sex campaigns: the people who still refuse to permit school-age kids to be told outright exactly what they can and can't do that's safe: the people who refused to take the epidemic seriously, so long as the only people who were dying were unimportant people - gays, prostitutes, heroin addicts, Haitians.

Reagan was President of the US at the time this epidemic was brewing in the US: he undoubtedly had Alzheimer's at the time, but it was Reagan's administration who must take responsibility for the fact that they ignored clear and serious epidemic warnings because they didn't much like gay people, and gays seemed to be the population most at risk.

I worked for the Regional Virus Laboratory in the Lothians for a while in the early 1990s. We got HIV tests through on a daily basis. I don't think I'm breaking any medical confidences when I say that most of them were negative: and the exceptions, while I was there, invariably were male prisoners in Saughton. I asked about this, and was told that because sex between prisoners and use of IV drugs were both illegal, it was prison policy not to provide condoms nor to permit needle-exchange programmes. As a result, HIV infection was rife. Now these people had been condemned to jail: I do not know what crimes they had committed to go there, but they had not been condemned to die of AIDS. Yet the effective prison policy was to help them get infected, not to prevent infection.

While I have mourned their loss, I had to realize, as they did, that they were in holes they dug themselves. Most of them admitted that their behavior was really careless, and that they put themselves where they were.

Even granted that your claim here is valid (which I don't believe it is) it's still monstrous.

I hiked the Grand Canyon recently: it was a wonderful experience which I hope someday (when the US quits fingerprinting/photographing all us dangerous aliens on entrance) to repeat. Because I'm that kind of person, I read the many websites available advising me what to do to avoid the risks. I wore a hat, I carried nearly three litres of water, I even had a small emergency pack in the bottom of my rucksack which I didn't need to use. And as a result, I hiked in perfect safety and with vast enjoyment.

But, here's the thing. People hike the Grand Canyon who don't think about the risks, and some of them, as a result, need help. The National Park Service does not tell someone dying of heat and thirst at the Three-Mile Resthouse "You're in a hole you dug yourself, you don't deserve help" - but that's what you're saying they should do.

Further, Reagan's administration's policy towards AIDS, if a similiar policy had been applied to hiking the Grand Canyon, would have looked like this:

Removal of all warning advice anywhere in any National Park building. Absence of any warning advice on any official NPS website. No easy way to find out exactly what is and is not safe to do in the Grand Canyon, and official attempts to prevent people from finding out or from acquiring the necessary, simple, equipment to do it safely. Plus, of course, a casual attitude towards all those who die there, because they're just hikers, dying in a pit they dug for themselves because of their own careless behaviour - never mind that they might not have died if they'd been given necessary information.

I would find that kind of behaviour criminally irresponsible. I do find it so: Reagan's administration fucked up, and they did it because they didn't care about the groups of people who seemed to be the only ones who were dying.

#106 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 01:54 PM:

Right. On. Yonmei!!!!!

#107 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 02:00 PM:

Like Kos I CAN'T imagine going to a place like that for mere money. And I can't imagine (having been there) that anyone with a moral compass, and 1/2 a brain, would be willing to stay there without some greater compulsion.

I feel the same, Terry, and while I grew up in the military the closest I ever came to a combat zone was as a reporter being caught between rival armed Klan factions discussing the seating arrangements for the planned cross burning that evening. A story for a different day, and it just would not be the same anyway.

But that is why I have so much respect (and concern) for you and those I know serving in Iraq right now. I opposed this war, but these folks fulfilled their commitments and went, as you did, when the call came.

As for the contractors, I would suggest perusing Fred Clark's post this morning comparing special forces troops, at their best, to missionaries. I have had the pleasure to personally know several members of the larger SF community, and they tended to resemble the trooper Clark describes. Through some friends in the mission field, I know of a number of badly paid ex-SF "mercenaries" that have been risking their lives for years living with a persecuted minority group and helping lead their armed resistance in a out of the way part of the world. They sound very much like Clark's aquaintance as well.

But there are the adrenaline addicts as well, the guys that have a hard time settling down after they leave the service, that miss making loud noises and blowing things up. They read the web sites and the adds in the back of Soldier of Fortune and fantasize about the money, excitement and romance that their current job lacks. I've known these guys as well, and what I have read of the "security contractors" in Iraq and other places seems to fit that pattern. They weren't Delta or SEALs "sheep-dipped" to work for the CIA, they seem to men responding to the need for both money and excitement, and trying to escape the boredom of working at Wal-Mart or it's equivalent. (And the legal problems of serving miliary working with CIA in the field have been resolved, as Afghanistan demonstrated -- most of the work arounds that people went through back in the Vietnam era are no longer necessary.)

I don't know what these four guys were doing last week, and I doubt that any of us will ever find out for sure. My understanding is that they were "guarding food convoys" in an area that food convoys were not routed through for a company that nobody can find a record of before last week. Were they escorting someone, doing some scouting, joyriding, or "carrying out some trash" for the CPA that the military would not handle? Who knows? I am sorry that they are dead, and I am much sorrier for their families who have had to live with the horror of what happened to them.

#108 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 02:01 PM:

It occurs to me that my statement to Tom might be construed as buying into the view that people who got infected after "risky behavior" was identified are to blame, and therefore to be discarded. I do not.

#109 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 02:20 PM:

I had some trouble making sense of Claude Muncey's post above until I realized that the abbreviation "SF" in phrases like "larger SF community" didn't stand for "science fiction" but rather "Special Forces."

#110 ::: Tayefeth ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 02:22 PM:

Abigail, understanding is not the same as condoning or allowing. Like Colleen, I can understand that the fanatics allow their grief and anger to lead to murder. That doesn't mean I think what they did is right.

Given "that they were 'guarding food convoys' in an area that food convoys were not routed through for a company that nobody can find a record of before last week," as Claude says, I find it difficult to consider these men our "own soldiers".

#111 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 02:30 PM:

Patrick, so did I, but thought I was the only one...thanks for coming out first!

#112 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 02:39 PM:

Sorry, it's the standard acronym and a bit more polite than "spooks" or "snake-eaters". But I should have considered how it would read here . . .

#113 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 02:52 PM:
Anybody know how to track people who are able to change IP addresses fast, especially addresses in sequence?

That suggests, to me, a compromised machine sitting on someone's LAN using all the unused addresses in that space. The interaction with a blog is probably too complex to do blind with faked IP.

The IP will trace to the machine; depending on what the machine is, that may well not give much clue to the person.

The basic tool is whois at arin.net (unix command-line tool). Here's an example, looking up my address:

gw:ddb> whois 63.224.10.74@whois.arin.net
[whois.arin.net]
U S WEST Internet Services USW-INTERACT99 (NET-63-224-0-0-1)
                                  63.224.0.0 - 63.231.255.255
David Dyer-Bennet USW-DYER-BENNET (NET-63-224-10-72-1)
                                  63.224.10.72 - 63.224.10.79

#114 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 02:52 PM:

Claude Muncey wrote:
But there are the adrenaline addicts as well, the guys that have a hard time settling down after they leave the service, that miss making loud noises and blowing things up. They read the web sites and the adds in the back of Soldier of Fortune and fantasize about the money, excitement and romance that their current job lacks. I've known these guys as well, and what I have read of the "security contractors" in Iraq and other places seems to fit that pattern. They weren't Delta or SEALs "sheep-dipped" to work for the CIA, they seem to men responding to the need for both money and excitement, and trying to escape the boredom of working at Wal-Mart or it's equivalent. (And the legal problems of serving miliary working with CIA in the field have been resolved, as Afghanistan demonstrated -- most of the work arounds that people went through back in the Vietnam era are no longer necessary.)

Is this really common? An inability to settle back into society after a stint in the military? I know it was common after Vietnam, but I thought that the military had been doing a great deal of psychological research to combat this.

And is the job bit true? Are ex-soldiers commonly stuck working minimum wage jobs or the like?

For if both of those things are true, then it is little wonder that ex-soldiers would end up as mercenaries, and it puts their choice to do so in a different light. Less choice and more need.

In other words, if we have shaped these men and women into what they are through time spent in the military, then do we not have some responsibility for them?

#115 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 03:04 PM:

but I can't even imagine the mindset that would allow me to take that sympathy and twist it into allowing them to kill off my people.

Abigail, I think you misread "understand" in the comment to which you were responding. To understand an action does not mean that you sympathise or that you allow it.

#116 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 03:05 PM:

Abigail, there is a huge difference between "I understand" and "I condone" or "I support".

I suppose there are people who are so narrow-minded that the only people they can understand are those who agree with them on every issue.

There are American soldiers whose lives I value very highly. I also know one soldier who's a violent, macho asshole. As a civilian law enforcement officer, he committed unprovoked violence against a defenceless prisoner as a joke. If he tried something similar against an Iraqi, and someone shot him, I'd think he got what he deserved. I'd feel sorry for his wife and son (but then, I already feel sorry for them).

I'm afraid that knowledge of people like that colors my reaction to news of the death of someone who sought out a career in combat for the thrills, glory, and money.

#117 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 03:07 PM:

In the meantime, this guy appears to be a volunteer who has organized a useful and successful damage recovery business in Baghdad that has nothing to do with the Government and appears to need no outside security force.

#118 ::: J Greely ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 03:53 PM:

DDB, on Mac OS X it's sufficient to just type "whois 63.224.10.74"

In fact, the "@" version doesn't work at all. Ditto for OpenBSD and FreeBSD.

-j

#119 ::: Tom ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 03:54 PM:

A few notes

The amount of money spent on medical research over the past few years (in constant dollars) has remained about the same. We have a zero-sum game where money spent on one disease is not spent on another.

I would prefer money spent on AIDS research be spent on things like diabetes, asthma, sickle cell, and spinal cord injuries. After all the persiflage, the fact remains that the preponderant majority of people with AIDS got it because of some voluntary action they took.
I can't see that people ln the 70's (or now) who engaged in unprotected sex in a community where STDs were epidemic on the basis that they can cure anything I catch were not engaging in risky behavior.

As to ascribing my attitude to hostility toward homosexuals, I can only say that I was around then, and felt exactly the same way about Plato's Retreat and "your place or my place".

Anone who blames the spread of AIDS on lack of publicity by the government should read "And The Band Played On ". If you pay attention, you will find that with all the publicity by both the gay and straight communities, unprotected sex is stil quite common in the gay communlity, and infection rates remain relatively high.

#120 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 04:07 PM:

Tom said:
I would prefer money spent on AIDS research be spent on things like diabetes, asthma, sickle cell, and spinal cord injuries.

Type II Diabetes rates are skyrocketing in the US because Americans eat junk food and don't exercise; diabetes rates are directly related to rising obesity rates. Increased rates of asthma are due to increased levels of pollution.

If people, despite knowing the dangers, continue to eat fast food and sit in front of their TVs, then why should we spend money on diabetes research?

If people chose to live in big cities and drive SUVs, knowing full well that pollution is related to increasing rates of asthma, then why should we spend money on diabetes research?

#121 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 04:09 PM:

Curses. That last line should be ASTHMA research.

#122 ::: Abigail ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 04:18 PM:

Tayefeth, Yonmei & Jeremy: alright, I'll accept that Colleen wasn't condoning the murder of Americans, although I still think the sentiment was badly expressed. However, you haven't addressed John B, who wrote:

"I don't feel terribly much when I read of regular soldiers being killed either. In my view they are all legitimate targets in an ongoing conflict."

This sends a chill down my spine, and it seems to have sunk like a stone.

#123 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 04:19 PM:

Well, if you're talking about Type I diabetes, sure. But Type II? Hell, it was risky behavior to eat all that starch and sugar, and not to exercise enough.

Asthma? Since I have this, I have a little more sympathy. But having rugs and carpets in the house is risky behavior; write 'em off!

Sickle cell, I don't know why they're whining...do you know how many people malaria kills every year? And if someone has sickle-cell anemia, well that's due to voluntary action their parents took, isn't it? Marrying someone else who might have a sickle-cell recessive, I've no sympathy at all.

And spinal cord injuries are a ridiculous thing for you to be raising. Those are obviously due to risky behavior: skiing, surfing, driving a car, riding a bus, being on a city sidewalk when you know perfectly well there are sometimes drunk drivers out there...well, people with spinal cord injuries knew they were taking a risk. Shrug.

The fact that your attitude is a generally anti-sex one instead of an anti-gay one doesn't make it any better. And to distinguish between that attitude and any of the patently absurd ones above is pure hypocrisy.

#124 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 04:28 PM:

Michelle, I don't know if it is common, but it happens often enough. Of course the great majority of both soldiers in general and special forces types come home and do just fine. I'm not talking about troops with PTSD or any real problems in the service -- I'm thinking of the blokes that are only good at soldiering.

What does a man in his 30's, often married with a couple of kids and a rather un-flush bank account, do when he gets out? I'm thinking of the decent and often very skilled soldiers who have no talent at command or staff work, and therefore will not get that promotion to E-6 or O-4 (if I remember correctly) that will allow them to retire after 20 years on half pay or better with benefits. They do have federal (and often state) veterans benefits. But how far do those benefits go in a state like California with high costs (even out here in the San Joaquin) and a lot of jobs at the top and bottom ends of the scale? And your skills don't really prepare you for anything outside of law enforcement or the military? (And BTW, any law enforcement organization with sense will hire only veterans who worked in military police or similar.)

If you were a pilot, a programmer, a medic or a technician in the service, fine. But a tank driver or gunner? What if you just spent a decade skillfully jumping out of perfectly good airplanes in strange parts of the world -- and liked it?

So, maybe it isn't as bad as Wal-Mart -- maybe you got a job at Costco (which is much, much better to be sure). Maybe you are trying out selling insurance or real estate. Or maybe you are a security "consultant" for a local corporation. Then a buddy calls, telling you that Blackwater, owned by ex-SEALs, needs experienced people in your MOS with recent experience and is offering a year of six figure salary, possibly paid offshore to avoid taxes?

During Vietnam there was Air America, and afterward there was Southern Air Transport. I knew a variety of ex-Vietnam types that tried all sorts of things all over the planet, to avoid everyday life back here in the world. There have been people like this after every war or conflict -- troops that can't face life without their hair on fire. I'm not sure if there is anything that the rest of us can do about it. It is a result of war itself, and the different effect it has on every person involved.

#125 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 04:33 PM:

John B wrote: "I don't feel terribly much when I read of regular soldiers being killed either. In my view they are all legitimate targets in an ongoing conflict."

Abigail responded: This sent a chill down my spine...

Why? Soldiers in a combat zone are indeed, according to all the rules of war, legitimate targets. Civilians are not. It is true that there is a terrible yet natural way of thinking that sees military casualties on "our" side as more tragic that civilian casualties on "their" side - but a moment's detached thought would tell you that's not so.

#126 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 04:38 PM:

Tom said: Anone who blames the spread of AIDS on lack of publicity by the government should read "And The Band Played On ".

Yes, I did. And I'm surprised that you managed to find a censored version that omitted Randy Schultz's furious and detailed documentation of the Reagan administration's utter failure to take the AIDS epidemic seriously until it had spiralled out of control. I would recommend that you ditch your censored version and find yourself a version complete and unabridged: it might change your mind.

#127 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 04:39 PM:

This reminds me of the discussion over in Electrolite when Terry Karney was saying he knew he was "expendable." Words like "expendable" and "legitimate target" have different meanings in war, and in military contexts generally.

A "legitimate target" is one not prohibited by treaties like the Geneva Convention. In other words, if shooting at the person isn't a war crime, they're a legitimate target (supposing there is a duly declared war and all that).

The fact that we civilians can't think of anyone except a psychopath with a gun pointed and ready as a legitimate target, and that we consider Terry far from expendable, is what gets us all upset about this. (Yep, I said "we" and "us." I find military people's conversation pretty upsetting, in general. Not to say they shouldn't say it or anything.)

#128 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 04:40 PM:

Yonmei, I suspect that the censorship happened on the graymatter side of the reading event, rather than the hardcopy side.

#129 ::: Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 04:45 PM:

Lydia Nickerson wrote:
It's one thing to endanger your own life. It's entirely another to deliberately put yourself in the way of doing harm.

Bill Blum responded:
So, what about working for a defense contractor, and thereby indirectly enabling others to do harm?

What about them? A Honeywell worker putting depleted uranium into missiles is doing a job so different from combat arms that comparing them is comparing apples to orchids.

I'm not a pacifist, I'm not suggesting that no one should ever pull the trigger. I'm not even asking that every person in the military be there for pure motives, interested only in high ideals. The people in the military are there for all the usual good and bad reasons, and there are some people among them who enjoy the killing. However, the people in the United States Armed Forces are my responsiblity, just as I am theirs. We share the cost of the butcher's bill.

Mercenaries don't really answer to me. They answer to their employer. In return, my obligation to them is a paycheck. They aren't my responsibility. The larger circle of moral obligation, the obligations of human being to human being certainly still apply. That sympathy, though, is the same one we owe all the casualties of the war, military, civlian, American, Iraqi, Turkish, Kurdish, or Polish.

#130 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 04:47 PM:

Terry, you're in no danger of disemvowelling, and if I didn't have books exploding all around me, by now I'd have replied to some of your earlier comments. Personally, I don't believe it's our place to say that anyone deserves to die, whether from AIDS or RPGs or anything else.

As a society we necessarily make decisions we know are going to result in some deaths. We engage in military actions. We set speed limits and write industrial health and safety regulations. We allocate resources to medical research, and to relieving the afflicted. All those decisions have body counts attached. We take that responsibility when we make those decisions, and in almost all cases we do so not knowing which specific individuals will suffer as a result. Some of them won't have deserved it by anyone's reckoning, but they'll suffer anyway, and we won't be able to fix it. Knowing that should maybe slow us down a little when we're assigning blame.

Some people unquestionably contribute to their own deaths, as the annual Darwin Awards make clear. But some engage in very high risk behavior and come out of it unscathed, while others die in the wake of much slighter negligence. Who deserved it, who didn't? This is not our call.

I'm definitelly not saying we have a responsibility to intermediate in all cases between our fellow men and the basic rules of the physical universe. We're also not obliged to pretend that someone who's put on the Captain Lemming suit is not personally negligent. If a guy takes a power drill to a live artillery round because he wants to make a lamp base out of it, we've got to figure that's it's out of our hands, and will shortly be out of his.

But AIDS is something else. What some people originally took for a bright line between high-risk activity and the doings of the general population turned out to be in large part a historical accident. The disease is transmitted both heterosexually and homosexually; and if there's anything we know about the sexual behavior of our species as a whole, it's that deviations from monogamy happen all the time.
That's unlikely to change. If people were thinking straight at certain moments, there'd be far fewer unwanted pregnancies than there are. As any fan of traditional ballads can tell you, such behavior happens even when the penalties for it are severe. True lifelong monogamists appear to be a minority, and if their partners do a little canoodling on the side, they may be at risk anyway. When you factor in everyone who uses needle drugs, gets transfusions from tainted blood supplies, goes to the wrong tattoo parlor, lives in a part of the world where clinics have to re-use needles, is sexually assaulted by an HIV carrier, or is born of an HIV carrier, the line gets so fuzzy that it arguably takes an act of will to see it at all.

Epidemics have never been known for their moral clarity.

Other reasons to fund an aggressive program to eradicate AIDS:

The disease is hideously expensive. Curing it is the only way we can dodge having to treat an endless succession of AIDS patients during their long, slow, medically complex, uninsured terminal illness. Over the long haul, treatment and cure are by far the cheapest options. Look at polio. Developing a vaccine took a fair amount of money, nothing outrageous but a fair amount; but in the forty-odd years since the vaccine was developed we haven't had to treat thousands of cases of polio and the permanently crippled victims thereof, and that's going to go on being true. That was money well-spent. Rubella's another case like that. Congenital rubella can cause severe birth defects that require a lifetime's worth of assistance and skilled treatment. We tend to talk about curing disease in terms of human suffering, but it has a non-trivial effect on our collective bottom line.

Many less-developed nations are being ravaged by the it; Botswana, for instance. They're not going to develop a cure on their own. Someone has to do it. If we won't go after the disease for their sake, we should do it for our own, because the four things that repeatedly teach us that we're all connected are money, the Holy Spirit, epidemics, and acts of terrorism by the disaffected offspring of hitherto ignored third-world populations.

We need to learn a lot more about infectious diseases anyway. Remember how Ebola and AIDS and Lyme Disease and SARS, and for that matter the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic, just seemed to pop up out of nowhere? That's going to keep happening, whether we cure AIDS or not. Best we do the research now. Who knows which demographic group is going to get bitten by the next one?

We catch diseases from each other because we're human. Marginal and transgressive populations catch more diseases than average because they're overstressed and overexposed. The same thing happens to other overstressed and overexposed populations. They all need our resources and attention. If other diseases and disabilities need more recognition and resources than they're getting, that's a problem that needs to be addressed. But in my opinion, you should look suspiciously upon anyone who encourages you to think of this as a tradeoff or a competition. It shouldn't be. When it comes to public health issues, we're all in it together.

#131 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 04:49 PM:

Claude Munce said:
What does a man in his 30's, often married with a couple of kids and a rather un-flush bank account, do when he gets out? I'm thinking of the decent and often very skilled soldiers who have no talent at command or staff work, and therefore will not get that promotion to E-6 or O-4 (if I remember correctly) that will allow them to retire after 20 years on half pay or better with benefits. They do have federal (and often state) veterans benefits. But how far do those benefits go in a state like California with high costs (even out here in the San Joaquin) and a lot of jobs at the top and bottom ends of the scale? And your skills don't really prepare you for anything outside of law enforcement or the military?

If this is the case, then I do not understand why we should look upon those who go that route with the disdain that I have seen some express. If their careers as contractors/mercenaries are causally linked to their time serving in the US military, then I don't see why their deaths should be seen as less tragic than the deaths of military personnel?

Unless you are saying that this is something in their makeup that lead them into the military in the first place?

#132 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 05:51 PM:

Tom said: If you pay attention, you will find that with all the publicity by both the gay and straight communities, unprotected sex is stil quite common in the gay communlity, and infection rates remain relatively high.

That's interesting because today on CNN this article appeared and from the way it describes things, adults of ALL orientations aren't doing so swell at having protected sex.

http://www.cnn.com/2004/HEALTH/04/06/std.awareness/index.html

Tom, I'm curious. What about other STDs, like chlamydia, herpes, and the like? Should we do away with those research dollars too since their spread could also be assumed to be primarily caused by people engaging in risky behaviour? Or just AIDS?

Secondly, your view of AIDS as a disease seems to indicate that it's the disease of middle American gay men. However, considering its spread across Africa and other continents, I'm not surprised at the amount of dollars being thrown at it. And in Africa, AIDS is rampant, spread equally among hetero folk and homosexual. In fact, several countries have rape problems stemming from the fact that many uneducated AIDS victims believe that the sex with a virgin will cure them. Each rape victim who contracted rape did nothing more risky than try to preserve their own virginity. Does the irony of that compared to your statement strike you?

http://www.irinnews.org/AIDSreport.asp?ReportID=1283

Incidence of child death due to AIDS in Africa is so high that a version of Sesame Street shown in some African countries has an AIDS stricken character. Some countries claim a one in five statistic if I remember correctly.

I'm sure other know more about this subject than I do, but these numbers and facts seem to me that the US government is right to treat AIDS as a world concern.

As for zero sum games, imagine how much progress we could make if some our funding from certain wars was going to research these illnesses. (Or better field medicine and care, at least.)

#133 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 05:54 PM:

Er. That was meant to say "Each rape victim who contracted AIDS...." Not "contracted rape." Whoops. Big difference.

#134 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 05:58 PM:

Yeah. Contract murder is bad enough...

#135 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 05:59 PM:

I meant to mention: research has cross-benefits, also. Do you think, Tom, that retrovirus research couldn't possibly bear on your own illness? Stem-cell research is an even more obvious case.

#136 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 06:32 PM:

Another thing I wanted to mention was how diseases spread and evolve once they've accumulated in enough people. We've already seen how they can develop their own immunities (to peniccilin, for example) or change how they pass from one person to the next--maybe not in AIDS so much, (although I heard that the strain in Africa is different--is this true?) but in many other diseases at least. If a disease has the effects that AIDS does, it doesn't do to ignore it and hope that it will stay communicable only through certain types of contact. I could be off base here, but these are some thoughts which occured to me while reading this thread.

#137 ::: sennoma ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 06:47 PM:

imagine how much progress we could make if some our funding from certain wars was going to research these illnesses

Total NIH research funding for last year was about 65 billion dollars, so the cost of the current clusterfuck would probably cover all of the world's medical research for a year. Alternatively, it would fund, oh, say, HIV/AIDS research in the US at its current level for several decades.

On preview: PF, there are hundreds -- more likely thousands -- of recognised strains of HIV-1, which vary in characteristics such as host cell tropism, antigenic profile, disease progression, drug resistance and so on. None of them, however, are going to alter their basic transmission route any time soon. The leap to, say, insect-borne or aerosol transmission is virtually impossible (although, never say never where biology is concerned). (Disclaimer/bona fides: my first postdoc was in HIV research.)

#138 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 07:00 PM:

Tom:
After all the persiflage, the fact remains that the preponderant majority of people with AIDS got it because of some voluntary action they took.

So what? They're sick. They need a cure or they will die, nastily. I don't care if they caught it turning bareback tricks for crack. What possible bearing could means of transmission have on whether or not a highly infectious, always fatal, illness "deserves" a high priority in research efforts?

#139 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 07:31 PM:

Tom says "I would prefer money spent on AIDS research be spent on things like diabetes, asthma, sickle cell, and spinal cord injuries. After all the persiflage, the fact remains that the preponderant majority of people with AIDS got it because of some voluntary action they took."

Diabetes and asthma can both be moderated by behavior. Spinal cord injuries are almost always the result of doing something voluntary.

I would like some of the money spent on spinal cord injuries to go to keeping people with SCI out of nursing homes and at home. It's usually cheaper at home than in a nursing home, the money is needed to lobby Congress to change the Medicare law.

#140 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 07:39 PM:

Michelle --

Why are you obliged to have a sympathetic moral response at all?

Mercs -- actual, yeah, I'll sign a contract and go kill people for you mercs -- are the bucket of solvent into which the social order is cast; they're a use of force upon that class of political problems for which force is a profoundly negative sum solution. (The war for control of the civilization typically ends, not with victory, but with the utter, irrevocable destruction of the civilization in question.)

That there weren't better options for the people involved might be a systemic flaw to correct; there surely could do with being a bunch more 'old soldier' sorts of jobs. (I'd have them doing ecological surveys and conservation work, myself; the sort of thing that rewards dealing well with being out in the wet and steady, patient plugging.)

But as an activity, going for a mercenary isn't really morally distinct from deciding to become a kidnapper or an armed robber. You're going forth to make decent money through applying lethal violence to your fellow human being in a context inherently outside of civil control, the rule of law, the laws of war, you name it; all the careful, slow, expensive rituals that try to keep group violence from reaching its inherent levels of expense (which are total) do not apply.

#141 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 08:07 PM:

Sennoma: Thanks for the info. I stand duly corrected. :)

#142 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 08:09 PM:

Graydon--

Perhaps it's due to an insatiable curiosity. I have to know the *why* of something. I have the naive believe that if we can understand something, then we can come up with a solution for it. (such as your ecological surverys and conservation work. Or perhaps training to fight forest fires, etc)

More likely it's due to the beief that there are few, if any, truly evil people in the world. What was a the quote I recently heard? "No one thinks of themselves as nefarious." Again, if one can understand someone, doesn't that make it easier to deal with them, if you can comprehend that they have *reasons* for what they do? It always seems to me that any death is a loss for someone. How horrible would someone have to be that even their family didn't love them and mourn their death?

But it's also due to the fact that I'm a squeamish pacifist. I can't even kill bugs. So it's sometimes hard for me to see the grey areas that exist beyond "thou shalt not kill." I know intellectually that there are times when life must be taken, but I have a very hard time *understanding* it.

That and the rule of law doesn't always make a lot of sense. Kill someone with a gun and they put you away. Perhaps even take your life in revenge. Kill many people with a defective product because it made money not to fix a problem, and you get a fine.

But I fear that no matter how many questions I ask, the world never will make a whole lot of sense.

#143 ::: Tayefeth ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 08:40 PM:

Abigail, personally, I don't grieve for individual soldiers killed in war zones (whether the President has declared Mission Accomplished or not). If I did, I would also have to grieve for all the individual civilian casualties, or I'd feel like a hypocrite.

I regret the mental and moral deficiencies that led to American soldiers being in Iraq without the planning necessary for them to be both reasonably safe after Saddam fell and useful in rebuilding Iraqi society in a democratic mold. I wish none of them had died. I even occasionally wish that Deity would intervene and tell the fanatics to play nice or their toys will be put in TimeOut. But I don't feel for the soldiers killed much more than I feel for people who die in train derailments in India. Life is too short to spend time grieving for all the people I don't know who die of something other than old age.

Perhaps my attitude is colored by having heard entirely too much about Tailhook when I was in college. The current demideification of military personnel (which usually accompanies cries of "how can you not feel for them?!") really sticks in my craw.

#144 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 08:54 PM:

Abigail:

Tayefeth, Yonmei & Jeremy: alright, I'll accept that Colleen wasn't condoning the murder of Americans, although I still think the sentiment was badly expressed.

I didn't see any problem with coleen's phrasing, and I have a brother currently toting a rifle in northern Baghdad.

However, you haven't addressed John B, who wrote:

Abigail, it's a big thread. We can't all address everything. If you're moved to take issue with something, great. But to expect others to not only feel as you do, but to speak as you would, is to expect too much. Similarly, to think silence equals agreement is unreasonable.

"I don't feel terribly much when I read of regular soldiers being killed either. In my view they are all legitimate targets in an ongoing conflict."

This sends a chill down my spine, and it seems to have sunk like a stone.

My concern and distress over my brother's current posting is such that I can't even begin to express it. Where he is now, doing what he's doing now, makes him a legitimate military target. I think it should go without saying that I'd very much prefer he were somewhere else, where there's less shooting.

But I don't expect John B. to share my anxiety, at any level. Had his country been invaded, its populated areas bombed, he might feel differently about the fate of the individuals cut down in its defence. But when one's own country is the aggressor in a conflict, it is, I think, strange to be surprised or dismayed if the ones so invaded react with deadly force.

#145 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 08:57 PM:

Michelle --

There are lots of evil people in the world, people who do not believe that your right to exist and your impulse of self-determination are of equivalent inherent value to their own. There are plenty of evil philosophies which will tell that this kind of thing is OK, or right, or just, or proper, too.

That doesn't mean they're not evil.

The rule of law doesn't mean that all the individual laws are good, or right, or up-to-date, or ideal; it means that some one person can't point at you and say 'take her out and shoot her' or 'take her out and beat her until she confesses'.

It's important to have better laws -- change means we always need better laws -- but those laws have to be operating in a context of the rule of law, or they're going to be why someone is saying 'take her out and shoot her'.

#146 ::: Tom ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 09:00 PM:

I suppose this marks me as being antediluvian, but I still feel people who engage in risky behavior and get sick should be lower in priority than people who have had nothing to do with their illness.

In the zero sum game of who gets treated, we are in effect involved in triage. More money sent on AIDS research means less money spent on diabetes, for instance, and more people dying of that.

If looking at a sexual situation beforehand and not getting involved when the odds are against you equates to being anti-sex, I plead guilty. However, I would suggest that such behavior involves a survival trait. As I was once told, if you stick your pecker in a pencil sharpener, you can't complain about being whittled. Think of wearing seatbelts and motorcyclists wearing helmets.

#147 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 09:38 PM:

Deaths of soldiers:

(Xopher, get ready for more painful military logic)

It happens. It is part of the game, because the game has brutal rules.

Mercenaries, on the other hand, don't have rules. They used to, but that was in Machievelli's day when states used them to prosecute wars of state interest. They also had some very odd conventions, from the modern state's point of view, and had, (at bottom) a greater interest in the the corporate survival of the Company then they did for the goals of the employer (which is why the contracts in Military Science Fiction are so binding, with an outside authority to enforce them). Which is why states set up standing armies. Finding Swiss, or Scottish Guards is an iffy thing.

Modern mercenaries are a different breed of cat. The company they work for has its own agenda, and the lives of the people in the country they work for probably don't matter much to the bottom line.

I don't even think most of the contract security forces fall into the mercenary category we've been discussing (the guys who are getting top dollar to teach soldiers how to drive convoys in at risk areas bother me, but not because they are amoral, rather because I think them an expensive (and cheap) out, to keep from enlarging the army, which, it seems, can't staff the cadre itself), but the ones who are, the Roland types, they are not nice people.

They may be polite, they may be civil, but they have an outlook on casual violence that I abhor.

My job has some very unpleasant aspects. In a nutshell I kill people. Rarely do I, or my fellow interrogators/agents have to pull the trigger ourselves, but the things we find out lead to raids at the borders, the besieging of the Hussein brothers, the "arrest", of Hussein, bombings in Afghanistan, and the list goes on.

We get to do other things too, and we console ourselves with the thought that, done properly, fewer people will die, on both sides.

But the bottom line is, we kill people. I am not so tormented by the blood on my hands as Lady Macbeth, but I know it's there, and I care about it.

Mercenaries don't. And the sorts who go into it for the thrills, the sense of being alive they get from being shot at, and missed, will end up like Roland, dead in some strange land, with few people to mourn for them.

I must also say that I am bothered by the semi-sanctification of the troops. Not that I insist on paying for the drinks people buy me, but I don't think we are all so great. Hell... in some ways I feel hypocritical.

I spent time doing things, which I would be prone to wanting to instigate rebellion for; were they done in the States, and I did it for reasons I don't believe, and an adminstration I neither like nor trust.

But I did it with rules, with oversight, and I tell myself I am serving a greater good, that the system is not yet so broken that I have to quit, for reasons of conscience (though if I could have obtained a qualified CO status I'd have considered it, but I understand why I don't to choose which wars I like, unless I only enlist when there is a conflict I agree with).

The short of it is that mercenaries hire on to impose force for money. They can quit, if they don't like the fight, but they don't answer to anyone but their employer, or someone else with a gun.

To quote a far more forgiving man than I am ever likely to be, "He who lives by the sword, shall die by the sword," and so my dismay when that comse to pass is mitigated.

Terry

#148 ::: FranW ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 09:54 PM:

Just a note for those who are outraged (or whatever) over the X million dollars spent on AIDS research:

The NIH etc. set their research priorities, then allocate proportions of their overall budget accordingly into different "slices" of the "pie." In the last decade or so, a large slice of the pie has been labelled "AIDS."

When researchers apply for grant funding, they send their proposal to the pie-slice that they think is most likely to return a "yes, funded" answer. This will be based partly on the "name" of the slice, and partly on the size of the slice.

So let's say we have a researcher who is looking at how T lymphocytes traffic into the lung during pneumonia. But the pie slice for "respiratory inflammation" is pretty small; he knows that he's competing against a whole lot of people studying SARS and ARDS and asthma and other "sexier" diseases, so his odds of getting funded here are pretty crappy. On the other hand, the AIDS pie slice is enormous. The researcher can very easily put a "spin" on his grant proposal and say that one of the aspects of T lymphocyte trafficking is interactions between T cells and proteins in the blood, and that understanding this might help us understand how T cells could be helped to avoid interacting with the HIV virus in the blood. Yeah, okay, it's a bit of a stretch scientifically. But if his overall proposal is sound, and the number of applicants for the AIDS slice aren't that high, he's got a whole lot better chance of getting funded here than in the Respiratory slice. His study will get listed as an AIDS study because that's the section the $$ are coming out of, but it's not really AIDS research per se.

A whole lot of $$$ worth of AIDS research actually does fall into this category.

#149 ::: Tayefeth ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 10:06 PM:

Tom, I'm still wondering why sexual risk-taking is more blame-worthy than, say, the weight-based risk-taking that leads to Type II diabetes. Also, based on your reasoning, I assume you don't think there should be any funding for research into treatment for lung, mouth, and throat cancer, since everyone knows that tobacco use is risky.

#150 ::: natasha ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 10:25 PM:

When I went to the AAAS conference, I sat in on part of a seminar on AIDS. I wrote up my notes on my blog, here are some of the highlights. I think they illustrate very effectively why fighting AIDS is paramount for anyone who values the goal of lifting the developing world out of poverty:

Stephen Lewis, UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS, and former Ontario MP, spoke about the necessity of fighting the epidemic on every front.

...Because AIDS hits the sexually active, it's decimating the working age population in severely affected countries. This was hammered home by the story of a family his team visited in Uganda. A man and his two wives, all over 70 years of age, had raised nine children. Eight were dead, one was dying. They'd left a total of 38 grandchildren in the care of these three elderly people.

In a revelation sure to make eyes bulge in some conservative circles, African women are at the greatest risk of infection from their spouses. The ABC (abstinence, be faithful, condom use) recommendations commonly doled out won't keep them safe. Mr. Lewis stated flatly that the greatest barrier to preventing AIDS was gender inequality.

Thomas Coates, PhD, of UC San Francisco presented on the topic of preventive measures. I only made a very small portion of the lecture towards the end, but one point he made helped build a more complete picture of the difficulties of prevention in Sub-Saharan Africa. He noted that the infected men most likely to engage in risky, unprotected intercourse were married. The likely profile was of a man married for under a year, presenting no symptoms, and prone to having unprotected sex after consuming alcohol.

Helene Gayle, director of the global health program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and former director of the USAID AIDS program, talked about the emerging picture of AIDS. Her overriding message was that there's a great deal that can be done to halt the spread of the disease.

By 2010: Current projections anticipate 45 million new infections, 28 million of which could be prevented if action is taken now. 25 million children are likely to be orphaned, and 15% of all children in Sub Saharan Africa will be among them. The rest of the world will outstrip Africa in new cases. Life expectancy in Botswana is expected to drop from a current high of 74 years, due to growing economic prosperity, to a very low 27 years.

Challenging assumptions: Currently, there are 14,000 new cases daily. Roughly half these new cases are women, and around that many of all 14,000 cases affect 15-24 year olds. Also, with the increase of a misperception that AIDS has been conquered, a resurgence is possible in wealthy countries whose rates of new cases were declining or leveling off. The next wave of new cases will likely come from Nigeria, Ethiopia, Russia, India, and China.

Intervention: One of the cheapest interventions possible, condoms, cost between $11 and $17 for each case averted. (There are many ways to avert new cases.) This spending on condoms and various barrier prophylactics averages out to about $1 per year of life saved. Only 42% of at risk individuals have access to condoms. Around $9.2 billion would be necessary in 2005 to aggressively treat AIDS and combat its spread. ...

#151 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2004, 11:37 PM:

Sorry to bring this interesting detour back to the subject of mercenaries (the AIDS stuff is certainly an interesting thread in its own right), but there's an interesting story over at the Washington Post:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A53059-2004Apr5.html

about Blackwater mercenaries fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with the USMC - and with the Marines needing mercenaries to evacuate their wounded.

This is wrong on SO many levels that one wonders where to begin.

The article mentions some of the problems with mercenaries: DoD doesn't know where the mercenaries are, or what they're doing, etc.
It also mentions in passing that Blackwater will be setting up their OWN training base in Iraq.

And sheds more light about what the unlucky ones were doing in Fallujah last wek:

"The four victims of that attack, according to Blackwater spokesman Chris Bertelli, were escorting trucks carrying either food or kitchen equipment for Regency Hotel and Hospitality. Regency is a subcontractor to Eurest Support Services (ESS), a division of the Compass Group, the world's largest food service company.

ESS provides food services to more than a dozen U.S. military dining facilities in Iraq, according to news accounts. "

Blackwater is doing resupply for our troops.

You have to wonder how the troops will eat if Blackwater decides to go home.

#152 ::: Varia ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2004, 02:05 AM:

TNH: That was a brilliant post. thanks.

To add another point to the argument about eradicating diseases: AIDS, given proper education, is eradicable. Unlike your common cold, or SARS, or malaria. It's hard to transmit, it's hard to catch, and education dollars could do so much more than they are right now, to prevent immense amounts of suffering. Instead, as several people have pointed out, we suffered through Reagan's judgmental idiocy, and now through the resurgence of "abstinence-only" education.

Tom: Are you reading people's replies to you? Several people have addressed the idea of "risky behavior." Do you have a counter-argument, or are you just not seeing it?

If you get mugged tonight, is it ok if I call the cops and tell them not to spend their limited budget on going out to pick you up, and that an investigation isn't worth it, because you probably shouldn't've been walking there anyway?

To extend the analogy: We don't expect the police force to make restitution for the money you lose if you get mugged. Their job is, effectively, to prevent it from happening, by punishing the person who did it, and (in theory) by dissuading others from trying it. Likewise, no medical patient is going to have their life returned back to perfect normal. You seem to want people to suffer for their sexuality; believe me, they do. All the medical and educational money is doing is trying to prevent the crime from happening to more people.

#153 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2004, 03:17 AM:

I was listening to the news from the Beeb on the way home, and heard a woman from Rwanda, a survivor of the genocide, now a psychologist, talking about her fellow widows, many of whom not only lost their husbands and all their children, but were raped and infected with HIV. So it is with righteous anger that I respond to Tom, who shares my name, but not my point of view. To characterize the disease as only a result of risky behavior is a deadly insult, literally, to those who had no choice at all. If being a hemophiliac, or a nurse, or the wife of an unfaithful husband, or gay before 1981 is risky behavior, it's nothing compared to the risk of being clueless and dismissive of other people's suffering on a very small planet with a large human population in constant motion.

I would also like to say that there is value in AIDS research, even for those of us that don't have it and can't yet imagine getting it. HIV is a very strange and interesting virus. With its high mutation rate, long incubation period, and total fatality ratio, it's a tough thing to stop. It's worth trying, just because it is so hard; we will learn so much along the way. Also, with that extremely high mutation rate, it's better not to be complacent.

The litmus test for conservatism is blaming the individual for his circumstances. Why they think that matters, when the virus obviously doesn't care, and shows no compunction about who it infects, is beyond me.

#154 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2004, 03:55 AM:

PiscusFiche: The very same superstition, that your sexually-transmitted disease, usually syphilis, could be cured by sex with a virgin, was apparently common in the nineteenth century (if not earlier) in Europe. It made procuring child prostitutes -- who could be passed off as virgins many times -- quite lucrative, as well as leading to the rape of younger and younger girls.

Interesting how such ideas recur.

#155 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2004, 04:02 AM:

PiscusFiche: The very same superstition, that your sexually-transmitted disease, usually syphilis, could be cured by sex with a virgin, was apparently common in the nineteenth century (if not earlier) in Europe. It made procuring child prostitutes -- who could be passed off as virgins many times -- quite lucrative, as well as leading to the rape of younger and younger girls.

Interesting, and saddening, how such ideas recur.

#156 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2004, 04:07 AM:

Terry, I just wanted to say how very much I appreciated your post (09:38 PM). Thanks for writing it.

#157 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2004, 04:50 AM:

Some AIDS Issues:
The traditional oath (or affirmation) in our courts and I believe the US ones is that you will tell:
   the truth,
   the whole truth, and
   nothing but the truth.
So when I heard in a radio documentary the lecture an out-sourced contract 'abstinence-based' sex-education company used by schools in the USA gave in their lectures to a school, I was outraged.
The lecturer showed a slide of a list of risks of engaging in 'unprotected' sex, including pregancy and diseases. She then showed an identical slide for the risks of sex using condoms. Strictly speaking, this is 'the truth'; but not 'the whole truth'.

I could make exactly the same argument about using a parachute when jumping from a plane. It's just that the risk of injury without parachute/condom is considerably higher, whereas you can virtually never say there's no risk, even with a parachute/condom. [Important Note: Very few authorities recommend using a) condoms as parachutes; b) parachutes as condoms.]

Then the documentary-maker interviewed some of the (mid-late teens) schoolchildren after the lecture, and, apart from some saying that they were going to try to abstain, most of them seemed to have got the message that "it didn't matter whether you used condoms or not". It looks like the company/school/parents are using the old 'frighten them into abstinence' method. After all, it worked so well over the last millennium, didn't it? Hardly any problems with STDs, illegitimate children, rapine and so forth.

Picking up the idea of 'bringing harm on yourself', I hope this point hasn't yet been made in the thread. Any cures or treatments would surely work on the "innocent" as well as the "guilty". As mentioned by others, a great many, perhaps the majority, of non-Western sufferers are children or wives infected by family contact and rape victims from wars and disrupted states.

Apart from the millions of "innocent" AIDS sufferers, perhaps you could also think about the effect of the large number of "guilty" sufferers on their family and their country.

Even if you decide that anyone sick of AIDS "through their own fault" should just be killed outright on diagnosis to save on medical treatment and their bodies used to fuel electric power plants or fertilize the fields, these fellow humans were frequently participating usefully in their societies, and their loss is helping to push those societies into ever more desperate straits. Those who read John Brunner's The Sheep Look Up, among others, already knew not only that "no man is an island", but that no country can keep isolated from the rest of the world, and if you are happy to turn your back and let the world outside your cosy boundaries fester, you're likely to find the gangrene suddenly creeping up on you in one form or another. One of the forms might be the one that has been using mercenaries lately.
[Getting that double-spaced par gap too. Can't fix at present.]

#158 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2004, 08:51 AM:

Graydon,

Does the fact that someone beleives that I do not have the right to exist truly make them *evil*? What if it is due simply to a misunderstanding and that their beliefs can change? Slavery and racism are evils, but I don't believe that those who perpetrated those acts were necessarily evil.

Someone up-thread mentioned that this is the 10 year anniversery of the massacre in Rawanda. From everything I have read, most of those who participated in the massacre were not, in fact evil. Many were simply misguided, or caught up in circumstances beyond their control. Many are being repatriated into society.

In other words, while there are many acts that are evil, I think that there are few people who fall into the category of evil.

And who determines evil? Obviously (to everyone else anyway) not me, who beleives that most people can be changed. Hopefully not President Bush, who feels that those he believes are bad should be exterminated.

Perhaps I have simply not come face to face with evil, and would feel differently if I did so. I can't say until that happens. But I think that people have reasons for what they do, and we have to at least attempt to understand those reasons.


Terry,

The reason that I respect soldiers so much is that you go out and stand up and do the things that I am incapable of doing. Soldiers, police officers, firemen... anyone who belongs to the category that puts thier life in danger to keep others safe is deserving of respect for the actions they have to take while wearing that uniform.

So thanks.

#159 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2004, 09:07 AM:

Michelle --

People are the accumulation of their deeds.

And yes, of course people have reasons for what they do, and it's helpful to try to understand those reasons, but that in no way implies that the reasons are good reasons.

Quite often, those reasons are not good reasons; pretty much all the reasons for forcible subordination or profit maximization are bad, and support evil deeds.

#160 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2004, 09:34 AM:

Michelle, I heard that report, too. The particular case was of a woman who forgave her in-laws(?) for not protecting her. Their house had already been searched once, and their family included 7 children.

There were also people (not part of that story)who killed sooner than be killed themselves--I can see a case for calling such people unheroic (possibly less herioc than is needed for a good society) but not evil.

However, what would you call the people who instigated the mass murder?

#161 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2004, 09:38 AM:

Tom, if you have "a particularly unpleasant progressive degenerative disease for which there is no cure," other than that nasty one called "aging" from which we all suffer, then I have misjudged you, and I'm sorry. Which one is it, by the way?

I have an incurable condition myself. I did nothing to incur it. It severely limits my options and has chewed up a lot of my life.

I have a hot button about conditions that do and do not "deserve" to be treated, because a lot of people (medical personnel included) will mistake narcolepsy for laziness, moral turpitude, being undermotivated, et cetera. They tell us we should try harder.

On top of that, the medical establishment has made it a policy to undermedicate us -- not for any therapeutic reasons, but because it keeps neurologists from being harassed by drug enforcement agents who suspect that we're overusing stimulants to make ourselves feel good. They're happier if we're instead given a suboptimal dose that leaves us feeling miserable and exhausted all the time. They tell us we should try harder.

(The foregoing is the cartoon version of this issue.)

I've lived this way for decades. Re-learning how to write was one of the toughest parts. Fortunately, they forgot to tell me I wasn't supposed to be able to write at all. It only came up when I mentioned that I had a book coming out.

I am not undermotivated.

When I was first diagnosed, I was told that three times as many men as women were narcoleptics, and that narcoleptics tended to be better educated than the general population. I didn't believe them. Lately they've been tracking down the genetic basis of narcolepsy. Last I heard, they weren't finding it was sex-linked. That three-to-one ratio was because more men than women were prepared to insist that there was too something wrong, and they needed to have it diagnosed and get treated for it. Undiagnosed are the meek, for they shall be fobbed off.

I have a bad, bad attitude about who does and does not "deserve" medical care.

You, now, believe that congenital diseases (such as your own) should get the lion's share of research funding, because people who have them didn't do anything to deserve it. I have to ask this: were you recently diagnosed or something? Because you're the first person with a serious disability I've ever met who still thinks in terms of what is or isn't fair. That's why I mistook you for a member of the Temporarily Able-Bodied population. Every other disabled person I've ever met has known that fair has nothing to do with it. And since having a major illness is like having an unwanted and fairly technical hobby wished on you, most of them also know that research breakthroughs and the development of effective treatments aren't something we can just order up, like an appropriation to build a dam; and research findings frequently benefit diseases other than the one the researchers had in mind.

We treat what we can. We treat what we know how to treat, which when you get right down to it is not all that much. When we don't know how to treat something, we try the nearest approximation and see if it does any good. As a person with a genetic disorder (such as yourself) must already know, human genome research is a booming field. It's hardly suffering from neglect. At the same time, there's still bleep-all we can do about most genetic disorders, and some of the most promising research in that line is going to have to happen in other countries. In the meantime, we do what we've always done, which is treat the symptoms as best we know how. We've pretty much trounced phenylketonuria, if we spot it early enough. Huntington's chorea, not so good. There's an indeterminate zillion others. Which ones did you have in mind?

I have one friend with a damaged liver who drank himself into that condition. I have another friend who has a damaged liver because he picked up a nasty tropical bug while wading around in swamp water in the service of his country. The same liver resesarch benefits both. The same AIDS research benefits blameless infants and less blameless adults. Really big breakthroughs, like the development of pencillin, benefit everyone as impartially as epidemics afflict them. Don't expect medicine to play the role of that imaginary deity who visits torments on the wicked and spares the just. That's not what medicine or religion are about.

#162 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2004, 11:13 AM:

Terry: Thanks for your post. I'm glad to see the reality from your thoughtful point of view.

BTW, I said I find it upsetting, not "too upsetting to read." Sounds like you find it upsetting too.

Teresa: (insert compliments adding up to "damn, you're good" about here). Isn't there a Gospel text where Jesus tells people that they're no better than the people who got killed when (some big disaster happened)? I think it was the Gospel a few weeks back IIRC.

#163 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2004, 11:22 AM:

TNH:

I have nothing to add to your posts in this thread. I just wanted to say that this:

if I didn't have books exploding all around me

gave me the image (unwarrantedly humorous, I'm sure) of books exploding open, ending up with them lying flat on their spines with pages standing straight in the air, looking rather like ruffled furious kittens or puppies.

*pets*

There, there, good book, calm down. Be nice to Teresa--doesn't she treat you well? Isn't she good to you? There, there. Oh, there's a nice calm book. What a good book you are! Here, let's play with your nice toy and give Teresa a break, hmmm?

#164 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2004, 11:32 AM:

Nancy Lebovitz,

There is an entire section on the BBC website dedicated to the Rawanda genocide, talking with both victims and perpetrators. Fascinating in a horribly depressing way. But they discuss how some of the people were caught up in the mob violence, some were bribed, some were in a kill or be killed situation.

Yes, the people who were behind the massacre, and who instigated it, and enjoyed watching *do* fall into the category of what I would consider evil. But who can say how many individuals fit that category.

Graydon,

Yes, there are many bad reasons for doing bad deeds, but I do not see that as automatically equating to an evil person. Much as Nancy Lebovitz said above, many of the people who perpetrated the Rawandan massacre may have been unheroic, definitely had bad reasons for bad actions, but I do not think most of those people can be considered evil.

To try to put it another way, I don't think that people actively set out to do evil, I think that for most people it comes upon them and they choose poorly, never seeing themselves as bad or evil, they simply see themselves as doing what needs to be done by whatever means necessary.

#165 ::: John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2004, 11:47 AM:

Teresa,

That's the most detailed and thoughtful post I've ever read about narcolepsy--all the more so because it's so personal for you.

I had an uncle with narcolepsy who dropped dead of a heart attack when he was 44. Because of his heavy smoking and weight, I don't think anyone in his family ever inquired for more details about how his narcoleptic condition may have contributed (if at all) to his death. I suspect it did.

Anyway, thanks for writing about this. Your experience makes it very concrete.

#166 ::: Mris ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2004, 12:30 PM:

Teresa -- thank you, thank you, yes. Narcolepsy is not the only sleep disorder for which people are "just supposed to get motivated," and it's frustrating in the extreme to hear it directed at a family member who's doing the best he can with a medical condition he didn't choose and can't magically fix.

For the last few days, I've been sitting here goggling in utter disbelief. I'm 25, so I entirely missed the days when people thought AIDS was just a disease for druggies and queers. Or so I thought. I didn't realize they were still out there.

Funding is not a zero-sum game. If someone can live a longer, fuller, happier, and more productive life, those resources that would otherwise go to his/her medical care can partly be used for other medical research. But even if funding was a zero-sum game, compassion is not. It doesn't diminish my compassion for AIDS orphans in Africa to have compassion for wounded soldiers in Iraq, or sufferers of genetic diseases in Boston, or victims of landslides in Peru.

Sometimes we grieve the loss of another human being because of all we know that person had done and could do -- because so little of that person's life was wasted, because it was so worthwhile. Sometimes we grieve the loss of another human being because of all the things that person never did or couldn't do -- because so much of it was wasted, because it could have had so much more worth. Whether you're sorry that mercenaries died or sorry that they died mercenaries, I still think there's room for a feeling of some loss at another human being's passing.

#167 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2004, 12:51 PM:

Michelle -- you're right that people don't go around rubbing their hands and cackling "Bwa ha ha, how much evil can I do between lunch and tea today?"

Instead there are quite ordinary people who are worried about their children's marks and their spouses' aches who sit down to earn the wages that keep their home together and who do come back from lunch and sit down to do things that are *objectively* evil, and which they know are evil but which they tell themselves are what everyone does to get along, or that it doesn't matter, or that the people involved are not real people, or any of a million petty and justifying lies.

The fact that people can live with themselves and justify what they are doing does not make them less evil in an objective sense, looking at them from outside, from our point of view, even if we can understand them and see all the steps that led them one by one to doing what they are doing.

Toleration is a wonderful thing, but you can't tolerate evil because you can very easily go down that path and become evil too, and also pragmatically because it isn't going to give equal time to tolerate your beliefs.

#168 ::: Joy Rothke ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2004, 01:07 PM:

Michelle wrote:
More likely it's due to the beief that there are few, if any, truly evil people in the world. What was a the quote I recently heard? "No one thinks of themselves as nefarious." Again, if one can understand someone, doesn't that make it easier to deal with them, if you can comprehend that they have *reasons* for what they do? It always seems to me that any death is a loss for someone. How horrible would someone have to be that even their family didn't love them and mourn their death?

But it's also due to the fact that I'm a squeamish pacifist. I can't even kill bugs. So it's sometimes hard for me to see the grey areas that exist beyond "thou shalt not kill."

The commandment is "thou shalt not murder." Big diff. Come down to Central America for a week or two, and I guarantee you'll lose your pacifism re bugs.

Sociopaths always have "reasons" for their heinous acts.

#169 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2004, 01:49 PM:

I forget who said "Every man is the hero of his own story." Except on cheesy TV programs, no one is ever "devoted to the cause of Evil."

Nevertheless there are evil people in the world. It's something we have to judge for ourselves. Ann Coulter considers me evil, and I consider her an insane totalitarian psychopath. And all insane totalitarian psychopaths are evil in my book. (The completion of this syllogism is left as an exercise for the reader.)

#170 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2004, 02:39 PM:

Jo, Joy, and Xopher,

Yes, I do agree that there are people that do such things. But. I was thinking about FD Roosevelt. He allowed Japanese, even citizens, to be placed in concentration camps. This was, at least in my book, an evil action. But it wasn't done for an evil reason, and I don't think it makes FDR and evil person, or even necessarily a bad president.

The act of bombing Hiroshima was, to many, an act of evil. But I don't think that ordering it makes Truman an evil man.

It just seems that many actions and things that we would call evil, may not have had evil intentions at the start--or even at the finish.

Again, I may be overly naive, and I'm willing to accept that as a distinct possibility.

And Joy, as we have here 3 inch centipedes with hideously long legs here that scare the crap out of me, I'll avoid travelling anywhere that has even worse bugs.

As far as killing bugs and being unwilling to do so, it's mostly because they CRUNCH when you kill them. (shudder)

#171 ::: Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2004, 05:30 PM:

Michelle,

I think that what you're saying is much the same as what I'm inclined to say, which is, "It's more complicated than that." People are capable of doing truly evil things. Those very same people are capable of repentence and redemption. I would say that people can move, throughout their lives, from evil to good, and back again. As people like to say, "Even Hitler loved dogs and children."

Is there any act so evil that its perpetrator cannot be forgiven? Actually, no. Forgiveness isn't for the guilty, it's a gift the victim grants himself. With luck, that grace can splash over onto the evil-doer, but there's no guarantee.

I've often wondered if Rwanda would have done better using the South African model for dealing with the aftermath of the breakdown of social order. The exchange of truth for a pardon seems to me to be a good bargain. A while ago, there was an article here about a Minnesota couple who went to South Africa to hear the testimony of the men who had beaten, raped, and killed their daughter. They were very much in favor of the Truth Commission. Both of them were "happier" knowing what had happened than they would have been with retribution against those men.

The problem with saying that people are never, or almost never, evil, is that by saying so we give up our right to make firm moral judgments about those around us. When we do that, we are abdicating our role in maintaining civilized society. I prefer to think of people as evil but capable of being redeemed. (I'd use the less religious word "rehabilitated" but it carries with it too much baggage from extremely stupid attempts to "reform" criminals.)

What do you do about the guys that do evil who think they're doing good? I think you do the same thing with them that you do with the guys who do the same thing and think they're being evil. Their motivations are something they can work out between themselves and their gods. What I care about is how they affect my world, now and in the future. And that's the other key point about redemption: it's about the future. Forgiveness is, I think, about the past. As is repentence, since you cannot sincerely repent for an act you have not yet committed. Redemption is about how you act in the future. In the Christian model that I grew up in, one of the pieces necessary for redemption was the sincere effort to mend one's ways. "Go thou, and sin no more."

Back to the mercenaries: introducing mercenaries into the situation in Iraq destabilizes and already unstable situation. It demonstrates significant weaknesses and evils within our administration. The individual men are not so evil as the ones who sent them there, but they know that they are making their money on blood and disaster, and I think it entirely appropriate to consider that factor when evaluating the situation. Social opprobrium is an important part of civility, and I think that disapproving of mercenaries is an entirely laudable attitude.

#172 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2004, 05:42 PM:

Teresa writes "I have a hot button about conditions that do and do not "deserve" to be treated, because a lot of people (medical personnel included) will mistake narcolepsy for laziness, moral turpitude, being undermotivated, et cetera. They tell us we should try harder."

I suppose when I argue with Tom, I should declare my own interest. I have a multitude of diseases that cascaded from a badly-broken ankle. People frequently see my size and assume the stroke was caused by my weight, when actually it happened when I weighed 135 and the doctor gave me a medicine that dropped my blood pressure so low I didn't get oxygen to my brain for a while. So I have kidney disease, lung disease, gout, arthritis, partial paralysis, etc. and etc., but I didn't do anything to cause all this. Kaiser has spent two million now taking care of me, and yes, I can imagine how many other people that money would save if you were going to ration, but under Tom's POV, I deserve to be treated more than others because I didn't "cause" my diseases. I don't agree with that. (I'm not volunteering to die, though.)

My mother was narcoleptic and there wasn't much to fix it back then. She died of cancer originating in her breasts, no connection to narcolepsy.

#173 ::: Thel ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2004, 05:45 PM:

Jo's most recent post made me think of Hannah Arendt's phrase, "the banality of evil."

I don't know how useful it is to try to determine at what point a person's evil actions make them an evil person. Does it matter whether we call Truman or Roosevelt or even George Bush "evil men," or is it more a question of being able to recognize their acts as evil regardless of their intentions, motives, or alleged underlying purity of spirit?

This is such a great discussion, though, in all its tangents. I've never posted before, but visiting the Nielsen Hayden blogs is always a high point of my daily website visits. Thanks.

#174 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2004, 06:06 PM:

Teresa wrote: "Don't expect medicine to play the role of that imaginary deity who visits torments on the wicked and spares the just. That's not what medicine or religion are about."

Unfortunately, there are people who do think that that's what religion (and everything else in the world) is about. Everything should be about visiting torments on the wicked. Sparing the just often isn't as important, except perhaps for such peoples' friends and families.

#175 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2004, 06:31 PM:

Jeremy, what I had in mind are the people who think that being obedient to the commands of their religion should make them immune to life's ills, and that those who get zapped must somehow be sinful. At best, it's cotton-candy theology. In its more sinister forms, it gives to wealth and privilege the comfortable assurance that God must love them more than He loves what the prayers of my childhood called "the poor, the needy, the sick, the afflicted, and all those who have cause to mourn."

False, all false.

#176 ::: Bill Blum ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2004, 06:42 PM:

TNH wrote:
At best, it's cotton-candy theology.

Isn't that harmful to parishoner's teeth?

#177 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2004, 06:44 PM:

Their spiritual teeth, Bill. After a while, they can no longer ingest spiritual food, and their souls die of starvation.

End case of this degenerative process: Fred Phelps.

#178 ::: Jill Smith ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2004, 06:44 PM:

Ah, but Mr. Blum - the righteous will be saved from tooth decay.

You don't think that God would spare them from debilitating diseases only to inconvenience them with cavities, would you?

#179 ::: Bill Blum ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2004, 06:56 PM:

God helps those who floss themselves?

#180 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2004, 06:59 PM:

I agree, Teresa; I was just pointing out that one variation of that sort of belief is to see God's hand in every instance of someone else's suffering.

Not just to see it, but to celebrate it, sometimes.

Personally, if I were inclined to view the world in terms of sinners and sin, I wouldn't be so convinced of my own purity as to feel comfortable cheering at the suffering of sinners.

But then, I tend to regard doubt as more of a virtue than a vice, up to a point.

#181 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2004, 08:38 PM:

Got it, Jeremy. I've known people who see divine purpose and divine providence in the suffering of others. One of them said to a person I know (who had one of those truly hellish cigarette-burns-and-everything-else abusive childhoods) that she wondered what my friend had done in a previous lifetime that caused her to choose to have such parents in this one.

When we heard about that, another friend fantasized about being there, punching out the woman when she made that remark, and then saying "Gee, I wonder what you did in a past life that caused me to hit you?"

#182 ::: Mris ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2004, 08:42 PM:

Jeremy, doubt can be a very Christian virtue. Jesus is portrayed in the Gospels as having asked, "My God, my God, why have you forgotten me? [or forsaken me, translation varies]" If that isn't doubt, I don't know what is. Or the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane: doubt, doubt, doubt. It's yet another in the long list of things that a lot of Christians ignore.

#183 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2004, 08:57 PM:

Apologies for length

Xopher: I am not sure which parts you see my having trouble with. (and I never assumed you so affected you'd not read, nor even want to read... I must learn to make my tease-indicator more blatantly subtle)

For all that I have no desire to get dead anytime soon, I don't really have a problem with being expendable. Goes with the job, and if it bothered me (more than it does anyone who wants to live) I'd not have re-upped.

The reason that I respect soldiers so much is that you go out and stand up and do the things that I am incapable of doing. Soldiers, police officers, firemen... anyone who belongs to the category that puts thier life in danger to keep others safe is deserving of respect for the actions they have to take while wearing that uniform.

I am probably beating a dead horse, and misinterpreting you... if so bear with me, and mea culpa for anything too gross in my misapprehensions, but that last sentence is troublesome to me. Not so much as a citizen (which it is) but as a soldier.

Lots of troops have done heinous things, shooting prisoners, for example, because they had to. Forgivable, but not worthy of respect.

Some have done things I can understand, even (perhaps) tolerate. There is a tale, told as "not confirmed, but widely believed", in the book, "Band Of Brothers" where an officer goes into a trench, mingles with a bunch of prisners, shares some cigrarettes, leaves the trench, and wallks away. Then turns around and opens up with his tommy-gun, killing all of them {between 10-20}. I can understand that. I might even tolerate it. I can't condone it, and certainly don't respect it. If someone I decided I can give the benefit of the doubt to, for such acts, get court-martialed, I want them convicted, because such things cannot be publically tolerated.

This is personal. I have people I was in Iraq with who are facing charges, others who are being investigated, for abuses of prisoners. I know how I want the first to go (full investigation, fair trial and conviction, if guilty). I am conflicted on the second, because one of them is a particular friend.

I have an ex-girlfriend who's father was the military counsel for Calley, William. All of this is close to home.

And cutting us slack, for the things we do, because they were, "neccessary," to our getting home in one piece, and thinking all of us who get killed are in some way heroes, or saints, covered in glory (what's the Gordon Lightfoot line, [from Don Quixote]"See the soldier with his gun/who must be dead to be admired.") just because we were unlucky enough to buy it... demeans us.

Heroes are rare. They do things like run into burning buildings, or crawl up to machine guns and heave hand grenades into the pits, or climb out onto the wings of bombers to replace engine covers (WW2: a Wellington, with an engine on fire) without parachutes, on the way to the target, thousands of feet above enemy territory, patch up the wounded; under fire.

They deserve the adulation, the rest of us... we are the doers of hard and dirty work, but almost anyone can learn to do it, we are only special because (for whatever reason) we raised our hands and promised to let unpleasant people try to kill us.

A friend of mine thinks my attitude too cynical, that there is still glory in the profession of arms. He's half-right. There is glory in it, but not much, and rarely from where the troopie sits.

I think I'll now abandon this soapbox.

As for congenital/auto-immune disorders. I'm glad mine is proving so mild (touch wood) and that I knew so many people who had them, it meant I was never demanding, "Why me?". Heck, where and when I got it, it was almost better than a good wound, and if it never recurs, it was.

But I know there are lots of people who don't get off so easily as I did, and many of them had an STD as the catalytic infection which triggered the auto-immune malfunction (Reiter's Syndrome, for those who care). The don't deserve to be lumped as, "getting what they deserved."

If Abraham could haggle for 1 (and get 10) just men as being enough to spare Sodom and Gomorrah, then I certainly see fit to not condemn all because some erred. And I can't arrogate to myself the role of chooser of the slain.

From a secular viewpoint, it's all the same.

From a religious viewpoint... who am I choose? If I move to help one, then all are worthy of my aid.

Going back to that forgiving man...

21: Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?
22: Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.

Matt. 18

And further:

41: Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
42: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:
43: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
44: Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
45: Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.

Matt. 25

Terry

#184 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2004, 09:00 PM:

oops!

I know that the italicized quotation wasn't Xopher. I hope that didn't cause too much confusion. Rather it was Michelle.

Yonmei: You're welcome. Glad to be of service.

Terry

#185 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2004, 09:07 PM:

Michelle --

The problem with refusing to believe in actual evil, that there are really evil people, is that it leaves you mostly helpless in dealing with them; the straightforward problem of selecting a response to evil actions becomes something intractably complicated.

There's a very large difference between the hypothetical judgement of an infinite god and the requirements of life; people seem to munge these together rather a lot.

I don't care if what that god, whether the God of Abraham or other, is going to conclude; I care about current present conduct.

The interment of Japanese Americans was done for an evil reason; the Great Pacific War was used as an excuse for institutionalized theft, more or less. Going along with it was certainly an evil thing to do.

If you're going to judge Roosevelt, rather than the specific deed, you have to add up all the deeds you know about. That gets more complicated.

#186 ::: Elizabeth ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2004, 09:15 PM:

Ah, yes, the you did something in your past life routine.

I suffer from allergies, and they sometimes stop the production of red blood cells, so I'm careful of what I eat and try to avoid the stuff I'm not supposed to have. My dad's wife gently suggested to me one day that I do some past life regressions to find out what I had done in my past lives to cause me to have such negative associations with all these different foods. If I would make restitution, I would get all better.

It's all my fault. I confess! I did something evil unto the entire nightshade family, the dairy family, wheat, legumes, corn, the dander of most mammals...

Must have been a busy life.

I can dismiss the obvious comments (even the idea of the biology involved is hilarious). It's the sneaky ones about sloth and attitude that I find harder to ignore.

I don't see the difference in voluntary risk between eating way too many doughnuts and getting some nookie, but I don't know that Tom will explain. Can't we just fund them all and let god sort it out?

#187 ::: Bill Blum ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2004, 10:03 PM:

Elizabeth wrote:
Can't we just fund them all and let god sort it out?

If we could do that, there would be so many happy university professors (my supervisor among them).....


#188 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2004, 10:19 PM:

Bill said: God helps those who floss themselves?

---

Random thought: Actually my dentists keep telling me to floss more as there seems to be some connection between the plaque and bacteria under the gums, and heart disease. Apparently, taking care of your teeth, while it won't guarantee that you won't have a heart attack, is supposed to reduce your chances. Odd.

(So. About the American Heart Foundation--helping people who didn't floss? Sorry if I'm flippant. It's me whistling in the dark--my grandparents had about seven strokes each and I'm trying to take good care of myself.)

#189 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2004, 10:21 PM:

My only 2˘ on this is that I am waaay too up close and personal to the Fred Phelps issue. All his kids are lawyers and if you do ANYTHING that resembles causing him ANYTHING that might 'violate his legal rights' they'll have the courts on you like a bunch of flying monkeys. But they sure don't care if their dad has protesters disrupting/dishonoring funerals of people who have died of AIDS.

If I believed in an Xian-type God, Fred Phelps is one of the things I would surely wish a gigantic fist with the thumb outstretched would come out of the sky at one of his staged 'protests" and the thumb would go right down on top of Pehlps' pointy little head and he'd be shoved straight to hell. It might make me a believer.

One can wish. One of the funnier sights, apparently, that part of my family witnessed, was at Phelps' protest arranged for the Crosby Stills Nash & Young concert. They apparently didn't pay attention to things in the Big City (he's from Topeka)... they showed up and protested at a gate to Kemper Arena that has probably the least in-coming traffic of all the parking gates.

Some people are pure evil in their religions fervor. He's one of them.

#190 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2004, 10:42 PM:

Phelps needs to have Matthew 22: 37-40 tattooed all over his body. Including on the inside of his eyelids.

I don't see any verse 39.5 saying "except for the faggots and [hate groups of choice] and anyone else you want to hate for being different" in *my* copy of the King James Bible. Maybe it's in a different translation.

Asimov had it right about the lesson of the Good Samaritan being lost.

#191 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2004, 10:56 PM:

How the hell does Phelps find out that people died of AIDS? Does he troll the obituaries? I already knew he was a vile, little man, but ugh.

#192 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2004, 11:05 PM:

FWIW, given the remarkably eclectic language skills among the Blackwater employees, I'd speculate some among them were tasked to find other foreigners in Iraq. I'll never know.

For a confirmed incident with a full record, there is a man - still living so far as I know - who decided one day as a sergeant with a machine gun that some 30 odd SS Camp Guards had waited way too long to surrender. He was up for a Court when that scion of the Simpson line George Simpson Patton said "I don't have a problem with that [in a long service soldier]." The shooter's comment, interviewed years later, was reported to the effect - "When I see them in Hell, they won't wonder why they're there."

There are other such, some more recent, some not, about which deponent sayeth nothing more.

For tales of something close to mercenary virtue see John Masters (of the Army of India, as distinct from Britain) on the joys of shooting his own wounded. And then wonder why his son served in the British Army including the Falkland's action.

You want to talk about glory in war? My vote goes to dealing with the people after Hamburg died; the ones in standing water because of the sticky bits that burst into flame on exposure to air.

And yet

No doubt it was his - well disguised - admiration for the French Monarchy and especially the Dauphin combined with a lack of exposure to war in his own homeland that led Sam Clemens to say of a rock that indescribable something which makes the Lion of Lucerne the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world

#193 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2004, 11:16 PM:

Thanks, Terry. The bit about Reiter's Syndrome is what I had in mind, though I'd never heard of RS until now. Lots of people engage in a spot of fornication at some point in their lives. Most of them don't get an auto-immune disorder out of it. If every misdeed in our lives carried a penalty like that, how many of us would escape? We're forgiven as we forgive, and we all need it.

There are a lot of people out there who've been unlucky doing some of the same things I've done. I've exceeded the speed limit, set off illegal fireworks, operated powerful machinery I wasn't trained to use, mixed my drugs without consulting the PDR, walked home by myself late at night, eaten leftovers that hadn't been handled in a strictly hygienic fashion, swum in the ocean when a riptide was running, gotten into altercations with mentally unbalanced strangers, indulged in a great deal of imprudent climbing on rocks and buildings, and driven aggressively in NYC. I've also lost count of the times I've interrupted whatever I was doing to help strangers who'd exceeded their quota of luck for that day. We all hope for the best, and help each other when something else happens. When a disoriented street crazy is making his way down the narrow median strip of a NYC freeway, you don't say he brought it on himself by checking out of the bin AMA and getting drunk; you pull over, call 911, and give them a clear location and physical description. We all have bad days sometimes.

#194 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2004, 11:20 PM:

Clark, what did he say?

#195 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2004, 11:47 PM:

Teresa, that -is- the Twain quote (TRAMP ABROAD). My editorial guess (which Clark is welcome to correct) is that the end of Clark's sentence should read "... to see in a rock that indescribable something which makes the Lion of Lucerne 'the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world.'"

#196 ::: Varia ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2004, 11:48 PM:

PiscusFiche:

Microbiology nerdiness coming to the fore about the heart attack risk: yay, education strikes again!

Anyway, the link is this, if I remember correctly; anybody with the basic energy to look up details feel free to correct me, because I sold that textbook back long ago. Anyway.

One of the usual bacteria in your mouth, a streptococcus IIRC, is totally harmless in your mouth. A variant of said strep (not necessarily the one any given human has, and I don't remember the percentage), if it gets into your bloodstream, releases a chemical or has a surface protein that triggers something else that can cause a heart attack. Long, completely forgotten chemical explanation ensued.

Toothbrushing, or flossing, does diddly to lower the prevalence of this kind of strep, but it *does* make it less likely that you will have irritated or bleeding gums, especially in that it helps you avoid gums that bleed due to flossing, ironically enough. No bleeding, no place for the strep to enter your bloodstream, and hence no chemical emission leading to heart attack.

So yes, people who brush badly are clearly deserving of heart attacks. The logic is plain. Also, by all means feel free to stop eating glass.

#197 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2004, 11:53 PM:

I will not conceal the fact that miniature figures of the Lion of Lucerne are to be had in them. Millions of them. But they are libels upon him, every one of them. There is a subtle something about the majestic pathos of the original which the copyist cannot get. Even the sun fails to get it; both the photographer and the carver give you a dying lion, and that is all. The shape is right, the attitude is right, the proportions are right, but that indescribable something which makes the Lion of Lucerne the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world, is wanting..........

His [Louis] was a most unroyal career, but the most pitiable spectacle in it was his sentimental treachery to his Swiss guard on that memorable 10th of August, when he allowed those heroes to be massacred in his cause, and forbade them to shed the "sacred French blood" purporting to be flowing in the veins of the red-capped mob of miscreants that was raging around the palace. He meant to be kingly, but he was only the female saint once more.

A Tramp Abroad
CHAPTER XXVI
The Nest of the Cuckoo-Clock

#198 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2004, 12:29 AM:

Editorially, I had tried to put strong tags around the quote proper and failed.

#199 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2004, 12:35 AM:

Piscusfiche, there is no fine point on it, he does look up obituaries. He may even have a team of researchers, at least here in the Midwest, to make sure he finds the vulnerable dying. (this is paranoid speculation, I hate him...) He's a rat-bastard and so are his kids. As grows the tree, so falls it's fruit.

And the worst thing is he makes sure he stays within such legal correctness that you can't make him go away. That's what he paid for his kids' legal educations for. No matter how much pain he causes. He has managed to tread just inside the law's borders to avoid prosecution.

It's infuriating. and so immoral. That's why I wish for the Hand of God....

#200 ::: Jill Smith ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2004, 07:11 AM:

Paula -

Rather than the hand of God, may I suggest the Foot of Python?

Nothing is so appropriate to those who are inappropriately righteous than to make them ridiculous.

#201 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2004, 09:19 AM:

Lydia Nickerson,

That's very much what I was trying to say. I see and hear so many people saying "he/she is evil" when it is only certain actions that they disaprove of. I think that very few people are unredeemable, and those would be the people I consider evil.

What do you do about the guys that do evil who think they're doing good? I agree entirely that we typically can't know motivation, so we have to treat them all the same. Otherwise everyone would claim they did it for good reason.

Back to mercenaries: I think it is insane that the government has outsourced the military, because it leads to precisely what you describe. But right now were stuck with it. Last night on the radio they were talking about "sending more troops to Iraq." Unfortunately it seems that all the troops we have either are there, or are recovering from being there. Where the extra troops will come from, I'm not sure anyone knows.


Terry Karney,

the rest of us... we are the doers of hard and dirty work, but almost anyone can learn to do it, we are only special because (for whatever reason) we raised our hands and promised to let unpleasant people try to kill us.

But that is precisely what I mean. You (and others) have volunteered to do something others did not, and it certainly wasn't for the compensation. Does that make you a hero? I don't know, but it certainly makes you deserving of a free drink if I'd run into you in a bar.

And I apologize if I'm making you uncomfortable. I'm not trying to place you on a pedestal, only to say that you're doing something admiralable. (If it makes you feel less uncomfortable, I believe that teachers deserve the same admiration, excluding the fact that most of them are not in danger of being killed.)


Graydon,

There are evil people, but I don't think that they exist to a great extent. As Lydia said, you have to deal with those with good intent and bad intent in the same manner, and sort it all out later. I do, however, think there is a problem in treating all people who do wrong as if they were evil. It seems to me as if you are then only creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

And as far as Roosevelt and things being complicated, that was entirely my point. I think we are too ready to point to a person who has done a single deed and label them as evil.

#202 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2004, 10:14 AM:

And when good men do nothing are they doing evil?

I've heard Elie Wiesel say that just publicity would have saved some perhaps all his family. They were taken late and thought, mistakenly, that they could live in captivity until the Allies won. Else they could have and would have pulled an Ann Frank or lived in the woods - but that would have endangered others so they declined offers to hide them.

I've heard Arthur Schlesinger Jr. say that because FDR could do little FDR was entirely justified in doing nothing on the issue of why the skies did not darken.

#203 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2004, 10:15 AM:

Varia: is this related to needing to take antibiotics before dental work when one has a screwy heart valve (mitral valve prolapse), or is that a different bacteria that's being guarded against? (It was explained to me, as best I recall, that the bacteria getting into one's bloodstream via dental work is likely to catch on the flawed valve, grow, and do Bad Things.)

#204 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2004, 10:28 AM:

Isn't the most world-famous recent Hand of God that which guided a [soccer] football into a gaol?

#205 ::: Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2004, 11:29 AM:

Michelle said:

That's very much what I was trying to say. I see and hear so many people saying "he/she is evil" when it is only certain actions that they disaprove of. I think that very few people are unredeemable, and those would be the people I consider evil.

I can't decide if we're arguing nomenclature, or if we are in disagreement. I don't have a problem saying that George Bush is evil. I do have a problem with people saying that evil people cannot be recovered/redeemed/whatever. Every day, we make new decisions, and change a little bit. On the one hand, how can you judge a person except on their past? On the other hand, if you don't accept that people can change, then they won't be able to. Everybody needs slack.

To be honest, I'm not fond of the words good and evil because I associate them with the Christian mythos, and the Church and I are on the outs. However, the paler cousins of those words aren't descriptive enough, they lack weight.

And it's not just the actions I disapprove of. I disapprove of people who would commit those actions. I'm willing to grant them the possibility of grace, but I'm sure not willing to grant it to them while they're busy being right bastards. They are being bad people.

About the mercenaries. There are mercs because there are people willing to be mercs. I do not think it is unreasonable, in fact, I think it is proper, to consider people who are willing to work as mercenaries less than entirely good people. I am talking about combat troops, in this instance, please note, not civilian support.

#206 ::: Bill Blum ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2004, 11:46 AM:

Jill Smith wrote, re: a comment by Paula:
Rather than the hand of God, may I suggest the Foot of Python?

... no one expects the Foot of Python?

( esp. if it's wearing the Comfy Shoe! )

#207 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2004, 12:24 PM:

Julia, you may know that Asimov himself died of AIDS. He got it from a blood transfusion while in the hospital for a heart thing of some kind.

I wonder if Tom would say he deserved it? If so, because it was AIDS, or because he didn't take care of his heart?

We'll probably never know, since Tom appears to have crwld bk nt th wdwrk.

#208 ::: Bill Blum ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2004, 12:43 PM:

Xopher wrote:
Julia, you may know that Asimov himself died of AIDS. He got it from a blood transfusion while in the hospital for a heart thing of some kind.

I still remember the day Asimov died-- as word broke on the Purdue campus, the number of engineering/science students (and professors) just milling around in disbelief was astounding.


#209 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2004, 12:53 PM:

At the time, they lied about the cause. But who can blame them?

I was at the second AIDS Walk New York. Some people who were at the first one said that there were people throwing rocks at them the first year. By the time I stopped going, it was a massive event with thousands upon thousands of people.

So the Toms are fewer and fewer. And the idea that God punishes evildoers during their lifetimes can be disproved in five words: Fred Phelps is still alive.

#210 ::: Jill Smith ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2004, 12:56 PM:

Bill Blum:

Precisely. Though I prefer the bare foot with the upturned big-toe. Call me a purist.

#211 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2004, 02:34 PM:

Clark E Myers,

I was told when I was younger that there were two types of sins: sins of comission and sins of omission. I don't remember there being a distinction between the two, but that could just be faulty memory.

So yes, I think that would count as an evil act. But I don't think such an act would necessarily make a person evil. Another example would be of the woman (jogger?) who was murdered because no one could be bothered to call the police. That was an act of evil, but I don't think those who refused to act were evil people per se.

Lydia Nickerson,

I think it may be nomenclature. I believe that there is very little in this world that is truly evil. I mean, if we refer to people that are merely bad, as evil, then what do we call something that is truly evil when we come upon it?

#212 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2004, 02:52 PM:

Michelle --

What's the tangible distinction between 'merely bad' and 'evil'?

We can't know intentions; we'd need angelic beings whose telepathy reached into the past, as well as into minds, to know intentions.

Lacking those, all there really is to go on involves what people do.

#213 ::: Yoon Ha Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2004, 02:59 PM:

Michelle: Kitty Genovese, I believe, was the jogger. It sure put "The Whimper of Whipped Dogs" into a horrific light when I (stupidly*) read Deathbird Stories in two sittings in high school.

* I remain convinced those stories should be read one at a time with a friend around. Then again, I scare easily. My one time watching X-Files was at 4? AM and my sister, unmoved by it, had to calm me down from hysterical fear for two hours afterwards, and won't let me do such a thing again.

#214 ::: Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2004, 03:04 PM:

Jill Smith wrote:

Precisely. Though I prefer the bare foot with the upturned big-toe. Call me a purist.

You must follow the gourd and not the sandal. Heretic!

#215 ::: jennie ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2004, 03:20 PM:

Michelle wrote
Another example would be of the woman (jogger?) who was murdered because no one could be bothered to call the police. That was an act of evil, but I don't think those who refused to act were evil people per se.

Michelle, I recognise that you may think what you feel true, but I must disagree with your assessment. Refusing to act to save an innocent person's life, especially when the action in question is something as simple and safe as a phone call means that the bystander is putting their comfort and apathy ahead of someone else's very life, in a situation that is morally quite clear.

To have that little regard for another's life, in my moral universe is plain evil. Sure, the passers-by didn't hold the weapon themselves. They didn't perpetrate the act. But they allowed it to happen when they could have done something simple, or at least tried.

Note, please, that I'm not saying we should all try to become superheroes, confronting villians and rescuing the afflicted. I, for one, don't go putting myself in harm's way any more than I can avoid. I can't claim to be the sort who would place my body between the victim's and the killer's, in most cases. But I am the sort who will keep an eye on the couple yelling at each other in the parking lot after closing time on Saturday night, and dial the police if shouting turns into shoving or hitting. And I would hope that someone would do the same for me. To allow someone to get hurt when I could do something to keep it from happening would be wrong. I'd know it to be wrong. The failure to act would be an act of evil, as well as a terrible failure of compassion and abdication of my responsibility as a member of society.

Whether one act of evil would make me an evil person...well, I don't know. It would certainly make me a less good one, if we define good to encompass: socially responsible, compassionate, willing to value others' lives and experiences, treating others as one would be treated. It would make me less able to hope that others would look out for my welfare. It would make me like myself less, and make me less worthy of others' liking and respect. It would tarnish my soul.

#216 ::: Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2004, 03:50 PM:

Kitty Genovese's calls were help were ignored because of a combination of fear and the assumption that someone else had surely already called the cops. The thing that made it so scandalous at the time was that it happened in front of a largish apartment building with many different residents looking on. Over time, people who've analyzed the reactions of the onlookers have downgraded the role of apathy severly.

There was a study done later by a Psych department in the wake of Genovese's murder. A mechanical, but extremely realistic, badly-wounded dog was put on the curb of a busy street. They observed the behavior of passers-by. There was a correlation between the number of people willing to just pass on by and the perception that someone was doing something about the situation. In one trial, two psych students posing as seminary students come by. One of them argues that they have to take the dog into a vet right away. The other argues that this isn't the appropriate response. The two leave the area, still quarrelling, but passers-by kept on moving as if the problem had been addressed.

It's not apathy. It's something else. And it's something complicated. I mean, here I am in downtown Minneapolis, ok? I've got a temp gig, which I really can't afford to lose, and there's this cat running down the side of the IDS Building, looking over his shoulder and yowering, "You're a human, you fix it." About five people, including myself, stand around and look at a cat where no cat should be. We look at each other. We look at the cat. I said, "Isn't anyone going to do anything?" They mumble things about being allergic to cats, or having to get to work, or whatever. I end up picking up the cat, and presto-chango, I have another cat, one which I simply cannot afford, and don't have room to house.

I'm driving down the road to buy a gravestone for my recently deceased cat. I still feel like hell. There's a car stopped in the middle of the street, a fuzz ball on the yellow line, and a woman leaning over it. I pull over, and she says, "Do you think he's dead? I was driving by, and I think he's dead?" She was crying.

If he was dead, it was very recently. He was quite warm. I figured he probably was, but I couldn't leave him there in the middle of the road, so it ended up that I took him to the nearby vet office, where they decided he really was dead (snapped neck), and then kindly charged me $35 for disposal. The nice woman who stopped first offered to help pay. I don't remember if I took any of her money or not.

But here's the thing: I just don't worry nearly as much as most people about complicating my life. It's such a wretched tangle anyway, what's another dependent, what's being in debt another $35?

And here's another thing, make of it what you will:

Our next door neighbor, when we first moved in, was clearly having some sort of domestic problem. During the summer, you could hear shouting and screaming and the slamming of doors. The woman didn't live there, and we often saw her leave in the morning. She never had any visible signs of abuse, no black eyes, no limping, nothing like that. Who knows what was really going on, though? There was one night where she locked him out of the houses and he went and got the ladder from the back yard so he could climb in through a second story window. And we kept on wondering if we should call the police. The problem is, there are only certain types of domestic disputes which benefit from getting the authorities involved, and there wasn't any way to tell from where we were whether or not this was one of them.

I still don't know. It's been several years, though, since there's been weeping, shouting, or screaming to be heard from next door. I hope that means that we did the right thing. It wasn't apathy that kept us from calling it in, it was being unsure what the results of our actions would be. And yes, there was a selfish concern, there. There's nothing like getting involved in the middle of a domestic dispute to make your neighbors really, really hate you.

The problem with words like good and evil is that they aren't nuanced enough. The problem with words like good and bad is that they lack the heft necessary to carry real opprobrium. The problem with people is that they are people.

#217 ::: greg ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2004, 03:57 PM:

Varia,

from Sherris Medical Microbiology, 4th ed., 282

"Of the many theories advanced to explain... blahblahblah...most experinental support...blahblah...Streptoccocal pharyngitis patients who develop ARF (Acute Rheumatic Fever) have higher levels of antistreptoccocal and autoreactive antibodies and T cells than those who do not. Some of these have been shown to react with both heart tissue and streptoccocal antigens."

The blahs are mine and not the author's.

It goes on to say that there is also a genetic predisposition to hyperreactivity to streptoccocal products using many other big words.

My excuse is I had my Intro to Medical Virology course this morning so the textbook was handy.

As for everything, and everyone, else see...
http://www.publicintegrity.org/wow/
and
http://www.publicintegrity.org/bow/

the folks at publicintegrity and the ICIJ (International Consortium of Investigative Journalists) put together great stuff regarding mercenaries and private military companies. I highly recommend reading these for a background to modern mercenaries.

Enjoy!

#218 ::: Elizabeth Bear ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2004, 03:58 PM:

Speaking of blogs, Iraq, and the personal viewpoint, here's a stunning grunt's-eye perspective of the war.

This young woman is a soldier and a writer both.

#219 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2004, 04:07 PM:

Kitty Genovese's attacker left and came back three times before finishing her off.

A couple of weeks back, on the 40th anniversary of the event, I heard Genovese's girlfriend talking about it. Yes, Kitty Genovese was a lesbian; since I heard that I've wondered if her neighbors knew. But I get the impression they didn't; it wasn't something one broadcast, in 1964.

#220 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2004, 04:16 PM:
Jeremy, what I had in mind are the people who think that being obedient to the commands of their religion should make them immune to life's ills, and that those who get zapped must somehow be sinful. At best, it's cotton-candy theology. In its more sinister forms, it gives to wealth and privilege the comfortable assurance that God must love them more than He loves what the prayers of my childhood called "the poor, the needy, the sick, the afflicted, and all those who have cause to mourn."

In Christianity this would be the Pelagian heresy, or one expression of it, right? Faith healers seem awfully fond of it. Pernicious doctrine.

#221 ::: David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2004, 04:26 PM:

Cool link, Elizabeth. I hope that when this is all over she writes a book.

#222 ::: FranW ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2004, 04:42 PM:

Nerd alert!

When you have an infection, like strep throat, your immune system fights it off by making antibodies that recognize and bind to proteins on the surface of the strep bacteria. These antibodies coat and "immobilise" the bacteria, and act as a "flag" to encourage other cells in your immune system to gobble the bacteria (phagocytosis).

Antibodies are very specific and generally recognise only a single, small "target" protein sequence. This means your immune system makes different antibodies for each type of infection you get. When the "target" disappears from your system, your immune system stops making the antibody, and sits in "limbo" until, if ever, the target shows up again -- in which case your immune system is "primed" and ready to leap into action. This is in part how vaccines work -- they "prime" your immune system with a look-alike target, so that when you encounter the real thing your immune system already has a system in place to deal with it.

However, occasionally the same single, small protein sequence recognised by a single antibody type is present on two very different types of organisms. Yup, you've correctly guessed the ending to this story: The bit of the strep bacterial surface recognised by the antibody made during a strep infection is eggggzactly like a small protein present in heart muscle. So you get strep throat, you ignore the advice to go to the doctor, you let your immune system take care of the infection, your immune system makes antibodies against the strep bacteria and destroys the infection, the few leftover antibodies go wandering around looking for any lingering strep "targets", and bingo! You've got rheumatic fever, an autoimmune disease in which your immune system makes antibodies that bind to and destroy your heart cells. Happy day.

This, of course, is why doctors say that if you get a throat infection you should go to the doctor and get checked to see if it's strep throat. Not just because they want to charge you $80 for the office call plus $60 for the lab tests plus $50 for the antibiotics (apologies to all doctors out there--grin), but because it's a whole lot safer to let antibiotics clear out a strep infection that it is to let your immune system do it and risk rheumatic fever.

#223 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2004, 04:50 PM:

Graydon,

To me, evil is the Holocaust. It's the massacre in Rawanda. It's the men who were involved in the massacre in Rawanda and feel no remorse.

Bad is stuff that shouldn't happen, but does, because people make bad choices, or choices based on bad information and assumptions.

Yoon Ha Lee,

Thank you, I couldn't remember the name. And I don't read or watch scary things. They keep me awake, and when I do finally get to sleep, I bolt awake, certain that the something horrible is near.

Jennie,

Whether one act of evil would make me an evil person...well, I don't know. It would certainly make me a less good one...

But that's just it. How can one act of evil make someone an evil person? And what if you deeply regretted that action later? Isn't it our ability to feel regret and sorrow that redeems us and keeps us from becoming wholly evil? (I also apologise for the theological language to describe something that is not, to me at least, theological. But I can't find better words.)

#224 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2004, 05:06 PM:

Xopher wrote:
Julia, you may know that Asimov himself died of AIDS. He got it from a blood transfusion while in the hospital for a heart thing of some kind.

I knew, but had completely forgotten until you mentioned it.

I've never actually read Asimov's Guide to the Bible (although I've just checked, and yes it is in print and I'm going to order it:-), but there were snippets of Bible commentary in anthologies I *have* read. He did a fantastic job on explaining what the parable of the Good Samaritan meant. The other one I specifically remember is also pertinent to this discussion - the book of Job is basically a rebuttal of the notion that illness and misfortune is a just punishment from God for your sins. That one should be required reading for the "Christians" who say that they're not obliged to look after the poor and the hungry, because it's God's will that they're wealthy and well-fed, and others not.

I still miss that man's writing.

#225 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2004, 05:32 PM:

Michelle --

Genocidal massacres are not like earthquakes, they're not integral single events. The Holocaust, the Rawanda massacre, the extermination of the Tasmanians, the extermination of the Beothuk, and on and on, are all made up of many individual instances of stuff that shouldn't happen, but does, because people make bad choices, or choices based on bad information and assumptions.

There is no practical difference to the people affected by the events if they're the only people being hacked to death or if it's all their friends and neighbours, too; on the individual scale of human choices to act these are the same events.

Remorse, well, I don't believe remorse unless it's more expensive for the person claiming remorse than not being remorseful. This is a basic rule about establishing trust in communication between parties with different objectives -- it has to cost you to be believable.

This works for antelope that leap high, to communicate to the lion that they're fit and healthy and hard to catch, both because the leap slows down their running away from the lion and because if they can't leap with grace and intensity, they're obvious predation candidates.

It works in human societies, too; "remorse" for crippling people with mercury poisoning while keeping one's personal fortune, accumulated while in charge of the power plants with the high emissions, is obvious nonsense. It's only after the cost of restitution is undertaken that remorse becomes plausible.

Emotional expressions don't suffice.

#226 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2004, 07:13 PM:

Back to mercenaries: Today's WashPost (front page, above fold) has an article on how the contractors in Iraq are joining together in "what may effectively be the largest private army in the world," sharing rescues and intelligence because they aren't getting enough info and help from the military:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A59516-2004Apr7.html

#227 ::: Rachel Brown ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2004, 07:23 PM:

In first aid classes they teach you that when you're responding to an emergency and other people are around but not doing anything, it's not enough to say "Someone call the police" or whatever other thing you need someone else to do. The responsibility is spread too thin; no one will accept it.

You need to point to someone, look them in the eyes, and say "You! Call the police, and then come back and tell me when you're done." If they never come back, delegate someone else.

I wouldn't elevate the basic human impulse to not get involved to the level of evil-- I think evil requires a little more thought on the part of the perpetrator-- but it's certainly responsible for enabling a lot of evil deeds and bad situations.

Also, as Lydia said, one does tend to assume that someone else already called the cops, if for no other reason than that I've never been the first person to report anything, even when I called about thirty seconds after a car crashed outside my house.

A few days ago I heard a woman scream and I ran out to see what was going on. I looked around for her, couldn't find her, and finally someone told me that her car had been jacked and she and her husband had run off in pursuit.

It was hours later that I realized that I had just assumed someone else had already called the police. In retrospect, I should have, just to make sure.

#228 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2004, 07:54 PM:

It is, as Lydia Nickerson wisely notes, amazingly difficult to intervene in Somebody Else's Problem. Douglas Adams wasn't blowing smoke when he described the SEP forcefield. In the case of the dog experiment, getting involved would have meant not only recognizing the dog, but interrupting two strangers having a heated discussion and who had already, to all appearances, assumed responsibility for the dog's fate.

When I was in high school and the Genovese killing was cited in civics texts, it was still cast as an example of the kind of apathy bred of living in too-crowded conditions. Yet even so it was apparent that the bystanders were not apathetic— they heard Kitty's cries for help, over and over and were distressed by them. Had they been on the ground, in line of sight, perhaps, with the attack, they would have acted. But with only the witness of their ears, the thing that stopped them from acting was that they did not want to trouble the police with unnecessary reports.

It's a misdemeanor in most jurisdictions to make a frivolous report in the guise of reporting an emergency. A necessary law, but also one that inhibits.

Last summer I was out on Ross Lake in lowest BC with my partner in a canoe. We saw lightning strike a mountaintop, and smoke. We had to work out not only if we should report it (there was a drought, and fires starting up all over from similar causes) but to whom: Canadian or US? We decided it had most likely hit on the US side, so then the worry was, if we crossed the border to report it, would we catch hell for not having passports and other identifying papers with us (we were camping, after all). In the end, we drove over and found a US ranger, who was not terribly interested but who at least didn't arrest us.

And there was a fire, but in the annals of the fires of 2003, it was a piddly one.

It seems to me that the police and the parkies and paramedics and firefighters would very much like to get on with their jobs without quite so much elbow-jogging from the public. I can sympathise with that. At the same time, if they encourage, by focusing on how unnecessary reports take up valuable time, the general populace to mind their own business, our own business is all most of us will mind.

If you're walking down the street, and suddenly see one person attack another, your choices are really quite simple: walk away or intervene. This is an easy one; much easier than the gravely injured dog scenario. If you decide you should do something about the dog, what, exactly, do you do? Comfort it while it expires? Call 9-1-1? "Do you need police, fire or ambulance?" Dunno, it's a dog, I'd like a vet, but that's not on offer. Where's the nearest vet, and do you have a car? Or will you need to carry the dog in your arms, and would that hurt it further?

I have a cat because someone dumped her in the alley while I was looking out the window. Twenty years ago, I stopped a mugging by making a lot of noise and looking bigger than I am. Some months ago, I got the cops in on a domestic fight because the woman was not let to open the door (the knob was removed. what's up with that?) and show herself as unharmed.

In all of those, and others, I didn't know what to do, and am pretty sure I did the wrong thing in many. But when I was a kid and folks talked about the Kitty Genovese thing, what they most talked about was the consequences of doing nothing. No matter how good one's reasons for doing nothing, these are the results. Someone dies, alone, in pain.

#229 ::: Alice Keezer ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2004, 08:29 PM:

The phenomena most of you are speaking of has a psychological term - diffusion of responsibility. At least, that's what it was called a few years ago while I was studying undergraduate psychology. Basically, the more people witnessing something, the less likely an individual is to do something, because, well, won't someone else do it? It's also one of the more frustrating human traits.

Julie - Job as a story about how God has little to do with individual humans' suffering? I really must read that commentary, then. An agnostic friend of mine actually centers a lot of her ideas about God around that chapter. She says it shows God is flawed and capricious, so why should she trust someone like that? I'm simplifying the argument, of course, but I had nothing to say to that, except, "We didn't focus too much on that chapter in Sunday School."

#230 ::: J Greely ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2004, 08:42 PM:

About twelve years ago, I got woken up by what I thought was a domestic dispute in a nearby apartment. Turned out that the real domestic dispute had taken place a little while earlier, further down the hall.

The screaming and pounding that woke me up was a different neighbor, letting me know that the building was on fire. She personally took responsibility for making sure that everyone got out.

[and, yes, the couple responsible for the fire had a long history of domestic violence and visits from the local police]

-j

#231 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2004, 09:04 PM:

Michelle:

To me, evil is the Holocaust. It's the massacre in Rawanda. It's the men who were involved in the massacre in Rawanda and feel no remorse.

Bad is stuff that shouldn't happen, but does, because people make bad choices, or choices based on bad information and assumptions.

That does leave a huge amount of space in the middle....

I'm recalling (from far enough back that I can't swear to the details) an essay in which a professor complained that today's youth didn't understand real evil, and held up as an example one response to an assignment of an essay illustrating evil; what got up his nose was a description of a frat pledge getting his date so sodden-drunk that any of the brothers who felt like it could screw her without a fight. (More people would call it rape today than 20+ years ago; I don't know whether this writer would yet.) His theme was that only acts of immense effect could be evil, which I expect most of this blog's participants would disagree with.

Graydon has sugggested a problem with gray areas. Unfortunately, gray areas are where most of us live (as others have shown here); many of us are fortunate enough never to be live-tested (i.e., not what-would-you discussions) on whether and how to react. The sort of stark judgment that King shows in The Stand, where the people who follow the Walking Dude out of fear (of the chaos after the pandemic) are just as incinerated as the "obviously" evil ones, is a lot easier to write than to live.

I do wonder about the Genovese witnesses who thought to themselves that somebody else must have called the police; I thought sorting out repeats (and maybe setting priorities by them) was one of the dispatcher's jobs.

#232 ::: Varia ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2004, 09:45 PM:

Wow, my nerdiness has been trumped. well done, all.

re: diffusion of laziness--yeah, that's still what it's called. It's a bit more general than that even; in any situation that calls for decision, action, contribution--regardless of the situation--humans are, on the whole, less likely to act given how many people they *think* are also available to act. We did an experiment in my intro Statistics course; mailing out surveys to students across campus. We controlled by major, gender, year, subject of the survey, and how many people it said the survey was mailed to on the bottom (the actual number mailed to was identical for all treatments). We found that female humanities majors in their junior and senior years who thought that only 50 people (as opposed to 100, 500, and the entire school) got the survey responded with the highest frequencies. Female and humanities were possibly residual effects of the population of my school :).

This wasn't even a life-threatening situation. If people think that someone else'll do it, they don't. It takes conscious effort--even having done the experiment--for me to overcome this sometimes.

#233 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2004, 09:58 PM:

Alice said:
Julie - Job as a story about how God has little to do with individual humans' suffering? I really must read that commentary, then. An agnostic friend of mine actually centers a lot of her ideas about God around that chapter. She says it shows God is flawed and capricious, so why should she trust someone like that? I'm simplifying the argument, of course, but I had nothing to say to that, except, "We didn't focus too much on that chapter in Sunday School."

I have no idea which anthology it was in - I read it over twenty years ago. But it made quite an impact on me. :-) Job makes an awful lot of sense considered as a clue-by-four written by someone not impressed with the attitude that the poor and the sick have brought it on themselves with their sins.

#234 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2004, 01:40 AM:

Excuse the long, rambling post.

Twice while I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kenya -- once in Nairobi and once upcountry -- I sat inside my house listening to a woman scream a ways away, and doing nothing about it.

There is context that is important to understanding why I didn't act. Kenya is nothing like America. To begin with, I didn't have a phone. And even in Nairobi, the police don't come when you call. I weighed 110 lbs at the time, and there is a lot of accepted violence against women in Kenya. I knew none of my neighbors either time, and couldn't bring myself to go out into the dark alone (upcountry particularly, it's very very dark; you can't see your hand in front of your face at night, unless the moon is up, and even then it's still darker than in most American cities and towns. My nearest neighbor was a quarter mile away, and I had no car, bicycle, or anything but my own two feet), unarmed, to confront the attacker.

Still, looking back, it's hard for me to believe that I couldn't have done something. In the city, at least, I might have been able to rouse the neighbors. Though in Kenya it was legal and even considered appropriate at that time for a man to beat his wife, so my judgment then was that there was no point; it would have been exceedingly difficult to get anyone with the strength to intervene to also have the willingness. (This was about twenty-two years ago, so things might have changed since then.)

But there's a part of me that sees all that as merely excuse-making. That recognizes that there was an element of cowardice in my inaction. I should have tried something.

To just sit there? I'm ashamed.

I'm not saying I was a total washup. I did some good while there. Sex education for my female students; badly needed supplies for my school; sponsorship of one of my students for higher education. And I learned from my errors: now, I always call. I find ways to act. But none of that wipes away my wrongs. People came to harm, and I stood by and did nothing.

This discussion of evil really resonates with Patrick's Lent/ Passion link, for me. The fourth wall comes down, and we face the evil we commit, in big and small ways.

In short, I agree with those who say that there is evil in the world, and with Teresa that the only way to deal with it -- I'm paraphrasing, here -- is to be honest with ourselves about our own evil acts, and to learn to forgive ourselves and others.

I also think that there has to be a willingness to take a risk, in order to do good in the face of opposition. To go against our immediate, short-term interests, for the sake of some larger good.


-l.

#235 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2004, 01:48 AM:

If people think that someone else'll do it, they don't.

I think it's more if people think someone else owns the situation, rather than if someone else can be counted on to pick up slack that stops them from pursuing a problem further.

The former implies that there are people who have a better right to be involved and make decisions than one's own self; the latter that everyone has an equal and valid share in any decision-making. For good or ill, most of us look for an owner before we look for a consensus.

#236 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2004, 04:45 AM:

I just looked at ginmar's LJ.

I think I'm going to go have another brandy.

Michelle:

But that is precisely what I mean. You (and others) have volunteered to do something others did not, and it certainly wasn't for the compensation. Does that make you a hero? I don't know, but it certainly makes you deserving of a free drink if I'd run into you in a bar.

And I apologize if I'm making you uncomfortable. I'm not trying to place you on a pedestal, only to say that you're doing something admiralable. (If it makes you feel less uncomfortable, I believe that teachers deserve the same admiration, excluding the fact that most of them are not in danger of being killed.)

Your not making me uncomfortable, per se (in person people saying, "thanks," leaves me sort of non-plussed. What can one say? The visceral reaction is to say I didn't do it for them, but that is cruel {and I suspect my tone would add to the pain of that sort of rudeness, which they don't really deserve}. So I smile and say your welcome and feel a bit of a fraud).

What I do is less valuable than a teacher. I'm more like a sewage worker (read ginmar for more on why I chose that analogy). What I do matters, because I am fighting to keep things running. In that regard I work for the future, but I don't add anything. I merely, "hold the sky suspended." Other people do the work which makes the future better.

Thank you for caring. I suspect this is a place where the twain can't meet. The sewage worker probably feels thanks less desereved than they are too.

Teresa: Yeah. Let me tell you, the various questions about my sex life in the weeks prior to my symptomatic onset, were annoying. I'd not had the opportunity, much less the occasion, to do ANY of the things (including eating the local cuisine, which I'd probably have done) which could have "earned," a case of Reiter's, to say nothing of what my medical friends thought, until they saw the other (and, oddly, more common for soldiers), dysenteric cause.

But, given an apparent predispostion, I could've managed to get it from foolish sex, back when we still thought it was all curable with pennicilan.

And, "Gott helfe Mir," the events of the past few days, almost make me wish I was still there, and just behind that, want to go back.

One of my comrades was wounded in '70 (or '71), while a crew chief on a Huey, and about eight months after he got home saw his unit in a firefight on the news. Eight weeks later he was back in Viet-nam. I thought I understood that while I waited for the rest of my unit to come home.

I was wrong.

Terry


#237 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2004, 09:51 AM:

Graydon,

Genocidal massacres are not like earthquakes, they're not integral single events. The Holocaust, the Rawanda massacre...

I have to disagree that to a degree they are different. There is something that starts the horror. In Germany it was Hitler (do I lose the argument by my mention if Hitler if it was contextual?) from what I have read, in Rawanda it was a small group that was behind things. That is where the evil resides. Not in the individual acts, but in the materminding of the atrocity.

As far as remorse, I wasn't assuming that remorse had anything to do with anyone other than the perpetrator. Remorse is not, to my understanding, an external thing, but something internal--the guilt that eats away type of thing. Remorse is an internal process that is for the person who committed the deed, not for anyone else. As Lydia said further upthread, forgiveness is for the victim; so is remorse for the perpetrator.

In other words, re your example, as far as I am concerned those who were responsible for mercury contamination should go to jail. That is the response that society must take for such deeds because not only, as you said, do we not know whether the criminal truly feels remorse, but because, in theory at least, the criminal justice system must serve as a deterrent to future criminals. (In theory anyway.) If a crime is committed, then the person who committed that crime must pay pennance to society.

But none of that is, to me, related to evil.


CHip,

An act can be evil without making the person so is my point. That student was right. That was an act of evil. But that single act did not make all the participants evil. To my way of thinking, only someone who *repeatedly* did such acts, and never felt remorse for them would be an evil person. (And I apologise for missing your example. I avoid scary movies and books like the plague, and can't even watch gruesome scenes in non-scary movies. In fact, I "watch" a lot of movies from behind my hands, asking my husband to let me know when it's safe to look again.)

#238 ::: Joy Rothke ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2004, 10:04 AM:

You can't save the world. I believe that when it comes to "helping", the only thing one can do, is to "save" what's in front of you. I can't save every abused/abandoned dog in Costa Rica, but I did save one that was bleeding to death in front of my house.

Think globally and act locally is all most of us can do. But it's a lot.

#239 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2004, 10:35 AM:

Terry --

The big genocides do have cabals pushing them, yes, but the individual actions of those cabals are hard to tell from normal nasty office politics.

Usual means to unusual ends, is I think what I'm getting at; there isn't something fundamentally different about any of the individual component actions.

#240 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2004, 10:36 AM:

WHUPS!

Sorry -- previous should of course be addressed to Michelle, not Terry.

#241 ::: Jill Smith ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2004, 10:40 AM:

Michelle -

Personally, I would have to disagree that the evil only resides with the masterminds. It would be easier to handle both emotionally and tactically if evil were that localized, but in my opinion, evil also resides in the ones who do acts that are irreversible, insanely cruel and almost unbelievable in their horror.

I'm thinking of things like the Rwandans who cut off the hands of children. These were not the "masterminds," they were on-the-ground types, front-line thugs of the worst variety. I don't think I could ever believe that there was enough remorse in the world to redeem people who perform acts like this (and worse). All I can find in my heart is hope there's a hell and they suffer forever for committing these atrocities.

I am glad that there are methods for ending violence cycles: truth and reconciliation commissions, etc. I would not advocate visiting the same acts on those who committed them in an eye-for-an-eye kind of way either: that way lies madness and never-ending agony for everyone.

But I can and do believe that certain acts, masterminded or no, are so evil that they make the person doing the deed evil as well and beyond the possibility of redemption. Somewhere in me, there is a line that once crossed cannot be returned from.

Forgiveness is not mine to give in these situations: I have been a fortunate daughter of circumstance and have not had to live through this sort of horror. But if forgiveness were mine to give, I don't think I would have it in me to give it. The best I could do would be to turn my back and walk away.

#242 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2004, 01:32 PM:

With regard to triggering events for great evils --

What I see is a complex system in either stable or unstable equilibrium. If enough of a society's population contains a great deal of fear, shame, and rage, someone in a position of influence or leadership who taps into that is capable of doing great evil.

If a society has buffering factors (a reasonable amount of prosperity, a history of democratic institutions, systemic means of ensuring equity and the rule of law, for instance), the likelihood that a mastermind can set a society off on the path of evil is lessened.

The mastermind I see as completely culpable. He has the opportunity to inflict harm on a much wider scale than the people at the bottom of his power structure -- and so his share of the blame is vast -- but I can't exonerate those who willingly follow him to act out their own rage. They are only less culpable in degree, not in kind. They are the building blocks of his evil, and without them, he is nothing.

However, I do believe that there are people within the mastermind's power structure who do evil because they are terrified that they themselves will be victimized if they do not, and they become inured to it. These people I see as a good deal less culpable, to the degree they are threatened by not doing what it is the bad guys want them to do.

-l.

#243 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2004, 06:20 PM:

Lydia asks: What do you do about the guys that do evil who think they're doing good?

Well, violence, although it may prevent an immediate response, seems to have not done the trick in Iraq. The population there seems to be getting progressively more and more anti-American every day. We're not winning. We're loosing. Iraqis are starting to hate the US.

This fellow in Iraq writing as "The View from Baghdad" mentions that Arabic news sources seem to be pushing the population into believing some fairly horrific things about America. Adding in to that, Sadr (the fellow who's "running" things in Fallujah) is probably being funded by Iranians, and is in touch with Hamas.

I worry that no matter what happens, the US will end up at war with another Middle Eastern nation.

#244 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2004, 07:43 PM:

Graydon,

But I think there is a significant difference, because they are acting in a group. Someone up-thread mentioned it already--diffusion of responsibility. Individuals think that what they are doing can't be that evil, after all, everyone else is doing it.


Jill,

I'm thinking of things like the Rwandans who cut off the hands of children. These were not the "masterminds," they were on-the-ground types, front-line thugs of the worst variety. I don't think I could ever believe that there was enough remorse in the world to redeem people who perform acts like this (and worse). All I can find in my heart is hope there's a hell and they suffer forever for committing these atrocities.

The remorse is for them, not for anyone else. What happens when they die is between them and their God. But one would think that having to live every day, knowing what they did--well they have to live with that. I would think that the burdern of that would, at times, be overwhelming.

I can't say whether how I would react in that situation either, but I do know that for the small situations I have been in, I have had to let go of the hatred for it was eating me alive.


And now I apologise, but my copy of Sethra Lavode has arrived, just in time for the weekend, so I'll be avoiding my computer until I'm done.

#245 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2004, 10:40 PM:

Josh --

The US wasn't doing good, or at least not net good, in Iraq. This was obvious from the outset.

Michelle --

Diffusion of responsiblity is an illusion, not an actual ocurence. Everyone is always responsible for everything they do, that's a basic fact of life. (One may not be culpable, but one is responsible by virtue of having done the thing.)

#246 ::: Alice Keezer ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2004, 12:22 AM:

Psychology invented the term 'diffusion of responsibility' to put a name to an observed phenomenon. As a psychological phenomenon, it is real. However, it is by no means a viable justification - just because everyone thinks that way doesn't mean it's all right for them to think that way. Quite the opposite. Knowing everyone else thinks the person to his right will do it, no one will do it. So each of us SHOULD feel responsible for it. We SHOULD help the poor, injured dog, because you know everyone around you is figuring someone else will do it, so none of them end up helping it. Vicious cycles and all that.

And I know this one's been danced around a bit, and I can't remember the names of anyone involved, but what about that leadership study? Where the test subjects quizzed "test subjects," and gave them shocks whenever they got a question wrong, in increasing voltages, to the point where later shocks could have proven fatal. And yet, all of the subjects administered even the highest levels of shocks, just because a man in a white coat told them to. Even after being told the "subjects" had heart trouble, even after the "subjects" complained of chest pains.

The true test subjects being set up in this experiment certainly wouldn't be classified in their daily lives as evil. Most were upper middle class white collar working men. They described feeling bad about administering the shocks, but that the scientist told them to. Never mind that, had it been real, they'd have killed a person, all in the name of following orders.

My biggest problem with this discussion of people being evil is, like others have mentioned, I don't particularly believe in it. It may exist, I may even have witnessed it, but that's not for me to decide. I believe that there is only one being who can pass judgement, and it's not me.

So while people's actions speak volumes, it's not up to me to etch a label onto anyone, no matter how harmful their actions. Instead, I'm far more interested in seeing that they don't continue such actions.

#247 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2004, 04:23 AM:

Stanley Milgram, _The Perils of Obedience_ was the original paper found here: http://home.swbell.net/revscat/perilsOfObedience.html; a good review is here:
http://designweb.otago.ac.nz/grant/psyc/OBEDIANCE.HTML.

Book version is called OBEDIANCE TO AUTHORITY and is worth reading.

#248 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2004, 08:33 AM:

In re diffusion of responsibility: As I recall, in the video (film?) version of Milgram's experiment, the subjects kept asking whether the "scientist" would take responsibility for what was going on.

Oddly, those who had faith in authority were vindicated--in fact, they were protected from actually having injured anyone.

In re viewing people as evil: I see problems both ways. If you view some people as evil, this takes the brakes off your response to them--this is the practical reason for not wanting to do so. Note that part of getting into the war in Iraq was seeing Saddam as evil.

On the other hand, sometimes quite a robust response is the right reaction to bad behavior. It's possible that such responses can be motivated without bringing evil into it--more of a "this must be stopped by the reasonably least destructive means" than "my righteous anger means I don't have to care about the consequences of the punishment I feel like imposing".

Graydon, this may be unfair to your idea of what seeing some people as evil implies--what do you have in mind?

#249 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2004, 08:55 AM:

Nancy --

What does seeing someone as evil have to do with an evaluation of the least sufficient means necessary to accomplish some purpose?

"Evil" is a way of setting targetting priorities, not a way of setting a desireable response. (Unless one is using some sort of absolutist moral basis for making decisions, but any such system will produce political chaos, so no one sensible would even consider doing that.)

#250 ::: Jill Smith ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2004, 11:25 AM:

Michelle -
The remorse is for them, not for anyone else. What happens when they die is between them and their God. But one would think that having to live every day, knowing what they did--well they have to live with that. I would think that the burdern of that would, at times, be overwhelming.

Sorry if I wasn't clear. I did mean that I can't imagine the perpetrators feeling enough remorse for them to gain redemption.

This thread is a fascinating discussion on the semantics of evil - what does it mean to each person? How does it cause them to behave? Does it exist outside the religious world? As with most words that are semantically slippery, it's very hard to discuss, because it seems to be a very personal word: it means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, especially in a secular society.

Okay - I'm having a *very* hard time putting the following into words, so I beg pardon in advance for any fuzzy thinking or writing:

As a non-religious person, the concept that I call "evil" does not cause me to hate (as Michelle assumed). It causes disgust, and a sort of visceral loathing. On an animal level, it makes me want to flee. As this flight impulse gets processed through the more civilized portions of my brain, it makes me want to distance myself in other ways, and since forgiveness as I understand it is an acceptance of sorts, I cannot reconcile it with the innate desire to get as far away from this sort of person/act as possible.

So if someone did me or a loved one great wrong (and the line that divides "great" from "forgivable" is almost impossible to define before the fact, I'm afraid) and asked for my forgiveness, my response would not be hatred, violence or a desire for retribution; however, it would also also not be forgiveness. It would be, as I said in the post above, to turn and walk away: to distance myself and get on with my own healing in my own way. I would feel no desire to try to help the perpetrator in any way, and the strong words that I used in the prior post regarding their suffering is to let the "overwhelming" burden of what they have done run its own course, but without any input or alleviation from me.

I guess the short way of saying this is that I understand the mechanism that some cultures use to punish offenders: shunning them.

Caveat--All of the above is purely personal: the greater issue of how society should act in terms of protecting the populace from further horror, etc. is a whole 'nother ball game.

#251 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2004, 04:58 PM:

I saw a film of the Milgram experiments in my psychology-for-nonmajors course; even in 1972, it was easy for us to say (as Milgram describes his audience saying) that we would never do any such thing. I do wonder whether the results would be the same now -- many people like to think they are even less inclined than they used to be to trust authority -- but today's paper suggests they might; an Associated Press story reports that several fast-food restaurant managers in different parts of the country detained and strip-searched female employees on the "orders" of somebody who called up and pretended to be a policeman. I'm chauvinistic enough about my adopted home state to have been especially appalled by

In Massachusetts, the caller could be charged with rape for one of the Wendy's incidents, said Sgt. Victor Flaherty of the West Bridgewater police, explaining that the rape statute allows charges to be filed against someone for just directing such an act.

Flaherty said that the managers in the local cases will not face criminal charges because police "felt they were victims, too."

At least other jurisdictions charged the managers, although the story lists an acquittal (on a rape charge) and a conviction (only for "illegal restraint", which got a $500 fine). I wouldn't have thought this could happen here; my state reps will be hearing from me, if only a plaintive plea to do something about irresponsible police. (That you were conned into an illegal act might be a defense at trial but shouldn't let you off scot free; even an industry spokesman admitted to being surprised.) I'm also wondering whether the caller picked mostly far-suburb or small-town locations, but that's the sort of assumption that Milgram debunked.

Even worse, the story says this has been going on for five years, but only recently has word started getting around; I suppose the victims (not the conned managers, but the outright victims) were too embarassed to make a public fuss. So much for the theory that Americans will sue at the drop of a hat....

I'm also wondering whether the caller picked mostly far-suburb or small-town locations, which is the sort of assumption that Milgram debunked. But didn't \anyone/ say "You'll never believe the crank call I got" on the managers' grapevine? Was everyone conned, or do they get enough strange calls that this wasn't remarkable? This is small potatoes compared to the issues we've been discussing -- but it happened here and now, not far away or forty years ago.

(The story is at http://customwire.ap.org/dynamic/stories/S/STRIP_SEARCH_HOAX?SITE=APWEB&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT
; every time I previewed, the URL disappeared from the link.)

#252 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2004, 06:37 PM:

Let me try that link. Strip Search

#253 ::: Reimer Behrends ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2004, 07:48 PM:

Speaking of evil, authority, and mass psychology, I think it's worthwhile mentioning "The Wave" here (see also this page for an overview). It was not a controlled psychological experiment, which makes it even more chilling.

#254 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2004, 09:41 PM:

Reimer -- The story at the first link you gave reads like a story. Compelling as it is, it doesn't read like a straight-forward eye-witness account, even allowing for three years between the event and the writing about it.

And reading the second link, it looks like the author at some level is trying to describe his feelings at the expense of historical accuracy, and indeed at the expense of accurately describing how the students felt about it all.

#255 ::: Anne ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2004, 10:03 PM:

Holy cow. The Wave was real?! Of all the stupid timewasters we were forced to sit through in high school government class, that movie was the worst. I don't think any of us bought the claim that it was based on a true story because its preachiness was exactly as histrionic as every other After-School Special.

#256 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2004, 12:33 AM:

Speaking of evil - as anybody who spent time there when I did must, I knew lots of people with lots of Axis medals well earned - I met only one man who acknowledged that he had been a Nazi by conviction.

His simple explanation in more or less his own words:
"What did I know? I left school at 11 to be apprenticed as a baker. When we [he participated] overran Poland so quickly I began to think we were superior. When I paraded [as part of a conguering army] down the Champs Elysee I was sure of it. When Americans protected me with bayonets from French who wanted to kill me. I looked in the eyes of the French and began to think differently."

Though I don't know what evil is I'd say he was not an evil man when I knew him.

#257 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2004, 03:01 AM:

I knew people who were at Cubberley JH in that period (and specifically in the spring of '67). I may actually be able to check and see if any of them have any memory of "The Wave". The person I know I knew there is someone I haven't seen in too many years (long story about drugs, dropout and bad role models -- if Erik Johnson formerly living at 845 Talisman Drive in Palo Alto finds this, drop me an e-mail). But I'll check with other friends. Too fascinating....

#258 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2004, 07:02 AM:

Graydon, I see some overlap between setting priorities and least sufficient means: the more urgent a problem is, the more drastic methods are acceptable to solve it.

#259 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2004, 08:48 AM:

Nancy --

That line of argument suggests that people facing eviction are justified in resorting to extralegal means to make the rent.

Solutions to problems are time bound, but that doesn't relax the constraints on the scope of what counts as a good solution, I don't think.

There are exceptions way off on the extreme end, but even there I tend to see it as more of a partial loss than a good solution if, frex, two square blocks of suburb get blanketed with artillery fire rather than risking the spread of a pneumonic strain of Ebola.

#260 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2004, 09:13 AM:

The Milgram experiements are the absolute best example of what I was trying to say. Innocent people can be sucked into events and lose themselves.

Jill,

I did mean that I can't imagine the perpetrators feeling enough remorse for them to gain redemption.

I, on the other hand, have a hard time imagining them NOT feeling remorse for their actions. When I think of the remorse and regret that I feel for just the small stupid things I did years ago, I can only imagine how much harder it would be to escape the remorse and regret if I had taken far worse actions.

Perhaps I'm atypical, but from discussions I've had with others, I don't think I'm that unusual.

As far as forgiveness as acceptance, for me it's of the AA type of acceptance. Accepting that the past cannot be changed. I don't think it means that you have to become friends with the person you are forgiving, only that you are able to set aside the hatred and the desire for revenge and move on.

#261 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2004, 09:45 AM:

Graydon: two square blocks of suburb get blanketed with artillery fire rather than risking the spread of a pneumonic strain of Ebola

Without dealing with humanitarian/ethical issues; surely this is much more likely to aerosolize & spread the organism than eliminate it.

Fishermen used to chop pest starfish in half & dump them overboard. Then biologists learnt that they regenerated from (large enough) chopped bits - so it didn't kill them, and in some cases it helped them multiply.

#262 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2004, 09:53 AM:

"understanding is not the same as condoning or allowing" (from some way back, several people made the point)
I remember from high school study of Macbeth, our teacher discussing this with us. We can perhaps understand what is driving Macbeth to 'wading in blood' and sympathize somewhat with his growing despair, and even hope against hope that somewhere he'll turn back, but we do not forgive his deeds or feel his final end is unjust. Not a new story.

#263 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2004, 11:07 AM:

Michelle --

Use napalm then, as it please you
or other shape of small atrocity
in some matter of urgency sufficient
to address with blood extensive.

Success remains a dubious name
for such constructions made of haste
and lack of better choices
reverberating across tomorrow.

#264 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2004, 01:59 PM:

When my son was a baby, he liked to crawl around the floor while clutching one toy in each hand.

My father, who'd been a top flight instructor for the Army Air Corps in WWII, commented that he hoped there would not be a global conflict in which his grandson (my son) would be crawling across some hellish desert under a barbed wire fence, clutching one machine gun in each hand.

#265 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 12:25 AM:

CHip said:
I'm also wondering whether the caller picked mostly far-suburb or small-town locations, which is the sort of assumption that Milgram debunked. But didn't \anyone/ say "You'll never believe the crank call I got" on the managers' grapevine? Was everyone conned, or do they get enough strange calls that this wasn't remarkable?

I'm wondering whether word *has* got around, but people go ahead and do it anyway. Especially if the word has got around that the police regard the manager as a victim.

#266 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2004, 10:28 PM:

"Candice Reed's short and moving remembrance of one of the contractors ambushed and killed in Fallujah:" He started talking about himself to set me at ease.

"I left Florida when I was 16 to join the Navy," he said proudly as we stood in the sand. "And I was a SEAL by the time I was 19. Stayed in for 12 years. Once a SEAL, always a SEAL."

"I never saw any big action, but I'm still looking," he said. As we jogged down the beach, he told me he spent his days finding ways to capitalize on his SEAL past, coming up with a Navy boot camp for wimps, for instance. He wanted to make a fortune.

By our second workout session, every part of his personal life had come out. His father died when he was 7, which led to some family difficulties. He recently had a few business deals that had gone south, and I could tell he was bitter about that. Scott had a chip on his shoulder and it was hard to miss.

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