May 28, 2006 - May 21, 2006
Friday, August 12, 2005
Mothers and Sons
reading dozens of blogs and comments on the Cindy Sheehan story, I have
come away with the sense that people are trying to perform some kind of
emotional computation to arrive at an equation that satisfies them. My
post yesterday tried to suggest that there is no such thing as an
absolute worst category of loss. Then, one of the commenters here actually
attempted to refute me via a statistical argument:
I disagree entirely with your meme
that, in effect, seeks to minmize
the emotional toll losing her son has taken on this woman. Losing a
child is not like losing a parent, a sibling, a spouse, or anyone else.
We all figure on and expect to outlive our parents, and we all know our
whole lives that there's at least a 50-50 chance that one of our
siblings may predecease us, or us them. We are prewired to deal with
But, conversely, we all expect our children to outlive us.
Biologically, that's the whole deal. We have kids for future
generations, not to die before we do. So having a child die is a hurt
that one never gets over. People who go through it say it's a wound
that never heals. You learn to live with it. But it's always there.
Odds. Probabilities. Wiring. Biology. So the guy who's just lost his wife has to get out
of the way of the guy who just lost a child. I see. I'll observe that
there are many kinds of experiences we never get over. Not all of them
are easy to highlight with a bright red circle. But this is not a topic
in which arguing will do any good. So I thought it might be more
helpful to post the two great short stories below. Both are brief. Both
La Mere Sauvage
by Guy de Maupassant
Fifteen years had passed since I was at Virelogne. I returned there in
the autumn to shoot with my friend Serval, who had at last rebuilt his
chateau, which the Prussians had destroyed.
I loved that district. It is one of those delightful spots which have a
sensuous charm for the eyes. You love it with a physical love. We, whom
the country enchants, keep tender memories of certain springs, certain
woods, certain pools, certain hills seen very often which have stirred
us like joyful events. Sometimes our thoughts turn back to a corner in
a forest, or the end of a bank, or an orchard filled with flowers, seen
but a single time on some bright day, yet remaining in our hearts like
the image of certain women met in the street on a spring morning in
their light, gauzy dresses, leaving in soul and body an unsatisfied
desire which is not to be forgotten, a feeling that you have just
passed by happiness.
At Virelogne I loved the whole countryside, dotted with little woods
and crossed by brooks which sparkled in the sun and looked like veins
carrying blood to the earth. You fished in them for crawfish, trout and
eels. Divine happiness! You could bathe in places and you often found
snipe among the high grass which grew along the borders of these small
I was stepping along light as a goat, watching my two dogs running
ahead of me, Serval, a hundred metres to my right, was beating a field
of lucerne. I turned round by the thicket which forms the boundary of
the wood of Sandres and I saw a cottage in ruins.
Suddenly I remembered it as I had seen it the last time, in 1869, neat,
covered with vines, with chickens before the door. What is sadder than
a dead house, with its skeleton standing bare and sinister?
I also recalled that inside its doors, after a very tiring day, the
good woman had given me a glass of wine to drink and that Serval had
told me the history of its people. The father, an old poacher, had been
killed by the gendarmes. The son, whom I had once seen, was a tall, dry
fellow who also passed for a fierce slayer of game. People called them
Was that a name or a nickname?
I called to Serval. He came up with his long strides like a crane.
I asked him:
"What's become of those people?"
This was his story:
When war was declared the son Sauvage, who was then thirty-three years
old, enlisted, leaving his mother alone in the house. People did not
pity the old woman very much because she had money; they knew it.
She remained entirely alone in that isolated dwelling, so far from the
village, on the edge of the wood. She was not afraid, however, being of
the same strain as the men folk--a hardy old woman, tall and thin, who
seldom laughed and with whom one never jested. The women of the fields
laugh but little in any case, that is men's business. But they
themselves have sad and narrowed hearts, leading a melancholy, gloomy
life. The peasants imbibe a little noisy merriment at the tavern, but
their helpmates always have grave, stern countenances. The muscles of
their faces have never learned the motions of laughter.
Mother Sauvage continued her ordinary existence in her cottage, which
was soon covered by the snows. She came to the village once a week to
get bread and a little meat. Then she returned to her house. As there
was talk of wolves, she went out with a gun upon her shoulder--her
son's gun, rusty and with the butt worn by the rubbing of the hand--and
she was a strange sight, the tall "Sauvage," a little bent, going with
slow strides over the snow, the muzzle of the piece extending beyond
the black headdress, which confined her head and imprisoned her white
hair, which no one had ever seen.
One day a Prussian force arrived. It was billeted upon the inhabitants,
according to the property and resources of each. Four were allotted to
the old woman, who was known to be rich.
They were four great fellows with fair complexion, blond beards and
blue eyes, who had not grown thin in spite of the fatigue which they
had endured already and who also, though in a conquered country, had
remained kind and gentle. Alone with this aged woman, they showed
themselves full of consideration, sparing her, as much as they could,
all expense and fatigue. They could be seen, all four of them, making
their toilet at the well in their shirt-sleeves in the gray dawn,
splashing with great swishes of water their pink-white northern skin,
while La Mere Sauvage went and came, preparing their soup. They would
be seen cleaning the kitchen, rubbing the tiles, splitting wood,
peeling potatoes, doing up all the housework like four good sons around
But the old woman thought always of her own son, so tall and thin, with
his hooked nose and his brown eyes and his heavy mustache which made a
roll of black hair upon his lip. She asked every day of each of the
soldiers who were installed beside her hearth: "Do you know where the
French marching regiment, No. 23, was sent? My boy is in it."
They invariably answered, "No, we don't know, don't know a thing at
all." And, understanding her pain and her uneasiness--they who had
mothers, too, there at home--they rendered her a thousand little
services. She loved them well, moreover, her four enemies, since the
peasantry have no patriotic hatred; that belongs to the upper class
alone. The humble, those who pay the most because they are poor and
because every new burden crushes them down; those who are killed in
masses, who make the true cannon's prey because they are so many;
those, in fine, who suffer most cruelly the atrocious miseries of war
because they are the feeblest and offer least resistance--they hardly
understand at all those bellicose ardors, that excitable sense of honor
or those pretended political combinations which in six months exhaust
two nations, the conqueror with the conquered.
They said in the district, in speaking of the Germans of La Mere
"There are four who have found a soft place."
Now, one morning, when the old woman was alone in the house, she
observed, far off on the plain, a man coming toward her dwelling. Soon
she recognized him; it was the postman to distribute the letters. He
gave her a folded paper and she drew out of her case the spectacles
which she used for sewing. Then she read:
MADAME SAUVAGE: This letter is to tell you sad news. Your boy Victor
was killed yesterday by a shell which almost cut him in two. I was near
by, as we stood next each other in the company, and he told me about
you and asked me to let you know on the same day if anything happened
I took his watch, which was in his pocket, to bring it back to you when
the war is done.
Soldier of the 2d class, March. Reg. No. 23.
The letter was dated three weeks back.
She did not cry at all. She remained motionless, so overcome and
stupefied that she did not even suffer as yet. She thought: "There's
Victor killed now." Then little by little the tears came to her eyes
and the sorrow filled her heart. Her thoughts came, one by one,
dreadful, torturing. She would never kiss him again, her child, her big
boy, never again! The gendarmes had killed the father, the Prussians
had killed the son. He had been cut in two by a cannon-ball. She seemed
to see the thing, the horrible thing: the head falling, the eyes open,
while he chewed the corner of his big mustache as he always did in
moments of anger.
What had they done with his body afterward? If they had only let her
have her boy back as they had brought back her husband--with the bullet
in the middle of the forehead!
But she heard a noise of voices. It was the Prussians returning from
the village. She hid her letter very quickly in her pocket, and she
received them quietly, with her ordinary face, having had time to wipe
They were laughing, all four, delighted, for they brought with them a
fine rabbit--stolen, doubtless--and they made signs to the old woman
that there was to be something good to east.
She set herself to work at once to prepare breakfast, but when it came
to killing the rabbit, her heart failed her. And yet it was not the
first. One of the soldiers struck it down with a blow of his fist
behind the ears.
The beast once dead, she skinned the red body, but the sight of the
blood which she was touching, and which covered her hands, and which
she felt cooling and coagulating, made her tremble from head to foot,
and she kept seeing her big boy cut in two, bloody, like this still
She sat down at table with the Prussians, but she could not eat, not
even a mouthful. They devoured the rabbit without bothering themselves
about her. She looked at them sideways, without speaking, her face so
impassive that they perceived nothing.
All of a sudden she said: "I don't even know your names, and here's a
whole month that we've been together." They understood, not without
difficulty, what she wanted, and told their names.
That was not sufficient; she had them written for her on a paper, with
the addresses of their families, and, resting her spectacles on her
great nose, she contemplated that strange handwriting, then folded the
sheet and put it in her pocket, on top of the letter which told her of
the death of her son.
When the meal was ended she said to the men:
"I am going to work for you."
And she began to carry up hay into the loft where they slept.
They were astonished at her taking all this trouble; she explained to
them that thus they would not be so cold; and they helped her. They
heaped the stacks of hay as high as the straw roof, and in that manner
they made a sort of great chamber with four walls of fodder, warm and
perfumed, where they should sleep splendidly.
At dinner one of them was worried to see that La Mere Sauvage still ate
nothing. She told him that she had pains in her stomach. Then she
kindled a good fire to warm herself, and the four Germans ascended to
their lodging-place by the ladder which served them every night for
As soon as they closed the trapdoor the old woman removed the ladder,
then opened the outside door noiselessly and went back to look for more
bundles of straw, with which she filled her kitchen. She went barefoot
in the snow, so softly that no sound was heard. From time to time she
listened to the sonorous and unequal snoring of the four soldiers who
were fast asleep.
When she judged her preparations to be sufficient, she threw one of the
bundles into the fireplace, and when it was alight she scattered it
over all the others. Then she went outside again and looked.
In a few seconds the whole interior of the cottage was illumined with a
brilliant light and became a frightful brasier, a gigantic fiery
furnace, whose glare streamed out of the narrow window and threw a
glittering beam upon the snow.
Then a great cry issued from the top of the house; it was a clamor of
men shouting heartrending calls of anguish and of terror. Finally the
trapdoor having given way, a whirlwind of fire shot up into the loft,
pierced the straw roof, rose to the sky like the immense flame of a
torch, and all the cottage flared.
Nothing more was heard therein but the crackling of the fire, the
cracking of the walls, the falling of the rafters. Suddenly the roof
fell in and the burning carcass of the dwelling hurled a great plume of
sparks into the air, amid a cloud of smoke.
The country, all white, lit up by the fire, shone like a cloth of
silver tinted with red.
A bell, far off, began to toll.
The old "Sauvage" stood before her ruined dwelling, armed with her gun,
her son's gun, for fear one of those men might escape.
When she saw that it was ended, she threw her weapon into the brasier.
A loud report followed.
People were coming, the peasants, the Prussians.
They found the woman seated on the trunk of a tree, calm and satisfied.
A German officer, but speaking French like a son of France, demanded:
"Where are your soldiers?"
She reached her bony arm toward the red heap of fire which was almost
out and answered with a strong voice:
They crowded round her. The Prussian asked:
"How did it take fire?"
"It was I who set it on fire."
They did not believe her, they thought that the sudden disaster had
made her crazy. While all pressed round and listened, she told the
story from beginning to end, from the arrival of the letter to the last
shriek of the men who were burned with her house, and never omitted a
When she had finished, she drew two pieces of paper from her pocket,
and, in order to distinguish them by the last gleams of the fire, she
again adjusted her spectacles. Then she said, showing one:
"That, that is the death of Victor." Showing the other, she added,
indicating the red ruins with a bend of the head: "Here are their
names, so that you can write home." She quietly held a sheet of paper
out to the officer, who held her by the shoulders, and she continued:
"You must write how it happened, and you must say to their mothers that
it was I who did that, Victoire Simon, la Sauvage! Do not forget."
The officer shouted some orders in German. They seized her, they threw
her against the walls of her house, still hot. Then twelve men drew
quickly up before her, at twenty paces. She did not move. She had
understood; she waited.
An order rang out, followed instantly by a long report. A belated shot
went off by itself, after the others.
The old woman did not fall. She sank as though they had cut off her
The Prussian officer approached. She was almost cut in two, and in her
withered hand she held her letter bathed with blood.
My friend Serval added:
"It was by way of reprisal that the Germans destroyed the chateau of
the district, which belonged to me."
I thought of the mothers of those four fine fellows burned in that
house and of the horrible heroism of that other mother shot against the
And I picked up a little stone, still blackened by the flames.
To understand is not to approve. Or to excuse.
A Horseman in the Sky
by Ambrose Bierce
One sunny afternoon in the autumn of the year 1861, a soldier lay in a
clump of laurel by the side of a road in Western Virginia. He lay at
full length, upon his stomach, his feet resting upon the toes, his head
upon the left forearm. His extended right hand loosely grasped his
rifle. But for the somewhat methodical disposition of his limbs and a
slight rhythmic movement of the cartridge-box at the back of his belt,
he might have been thought to be dead. He was asleep at his post of
duty. But if detected he would be dead shortly afterward, that being
the just and legal penalty of his crime.
The clump of laurel in which the criminal lay was in the angle of a
road which, after ascending, southward, a steep acclivity to that
point, turned sharply to the west, running along the summit for perhaps
one hundred yards. There it turned southward again and went zigzagging
downward through the forest. At the salient of that second angle was a
large flat rock, jutting out from the ridge to the northward,
overlooking the deep valley from which the road ascended. The rock
capped a high cliff; a stone dropped from its outer edge would have
fallen sheer downward one thousand feet to the tops of the pines. The
angle where the soldier lay was on another spur of the same cliff. Had
he been awake he would have commanded a view, not only of the short arm
of the road and the jutting rock but of the entire profile of the cliff
below it. It might well have made him giddy to look.
The country was wooded everywhere except at the bottom of the valley to
the northward, where there was a small natural meadow, through which
flowed a stream scarcely visible from the valley's rim. This open
ground looked hardly larger than an ordinary door-yard, but was really
several acres in extent. Its green was more vivid than that of the
enclosing forest. Away beyond it rose a line of giant cliffs similar to
those upon which we are supposed to stand in our survey of the savage
scene, and through which the road had somehow made its climb to the
summit. The configuration of the valley, indeed, was such that from out
point of observation it seemed entirely shut in, and one could not but
have wondered how the road which found a way out of it had found a way
into it, and whence came and whither went the waters of the stream that
parted the meadow two thousand feet below.
No country is so wild and difficult but men will make it a theatre of
war; concealed in the forest at the bottom of that military rat-trap,
in which half a hundred men in possession of the exits might have
starved an army to submission, lay five regiments of Federal infantry.
They had marched all the previous day and night and were resting. At
nightfall they would take to the road again, climb to the place where
their unfaithful sentinel now slept, and, descending the other slope of
the ridge, fall upon a camp of the enemy at about midnight. Their hope
was to surprise it, for the road led to the rear of it. In case of
failure their position would be perilous in the extreme; and fail they
surely would should accident or vigilance apprise the enemy of the
The sleeping sentinel in the clump of laurel was a young Virginian
named Carter Druse. He was the son of wealthy parents, an only child,
and had known such ease and cultivation and high living as wealth and
taste were able to command in the mountain country of Western Virginia.
His home was but a few miles from where he now lay. One morning he had
risen from the breakfast table and said, quietly and gravely: "Father,
a Union regiment has arrived at Grafton. I am going to join it."
The father lifted his leonine head, looked at the son a moment in
silence, and replied: "Go, Carter, and, whatever may occur, do what you
conceive to be your duty. Virginia, to which you are a traitor, must
get on without you. Should we both live to the end of the war, we will
speak further of the matter. Your mother, as the physician has informed
you, is in a most critical condition; at the best she cannot be with us
longer than a few weeks, but that time is precious. It would be better
not to disturb her."
So Carter Druse, bowing reverently to his father, who returned the
salute with a stately courtesy which masked a breaking heart, left the
home of his childhood to go soldiering. By conscience and courage, by
deeds of devotion and daring, he soon commended himself to his fellows
and his officers; and it was to these qualities and to some knowledge
of the country that he owed his selection for his present perilous duty
at the extreme outpost. Nevertheless, fatigue had been stronger than
resolution, and he had fallen asleep. What good or bad angel came in a
dream to rouse him from his state of crime who shall say? Without a
movement, without a sound, in the profound silence and the languor of
the late afternoon, some invisible messenger of fate touched with
unsealing finger the eyes of his consciousness--whispered into the ear
of his spirit the mysterious awakening word which no human lips have
ever spoken, no human memory ever has recalled. He quietly raised his
forehead from his arm and looked between the masking stems of the
laurels, instinctively closing his right hand about the stock of his
His first feeling was a keen artistic delight. On a colossal pedestal,
the cliff, motionless at the extreme edge of the capping rock and
sharply outlined against the sky, was an equestrian statue of
impressive dignity. The figure of the man sat the figure of the horse,
straight and soldierly, but with the repose of a Grecian god carved in
the marble which limits the suggestion of activity. The grey costume
harmonised with its aerial background; the metal of accoutrement and
caparison was softened and subdued by the shadow; the animal's skin had
no points of high light. A carbine, strikingly foreshortened, lay
across the pommel of the saddle, kept in place by the right hand
grasping it at the "grip"; the left hand, holding the bridle rein, was
invisible. In silhouette against the sky, the profile of the horse was
cut with the sharpness of a cameo; it looked across the heights of air
to the confronting cliffs beyond. The face of the rider, turned
slightly to the left, showed only an outline of temple and beard; he
was looking downward to the bottom of the valley. Magnified by its lift
against the sky and by the soldier's testifying sense of the
formidableness of a near enemy, the group appeared of heroic, almost
For an instant Druse had a strange, half-defined feeling that he had
slept to the end of the war and was looking upon a noble work of art
reared upon that commanding eminence to commemorate the deeds of an
heroic past of which he had been an inglorious part. The feeling was
dispelled by a slight movement of the group; the horse, without moving
its feet, had drawn its body slightly backward from the verge; the man
remained immobile as before. Broad awake and keenly alive to the
significance of the situation, Druse now brought the butt of his rifle
against his cheek by cautiously pushing the barrel forward through the
bushes, cocked the piece, and, glancing through the sights, covered a
vital spot of the horseman's breast. A touch upon the trigger and all
would have been well with Carter Druse. At that instant the horseman
turned his head and looked in the direction of his concealed
foeman--seemed to look into his very face, into his eyes, into his
brave compassionate heart.
Is it, then, so terrible to kill an enemy in war--an enemy who has
surprised a secret vital to the safety of oneself and comrades--an
enemy more formidable for his knowledge than all his army for its
numbers? Carter Druse grew deathly pale; he shook in every limb, turned
faint, and saw the statuesque group before him as black figures,
rising, falling, moving unsteadily in arcs of circles in a fiery sky.
His hand fell away from his weapon, his head slowly dropped until his
face rested on the leaves in which he lay. This courageous gentleman
and hardy soldier was near swooning from intensity of emotion.
It was not for long; in another moment his face was raised from earth,
his hands resumed their places on the rifle, his forefinger sought the
trigger; mind, heart, and eyes were clear, conscience and reason sound.
He could not hope to capture that enemy; to alarm him would but send
him dashing to his camp with his fatal news. The duty of the soldier
was plain: the man must be shot dead from ambush--without warning,
without a moment's spiritual preparation, with never so much as an
unspoken prayer, he must be sent to his account. But no--there is a
hope; he may have discovered nothing--perhaps he is but admiring the
sublimity of the landscape. If permitted, he may turn and ride
carelessly away in the direction whence he came. Surely it will be
possible to judge at the instant of his withdrawing whether he knows.
It may well be that his fixity of attention--Druse turned his head and
looked below, through the deeps of air downward, as from the surface to
the bottom of a translucent sea. He saw creeping across the green
meadow a sinuous line of figures of men and horses--some foolish
commander was permitting the soldiers of his escort to water their
beasts in the open, in plain view from a hundred summits!
Druse withdrew his eyes from the valley and fixed them again upon the
group of man and horse in the sky, and again it was through the sights
of his rifle. But this time his aim was at the horse. In his memory, as
if they were a divine mandate, rang the words of his father at their
parting: "Whatever may occur, do what you conceive to be your duty." He
was calm now. His teeth were firmly but not rigidly closed; his nerves
were as tranquil as a sleeping babe's--not a tremor affected any muscle
of his body; his breathing, until suspended in the act of taking aim,
was regular and slow. Duty had conquered; the spirit had said to the
body: "Peace, be still." He fired.
At that moment an officer of the Federal force, who, in a spirit of
adventure or in quest of knowledge, had left the hidden bivouac in the
valley, and, with aimless feet, had made his way to the lower edge of a
small open space near the foot of the cliff, was considering what he
had to gain by pushing his exploration farther. At a distance of a
quarter-mile before him, but apparently at a stone's-throw, rose from
its fringe of pines the gigantic face of rock, towering to so great a
height above him that it made him giddy to look up to where its edge
cut a sharp, rugged line against the sky. At some distance away to his
right it presented a clean, vertical profile against a background of
blue sky to a point half of the way down, and of distant hills hardly
less blue thence to the tops of the trees at its base. Lifting his eyes
to the dizzy altitude of its summit, the officer saw an astonishing
sight--a man on horseback riding down into the valley through the air!
Straight upright sat the rider, in military fashion, with a firm seat
in the saddle, a strong clutch upon the rein to hold his charger from
too impetuous a plunge. From his bare head his long hair streamed
upward, waving like a plume. His right hand was concealed in the cloud
of the horse's lifted mane. The animal's body was as level as if every
hoof-stroke encountered the resistant earth. Its motions were those of
a wild gallop, but even as the officer looked they ceased, with all the
legs thrown sharply forward as in the act of alighting from a leap. But
this was a flight!
Filled with amazement and terror by this apparition of a horseman in
the sky--half believing himself the chosen scribe of some new
Apocalypse, the officer was overcome by the intensity of his emotions;
his legs failed him and he fell. Almost at the same instant he heard a
crashing sound in the trees--a sound that died without an echo, and all
The officer rose to his feet, trembling. The familiar sensation of an
abraded shin recalled his dazed faculties. Pulling himself together, he
ran rapidly obliquely away from the cliff to a point a half-mile from
its foot; thereabout he expected to find his man; and thereabout he
naturally failed. In the fleeting instant of his vision his imagination
had been so wrought upon by the apparent grace and ease and intention
of the marvellous performance that it did not occur to him that the
line of march of aerial cavalry is directed downward, and that he could
find the objects of his search at the very foot of the cliff. A
half-hour later he returned to camp.
This officer was a wise man; he knew better than to tell an incredible
truth. He said nothing of what he had seen. But when the commander
asked him if in his scout he had learned anything of advantage to the
expedition, he answered:
"Yes, sir; there is no road leading down into this valley from the
The commander, knowing better, smiled.
After firing his shot Private Carter Druse reloaded his rifle and
resumed his watch. Ten minutes had hardly passed when a Federal
sergeant crept cautiously to him on hands and knees. Druse neither
turned his head nor looked at him, but lay without motion or sign of
"Did you fire?" the sergeant whispered.
"A horse. It was standing on yonder rock--pretty far out. You see it is
no longer there. It went over the cliff."
The man's face was white, but he showed no other sign of emotion.
Having answered, he turned away his face and said no more. The sergeant
did not understand.
"See here, Druse," he said, after a moment's silence, "it's no use
making a mystery. I order you to report. Was there anybody on the
The sergeant rose to his feet and walked away. "Good God!" he said.
Vengeance, meet duty. Sort out for yourselves who carries the heavier
Thursday, August 11, 2005
Stepping in it.
WHEN MOMS CRY
Since nobody else will say it, I will. This woman is having an ugly
nervous breakdown, and if her family have any sense of dignity or
propriety they will go to Texas and drag her home.
I understand the circumspection that has accompanied most commentary on
the matter of Cindy Sheehan. She's a mother who (gulp) lost her son.
Thus, even those who are deeply offended by her rhetoric express it
indirectly. They blame the leftist hate machine which has obviously
worked hard to exploit her, or they speak on behalf of the military
mindset which is not flattered by the attempt to reduce their
brave sacrifices to victimhood. You can see
this kind of tact well executed by Michelle Malkin
, and others all over the internet. Ms. Malkin and Bill
O'Reilly discussed the matter on television and couldn't begin a single
exchange without reiterating their profound sympathy for Ms. Sheehan. I
appreciate their dilemma, but there are too many important points at
issue here to let it go.
Yes, it is a terrible thing to lose a child. But I'm getting tired of
hearing the rote assertion that it's the worst thing that can ever
happen to you, you never get over it, and no one who hasn't had the
experience can ever understand. It's as if this category of event,
"lose a child," represents some kind of emotional tree-line which, once
passed, automatically elevates a person into a new state of existence
from which ordinary mortals are excluded. It's the Skull & Bones of
parenthood, an elite membership which confers extraordinary privilege
and exemption from all merely human judgment or criticism.
Pardon me, but that's a crock. On several levels. Anyone who has lived
more than a few decades comes to understand that life is largely about
loss. The longer we survive, the more we lose: grandparents, parents,
friends, lovers, wives, husbands, family, pets, and any number of dreams,
possessions, and ideals, including -- for many -- faith, hope, and
love. The whole idea that there is a Publisher's Clearinghouse Jackpot of Loss is
absurd and demeaning to the human spirit.
A relatively recent addition to our psychological jargon is the term
emotional intelligence. Surely it's emotional idiocy to declare all
instances of the generic event "lose a child" equal. The perception of
"worst thing in the world" is easy to appreciate in the case of parents
who lose a small child to abduction, murder, disease, or accident.
There is the awareness that there was never any choice by the child,
that there can be no compensation of any kind for the loss, and that in
addition to the terrible void they must live with, the parents may also
feel guilt for having failed to protect their helpless, innocent
offspring from the twists of fate before they had a chance to live life.
It may seem mean-spirited to suggest, but I will, that even in these
kinds of tragedies not every parent is equal. No matter how many times
we dutifully repeat the mantra, many of us must suspect that there are
parents who do get over their loss and damned quickly at that. We can
also surmise that others learn not to look back with the same degree of
agonizing intensity. Most hurts hurt less over time unless we choose to
make them into a cross or an excuse. That's not bad. It's the source of
human strength. We go on. We live through loss. Otherwise, no culture
would survive earthquakes, floods, famines, epidemics, and wars.
Except for losing a child, of course. How many parents have we taught
to cling tightly to their grief lest they feel less of it and enter a
new purgatory of guilt for not being exquisitely sensitive enough to
remain emotionally ruined for all their days?
For whatever reason, we have exalted grief in this nation to a
supernatural force that must be honored and appeased rather than
overcome. As recently as the Victorian era, infant and child mortality
was so pervasive that few large families did not experience it. Before
the age of modern medicine, sudden, unexpected death was an everyday
companion of the living. They learned to control grief with defined
periods of mourning in prescribed clothes and then to proceed with
life. And they learned not to lose their faith and humility in the
Now we teach even our youngest children that grief is a devouring god
to whom they must genuflect whenever the bad thing happens. Every
incident at school -- fire, death, insect infestation -- is followed by
an invasion of professional grief counselors who carefully implant the
idea that what has happened will resonate through the rest of their
lives like some gong of doom.
We have taught ourselves to view the grief-stricken as secular saints
imbued with the mystery of new age stigmata, and we watch in awe as
they bleed continuously from their invisible wounds. In their actions
we consecrate what we cannot comprehend, and we collectively offer up
to them the key to a kind of free-fire zone, in which they can act out
all they want while we do their penance for them in hushed, admiring
Has it helped? No. Are the eternally bleeding really saints? No. The
evidence indicates that the death of a child tends to destroy marriages
these days, promote substance abuse, vandalize careers, and perpetuate
depression. Appeasing and worshipping grief strengthens the power of
grief and causes people to lapse into self-absorbed obsessions.
But we must not blow the whistle on Cindy Sheehan? She has contrived to
turn her son's death and the whole Iraq War into her own personal soap
opera. This was all something done to her. By the President of the
United States, no less. Let us take all our cameras to Texas and watch
her bleed from her hands and feet. Nonsense. It's time for some plain
Her plight is a very far cry from that of a mother who views the
mutilated body of her six-year old daughter at the morgue. Cindy
Sheehan's son was a man -- more a full-grown man than his mother is a
full-grown woman -- and the sacrifice that was made was his, not hers,
willingly given in return for compensations that made sense to him at
the time he decided to join the military.
She does defame his life and his memory by behaving like a spoiled
adolescent on the national stage, by lying, and by actively seeking to
humiliate her (and our) Commander-in-Chief. We do her son no honor by
pretending that her behavior is anything other than what it is -- a
disgraceful exhibition of self-annihilating selfishness which reveals
the sickness of the conviction that every loss is total, inconsolable,
and license to revert to the infantile fantasy of a universe with
ourselves at the center.
It's also sad and ironic that we entangle her tantrum with the concept
of motherhood. Her accomplices in assaulting the national war effort
are, lest we forget, of the political stripe which views motherhood as
a game of craps, with every player free to plunk her fertilized egg on
the "Pass" or "Don't Pass" line, depending on her whims of the moment.
They believe that she is to feel NO grief for the innocent life she
takes herself while retaining the infinite right to make the whole
world accountable if the life she chooses to perpetuate should somehow
perish before it reaches the age of mandatory commitment to nursing homes and Medicaid-financed euthanasia. How is this
preferable to a short heroic life given freely as a gift for others, in
the name of home and liberty?
This is perversion. And it's time somebody said it out loud. Cindy Sheehan, your son died a hero. Go home now and find some meaning in it that isn't just about you and the politics of those who hate their country.
Now that we know who has the moral authority, it's time
to put the chickenhawks and other offenders in place for good. Here's
In a seemingly unrelated story, Radley Balko reports on
by M.A.D.D. that all parents of teenagers should
be aware of.
When they learned that their son
planned to celebrate the prom with a booze bash at a beach 40 miles
away, William and Patricia Anderson instead threw a supervised party
for him and his friends at their home. They served alcohol, but William
Anderson stationed himself at the party's entrance and collected keys
from every teen who showed. No one who came to the party could leave
until the next morning.
For this the Andersons found themselves arrested and charged with
supplying alcohol to minors. The case ignited a fiery debate that
eventually spilled onto the front page of the Wall Street Journal. The
local chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving oddly decided to make an
example of William Anderson, a man who probably did more to keep drunk
teens off the road that night than most Providence-area parents.
Read the whole thing. We'd comment, but we already said something about
this way back in 1999
(NSFW). And to close
the loop, make sure you click on mom's tear
underway. Thanks to La Malkin. Visitors, feel free to shop around for
more outrages and offenses
I pass this
along without proof of its authenticity, but perhaps others can confirm
or disprove that for themselves. Let us know in the Comments section.
A quick look at Michelle Malkin's latest updates
discloses that she is once again receiving the kind of high-minded
progressive communications that presumably demark the moral superiority
referenced by those who are posting their negative comments here at
InstaPunk. To save you all a lot of time, don't expect to receive any
response to your haughty putdowns if you aren't also prepared to
acknowledge that the "right-wing" invective you read here is a far cry
from what has become standard (here
for the enlightened, tolerant, and peace-loving left wing.
for the August 12 InstaPunk entry on the same subject.
Welcome, all you cat fanciers from Obsidian
. Here's a little something
we clawed up just for you.
Wednesday, August 10, 2005
Sometimes it's fun to take a look at what's happened since we covered a
topic at InstaPunk. Here are a few updates to recent entries.
We liked the cool infrared
photography of the landing.
. Yeah, we criticized the shuttle's aged technology, but we
were as delighted as everyone else that they made it home safely.
Needless to say, but definitely worth saying.
We dared to disagree
when Hugh Hewitt not only condemned Tom Tancredo's saber rattling about
Islam but decreed that no one from the "center-right blogosphere" was
allowed to defend him. Since then, it's been interesting to observe
that so-called moderate muslims have been subjected to more heat and
pressure than ever before to declare their true allegiance. No, it's
not all Tancredo's doing. The U.K.'s recent discovery that terrorists
want to kill people has been a big contributor. But the fatuous pose
that all muslims are peaceful unless they're actually flying airliners
up your ass has begun to slip. We could cite many examples, but a
couple will do for now. The first is an editorial
in Investor's Business Daily
about the supposedly moderate Council on American Islamic Relations.
Here's an excerpt:
We wonder who and what CAIR, which
calls itself a civil-rights defender, is really protecting when it
fights targeted profiling at train stations and airports.
CAIR may talk a good patriotic and moderate game. But it has a secret
agenda to Islamize America.
Before 9-11, its founder and chairman, Omar Ahmad, also a Palestinian
American, told a Muslim audience: "Islam isn't in America to be equal
to any other faith, but to become dominant. The Quran should be the
highest authority in America, and Islam the only accepted religion on
Before coming to Washington, Hooper himself is on record stating: "I
wouldn't want to create the impression that I wouldn't like the
government of the United States to be Islamic"...
It turns out that an anti-Israeli foundation run by the crown prince of
Dubai owns the very deed to CAIR's headquarters located almost in the
shadow of the U.S. Capitol. The foundation has held telethons to
support families of Palestinian suicide bombers.
The whole piece is a must-read. The second item is from a column by
Andrew McCarthy about an unusual confrontation on MSNBC between Monica
Crowley and a muslim "moderate" named Azzan Tamimi. McCarthy provides
plenty of background about Tamimi, including this:
Tamimi, in particular, is a Palestinian
extremist who not only has publicly advocated suicide bombing ("For us
Moslems martyrdom is not the end of things but the beginning of the
most wonderful of things") but has also declared his personal
willingness to commit a suicide bombing (“If I have the opportunity I
would do it.... If I can go to Palestine and sacrifice myself I would
do it. Why not?”).
He is, moreover, a rabid detractor of the United States who has
publicly praised the “courageous” Taliban, observed that "[i]n the Arab
and Muslim countries, everyone jumped for joy” upon seeing the Twin
Towers felled by al Qaeda suicide hijackers, and labeled the U.S. the
“imperialist master” of Iraq...
What role has he played in this country since 9/11?
You’ll be shocked to learn that all
this has resulted in … Tamimi’s being packaged by fawning academic,
media, and even U.S. foreign-service circles as a respectable
intellectual spokesman for Islamic causes. As the invaluable Martin
Kramer has explained, Tamimi’s air of dignified scholarship is indebted
to Professor John Esposito, director of Georgetown University's Center
for Muslim-Christian Understanding, who has sat on Tamimi’s board at
the Institute of Islamic Political Thought in London, and coedited a
book with him. Naturally, Tamimi has also been feted by the State
Department — invited in 2002 by the U.S. ambassador to the Court of St.
James to the Iftar dinner State now hosts at the conclusion of Ramadan.
With such notches on their belts, the
Tamimis of the world all too often skip with impunity from soapbox to
soapbox, spewing their bile while their oh-so-deferential moderators
nod in studied pensiveness at the seeming profundity of it all. But not
so Ms. Crowley.
Read the rest of the story here
It may be that Mr. Hewitt will have to have a word or two with Ms.
Crowley to set her straight. Unless it's possible that even the Pope
can learn from a good example, as McCarthy suggests people should:
The reason Tamimi and others like him
get away with calling themselves “moderates” while defending mass
murderers is that, too often, they are allowed to breeze through their
talking points without being pushed. This time he got pushed, and we
all got to see how “moderate” he really is. Authentic moderates will
never succeed unless the poseurs are exposed. That means we’ll need a
lot more Monica Crowleys willing to grill them. You can’t win a war
about ideology without engaging the ideology.
Not long ago, we wrote a little essay about Canada that was considered
too harsh in some quarters. For example, we offered the following
But for the miraculous wisdom and
courage of our founding fathers, the United States might be just like
Canada, with a population of 30 million enervated Europeans, an
incompetent socialist government, a social and cultural history lacking
in brilliance or innovation, and a role in world politics as irascible
pawn of the United Kingdom. Indeed, we might be several such nations, 7
to 10 million strong (or weak), quibbling and sniping and sneering at
one another from sea to shining sea.
Overstated, some people said. But yesterday, we saw an item in Drudge
that seemed to undermine their view:
CALGARY (CP) - More than one-third of
western Canadians surveyed this summer thought it was time to consider
separation from Canada, a poll suggests.
In the survey, 35.6 per cent of respondents from Manitoba,
Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia agreed with the statement:
Western Canadians should begin to explore the idea of forming their own
As Professor Reynolds
We also committed the mortal secular sin of suggesting that the
volatile subject of Evolution might be less so if we dared to consider
that it might not be necessary to choose between the Truth of the
Creationists and the Truth of the Darwinian Biologists. We suggested
that advances in other sciences might enable us to discover a process
of change among species that wasn't entirely accidental without
requiring us to cite Genesis as our authority. We even suggested that
there might be a kind of intelligence operating at the species level
capable of reprogramming genes when the situation called for it. These
ideas did not come from the Bible. They came from systems theory,
chaos, complexity, quantum mechanics, string theory, Wolfram's ideas
about programming in nature, and (to be candid) various Jungian
We knew we'd be assaulted for proposing such an idea, and we were.
Various blogs and commenters accused us of being creationists (of
course), antiscience, stupid, ignorant, ill-read, or pitifully naive,
and some disallowed us the right to comment at all.
Since then, as if via synchronicity, there has been a public flap about
the President's statement that he thought it worthwhile for public
school students to understand the nature of the debate between the
Darwinian biologists and the Intelligent Design (ID) advocates.
Wearying as it is to repeat it again, we'll state, yet again, before
proceeding that we don't subscribe to the ID position. But we have been
entertained by the nature of the debate that's occurred about the
It was amusing to see the Virginia biology professor who showed up to
discuss the matter with Bill O'Reilly. He took the position that ID
should never be mentioned in the same classroom with Evolution because
ID wasn't a theory. It's quite true that ID is not a theory, but that
shouldn't have ended the discussion It didn't occur to O'Reilly,
of course, to suggest that it's still okay to pose objections to a
theory without having a complete alternative to replace it with. If
there are fatal objections to a theory, it's wrong -- even if you don't
have any idea what to propose instead. What was more interesting than
the verbiage, though, was the professor's body language. No sound was
necessary to comprehend his position and his message. He couldn't even
look at the camera. He heaved and twisted in his chair as if he was
powerless to contain his utter contempt at being asked any questions at
all. In fact, he looked as though he were about to cry. Thank God,
O'Reilly was too ignorant to make the interview really hard on him.
Predictably, the press weighed in quickly against the President. It
would be easy to cite a dozen articles, but we'll make do with one,
from the Boston Globe. The title really says it all -- God
vs. Darwin: no contest
. Here's a sufficient excerpt:
Now, it's quite true that mainstream
scientists vehemently reject the idea of allowing evolution and
''intelligent design" to compete freely in the nation's public school
classrooms. The reason is that ''intelligent design" is not science. A
scientific hypothesis must be testable -- meaning that, if it is wrong,
there should be a way to disprove it. (That's why assertions that there
is no conclusive proof of evolution are basically pointless.)
''Intelligent design" boils down to the claim sarcastically summed up
by aerospace engineer and science consultant Rand Simberg on his blog,
Transterrestrial Musings: ''I'm not smart enough to figure out how this
structure could evolve, therefore there must have been a designer."
Simberg, a political conservative, concludes that this argument
''doesn't belong in a science classroom, except as an example of what's
The notion that the teaching of evolution is some kind of left-wing
plot is, to put it plainly, absurd. In addition to the people mentioned
above, opponents of teaching ''intelligent design" as an alternative
scientific viewpoint include John H. Marburger III, director of the
White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy
Remember the "testable" criterion. It's really the linchpin of the
defense against any kind of challenge to Darwinian theory: even if it
isn't right, it's right because it's more testable in its parts. Now
turn to a surprising dissent written by an actual academic, Peter Wood,
Provost of King's College in New York City. His article is titled Thumbs
Up: President Bush is right about evolution and design
He begins with this bit of heresy:
A good place to start is to distinguish
between the theory of evolution (without the capital E) and Evolution
as a grand and, apart from a few rough edges, supposedly comprehensive
account of speciation and genetic change. Small-e evolution is an
intellectually robust theory that gives coherent order to a huge range
of disparate facts. In contrast, capital E Evolution, is a bit
illusory. Like a lot of scientific theories, on close inspection it is
really a stitched-together fabric of hypotheses. Some of them are
central and well-attested, while others are little more than guesswork.
Some phenomena such as natural selection and genetic drift are on solid
ground; but others like late Stephen Jay Gould's theory of "punctuated
equilibrium," in which evolution proceeds in widely spaced bursts, are
pretty speculative. Evolution (with the capital E) is today far from
being a single comprehensive concept.
Glossing over the difference between "Big E" Evolution and "little e"
evolution is perhaps the greatest achievement of contemporary biology.
That's how they can keep referring to their own theories as fact while
asserting that they are not doing so. (The nonscientific discipline of
sentence diagramming can prove unexpectedly useful in exposing their
inside-out logic.) Wood then cites some problems with neo-Darwinian
descriptions of process we won't go into here, except to note that
biologists scream like schoolgirls at any suggestion that they haven't
completely refuted them. Next, he moves to the question of modern man,
which is where the biologists actually hurl themselves to the floor and
hold their breath if anyone challenges their fragile speculations:
And above all, evolutionary theory hits
a wall in trying to explain what happened with the emergence of fully
modern humans about 150,000 years ago.
Again, he fills in details you can read for yourselves before making
his major points. Note that we are also compressing the argument quoted
below. It's not our intent to mischaracterize him, merely to hit the
highlights. Please do read the entire piece.
We can give a name to what happened:
with the biological emergence of modern humans came both the capacity
for and the realization of "culture." Maybe geneticists will, at some
point, isolate a gene or genes that make complex, symbol-based culture
But to speak of the beginning of culture and the emergence of our
species by way of some genetic mutations from anatomically similar
ancestors does little to explain the profound mystery of the event. Of
course, if we are convinced in advance that genetic mutation is a
random, material event, the results of which are sorted out by the
struggle for survival, the immense mystery dissolves into happenstance
blips in strands of East African DNA, c. 150,000-200,000 years ago.
But at that point, we have moved beyond scientific evolution to
doctrinaire Evolution. The randomness of the mutation cannot be
demonstrated or proved; it is simply an article of belief, no different
in character from a belief that an intelligent Creator nudged the
adenine, thymine, cytosine, and guanine bases of that DNA strand into
the right order. Or that he took the clay of archaic homo sapiens and
molded Adam in His own image.
At bottom the dispute between Evolutionists and Creationists always
comes down to the question, "What is random?"...
Whether the universe is truly random or whether apparent randomness is
order-not-yet-apprehended seems pretty clearly a philosophical or
But I also don't think science is well served by elevating to the
status of unquestionable truth the image of a material universe
governed solely by random and otherwise inexplicable events. That's a
worldview, not a scientific conclusion, and it has no better claim to
our intellectual assent than views that postulate an underlying
purpose, meaning, or destination for humanity.
Actually, a line of argument that depends on seeing events as random is
in a rather worse position than one that postulates, even if it can't
prove, underlying order. In science, what's
random today is frequently modeled tomorrow. To base a theory of
life on ever-more-emphatic repetition of the idea that, "No, it's
random," is a bit like stamping your foot and saying, "It's so because
I say it's so." [emphasis added].
Can you hear them shouting and denouncing and fulminating? Loud, ain't
it? Now here's a little something extra to make their heads explode.
Think about the discussion of "randomness." Think about the criterion
of "testability." Then read the whole story that is selectively
This Black Box See Into the Future?
DEEP in the basement of a dusty university library in Edinburgh lies a
small black box, roughly the size of two cigarette packets side by
side, that churns out random numbers in an endless stream.
At first glance it is an unremarkable piece of equipment. Encased in
metal, it contains at its heart a microchip no more complex than the
ones found in modern pocket calculators.
But, according to a growing band of top scientists, this box has quite
extraordinary powers. It is, they claim, the 'eye' of a machine that
appears capable of peering into the future and predicting major world
The machine apparently sensed the September 11 attacks on the World
Trade Centre four hours before they happened - but in the fevered mood
of conspiracy theories of the time, the claims were swiftly knocked
back by sceptics. But last December, it also appeared to forewarn of
the Asian tsunami just before the deep sea earthquake that precipitated
the epic tragedy.
Now, even the doubters are acknowledging that here is a small box with
apparently inexplicable powers.
'It's Earth-shattering stuff,' says Dr Roger Nelson, emeritus
researcher at Princeton University in the United States, who is heading
the research project behind the 'black box' phenomenon.
'We're very early on in the process of trying to figure out what's
going on here. At the moment we're stabbing in the dark.' Dr Nelson's
investigations, called the Global Consciousness Project, were
originally hosted by Princeton University and are centred on one of the
most extraordinary experiments of all time. Its aim is to detect
whether all of humanity shares a single subconscious mind that we can
all tap into without realising.
And machines like the Edinburgh black box have thrown up a tantalising
possibility: that scientists may have unwittingly discovered a way of
predicting the future.
Although many would consider the project's aims to be little more than
fools' gold, it has still attracted a roster of 75 respected scientists
from 41 different nations. Researchers from Princeton - where Einstein
spent much of his career - work alongside scientists from universities
in Britain, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Germany. The project is
also the most rigorous and longest-running investigation ever into the
potential powers of the paranormal.
Go ahead. Read it all
It's just a possibility. But it's a damned tantalizing one.