My VT Thoughts

I was going to write this yesterday, on the day of mourning, but days of clear weather had exhausted me. So I post my scattered through today. I’m tired. I’m at high altitude. I’m emotionally drained. So forgive me if I get a little preachy or sappy.

The greatest tragedy of the Virginia Tech killing is the lives cut short. The loss of any of us is a tragedy. But that tragedy is diminished when it is, for example, a man of 76 years who lived a full life, survived the Nazis and the Communists and gave his life saving others. While we mourn the loss, it is not nearly as tragic as the loss of, for example a young triple-major residential assistant with a bright future, a big smile and a generous heart. Or any of the other promising bright young people who were just trying to better their lives that morning.

We have no idea what was lost. We will never know which of these kids might have gone on to become a great doctor or write a great novel or heal the sick or invent something that bettered the lives of millions. We will never know. Their potential has been closed to us forever. I am reminded of the great wars and the millions of young men who lost their lives — and the great novels and symphonies and inventions and ideas that died on those battlefields with them. That is the true tragedy – the loss of potential.

But there is hope. A hope that what people will do is live the lives these young people should have. To work harder, live better, love deeper and laugh louder so that, rather than the world being diminished by their loss, the world is grown by it. That their legacy is the efforts of millions to make up for them, to live for them.

There were 27 students cut down before their lives had even begun. And five faculty who still had many years to give. If everyone in the nation were to spend just a few more minutes living and loving and working, the loss we as a species and a nation have suffered would be more than made up for.

The killings can be Cho’s legacy. He’s welcome to it. But let the legacy of the victims be our lives and our future.


Sign me up with the people who think NBC was right to show clip of the Cho video. As repulsive as it may be, as hurtful for the families, there is value for the nation in seeing that this guy was insane, mean and evil; that his actions had no meaning, Right-wing ranting about Ismail Ax aside, beyond just a crazy evil person doing something crazy and evil things to a bunch of good people.

That’s twice I’ve linked to Atrios in one week, by the way. I’m getting scared.


I’m re-watching HBO’s outstanding Band of Brothers. I just read that Ronald Spiers died at the age of 87.

It’s wonderful to know that so many of the men who served in the War managed to live such full and complete lives. I bet very few of them thought they’d live to see the 21st century. And it’s a pity we’re now starting to lose them in droves. Within the next 20 years, they will all be gone.

At least with these veterans, we have a good record of what they did. I watched Gettysburg the other night and watched a documentary attached that showed video footage of some of the last veterans of that battle. Almost all of what we know of Gettysburg comes from the senior officers who survived (such as Chamberlain). With World War II, we’ve got a far better accounting of what the war was like for the standard soldier.


Neal Boortz and Mark Steyn are going on about how we’ve created a culture of passivity that prevented the students from acting.

In the first place, people have often been passive in these situations. I have read numerous Holocaust stories of people standing in line waiting to be machine-gunned or marching passively into gas chambers. The Killing Fields, the Gulags, Jonestown, even slavery often relied on masses of people complying with the orders of a minority who they could have overwhelmed.

If you read up on spree killers, you’ll find that the students’ behaviour was, tragically, typical.

Even in battle, passivity is common. Inexperienced soldiers often don’t fire their guns or flee against a foe they outnumber and outgun. Military engagements rarely result in a huge casualty rate — 10% is big.

Second, a lot of this is keyed to the story of students standing in line to be shot. But the reconstruction of that event (warning, that story is very very brutal) indicates this is a myth. The students mainly went for “duck and cover”, the natural instinct. They did not have the time, as the students in the other classrooms, or say the people on United 93, did to think out a rational course of action. Hindsight is 20/20. You know how you’ll often think of something you should have said to someone in an argument? This is the same phenomenon, with lots of people thinking about what they should have done in the heat of a terrifying and unexpected moment.

Finally, the bystander effect is very powerful here. When you’re behind a desk hoping not to get shot, it’s easier to think someone else will do something.

Random Thoughts

I’m with the Republicans on this one. Government doesn’t “negotiate” prices. Government sets prices. And when it does, we all suffer. Do we really want the profitability of a drug company to hinge on how well they play the political game in Washington? Do we really want what drugs we get determined by a government hack? The libertarians warned you that when we expanded Medicare, we’d lose our freedom. But no one listened.

Recently, AARP, who support this bill, has had ads with kids castigating our political figures for not planning for the future. This commerical enrages me. There is no organization in America that has done more to fuck the future of everyone under 60 than AARP. They have supported massive expansions in social spending and zero reform. Their entire philosophy is “to hell with the future, I’m getting mine!” A more accurate commercial would cut to an AARP rep smashing open the kids’ piggy banks.

Just in case you ever forget the enemy we face, the Iranian Supreme Court has decreed that it’s OK to murder an engaged couple if they walk together. This isn’t religion. This is barbarism wearing a religious mask.

Stephen Dubner reminds us how amazingly safe airline travel is. This will, nevertheless, not be on my mind the next time I board a flight and am convinced I’m going to die. Remind me never to fly in Russia.

Color me unsurprised that the things replacing the evil trans fats may not be any healthier. Remember, we got into the whole trans fat business because the Health Nazis demanded we stop using saturated fats. When are going to start ignoring these twerps?


I agree with what Ross says about the sociological study that says having more than one kid doesn’t make you any happier. As a father-to-be, I’m not having kids because I think it will make me happy. I hope it will. But I’m principally having kids because I think it’s an end in itself, that I have a duty to the future to create and form a good person to advance the human comedy one more generation. To not have kids because it might affect my life is the ultimate selfishness, no? To sacrifice the future to sustain my present?

We all do things that we must do, whether we like them or not. I work a job because I need to provide for myself and my family and I hope to contribute something with my time on this planet. That I enjoy my work is a nice side effect. I also do a lot of things I don’t like because I must. That includes mowing the lawn, cleaning the house, scooping the cat litter, etc., etc. I have always hated the Utilitarian philosophy.

I hope that having kids will bring me happiness. And I think it will. But that’s not the reason I’m doing it.

Via the Agitator, I found this philosophical phart that reminds me of the arguments I used to have with my college philosophy teacher.

That bringing a child into existence is “one of the greatest goods there is” may be a truism in Ross’s moral scheme, it somehow figures into none of the major moral philosophies in the history of moral philosophy, as far as I can tell.

Apparently, he hasn’t read the Bible. I guess religion doesn’t count as “philosophy”. But the Bible is, in fact, the source of our oldest major moral philosophy and the one that still has the most relevance in America. And it’s first commandment is to be fruitful and multiply. Try telling the Catholic Church that no major moral philosophy regards having kids as a supreme moral good.

But even putting the Bible aside . . . as I argued back in undergraduate school, if the major moral philosophies don’t see reproduction as one of the greatest goods there is, then the major moral philosophies are garbage. Any philosophy that does not have the survival and continuation of the human race as an important principle is automatically defunct. An extinct race, by definition, does not behave morally.

Ross is saying that there exists a person who is harmed by the fact that it has not been made to exist. It refutes itself.

No it doesn’t. Or maybe he’s missed the whole abortion debate.

And the spectre of “a mostly unhappy world swimming in billions upon billion of children” is the reducto ad absurdum. No one outside of the Vatican is suggesting that people should have as many babies as possible. But we are suggesting the replacing ourselves might be a good idea — and a supreme moral good.

I especially love the psycho-analysis at the end where he concludes that Ross must want a big family. Well, two can play at that game. I conclude this is written by one of the defensive non-breeders who gets extra miffed when someone suggets that being fruitful and multiplying might be important. And that the next generation is the only real legacy we will ever have.

Update: Looking back over my comments, I should clarify that I don’t think the inverse is true — that not having kids is a supreme moral evil. There are people who can’t have kids and that’s not their fault. There are people who shouldn’t. And there are people who find other ways of contributing to humanity (Michelangelo, for example). What I’m saying is that having chidlren is “a” supreme moral good, not “the” supreme moral good.


Since TBS has cancelled Braves’ broadcasts after thirty uninterrupted years of wonderful sports entertainment — not that I’m bitter — I had to bite the bullet and buy MLB’s internet TV, which allows me to watch just about any game on my computer.

So far, I like it. It’s not idealized for Macintosh, but it works and it gives me something to watch in the early hours of my observing run. TBS has been shrinking its coverage for a while and MLB TV is a wonderful improvement over little dots on a screen (although MLB’s gameday is outstanding).

That having been said, I’ve now encountered the biggest complaint — blackouts. The entire nation has been divided into fiefdoms and assigned to certain teams. And those teams are blacked out in those regions in order to protect cable TV coverage — whether said coverage exists or not. So tonight, while Mark Buehrle was tossing a no-hitter, I was unable to watch because I’m in a Texas Rangers blackout zone.

This is insane. In the first place, there is no accounting for the fact that I simply can’t watch a cable broadcast because there is no cable on the mountain and I’m in a fucking dome. Second, this represents the common way of entertainment ventures these days — protect copyright by pissing all over your fans. Whether its music downloading, movie pirating or baseball, they have decided to slap the fans in the face repeatedly.

Allowing me to watch a Texas Rangers game on the internet in no way hurts the cable company. But denying me the opportunity to watch baseball history makes me want to cancel the whole thing.


Sue got approved for her green card today. As much as I bash federal agencies, I must say that the people at the INS and DHS are very nice and helpful. They are hideously bound by regulations. For example, Sue need a medical waiver because our stupid politiciticans have decided that immigrants need a useless flu shot. We didn’t want her to get one because of the baby. And we had the medical waiver but the doctor had not checked the right box. We were presented with a scenario in which if we got the fixed waiver to them by 4 pm, she would get her green card. If she didn’t, the application would go back on the shelf and it might be months before it was considered again. The INS agents were strictly limited in this. They could not hold a file open for a a few days. They were only allowed to pull down X number of files at random for consideration each day. It was ridiculous.

Fortunately, the agent in charge stayed a bit late to get our FAX and approved her.

VT Vics

One the things I’ve been captivated are the growing profiles of the VT victims being posted on the news web sites. On the one hand, it’s heart-wrenching to read about these promising lives cut short. One the other hand, everyone should read it, so that these people are not just a statistic. These were real lives cut short in a moment by a monster. Real people who had plans and hopes for the future. Now gone.

Of course, the most inspiring story is that of Liviu Librescu, a Holocaust survivor (Yom Ha-Shoah was the day before, ironically) who apparently gave his life to save those of his students. I never cease to be awed by the simple courage that dwells in so many of us. I only hope that if, God forbid, I should be in such a situation, I will be as brave.


I’m not sure what to make of today’s Supreme Court decision on partial birth abortion. While I oppose the procedure I get nervous when the government starts deciding what methods may be used. In this case, these feti will just be aborted by a different and, as I understand it, more dangerous procedure. Government doesn’t know medicine. If they want to ban late-term abortions, that’s one thing. I might even support that on the state level. But having a bunch of lawyers decide approprate medical methodology is asking for trouble.

I also think this puts the lie to the standard Republican talking point of “We just want to the decision on abortion to go back to the states!” This is a very anti-federalist law and tells me that, if they had the votes, they would ban abortion on the Congressional level and screw federalism. After all, that’s what they did on medical marijuana.

I do think having these things debated politically is better than having the Supreme Court impose a unilateral ruling on the nation. We’ll get better debate on the subject. And as I said in this space, if Roe vs. Wade were ever struck down, it would be he best thing that ever happened to the Democrats.

Expect Planned Parenthood and NARAL to shit bricks. But the court is still at least 5-4 pro-Roe, as Kennedy is usually an abortion supporter. And we’ll see how Alito and Roberts rule on more restrictive laws. I suspect that, as with everything, the GOP will make sure that they can get abortions when they need them. It’s the rest of us that are in danger of hellfire.