"Choosers of the Slain"

A poem, by a young lady who has reason to know.

Choosers of the Slain

Wagner got it wrong, you know.
There are no winged horses,
no gleaming breast plates
no long blonde braids flying
over a pristine battlefield.

The Valkyrie doesn’t gleam
Sticky carbon residue
from years of burnt jet fuel
paints her metal raven dark.
Red dyed hydraulic fluid
pumps through her veins
instead of oxygen enriched blood.
Though, truth be told, her cabin has been washed in both.

This dual bladed, semi-rigid, underslung raven
slows. Her circling wings beat the air staccato.
She and her crew of wolves,
have followed the concussive silences,
the stench of fear and sulfur,
To where men lie in ragged pieces
or crumpled around themselves
their body fluids leaking onto the ground.

Even during the battle’s rage
through the smoke
and the bullets pinging on her fuselage
the raven and her wolves choose:
slain, unslain.

The Valkyrie lifts the ones she’s chosen
and carries them to her hall of healing,
guarded by her wolves from further harm
until next time.

How can you tell blood from hydraulic fluid?
Blood dries tacky.
Hydraulic fluid makes you slip.

© 2007 by Kacey Grannis
Her mother sent that along, and at my request obtained permission to reprint it here.

One of the more interesting books I've read recently is John Grigsby's Beowulf & Grendel, which takes a comparative mythology and archelogical approach to reconstructing ancient Indo-European religions. Or, I should almost say, "'the' ancient Indo-European religion," as it appears to have had strong resemblances in every place practiced -- much in the same way that philologists can speak of a single Indo-European language, which lies behind Greek and English and many other tongues.

The Valkyries have strong parallels in the Keres of ancient Greece, and the Morrigan of the Irish stories, and many others. Grigsby devoted a chapter to the subject of how these various goddesses were seen across Europe, and how they had both bright and dark sides. Like a human woman, who can be the sweetest thing in the world, and the source of the greatest pain in life, these goddesses were loving and murderous, even to the same man.

It makes for interesting reading, should any of you be curious about the topic.

Some Posts

Some Posts at BlackFive:

Sorry I haven't been around much this week. I did make a few posts at BlackFive, which may interest some of you:

An interview with Brigadier Gen. Holmes, DDO CENTCOM. We spoke primarily about information operations and operations other than war in CENTCOM.

Another, with Brigadier General Phillips and Iraqi chief of police Khalaf. We talked about the improvements of the Iraqi police and justice system, especially the new police academy.

A comparison of Bill Roggio and Doc Russia, who are saying the same thing each in his own way.

I'd pay cash money to see something like this on the US Senate floor.

MONTGOMERY, AL -- State Sen. Charles Bishop hit Sen. Lowell Barron on the floor of the Senate this afternoon.


A Heroine:

Would you like to meet a lady who did more good than most people can imagine? Meet Irena Sendler.

The attention tires Irena Sendler sometimes. She never sought credit for smuggling 2,500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto anyway. Not for risking execution to save other people's children, or holding out under torture by the Nazis, or enduring decades as a nonperson under the communist regime that followed.
Thank you, ma'am.

Grim was right

"Tempting Fate"

That's the title of a new post by Cassandra. For some reason she rejected my suggested title, "Grim was right all along," but it's a fine post all the same. :)


My Rifle, My Pony, and Me:

Well, really just me and a pony who isn't even mine -- his name is Leo.

Leo's a gelding, not yet fully grown -- we expect him to put on a couple more inches in height, and more length also. He was cut late, so he's not entirely sure he's a gelding. Here he is meeting my second favorite filly, a young lady named Tansy. (The wild tansy, those of you may know who have heard of the Victorian language of flowers, was a declaration of war.)

After which, I put him to work on the lunge line. No pictures of that, because the dust is so bad here that you couldn't make anything out anyway. It's been shockingly dry this summer.

Wrong racket

I'm in the Wrong Racket:

First there was the CMU ethics survey; and now this.

The issue of whether the toilet seat should be left up or down after use seemingly generates a lot of passion among the parties concerned, however, scientific inquiries into the matter are almost non-existent. Notable exceptions are Choi (2002) and Harter (2005).
So, there have been three separate scientific inquiries into toilet-seat behavior in the last four years? And this, by academic standards, is the mark of 'almost non-existence'?

That does it. Eric, get us a grant.

(H/t: Fark.)

Sunday Ethics

Sunday Ethics:

Via InstaPundit, I found this ethical survey from Carnegie Mellon University. I'm not terribly interested in their results, for reasons that will become clear, but in the survey itself.

If you provide contact and demographic information, they ask you a series of questions about whether you consider a particular thing unethical, and if so, to what degree. Then, they ask you if you have ever done that thing, and if so, how often.

If you don't provide them contact information, they only ask the questions about whether a thing is unethical; that suggests they're interested in breaking down the second part demographically, and don't want to cloud the data. I assume they have some way of tracking answers to the first type of question so as to separate out the "nondemographic" responses.

Some of the questions are about behavior (stealing expensive items, for example). However, quite a few are not about behavior, but about whether it is unethical to have a desire. What interests me is whether the folks at CMU have understood the distinction between "It's wrong to do," and "It's wrong to want to do..."

I'd like to think that they have, and are testing precisely for that. I wonder, though, because some of the questions are so poorly constructed as to be useless.

For example: "While an adult, [to what degree is it unethical to have] sexual desires for a minor[?]" The problem is that "minor" covers both the 17-1/2 year old and the 5 year old; and "desire" presumably includes a feeling you don't act upon in any way, but merely experience. This means that the reader is left to decide if the question means, "Is it unethical to find yourself sexually interested by a 17-1/2 year old girl playing tennis, even if you don't act on it and turn away?", or if it means, "Is it unethical to fantasize about having sex with little boys?"

If you asked those two questions separately, it would be shocking if you didn't get widely different answers. Indeed, they're wholly different ethical propositions. The teenage girl is sexually mature even if she is not legally so; an initial sexual response to looking at her is chemical rather than ethical, and normal rather than strange. The ethical question is what you do with the sense of being aroused by someone whom you should not have.

In the scenario involving a little boy, presumably the chemical process is the same -- but it is not normally natural. Imperial Chinese grandees may be able to avail themselves of children without suffering for it, but in a democracy, what is normally-natural tends to find its way into the law and the general culture.

It may be that we ought to grant the same exception to paedophiles that we do to everyone else -- that it's OK to feel however nature makes them, so long as they don't act on it. That ethical debate, however, is swallowed by the question that is asked. Since the two scenarios are combined into one question, and you don't know which of the two scenarios the reader was thinking of when he or she answered, any data collected from the survey question is useless.

For that matter, we even draw strong lines between the cases for someone who did act on the impulse. A seventeen year old girl, though a minor, is over the age of consent (at least in Georgia, where it is 16). There is no legal penalty for having sex with her; and in fact, the man who does is even protected by the law from having her father beat him with a stick. (This unfortunate innovation in the law should probably be reconsidered).

A child is formally protected, however, and the man who rapes one is punished -- not as harshly as he deserves, but harshly by the standards of our society.

In any event, I don't think the CMU survey is capable of dealing with the subtleties of these questions well enough to produce useful data. I'm sorry to say that, as a survey of ethics, it won't be interesting.

That said, it does raise an interesting question to be more fully considered. Is it unethical to have fantasies of doing things that it would be unethical to actually do?

This is really two questions.

1) Is it wrong to experience the thought/fantasy?

Most people are under the impression that they are in charge of what they think. This is not actually so. If you test it, you will find that you have almost no control over what enters your mind.

This is the "don't think of an elephant" problem, but it's deeper than that. The clearest example comes from practicing Zen meditation, which requires that you not-think. It instructs you to develop 'a mind like clear water,' and understanding just what is meant by that requires not merely argument, but practice. So you sit in zazen, breathe, and let everything go.

Do you stop thinking? Of course not. Your mind continues to produce one thought after another. You have to train yourself to recognize and release each thought, but they keep arising, one after another, not merely unbidden but uncontrolled. It is only when the breathing exercises move you into another brain state (science has found that your brain wave pattern actually changes at this point) that you experience the empty-mind that was described.

Being in this state for a while influences your brain activity even out of it. Even so, you can't stay in it. Going about your business, you will find that your brain brings things up -- and you aren't always sure why.

As such, merely having a thought is of absolutely no ethical consequence. Ethics requires that you choose something, and thoughts arise from somewhere beyond the structure of choice.

From where? That is fundamentally unclear. What is clear is that we are not in charge of what enters our mind. The mere fact that a dark thought or fantasy should arise, then, is of no concern to ethics; what matters is what you do with it. A Zen master has dark thoughts too; he just trains his mind so that they flow out without leaving a trace.

2) Does ethics then require that you let these thoughts flow out, or can you play with them?

I assume the survey questions about pornography, fantasies of rape, and so forth are of this type. Here there is room to dispute.

Many traditions hold against entertaining dark thoughts -- Zen is not alone here; Catholicism also strongly asserts that you should not entertain evil fantasies. The common thread among this line of ethics is that entertaining evil allows it to take root in your mind or soul; this is the way in which you are contaminated.

There is a great deal of truth to that position. It is indeed important to recognize that evil thoughts have consequences to your self. However, I would make a counterargument -- not to reject, but to modify the proposition.

The surest way to have a problem take root in your mind and soul is to dedicate yourself to fighting against it. This can lead to serious distortions of the mind. Consider the crusader against racism, who begins with a simple desire to right injustices and treat people fairly -- and yet comes to see racism everywhere, in every issue. Racism is embedded in his consciousness, so much so that it affects his perception of the world even where it is not actually present. This can prevent him from actually solving real problems that aren't particularly related to racism; it can also cause him to create new problems for himself and others.

The same is true for any evil. That is not to say that it is wrong to resist evil -- it is right. It is to say that one must be cautious not to wrap one's mind around any particular evil and obsess over it. The obsession is as dangerous as the evil itself.

As noted above, we aren't really sure where thoughts come from. Some of them, though, seem to come from the chemical and physical structures of the body. If you are the sort of person whose structures lead you to have dark thoughts of a particular type on a regular basis, it may be the best thing to do is to play with them in fantasy, and thereby release whatever energies are welling up from within yourself. If you set yourself up to squash them every time they arise, you'll spend even more of your life dealing with them.

The real key is not to worry about fantasies that remain fantasies. Like the Zen master, let them go. If playing with them first lets them then pass away more easily, and stay gone for longer, then so be it. Just let your play be play in truth; laugh them off, and don't worry about them. The more you worry about them, the more of a hold they'll take.

This is not license to obsess over playing with evil impulses, either. The point is that what arises naturally is not your fault; but if you find it bothersome, you want to minimize its impact on your life. For some people, that may mean playing with it a bit first, so they can get it out of their system, or learn to feel in charge of their fantasies rather than scared of the evil within.

Everyone has some evil within; it's how we were made. The discipline that matters is the discipline of learning not to let it control you, but rather to pass away so that 'the water is clear.'

3) Should we accept natural impulses that are not normal, or only ones that are relatively common?

This is closely related to the last question. Most people consider "natural" things to be at least somewhat ethical, but "unnatural" things to be always wrong. The problem is that what is unnatural for us may not be for everyone else. Insofar as a person's evil impulses arise from natural structures, the impulse itself is no less natural for being unusual.

For example, relatively few people experience or can even imagine paedophilia -- when we look at a child, there is an absolute absence of sexual feeling. It's just not there at all. This is obvously not true for some people.

At some point in the future, we may be able to alter that -- to find a way to make people who have paedophilic urges no longer have them. That would almost certainly be a kindness to them, and certainly to the children who might have encountered them.

Until such time as it is, I think the ethical consideration has to be this: as long as a fantasy or impulse remains purely a fantasy or impulse, we should consider it in the terms of point 2. A paedophile who acts on his paedophilia should be killed; one who never does should be left alone.

This extends into the realm of pornography, in the fashion that I gather the SCOTUS decided: child pornography involving actual children is illegal, period. Child pornography that involves only written words or drawings, but in which no actual children were ever involved, is protected speech.

4) Some concluding remarks --

Take this as an opening argument, if you'd like to join it. I'm willing to be persuaded that I'm wrong on the ethics. The part of ethics I most enjoy is the disputation and examination; so if you think I'm wrong, let's hear why, and examine the question.


Sushi and Samurai:

The tale of sushi begins most interestingly, in this piece from Vanity Fair:

It looks like a samurai sword, and it's almost as long as he is tall. His hands are on the hilt. He raises and steadies the blade.

Two apprentices help to guide it. Twelve years ago, when it was new, this knife was much longer, but the apprentices' daily hours of tending to it, of sharpening and polishing it, have reduced it greatly.

It was made by the house of Masahisa, sword-makers for centuries to the samurai of the Minamoto, the founders of the first shogunate. In the 1870s, when the power of the shoguns was broken and the swords of the samurai were outlawed, Masahisa began making these things, longer and more deadly than the samurai swords of old.

The little guy with the big knife is Tsunenori Iida. He speaks not as an individual but as an emanation, the present voice, of the generations whose blood flows in him and who held the long knife in lifetimes before him, just as he speaks of Masahisa as if he were the same Masahisa who wrought the first samurai sword, in the days of dark mist. Thus it is that he tells me he's been here since 1861, during the Tokugawa shogunate, when this city, Tokyo, was still called Edo.

Iida-san is the master of the house of Hicho, one of the oldest and most venerable of the nakaoroshi gyosha, intermediate wholesalers of tuna, or tuna middlemen, if you will.... His long knife, with the mark of the maker Masahisa engraved in the shank of the blade, connects not only the past to the present but also the deep blue sea to the sushi counter.

Memory 1LT

In Memory of a Local Soldier:

Miss Ladybug celebrates the life of a lieutenant who was her neighbor. He was a cavalryman by the name of Kile West. He was still a young man, a hunter, and an athlete.

Modified KG

A Modified Kindergarten Ethic:

From the Assistant Village Idiot, a helpful suggestion for upgrading Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.

All I Really Need to Know I Learned From Supervising Kindergarten

People get in less trouble if they are doing something constructive.
Victims have to be protected and bullies have to be contained.
You can make people share community property, but it’s not fair to make them share their own: not their lunch, not their clothes, and not the drawing they carefully colored.
No one cares for community property unless you make them.
People like giving things, but not having them taken.
Natural rewards build self-discipline. Bribes undermine it.
You have to learn justice before you can understand mercy.
Boys and girls are not always the same.
Don’t encourage show-offs. Remove their audience, don’t add to it.
Not everyone who speaks has something to say.
Everyone’s got an excuse.
Jealousy leads to cruelty.

These rules hold up for governments and politics and ecology, too.

Yeah, they do at that.