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The Machinery of Freedom?

Lately I have engaged in a number of arguments with people supporting anarcho-capitalist notions. Many of the most extreme of these not only will throw out ambiguous desires for no government, but some of them have stumbled upon a few obfuscatory references to support their claims – or so it appears. Many those immediately point to the same video on youtube (The Machinery of Freedom).

mof

I’m reluctant to post a link to that post, because it’s a bunch of nice sounding rhetoric that makes the ideas of the Anarcho Capitalists seem workable – or at least sound more appealing. From what I understand, it’s an excerpt from a book (?) of the same name. I will admit I have not read the book, as of yet, I see no compelling reason to do so, especially if this excerpt is a representative example of the kinds of arguments the book attempts to make. The video in particular is talking about how police and courts can be handled by private ‘agencies’ like insurance agencies but with policing powers.

My take on ‘Anarchistic’ (non) government

Let me take an aside for a moment and speak to my own opinions of Anarchistic systems I have heard proposed and what I assert the consequences would be. In general, any time in history an anarchistic system is either established intentionally or results consequentially anywhere that a prior existing ‘government’ system (tyrannical or representative), the inevitable result in virtually all cases is for the society or region to fall quickly into tyranny. About the only exception to this is ‘frontier’ states where a migration of people are in the process of moving in, and the government they came from eventually moves in with them. (in other words, the desire is to bring not only themselves, but their culture and the means to maintain it with them)
As a result, I assert that the only time an anarchistic system can exist is when any other form of government is impracticable. Namely when the population is so low and the people are so spread out that a formal government is not only something that would be unfeasible, but is mostly unnecessary.

Some banter around words like ‘anarcho-socialism’ which is even more of an absurdity. A pseudo-marxist voluntary system where everyone just gets along and shares out of their love of the common good. (Whenever I hear this one, I start looking to see if the person is wearing Ruby slippers and chanting “There’s no place like social utopia… There’s no place like social utopia…”)

The basic conclusions that I arrive at whenever I examine suggested ‘anarchistic’ systems is that they will degrade into uncontrolled in fighting between ‘factions’ that spring up – aka ‘tribalism’ and ad-hoc governments will start to spring up despite any desire forbid governments (or certain types of them) to exist. Ultimately, the most brazen and charismatic leaders of these tribal factions will begin to gain a power base which will cause others in less powerful factions to side with the few remaining. The more brutal and irrational, without a basis of rules, will be the one that wins and it will either be beholden too or have to outright attack those with the most wealth first in order to achieve it’s ends. And those ends are tyranny rampant with brutality.

To the credit of the ‘anarchist’ thinkers, I am prone to agree with them that government based systems are also prone to a slow creep to tyranny regardless. But I’m also prone to think that a properly formed government will last far longer and produce better results than any ad-hoc system which is what ultimately results from any anarcho-based system. The best argument I ever heard in favor of anarchy was someone that didn’t describe it as lack of organized government, but a lack of ‘rulers’ – based on the original etymology of the word. At least the view is honest. (although the individual that communicated this to me was one of the ones that forwarded me the link to the video mentioned above)

So what about these Agencies?

In regard to the system outlined in the video itself (and any closely related to it), upon watching the whole thing, my most immediate questions are:

  1. how is that not going to continually erupt into conflict when two (or more) ‘competing’ agencies are marketing their ‘services’ to different groups with different interests and goals?
    and
  2. what is going to prevent that from eroding into serving primarily the ‘clients’ with the biggest pockets and/or most friends?

posseI used to bring up examples of the old west, and while I understand that the stories of the shootouts were more the exception than the norm, the nature of the law being somewhat ‘flexible’ based on whoever had the most gumption and the biggest posse was the only ‘working’ example of what they were talking about that I was aware of. And there were enough examples in the old west of that system failing to reach proper ‘justice’ and thus not being as ‘peachy’ as they describe it. So i always challenge people supporting such ideas to give a ‘working example’.

The honest ones will try to suggest, that just like the minarchism (which is what I support) in the US, it’s a bold, new idea that has never been tried but should be. The less honest will try to point to places where the anarchistic nature of the (lack of) government was simply a consequence of the nomadic or spread out population involved. One such example someone raised was Greenland – I looked it up. As soon as the population started to rise, the imperial influences in Europe came in and enacted a totalitarian regime.

Has it really never been tried?

But as I watched that video, something about what they were describing sounded familiar. And not from the old west. But at first I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I ended up watching some portions of it a couple of times and finally it hit me. It has been tried. A lot. The thing that I couldn’t hit on is that I had this impression in my head – it came initially as just a hunch, but once I realized the nature of what they were describing, I realized there were examples of it – that the only way there can be ‘multiple agencies’ in a single region is if the agencies have very similar goals and if those agencies have formal agreements (i.e. “government”) between one another not only as to how they will pursue those goals to mutual benefit, but to address what to do when their goals come into conflict.

Any other instance of multiple agencies with competing goals being in the same geographical region, as I was inclined to think, break down into endless conflict or results in the multiple agencies drawing lines in the sand based on whatever geography each of them can secure and defend. And even then, the feelings of resentment from their ‘customers’ carry on for years, even decades and centuries and conflicts at their borders generally continue with that resentment. People who used to live on one side of the line want back what they had. People who were moved against their will want to strike back.

Then the money and influence is also exemplified over and over again. Agencies as they describe, do in fact pander and cater to specific desires of the ‘customers’ they claim to represent. If those in charge of an agency, once confined to a given set of geography, feel bold enough, they will even turn on their customers and use the power they have amassed for their own ends. And even when this doesn’t happen, money and influence constantly peck at the doors and convince some running or working for the agencies to suit their needs above the needs of the rest of the ‘customers’.

History is the evidence

No, the anarcho-capitalist’s “agency” approach isn’t anything new at all. They just fail to see how the mixing of opposed ‘customers’ does turn into an endless shootout. It’s happened. In Israel. In Ireland. In Rowanda. In Korea. In Viet Nam. In Cambodia. In Eastern Europe.

If you haven’t figured it out yet yourself, the corollary is international politics. And ask anyone if they want a system that mirrors the one that spawned holy wars, inquisitions, imperial conquests, world wars, nuclear cold wars, etc. I have a feeling, anyone with a brain will say ‘NO’!

international

walkie talkie kid

I don’t recall my elders ever commenting on me using my walkie talkie too much growing up. Of course, there was a problem with using walkie-talkies too much. The battery life and the range were both greatly limited. But I got to thinking about playing with walkie-talkies as a kid today after thinking about how many of the older generation now express concern over the younger generation spending too much time playing with cell phones.

One of the most frequent comments I hear is generally along the lines of “we did just fine without cell phones” and tends to involve side references to how, instead, they went outside and played or would actually go interact with their friends in person. Fair enough criticism and one that I considered (and still do consider) has some merit. But not so much since I thought about the walkie-talkies.

Sure, there were other devices that we had, some of which equally raised hackles in our parents and their friends. My brother was obsessed with his Coleco electronic football game for a while as was I with the racing game. In high school, some of the nerdier guys I knew all got HP48c scientific calculators and used to spend hours trying to program rudimentary software into them to do a plethora of inane things hardly worthy of the time it required to achieve them.

“Look, I wrote a program last night that tells me the time in Shri Lanka!”
“And we need to know the time in Shri Lanka because why?”

But the closest analog to the modern cell phone has to be the walkie-talkie. For those of you that might be from my generation or slightly before, you probably know what I’m talking about even if you haven’t considered the comparison. The first thing you did after making sure they worked – a process that generally involved about 20 minutes of tinkering with batteries, switches and buttons – was to hold them next to one another pressing the buttons on each at once. This usually produced a loud squalk which could sometimes pre-occupy those kids new to the concept of audio-feedback for another 30 minutes. But once the initial fascination with the devices and the feedback subsided, the ultimate use of hand-held walkie-talkie radios was finally put to the test…

And without question, that involved getting out of sight of one another. Walkie-talkies made no sense what-so-ever if you could hear the guy talking within earshot. It didn’t even make much sense if you could see what he was doing, especially because the most common subject of conversation amounted to “what are you doing?” and the corresponding response. Needless to say, the nature of the ‘walkie talkie’ was to be out of line of sight from your friend. More often than not, the bulk of the first few weeks of playing with walkie-talkie radios involved an endless series of tests to see just ‘how far out of sight’ you could get from one another and still be able to converse. Once the initial fascination with wireless communications settled down, then and only then would you try to figure out things to do that did not revolve directly around the concept of getting-as-far-away-from-one-another-as-possible.

Another common practice, and one that would also generate concern from parents would be if and when two kids in close proximity could figure out how to use the walkie-talkies to converse while still in their own houses, especially the privacy of their own bedrooms. While this too caused concern with parents, it was generally not over the devices distracting from other activities — well that is except for the most common activity that generated the concern, going to bed instead of talking on the damn radio all night!

walkie talkies

As I mention, the devices were limited though, so there was not nearly as much concern. If you talked in them too much, the batteries went dead and getting mom or dad to buy you more batteries was an effort that became more difficult with increased use of the radio and increased frequency of need for new ones. So ad-hoc communications such as with the modern day cell phone and the advent of built-in rechargeable batteries was extremely limited. Of course, you were also limited to just talking and then only half-duplex. (read: one side conversing at a time) And as already mentioned there was only a limited range. If your friend went to the mall, you would be lucky if you could hear him transmitting past the top of the street corner. (though that did not stop us from trying, especially in the aforementioned ‘range testing’ phase)

There is also the very real concern today that a cell phone can connect to an internet full of all sorts of other influences. While many walkie-talkie devices were defaulted to channel 14 on the citizen band (CB radio) which was also used by truckers, truckers also tended to be more polite to kids on CB in those days and any nefarious behavior, if and when a meager walkie-talkie signal actually got heard by an adult, involved the adult telling the kid to knock it off!

Thinking back, however, if there had been any way for us to play games directly on those walkie talkies, we would have utilized it. If we could have talked farther than to the next block, we would have reveled in it. (hey, I became an Extra class amateur radio operator in my teens – I actually DID it) And if we could have sent text over them, we would have done that too. (the best we ever had was the occasional walkie talkie with a second red button that could send a morse code tone)

Thus, I think it is fair to say that for my generation (and those immediately before) who enjoyed things such as walkie talkies, we do not have much cause to complain – or at least to complain too loudly. Envy, perhaps. But complain? No!

Before you can even begin to be taken seriously when demanding people change their behavior to ‘save the planet’ from climate change, you have to do 4 things:

1. prove the climate actually is changing and doing so in an unnatural fashion.

This means you have to rule out things like the influence of the sun or other cosmic influences, natural phenomenon, long-term cycles, etc.

While there is considerable evidence out there that there are changes in specific environments, localized settings and even regional scale alterations from recorded, past events, changes occur in the climate all the time. Proof of ‘a’ change is not proof of cause and effect.

Arctic ice shelf growth

Disregarding the amount of ‘tinkering’ with the data and political manipulation of the so-called facts, biased sampling and reporting, agenda driven (pseudo) science and other questionable contributions to the climate debate, it is still necessary to not only prove there is a change occurring but it is necessary to draw a direct, undeniable, peer-reviewable, incontrovertible ‘change’ that is not simply one of many changes the earth has and will continue to experience over it’s lifetime.

expanding sea ice

expanding sea ice

Before you can even proceed to the next step, this step has to have been achieved satisfactorily, withstood scrutiny, not been explainable through other means, and so forth. Some would argue this step has been achieved while others say there is considerable evidence that it far from established. But before any other considerations are even relevant, the proof of ‘a change’ that is ‘not natural’ must be achieved.

If and only if such satisfactory proof of such an unprecedented change is occurring, then you still have three more conditions that need to be met before you can suggest any drastic change in behavior.

2.  prove the changes are going to be predominantly ‘bad’.

Even if you ‘can’ and ‘have’ proved a change is happening, it is still necessary to prove that the sum of ‘bad’ things resulting from the changes outweighs the sum of ‘good’ things that may result. In other words, even if you can prove that your particular computer model which predicts an increase in temperature is going to be the first one that is right about such a prediction, you still need to prove that the increase in temperature you are predicting is going to cause more harm than good. Even if you can establish without question that sea levels will rise, you have to also establish that the net result of such a rise is going to cause more problems than it creates opportunities. Even if you can show inevitable changes in weather, you have to also show that such changes in weather will degrade conditions more than they improve them.

If the end result of any alleged change is going to be more positive than negative, suggesting any alteration to that change is absurd. Once again, before you can proceed any further, you must establish the ‘net sum’ as negative before making any suggestions.

3. prove humans are the cause or at least a key cause of the problem.

One of the key premises of ‘climate change’ dating back more than a century through ‘cooling’, ‘warming’, ‘cooling’ and the current on-going ‘warming’ scares, the key factor in all of these environmental discussions  has been the alleged involvement of mankind and the effects of human behavior. If you are suggesting human behavior is a key ’cause’ and that [drastic] changes in human behavior are ‘necessary’ to prevent further problems, then you have to make the case that humans are actually causing the problem or at least making a significant contribution to making it a problem in the first place.

One example is the continued hysteria over CO2. While it is true that you can show empirically that CO2 concentrations in test samples have increased by 100ppm from 300ppm to 400ppm, you have to then establish that this measured increase is one of the key factors in the changes you allege are coming. The reality is that 100ppm stands for one hundred parts per million. For those who are math challenged, that amounts to 0.01% of the atmosphere as a whole. Furthermore, most of the data used to create that number represents air masses around human population and is arrived at through samples taken at ground level. In fact, when you sample further away from population centers, the numbers go down — the further away, the further they drop. Why? Trees! Grasses! Green stuff. Still more, if you take samples higher in the atmosphere, the concentrations are not nearly as high. Why? CO2 is heavier than the bulk of gases in the atmosphere, thus is settles in higher concentrations near ground level. (near all those trees and grasses and green stuffs) But the greenhouse effect requires the entire atmosphere to produce the effects alleged by greenhouse-related AGCC theories.

CO2 levels at different altitudes

Measurements in Colorado — CO2 levels at different altitudes

So the premise of ‘man’ contributing to any alleged problem must be established to support any solution that involves a change in the behavior of man. And once again, this must be established before you proceed any further.


4. prove whatever change you are suggesting will not only help prevent, fix or otherwise solve the ‘bad’ problems in #2 but will not ’cause’ still more bad problems and is better than any alternative approaches.

There was some guy that posted a scare-tactic video labelled melodramatically, “The Most Terrifying Video You’ll Ever See” on YouTube. I regret having to link to it now, but it is essentially a stereotypical pseudo-science, pseudo-logic, purely emotional example of the kind of hype involved in this entire debate. He shows what he alleges to be a ‘logic diagram’ of the potential consequences of action vs inaction against the two scenarios of doing something and doing nothing. Yet his so-called ‘unquestionable logic’ completely disregards the consequences of draconian changes upon the ability of individuals and societies to actually ‘cope’ with the outcomes of either scenario which results from something AND nothing happening.

In other words, given his scenario of doing absolutely nothing, society and life go on as normal. Technology continues to advance, people still go about their lives, science still does its thing. Economies still function without interference, industry continues to grow, inventions continue to be made and brought to market. In short, human progress moves on.

Meanwhile, his premise for ‘doing something’ assumes doing something drastic. Under the drastic scenario, we must assume that certain advances are restricted, people’s lives are regulated, science is limited. Economies are interfered with, industry is put on a short leash, inventions are now gauged by their potential contribution to the global-climate-change before being allowed in the market. In short, human progress is slowed or halted all together.

Under either contrasted scenario of climate change being real or being a bunch of chicken little fear-mongering, the resulting society in the do-something, drastic-change scenario is crippled and working at a reduced, limited, restrained or otherwise hyper-regulated capacity. Innovations are stifled and subject to a central planning filter. Potential solutions are not up to the society as a whole, but up to the green-police. And the means to arrive at those solutions is not enhanced by a robust economy with access to all available resources, but limited by a restricted and hyper-regulated one.

Thus if you have managed to establish the first three points with reasonable certainty, you are still under the requirement of showing that any changes you suggest to fix the problem, actually fix the problem!

So ask yourself…

All of these 4 points are not politically biased (even if some of my intervening comments reflect my own views on the subject). They are basic critical thinking 101. Whether you support AGCC theory or oppose it, the four points by themselves have merit. The requirements of the four points are not extreme and are not unreasonable. So before you pick a side — or if you have taken a side, before you move to act — stop and ask yourself:

“Have these four conditions been met?”

It should be no mystery to anyone that my conclusion is a big, fat NO.

(watch for another post in the next few days on this subject about water’s role in ‘global cooling’, likely to be called ‘Four More Things on global climate change)

It was an old fashioned frame building, this headquarters of the great Danagger Coal Company. Somewhere in the hills beyond the window were the pits where Ken Danagger had once worked as a miner. He had never moved his office away from the coal fields.

When she glanced at the clock on the wall of the anteroom, she caught the secretary glancing at it at the same time. Her appointment was for three o’clock; the white dial said 3:03.

“Please forgive it, Miss Taggart,” said the secretary, Mr. Danagger will be through any moment now. Please believe me, this is unprecedented.”

When she raised her head to glance at the clock again, the dial said 3:06. Dagny looked at the closed door of Danagger’s office. She could hear the sound of a voice beyond the door, but so faintly that she could not tell whether it was the voice of one man or the conversation of two.

“How long has Mr. Danagger been in conference?” she asked.

“Since a few minutes before three,” said the secretary grimly. “It was an unscheduled caller.”

The door was not locked, thought Dagney; she felt an unreasoning desire to tear it open and walk in. She realized that she was thinking of Hugh Akston. She had emailed him at his diner in Wyoming. The email had bounced back from a new spam filter. She told herself angrily that this had no connection with the present moment and that she had to control her nerves.

Dagny asked the secretary slowly, as a demand, in defiance of office etiquette, “Who is with Mr. Danagger?”

“I don’t know, Miss Taggart. I’ve never seen the gentleman before.”

“Did he give his name?”

“No.”

“What does he look like?”

“I don’t know,” she answered uneasily. “He’s hard to describe. He has a strange face.”

They had been silent for a short while, and the hands of the dial were approaching 3:08 when the buzzer rang on the secretary’s desk — the bell from Danagger’s office, the signal of permission to enter.

They both leaped to their feet, and the secretary rushed forward, smiling with relief, hastening to open the door.

As she entered Danagger’s office, Dagny saw the back exit door closing after the caller who had preceded her. She heard the knock of the door against the jamb and the faint tinkle of the glass panel.

Ken Dannager (from Atlas Shrugged part II)

He did not rise when she entered — he looked as if he had not quite shaken off the reality of the prior caller and had forgotten the proper routine — but he smiled at her with such a sarcastic twist that she found herself smiling in answer.

“How do you do, Miss Taggart,” he said. “Forgive me, I think that I have kept you waiting. Please sit down.”

“I didn’t mind waiting,” she said. “I was exremely anxious to speak to you on a matter of urgent importance. I came to speak to you about your indictment.”

“Oh, that? Don’t worry about that. It doesn’t matter. I’m going to pay off the judge by making a big donation to one of his favorite ‘charities’.”

She sat still, feeling nothing. Her first movement was a sudden jerk of her head toward the exit door; she asked, her voice low, “Who was he?”

Danagger laughed. “I have no idea! Some sales guy I assume. He was apparently talking about some property he wanted me to invest in — Galt’s Gulch, can you believe that? Trying to cash in on that whole ‘Who is…’ meme? He had some kind of rationalistic morals appeal and said it was some kind of perfect Nirvana!”

“Oh God, Danagger!” she moaned.

“You’re wrong, kid,” he said gently. “I know how you feel, but you’re wrong. Oh, it sounded great — like most of those guys sound — but I told him it wasn’t ‘practical’. I have my business here and I’ve spent years building it up, I can’t retire now! I’ve almost paid off my condo and I want to buy that new boat next spring. And I have to think about my kids! I have to get them into the right schools after all!” And at that he laughed.

Dagny nodded.

“I wonder if he was the same guy Wyatt told me about. Some guy hit him up too, trying to get him to burn his oil fields and go to some remote place in Colorado for goodness sake! Wyatt said with his new fracking method he can pull out enough oil in North Dakota to make this entire country energy independent in just over 5 years — well that is if he can get that pipeline built and get the permission to drill in that national park where he says the big deposit is located. And of course, he’s dealing with all the red tape from the EPA and the BLM.  They’re giving him some song and dance about a rare field mouse in the area. But I’m sure they’ll come around, right?”

Danagger just shrugged.

“OH, can you do me a favor. If you’re heading back to your office in the next few days, can you drop this check off in Washington?”

She picked up the check and could see the 5 zeros on the sum next to the words ‘Republican National Committee’.

“What is this?” she asked.

“Oh, just a donation to someone’s favorite ‘charity’ — I want to make sure they get it in time to make good use of it for Christie’s 2016 run against Hillary….

A while back I made a post after reading a couple of successive Ernest Hemingway stories. (Hemingway is a depressing lout!) In that post I commented on how I was disappointed after hearing for so many years about the quality of the man’s writing to find that he was such a fatalistic malcontent. While I couldn’t imagine it possible, I think I have found someone just as fatalistic and deplorable as the old lummox!

Wool by Hugh Howey

I recently read the story ‘Wool’ by Hugh Howey and am just finishing up book four of his ‘Bern Saga’ about Molly Fyde and I have to say, Hemingway may have a rival when it comes to unnecessary and gratuitous misery and fatalistic pap!

While I did like the story telling and found the premise interesting in Wool – interesting enough to get the follow-up books that continued the story in ‘Shift’ and ‘Dust’ and, the story itself did seem to include a number of the main characters continually meeting suffering, pain and loss. The original story starts up with killing off two central characters to the initial theme before you have even gone through a couple of chapters. I assumed that perhaps this was because it started initially as a short story that was added to and expanded more over time.

But as I am approaching the end of book 4 of the ‘Bern Saga’ I’m starting to see a growing pattern that I couldn’t help but start to compare to my experiences with ole Ernie. I don’t think there has been a single chapter of all four books that has not involved one of the main characters not going through some kind of morose and excessive suffering of one kind or another.

Bern Saga by Hugh Howey

As an example (spoiler alert) I can mention the main premise of these four volumes: a quest by the main character, a young Molly Fyde, to find and re-unite with her parents that she thinks have been dead for more than 10 years. Before the end of book three, she is sent by an artificial ‘copy’ of her mother to kill her real mom and then Howey has the audacity, after the girl and her friends have run from authorities, been stabbed, tortured, jailed, accidentally killed their own friends, been beaten, mugged, raped, lost limbs and a slew of other excessive miseries … the prick goes and kills her father just one hour before the long sought reunion can take place!

There were some points in the book — more than one – more than a handful — where every single main character was either imprisoned, facing imminent death ripe with pain and suffering, exiled, bleeding or otherwise suffering all at the same time!

Just as with Hemingway, they both seem to be fatalistic malcontents who think that in order to tell a good story, you have to make everyone in them miserable as often as possible and interweave every possible misgiving you have about humanity or the universe or existence at every opportunity. Even the babblings of the ‘Bern-Seer’, a would-be pseudo-philosophical mystic who’s epigrams start many chapters, reflects a great deal of this.

In one portion she even doubts the existence of free will simply because a young man likes her and admits that he found himself with no choice when she asked him nicely to fix a leak behind her sink. While she (Howey) almost repairs it as she second guesses herself later, reflecting upon consequences as a possible determinant of behavior he still doesn’t quite make the mark but then overburdens it with doubts that it is simply what people tell themselves as a rationalistic lie to make their existence seem less futile. (the source of free will is in part from consequences, but results from the ability of those dealing with such consequences to make choices as to how to see them – to see reality for what it is and what it’s true potential can be, or to deny it and throw their hands up and claim to merely be a victim of it. Of course Cole had no choice but to help a woman he had come to like and value who asked him politely to help her out – he had chosen a LONG TIME AGO to behave that way!)

I was at first excited as there are so few good stories with strong female lead characters, least of all written by men. I enjoyed McCaffery and Rand for their strong females. But Howey just unnecessarily goes over the deep end with the anguish he weaves into his story telling. If that much pain and suffering is what he thinks it takes to tell a good yarn, I can’t help but imagine it reflects some of his own world view and cosmology. And in thinking such, I feel sorry for him and can’t help but wonder if he’ll become a depressing old drunk that pisses off his fans in some out of the way hole-in-the-wall bar just like Hemingway.

ImageI’ll never forget when US Airways flight 1549 had to do an emergency belly landing in the Hudson river and no one was injured. Shortly following the event, a whole lot of people started clamoring about how it was ‘a miracle’ or that God definitely played a role in getting all those people to safety. My inbox was no exception.

Such things tend to frustrate me because it shows the blatant confirmation bias of the religious thinker. No one questions that ‘God’ steps in to do the ‘good’ outcome but they do not also apply that similar thinking to the ‘bad’ outcomes any more than they think the same ‘God’ would have played a role in causing or should have played a role in preventing the situation in the first place.

For example, do you suppose that anyone on board was ‘cursing’ God when they thought they were going to die? Or what about passengers or witnesses to crashes where no one survives? Well, obviously, that is just part of God’s plan then right? It’s a mystery!

Such thinking is not only inconsistent and intellectually dishonest, it distracts from the real heroes doing real things — real people! — who are contributing to great outcomes. To more than one person who sent me the ‘miraculous’ assertion, I had but one response:

Yes, I am sure that God personally intervened to make sure that all of those passengers and crew as well as the people on the ground were not harmed.
I’m sure that the years of training and calm headed, quick thinking of the pilot and the flight crew played absolutely no role in keeping the jet from crashing.
And the air traffic controllers using the world’s most advanced and coordinated air traffic system, radar technology, two-way radio communications and direct lines to multiple airports across the northeast didn’t have anything to do with it.
Nor did the years of development and advancement in aircraft design, technology and safety measures contribute in any fashion.
The flight attendants, their years of training and their similar cool thinking keeping the passengers calm and following safety procedures that have been practiced and rehearsed had nothing to do with it.
Not to mention the passengers themselves for following instructions and remaining so calm and working together.
No one on the ground in New York city with a cell phone, similarly developed through years of technology utilizing one of the most advanced telephone systems in the world calling upon seeing the plane going down did anything to help.
The 911 operators utilizing their refined network of emergency resources and vast network of trained emergency response procedures obviously did not contribute.
Nor did the quick response of the harbor authority and their rescue vehicles that rushed to the aid of the plane once it was safely upon the water.
Obviously it was all God’s work.

Now I’m sure you’ll probably say ‘well, God created all those things’ or that he had a hand in carrying them out. But I’m just curious. If God really wanted to make sure all of those people were safe, wouldn’t it have been far easier and less trouble in the long run….

…. if he had just moved the goose 3′ to the left?”

WSIDAirplaneGeeseinFlight

(originally published May 26, 2009 @16:12 EST)

All day long yesterday for Memorial day I found myself recalling various men I have felt proud to know in my lifetime and the stories they would tell; at fishing camp, at hunting camp, around campfires, over beers, among friends. Stories of their time in the service and in some rare cases of their times on the front lines. (although those recollections were more frequent in the old timers, and even then generally focused on things that had happened only to them)
It didn’t occur to me to pass any of them along until this morning, so I thought I would go over some of them in brief to share their tales (as I recall them) and pass them along.

So here’s to Reese from Sheep’s Pasture, to the stories he would tell of a bunch of young marines trained in Florida deep in the everglades running on unseen boards made to resemble walkways in rice paddies, feeling their way with sticks and risking splashing down with not only the murky waters, but the gators hiding within.

US Marine Patrol

US Marine Patrol

To stories of young leathernecks going on first leave after having it drilled in their heads for weeks that they were the meanest, roughest, toughest, baddest sons of bitches to ever walk the face of the earth – and to the stories of the fist fights and timely flights (from authorities) that soon ensued.
Here’s to the young marine finally coming home after his tours in Viet Nam in a full leg cast who got off the plane to see his family across the tarmac and becoming delighted, only to be confronted head on by two dirty, long haired protesters who spat in his face screaming baby killer.
And here’s to the two cops who scooped him up after he busted the first one’s face open while balancing on his crutches and was already going after the second, who in spite of the screams from the activists to “arrest him!”, brought him through the security entrance, smiled and said “semper fi brother, now get the hell out of here or we ‘will’ have to arrest you”
(Reese told no stories of the time between basic and coming home – Rest in Peace)

Here’s to Smitty, also from fish camp at Sheep’s pasture, a thin older gent who told us of the time he was brought before his superiors for a samurai sword he had found. It turned out to be an officers sword that he had picked up after entering a cave to see a smiling Japanese soldier holding his hands up in the air saying in broken English “I surrender” – and here’s to the fellow soldier behind Smitty that caused him to look down only to see the tip of a Thompson open fire from where it had been inserted under his arm, and to the hand that grabbed the back of his neck to fling him back out of the mouth of the cave just as the grenade the Japanese officer was holding in his upraised hand fell free and detonated.

Okinawa Beachhead

Okinawa Beachhead

To the story he told of when the zeros buzzed the Okinawa beachhead and he took (he thought) two shots in his arm, to the medic that bandaged him up and secured his arm to his side so he could, with the help of another soldier that was wounded in the opposite arm, still manage to assist in moving wounded on stretchers for the remainder of the hours of fighting that ensued. Only after which did he think to seek out a field surgeon to actually get treatment, where they discovered the third shot that had gone right through his lower abdomen.
Upon hearing the shot was more than 4 hours old and seeing where it passed, the triage nurse pronounced him essentially ‘already dead’ and went to attend to other ‘more hopeful’ patients. Obviously he was not about to settle for this and had to argue considerably to even be treated due to all the other wounded on the beach. He was made to wait even longer and eventually wheeled in to a dirty side room, given no anesthesia, cut the length of his side and ‘sloshed back and forth’ with a liquid poured into the incision that he described as having the look and smell of urine. (it wasn’t, but was some low-frills antiseptic that they could justify ‘sparing’ on a ‘dying man’)
He showed us the scars including the marks where they had sewn him back up with wire staples, as they didn’t want to waste any sinew on him either, hoping to spare it for men they actually thought could be saved.
And here’s to that stubborn man who passed out only to wake up 3 hours later in a hospice wing of a makeshift tent, damned them for leaving him to die and walked back into the OR where he finally received proper sutures and ultimately got a real bed in intensive care to continue his recovery.
(rest in peace Smitty! And thanks for the hand made net, it’s still one of my most prized possessions)

And here’s to Kenny from Spud farm who told us of how he was on board the USS Franklin when a Japanese Kamikaze nearly broke her in two.

USS Franklin listing

How he and some of his shipmates had to navigate a catwalk on the backside of the control tower to avoid the flames, suspended on nothing but a 6″ ledge more than 4 stories above the ocean. About how he turned just in time to see one of his best friends for the very last time falling to the ocean below after a secondary explosion shook the whole ship.
Here’s to the three hours he spent in near freezing waters after the second kamikaze hit sent him into the frigid waters as well. And to the simple apple that helped keep him alive – as when he would grow tired and almost give up, he would see the apple bobbing 2-3 wave crests away, just briefly enough to give him something to keep swimming after.
Here’s to the guys that eventually showed up to scoop up the dead bodies onto their already overflowing flatboat, only to tell Ken that they would send a crew back for him as they had no room. And here’s to them agreeing to pick him up after hearing him say “if you do that, you’ll be picking me up instead along with the rest of the dead!” (try to imagine that ride back, where the only room is on top of the bodies!)

Here’s to Mike who’s story I almost didn’t want to include as I didn’t want to make him look bad, but the state of mind it details I doubt anyone reading could imagine doing otherwise.
Still trying to shake off the experiences of combat, he decided to accept an invitation to ‘relax’ by going hunting on a friend’s private property. As he walked to his blind, some ‘slob’ who was trespassing and poaching on this friends private land, apparently thought it was a good idea to shoot at any sound of movement.
Being fresh out of the service, Mike told us (trying to be funny but still showing in his face how much it disturbed him) the sound of the shell hissing by his head caused instinct to take over and the next thing he knew, he was hiding behind a 5″ ball of dirt and had emptied his shotgun in the direction of the fired ‘near miss’. (fortunately enough missing as well)

US Marine Escort near Baghdad

US Marine Escort near Baghdad

(thank you Mike for teaching me your variant of Darwin’s rule, “people that are prone to do stupid, dangerous or self-destructive things…. should!”)

Here’s to my cousin Jim who also didn’t go into a lot of detail about his experience in Iraq, but did comment on the frustration he and his other marines had when coming within sight of Baghdad during Desert Storm – only to be pulled back at the last minute. I still remember the certainty in your words back then that “we should have been allowed to finish, we’ll only end up having to come back”.

To my namesake Webster Abial Wood who dodged musket fire and cannon balls at Gettysburg in the war to preserve our union. Who at first I wondered about his ‘bravery’ as he was a member of the drum core and played the fife in the 24th Michigan band.

Thomas Nasts Drummer Boys

Thomas Nast’s Drummer Boys

That is until I read more on the civil war… about the battles on fields covered in white smoke from black powder muskets and cannons. Story after story where men wrote in their diaries of looking to their immediately left and immediately right to barely make out just one of their fellow soldiers through the smoke and to hear the pace of the drum to match their steps as they had been trained. The drums marking the pace to keep the line in step, the steady beat as a heart to the line signifying their ranks had not been broken. And the stories of returning fire where the sounds of the ‘enemy’ drums and the bugles on the other side of the field often gave you the only point of aim through opaque clouds of smoke.
To stories of friends, neighbors and brothers meeting as opponents in our nations bloodiest war, but still being civil enough to pass letters, foodstuffs and other token items in small boats across the blood stained rivers separating their lines after the sun set and fighting subsided for the night.
And to the knowledge of Webster leading the army band for the melancholy honor of playing for an assassinated president’s funeral procession in Illinois.

Here’s to my grandfather ‘Woody’ who also didn’t speak to much around me about his time in the first world war while in the Navy. But who raised my father and consequently passed on to me an understanding of the values that made this country great and an appreciation for the men that helped make it that way.

—-

You may have noticed by now what I already eluded to. These men would tell stories of the good times, of the times before the war or immediately after. Of things that happened only to them where they got out alive in spite of adversity. But many of such a story would bring up a name, or refer to a person and the story would finish, the men would either bow their heads or stare off into space and go silent for a long time. After which they would turn to one another as only their fellow veterans could understand, raise their glasses “To them!”

There was yet another theme that ran through the stories as well. I ran across an interesting quote yesterday from none other than George Orwell:

All the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting.

All the men I named believe in their country, treasure their freedom and would fight for it with their lives. Some of them signed up voluntarily out of a sense of duty and honor, others out of little more than need and no where else to go, and still others were drafted and answered the call. None wanted to repeat their ‘unspoken’ experiences, but I have no doubt any one of them would join up with such a cause again if the need arose and our country was threatened.

But don’t be mistaken!

The only man standing is in a wheelchairAs every one of them told their stories, it was easily understood. When they were in the line of fire, on the front lines and in the middle of a firefight, they no more fought for ideals of freedom or country then they did out of a sense of duty or honor. No, they fought for their fellow soldiers – their friends, and for the hope that someday soon they would be home with people they loved.

So most of all, here’s to the men I never met, to the stories I never heard, to the laughs we never made about the good times. Here’s to the horrors I never learned from those that did return, from the stories they kept to themselves and their sleepless nights. Here’s to the silent moments, the hung heads and the solemn toasts. Here’s to the old man in his dress uniform shedding a tear over some memory only he holds – always trying to keep it out of his mind but making sure he never forgets. Here’s to the unknown soldiers in the unmarked graves on battlefields far away, and to the events that never made best sellers or Hollywood movies.

I never met any of you, never heard your stories but be damn sure, I will never forget you!
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