Instapun*** Archive Listing

Archive Listing
August 16, 2005 - August 9, 2005

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

One Winner, No Losers

Triumphant Newtown

A GREAT GAME. We thought we'd watch an hour of Little League championship play before switching over to the Eagles-Steelers preseason game. It didn't happen that way. We stayed with the 11- and 12-year-old ballplayers who were giving their all to win the Mid-Atlantic Regional Final. And even though we were rooting for Toms River, NJ, against Newtown, PA, we couldn't be disappointed by Newtown's classy come-from-behind win. Both teams played with heart, skill, and discipline, and they did it before a national television audience:

Hulking TV trucks surrounded the posh Gianatti Little League Leadership Training Center and a red-white-and-blue hot-air balloon hovered above; nationally televised, the twilight game necessitated spray paint on Breen Field's brown patches and the addition of huge banks of portable lights; a spacious second-floor press box was teeming with reporters and photographers; and boisterous clusters of fans in Toms River red and Council Rock blue lined the walkway connecting the field with the player dormitories, from which the two teams emerged to tumultuous pre-game roars.

The network coverage had to put a lot of pressure on the youngsters, but they delivered the best game we'd seen all year. It featured good sportsmanship, crisp uniforms, and a little of everything that's best about baseball, including clutch hits, stolen bases, a pair of homeruns by the losing pitcher, and multiple star plays in the field by both sides -- a big league catch in the right field corner, a peg from left field that nailed a runner at third, a masterful block of home plate by a pitcher (!) that prevented a critical run from scoring, and an overall level of defensive play that was solid and intelligent. Likewise, the batteries of both teams were outstanding, as pitchers worked through deep counts for strikeouts and catchers called smart games while keeping most of the errant pitches in front of them. One pitcher, relieved of mound duty after four-plus innings of fine work, became the catcher for his reliever.

ESPN's microphones were frequently able to pick up the interaction between coaches and players, who were repeatedly told to lay off the high fastballs... and have fun.

You can read full accounts of the game from the Pennsylvania side and the New Jersey side, but neither quite captures, well, the fun of seeing good kids performing like champs with their parents and friends cheering them on, with none of the ugliness we've come to expect from the stands and from spoiled superstars on the field.

The play is moving to Williamsport now for the national championship games. If you need some cheering up about American sports, American kids, and American families, look for the games on one of your ESPN channels. You'll be glad you did.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Mothers and Sons

UPDATE. After 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 those losses.

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 are riveting.

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 water courses.

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 "Les Sauvage."

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 their mother.

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 Sauvage:

"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 to him.

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 her eyes.

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 palpitating animal.

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 this purpose.

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 detail.

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 legs.

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 wall.

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 movement.

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 rifle.

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 colossal, size.

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 was still.

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 southward."

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 recognition.

"Did you fire?" the sergeant whispered.


"At what?"

"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 horse?"



"My father."

The sergeant rose to his feet and walked away. "Good God!" he said.

Vengeance, meet duty. Sort out for yourselves who carries the heavier burden.

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, Debra Saunders, 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 process.

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 tones.

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 talk.

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.

MAJOR UPDATE: 8-18-05. 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 how.

POSTSCRIPT. In a seemingly unrelated story, Radley Balko reports on a disturbing new campaign 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.

UPDATE. Michellanche underway. Thanks to La Malkin. Visitors, feel free to shop around for more outrages and offenses against decency correctness.

UPDATE 2. 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.

UPDATE 3. 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, here, and here) for the enlightened, tolerant, and peace-loving left wing.

UPDATE 4. Click here for the August 12 InstaPunk entry on the same subject.

UPDATE 5: 8-17-05. Welcome, all you cat fanciers from Obsidian Wings. Here's a little something we clawed up just for you.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005


PSAYINGS.5Q.56. 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.

THE SHUTTLE. 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.

MECCA. 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 Earth."

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.

CANADA. Not long ago, we wrote a little essay about Canada that was considered too harsh in some quarters. For example, we offered the following unkind observation:

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 country.

As Professor Reynolds would say, Hmmm.

EVOLUTION. 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 hypotheses.

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 President's remarks.

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 not science."

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 let's 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. Huh?

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 possible...

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 theological debate....

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 excerpted below:

 Can 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 events.

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.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The Big Dog

WHO KNOWS? There's a good piece in the Christian Science Monitor this morning about blogging. Columnist Dante Chinni cuts through some of the mainstream media's paranoia and the blogosphere's growing self-importance to arrive at some common sense. He begins by limning the paranoia:

"The latest, and perhaps gravest, challenge to the journalistic establishment is the blog," Richard Posner wrote last week in The New York Times Book Review. Actually Mr. Posner wrote about a lot of challenges the media faced, but gave blogs a lot of space as he spelled out their advantages. They bring expertise. They bring flair and opinion. They bring more checks and balances than the mainstream media.

"It's as if the Associated Press or Reuters had millions of reporters, many of them experts, all working with no salary for free newspapers that carried no advertising," he explained.

Ah, yes, in the future news will be bountiful and free with no advertising. Can't beat that. If they throw in complimentary ice cream we've really got something here.

It' not just the MSM that views things this way. I suspect a lot of bloggers are also persuaded that they make up a kind of anarchic Reuters. Mr. Chinni has some cold water to toss on such delusions:

But if you really look closely, all this "and in the future ..." talk seems a bit far-fetched for a number of reasons.

For all the bloggers' victories (like raising questions about memos in CBS's Bush/National Guard story) there are numerous failures (gossiping about John Kerry's affair that never happened or how the presidential election was rigged in Ohio). And most bloggers simply don't have time or staff to, say, launch an investigation into the internal workings of the Department of State. Getting leaks and tips is one thing, digging for the fuller story is quite another.

An excellent if obvious point, as is his conclusion:

For all the fretting, blogging ultimately is bound to be less a replacement for the traditional media than a complement. The fact is, journalism's most critical responsibilities in a democratic society - seeking, reporting, and analyzing news and holding people accountable - aren't easy to fulfill.

People rightly point out that the media often fail at those tasks. It's just hard to see how making it a volunteer position or a part-time job could improve the situation.

But there's more to it than volunteerism versus professionalism. One important question, it seems to me, is what blogging would look like if the mainstream media really did slide into the sea, as some seem to hope for and others confidently predict.

Well, here's an image to chew on. It would most likely bear a strong resemblance to radical feminist scholarship, in which all the supposed authorizing footnotes are just links to other dreary screeds written by other angry drabs relying on the same gossamer and fraudulent sources. In other words, three-card monte camouflaged as fact-based research.

Analysis cannot occur in any legitimate fashion without a base of facts. These are provided to the blogosphere by the mainstream media -- the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the network news organizations and dozens of other media outlets around the world. The reason the MSM evinces the irrational hostility it does to the blogosphere is that they correctly understand that bloggers are parasites. The linking capability on which all bloggers depend is the means by which the parasite attaches to the host. And without the host there is no source of nourishment.

I'm not downplaying the importance of the role bloggers can play. Blogs can be effective at fact-checking the hypothetical facts which have been gathered by the host. They can improve on the quality of analysis provided by those who are so close to the story or the actors that their judgment becomes blurred, biased, or myopic. In short, they can be useful parasites.

Still, it is folly to dream of the blogosphere replacing or even reducing the importance of the mainstream media. They're the big dog and will remain so. If some of them plunge into oblivion because they can't abide the new infestation of parasites, that doesn't mean the MSM is going away. It means that if the New York Times or the L.A. Times fail, they will be replaced by other mainstream media that do a better job of accumulating and reporting the facts.

How, then, should bloggers view the blogosphere? To each his own, of course, but I see it as a gigantic Letters to the Editor department. There's no shortage of column inches for letter writers, and so our letters can be a lot harder to ignore, but we still need them more than they need us, and we would be wise not to forget it.

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