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Category: Culture

The best that has been thought and written and why these ideals are difficult to meet.

October 5, 2009 | 13 Comments

The Case of the Rape-rape Patrol: a 17th precinct mini-mystery

We last met Officer Hannigan and Sergeant Fitzgerald in The Case of the Missing Global Warming and The Age of Stupid

“Sarge, we got a call.” Officer Hannigan motioned to Sergeant Fitzgerald who was paying for two coffees at a Second Avenue bodega. “Disturbance up at Forty-ninth.”

Fitzgerald wrapped a napkin around his cup, peeled back the tab on the lid and locked it in place. He took a sip, sighed and said, “Where then?”

“Forty-ninth. Fiorenzo’s—that Italian place.” Hannigan took his cup and held it as his side without opening it. “Walk?”

Fitzgerald nodded and they made their way across the avenue, then up two blocks where there was a small group of people gathered on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant. A large man in a dark suit with slick black hair was yelling at slight man dressed all in black and wearing glasses with microscopically sized lenses. The smaller man was surrounded by a giggling retinue. The larger man had his mitts on the chest of an aproned man who was holding a knife.

“Come up with the money now or I loose Cisco!” The crowd sniggered in reply.

“Now what’s this all about?” asked Sergeant Fitzgerald.

“This…this imbecille has tried to leave without paying his bill!” As he was speaking, Hannigan was coaxing the knife from the cook’s hand.

“Is that true, then?”

“He charged over $800! And he just got up and walked out!”

“Officer, I can explain. I am Francois Jaworski, the sculptor.”

Hannigan said, “The one the Akron, Ohio Beacon Journal called ‘Our city’s pride’?”

“The very one.” Hannigan told Fitzgerald how an abstract statue placed in front of the municipal library created by Jaworski had won ‘Honourable Mention’ in a South African art contest.

“Ah, sure. A Class D Celebrity. And how much did you say the bill was?” After hearing, “Well, then, there’s nothing we can do. Not unless it was over a thousand. You’re free to go.” The throng was still laughing as they entered cabs and drove off.

As Fitzgerald was explaining the law to the restaurant manager, Hannigan was talking on his radio.

“Sarge. Another call. Right over on First. Hit and run.”

They hustled, as fast as the older Sergeant’s bulk allowed, east on Forty-eighth street. When they arrived on scene, an ambulance was placing the body of a thirty-something woman on a stretcher.

A witness said that the car that ran over the woman kept going but then hit a cab that was coming out of the street tunnel. The driver of the car was leaning against the door of his car and was lighting a cigarette.

“Hold out your hands and turn around.” Hannigan was removing his cuffs from his belt when a woman extracted herself from the passenger side. Fitzgerald was asking the man, “Had a few tonight, did we? Smells like more than three swallows of Three Swallows1.”

“Just a minute, policeman,” said the woman. “I’m Chloe Wintertop, Mr Stepanski’s publicist.”

“Stepanski?” asked Fitzgerald.

“The assistant to the Assistant Director to Mike Nichols, the noted Hollywood filmmaker.”

“Ah, I see. I’ll have to call this in.” Hannigan replaced his cuffs and Sergeant Fitzgerald radioed in the particulars. Several people were milling about and Hannigan had to clear a path for the ambulance.

“OK. It appears that this is only his second infraction, so he’s free to go, Miss Wintertop. But if it happens again, I warn you he might have to pay a fine.”

The officers saw to the dispersal of the crowd when their last call of the night came in. A street fight on Fifty-first just west of Second. Again, they rushed on foot and Sergeant Fitzgerald was by now deeply regretting his initial decision to leave the car for their first call. Not for the first time, he swore off donuts.

The crowd surrounded a man on the street and was worrying him severely. Several people kicked him; threats and imprecations came from all sides.

“Hold it!” yelled Fitzgerald. He and Hannigan had their guns out and were pushing the crowd back. “What’s going on!”

“He beat up that little girl!” came several shouts. “He raped her!” It was then Fitzgerald noticed they were in front of St. Elizabeth’s Orphanage for Girls. Fitzgerald turned the gun on the man who was just rising. “Let me see some identification and fast.”

“There’s been a serious misunderstanding, officer. My name is Latin Nowakowski.” Electric whispers shot through the crowd. Fitzgerald read the I.D. “Nowakowski, Latin. Male, 44. Class A Celebrity.”

Someone blurted, “He won two Oscars®!” Others said, “The New York Times called him a cultural treasure. He creates art!” Soon, murmurs of “Youthful indiscretion”, “So-called crime”, and “Not really rape-rape” began.

“Are we sure it was two Oscars®, Hannigan?” Fitzgerald asked. Hannigan nodded. “OK, Mr Nowakowski. You can go.”

Several people clamored for Nowakowski’s autograph as he walked away.

Can you solve the mystery?

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1“Three Swallows” is the nickname for Powers’ best-selling Irish whiskey, which has three birds printed on its label.

September 28, 2009 | 26 Comments

The Theory of Increasing Government Idiocy

In software, it’s called feature creep. This is the bloat or encrustation that forms on a working computer program. It is caused by adding overly specific functions that originate with a “Wouldn’t it be cool to have a…?” but which are not strictly necessary, or even inapposite to the software’s main purpose.

As a piece of software ages, function creep is almost inevitable unless it is kept harshly in check. Lead engineers must be brutal in slapping down minor functionaries that come to him with wish lists. “We need new rules!” they will plead, tears in eyes. But he must harden his heart and focus on the software’s main mission. For the moment he gives in to one request, he will give in to others, and the software begins to pick up debris like a snowball rolling down a hill. Finally, the code reaches the point where it is barely recognizable from it earlier self; where it once took only one person to run, it now takes a dozen, four of them consultants with large hourly rates and occult knowledge.

How does such software survive? It cannot, unless it is a monopoly, unless all are forced to use it because it is the only option. Then the sluggish, brute package becomes commonplace, people adapt and they stop questioning their needless toils. Upstart rivals to the software are not just slapped down, but it is thought rude to question or consider them. At last, however, the package becomes so laden with gook, it collapses in on itself, and takes it users with them.

As it is with software, so it is with governments.

This country was founded on the idea of liberty, on the sentiment of Leave Me The Hell Alone Unless You Have A Damn Good Reason. We quickly went beyond, what some see as the necessities, of a police force and Army—many at the beginning argued against a standing Army!—to the paperwork spewing, rule generating, regulation creating, money confiscating, swollen carbuncle we have today. We have not yet reached the point where every possible aspect of our lives has at least one bureaucracy watching over it, but such a state cannot be far away. How did this happen to such freedom loving people?

Caring. The feature-creeping nightmare of excess niceness and solicitous mothering brought on by the love of our fellow man. The old joke used to be that a sweater was defined as a garment a child put on when the mother got cold. The new joke, on us, will be that a sweater will be required by law to be worn by children when the wind chill index drops below 50o F. Regulations will ensure sweaters, to be properly called sweaters, must have at least so many knots per square inch, the yarn thickness at least so many thousandths of an inch. Caliper-wielding bureaucrats will be dispatched to retail stores to issue hefty fines for those in violation. Any that complain will be told (1) “It’s the law” and (2) “It’s for the good of the children!”, a statement against which there is no rational counterargument.

A joke? Then how about this story: a Middleville, Michigan woman threatened with fines for watching her neighbors’ kids. Those kids stayed with hers at the school bus stop in front of her house. Her neighbor, a close friend, had to leave for work before the bus arrived, and our lady, for no fee, watched over them. A busybody ratted her out and she was charged with operating an illegal day care center. One at which the absence of paedophiles had not been properly certified! She was duly told to cease or face imprisonment. A Department of Human Services “spokesperson would not comment on the specifics of the case but says they have no choice but to comply with state law, which is designed to protect Michigan children.” We recoil now, but soon this idiocy will be commonplace and each of us will be scandalized when we hear our neighbor was not properly certified—by experts!—in child watching.

The reason we have come to this ridiculous state is obvious. Our government started with only a few men. But, roughly, for each idea these men had, an employee was needed. These employees themselves had ideas—created with love and caring—and those ideas needed more bodies, and so on. Even if at our beginning our leaders were the best and brightest, we need only remember that intelligence is not awarded evenly, and that as government grows the average intelligence of its employees must shrink. Therefore, the larger the government, the larger its proportion of the less able, the below average, and the downright stupid. At some point, a negative feedback kicks in with a vengeance, and we resemble the snowball barreling down the hill, crushing all in its path, with nothing being able to stop it.

September 25, 2009 | 26 Comments

Blasphemy Contest!

Blasphemy contest
No, I am not kidding; and, no, it isn’t mine. But, asinine as it sounds, a real-life, swear-against-God, Blasphemy contest.

The so-called Center for Inquiry (CFI) is an off-shoot, rather malign growth, of the Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (now shortened to Committee for Skeptical Inquiry). When these folks used to chase ambiguous noises mistaken for ghosts they had a sense of humor, but after their success exposing Uri Geller’s spoon bending tricks, they had nothing left to do and they became dour and depressed. Instead of gracefully disbanding, they sought new enemies, resorting to imaginary ones when necessary. The Party must survive! They now feel that a good time can be had by encouraging people to curse a God in which they do not believe. Rules are here.

What’s blasphemy? Not a bad question, that. In our egalitarian, ego-centric universe the concept is now known only to academic historians, a few isolated and timorous humanitarians who fear being accused of it, and those who live in Flyover Country. Knowing this, CFI helpfully provides a definition:

Blasphemy: n. the act of denying or scoffing at God or God’s alleged attributes.

This called to mind a word which succinctly describes CFI’s behavior:

Juvenile: a. characteristic of children; immature; childish; puerile; infantile; as, a juvenile temper tantrum.

Who else but a spoiled brat teenager would rhetorically ask, “Are there topics you shouldn’t be allowed to discuss?” Not to be denied any whim, they are indignant that some “governments and institutions—and even some individuals—want to keep certain topics off limits.” With this, they broadcast their stunted imaginations and espouse a desire for an absurd philosophy. As an individual (I am not yet a government), I can think of plenty of topics that are off limits, and should be.

Suppose I know where the secret attack will take place. Any competent government should restrict my speech on this topic. It’s a cliché, but everybody agrees that my freedom to express “Fire!” in a placid theater should be circumscribed. And in keeping domestic harmony, an infinite set of subjects are sanely verboten.

But perhaps they are not arguing about the limits of free speech? Maybe they suggest only that all sufficiently broad subjects should be allowable. If so, then who disagrees with that? The folks at CFI have invented for themselves a pious foe; they fret that they are being hounded by befrocked men carrying ropes. When in fact, everywhere in the Western World, religion is on the retreat. Smug buffoons like John Stewart have made it a national sport to derive the best clever insult of faith.

Only restless adolescents derive pleasure from burning straw men. We can see this in their contest rules:

To enter, all you have to do is create a phrase, poem, or statement that would be or would have been considered blasphemous. Entries may take any form (haiku anyone?), but must be 20 words or less.

The key words are “would have been considered blasphemous.” This acknowledges forcefully that the battle they fantasize themselves in is long over. Not only that, but they are the victors. This spurious contest casts them as the kind of ungracious winner who shouts “Nyah! Nyah! Nyah!” over his victim.

There is the bare possibility of such a challenge providing a microscopic benefit, but only in a society which ruthlessly suppresses any hostility to the native religion. The martyrs who organized such a contest would rightfully enter into the Annals of Humanity. But that time has long past in these United States, and I wonder if these brave souls will shuffle off to Iran and publicly fly flags denouncing Allah. Much more likely, they will remain safely on the divan and chuckle to themselves Beavis-and-Butthead fashion, “Huh, huh. Religious people are stupid. Huh.” Brave, brave.

Anyway, it’s idiotic to malign the objects of faith when it is the acts of certain men that deserve castigation. This is like a quack doctor cursing the symptoms and ignoring the disease of his patients. Or as senseless as protesting the makers of a knife used by a maniac on a killing spree.

But let us acknowledge that some subjects are sacred to Progressive Man, and that speaking disparagingly of these topics is thought to be blasphemous. Here, then, are my entries for the contest (I emailed them per the rules). I want to emphasize that I am not necessarily endorsing these statements. But I do know what thoughts sting the modern mind. Some of them are low blows.

  • The equality of mankind is not desirable and is foolish to seek
  • Race A is intellectually inferior to Race B
  • Substitute “Sex” for “Race” in the above
  • George Bush was a good and wise president
  • Barack Obama should not be president
  • Theistic men are more moral than atheistic ones
  • Israel has the right to defend their country in any way they see fit

What are your entries?

Update, Friday morning: I forgot to include the email address to submit your blasphemies. Here it is: blasphemycontest@centerforinquiry.net. You are also required to have “CFI Blasphemy Contest” in the subject line.

September 18, 2009 | 51 Comments

But what about the children!

Satan is eating your babies! Well, not Satan himself. The Beautiful Red Master is obviously too busy for such detail, so the work has been farmed out to his willing minions, who as we know, by the very definition of the word, are a dedicated bunch. Why dedicated? Lucifer is the wisest of the angels, and he starts minion training early; most recruiting efforts are focused on nursery schools, girl scout packs and the like.

Don’t laugh. A not dissimilar version of this story was widely believed in the States back in the 1990s. A very large—a disturbingly large—proportion of people convinced themselves that Satanic rituals were being conducted right under their noses, by their quiet neighbors, by the seemingly diligent people who ran preschools, by even themselves!, though they couldn’t remember partaking. Bodies, and lots of them, were not just being eaten, but they were being sacrificed by nude covens and the bones buried under full moons. Sheriffs were dispatched, indictments were issued, sentences were passed. People actually went to jail! The Satanic Panic, it was later dubbed.

It was brought about by the highly dubious medical theory of recovered memories. Advocates (they never called themselves anything less) assured the public that traumatic memories, such as roasting an infant alive, were routinely repressed, but never lost. Horrors were tucked away in deep recesses of the mind, but they could be dislodged by the application of hypnosis, or through chatting with an earnest therapist trained for the work.

Legions of women trudged to their therapist to discover the evils in which they participated but couldn’t remember. Others wondered if they were victims of the foul play—because who doesn’t want to be a victim? The perquisites are endless. Anyway, these adventurous women were rewarded with tantalizingly lurid memories by the boat load. Tellingly, the longer the contact with the therapist, the more spectacular the recollections.

Blood rituals were a common theme, but the bulk of the memories were accounts of abuse, paederasty, and rape. Untold numbers of women discovered that they had repressed how old dad regularly had his way with them. Not a few females were encouraged to confront and accuse their now aged relatives, to cut off all contact if the family refused to ‘fess up, and, this being America, to sue, sue, sue. Others…

But it’s too depressing to continue. Luckily, however, one bright Spring morning, people began to wake and told themselves that widespread Satanic worship couldn’t be as likely as they had, just yesterday, thought. Besides, it was exhausting having to believe and track all those rumors! Sure, they said to themselves, all this was nonsense, but it was done with the best intent. Children were involved! We must do anything we can to protect the children, and since we went a little loopy in their holy name, everything is copacetic.

I retell the sad story of this epoch to admit that America has, at times, lost its mind. It has of course done so more than once, and will surely do so again: bouts of insanity are well known symptoms of democracies. We’ve already demonized (and resanctified) alcohol, and the Enlightened now equate smoking as being on the same moral plane as being a conservative, but since smoking has not yet been made illegal, there is still room left for some solid excoriation. So it is difficult to say what mania is next at bat, but be assured that the masses will fix on something.

At least we can take pride that we have exported the thrilling fear of child molestation to England, where it has been embraced by a grateful public who were tired of discussing the consequences of the European Union. Much more fun to point and whisper at a neighbor who was seen to smile at a child who wasn’t his. Laws and custom are being modified rapidly, all under the theory that anybody could be a child molester! That, incidentally, is a true statement: anybody might be, but hardly anybody is. No matter. It is the truth that counts—anything for the children!—and all the signs and marks of insanity can be found in that once great nation.

For example, there is now a legal requirement that adults who drive kids to soccer (football) games, or to boys outings and the like, must be registered and undergo a criminal check. Want to shuttle your neighbor’s kid to school? Don’t get caught! “Unregistered adults could be fined up to £5,000 under scheme to prevent paedophiles getting access to children” (link). Sobbing articles are being written in the best papers about how adults are pathologically frightened of kids; not scared of the pre-adults themselves, but of the lunatic grownup who is ready and perversely happy to infer the worst.

My advice: buck up, England. This insanity will pass: these manias only last a decade or so. That’s the outer limit of the mob’s patience, after which it will retire exhausted, lie dormant for a year or so, whence it will emerge, recharged and on the prowl for something new to fret over.