Shots Across the Bow

A Reality Based Blog

Friday, August 31, 2007

It’s a Blogaversary!

Say Uncle just turned 5, which is pretty awesome.

Keep it up, Unc. You've come a long way since Blogspot.

Posted by Rich
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Give It a Rest!

Wearing baggy pants is now a crime.But black socks and sandals are still A-OK

Playing tag is banned at school. I guess that means 'Smear the Queer' is completely out of the question.

Tapping your foot wrong in a toilet will get you arrested and cost you your job.But urinate on a Christian icon and call it art, and you'll get a government subsidy

Are we going insane?

Nope. Already there. Did you enjoy the trip?

In the first case, dress codes are for schools, and you can make a good argument that they don't even belong there. In the second case, if you want to know why our kids can't compete internationally, it's because we don't allow them to learn how to compete. In the third place, even if he was looking for love in a really wrong place, how is that the business of the police? Yeah, the thought is repulsive, but if simply being repulsive was a crime, Steve Buscemi would have been exiled decades ago.

You want to get rid of kids in saggy pants? Wear 'em yourself. The fad will die in minutes.

You want to keep kids safe? Teach them that the world is not safe, and let them learn the hard lessons while they're still cheap.

You want to keep gay men from hooking up in restrooms? Give 'em back their bath houses and bookstores.

We're outlawing behaviors that are none of our business.

Posted by Rich
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Thursday, August 30, 2007

KNS Editorial Misses the Point

Talk about burying the lede!

The KNS editorial for today focuses on illegal immigration and manages to say very little over several paragraphs, and what it does say is buried in the ninth paragraph.

After saying that studies show that Tennessee doesn't need to do anything about illegal immigration because it provides a net benefit to the state, then lamenting the fact that the federal government failed to do anything about illegal immigration, the KNS editors drop this little bombshell.

Illegal immigrants in Tennessee are about 2 percent of the state’s 6 million residents. The number of foreign-born residents in Tennessee was about 223,118 in 2005, with the majority in Memphis and Nashville.

"About 223,118?" Not exactly? Apparently the editor could use an editor.

OK, 2% of 2 million is 120,000. That means that there are more foreign born residents here illegally than legally! We aren't in a border state folks;this is ridiculous.

Incidentally, it would have been nice if the KNS had linked to the study it quotes from, but no such luck. I guess I've been spoiled by reading blogs, where I can almost always find a link to their source material. I found the link with one search and two mouseclicks so it shouldn't be that difficult. Now there might be some newsy reason why they can't add the link to the online version of the article and I just don't know what it is or maybe newspapers still don't get the whole online experience yet.

Reading the actual report reveals a couple of interesting things.

Tennessee was one of eight states, which included 15 percent of native born workers in the U.S. in 2000, with above average growth in the foreign-born population and below-average employment rates for native-born workers.

In other words, in Tennessee,the rapid growth in illegal immigrant population is resulting in lower employment for US citizens. Yet here is what the KNS editorial says:

The report from the state comptroller’s office also concludes that illegal immigrants probably have an overall positive effect on the state’s economy...

Here's the thing that really gets me. According to the study, while the federal and state economies as a whole benefit from illegal immigration, it is the local governments which pay the price. Consider these two quotes:

The 2005 Economic Report to the President concluded that unauthorized aliens do not impose a net cost at the federal level but notes that most of the costs are at the state and local level.


The [Texas Comptroller’s report (December 2006)] report focused on state costs and revenues but acknowledged that local government costs exceeded estimated local revenue from unauthorized aliens.

No wonder nobody wants to do anything. The feds and the states are making money. The only folks suffering are cities, counties, and closer to home, Tennesseans looking for a starting job. Now remember, it's not me saying it; it's the Tennessee comptroller's report. You know,the same one the KNS editors use to say our legislators should be spending their time on something other than immigration.

Instead of regurgitating press releases from TIRRC, the KNS editors might try actually reading the report they're quoting from.

Posted by Rich
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Fred is In.  Errr, well, sort of.

He will officially start his campaign on September 6th. As soon as he announces, I'll hit the contribute button over to the left and make my first ever political contribution. Then I need to get in contact with the campaign.

ACK has responded to this somewhat embarrassing development by noting that the formerly "too lazy to run" candidate has lost weight and gotten in shape while preparing to run, and is now "too fit to win."

Gotta give the man credit; he's consistent.

Posted by Rich
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Sunday, August 26, 2007

What is it about running for President…

...that turns intelligent, articulate people to mush mouthed idiots?

"There are circumstances beyond our control, and I think I am better able to handle things I have no control over," -Hillary Clinton

Worthy of Bush, isn't it?

via Tam, who's making the rest of us look bad.

Posted by Rich
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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Things in Fours

I was tagged by Tish for this one, so here goes:
4 jobs I've had:
  • Boiled water 1
  • Played in the dirt with Tonka toys 2
  • Destroyed a building 3
  • Burger King Manager 4

4 films I could watch over and over:
  • Groundhog Day
  • Groundhog Day
  • Groundhog Day
  • Independence Day

4 Places I have lived:
  • In a house
  • In a tent
  • In a log cabin
  • On a boat

4 Favorite TV shows:
  • Firefly
  • Heroes
  • Anything filmed in HD.
  • Anything canceled by Fox

4 Favorite Foods:
  • Pizza
  • Fried chicken
  • Ribeye medium rare with sautéed mushrooms and a loaded baked potato
  • Chocolate chip Pecan Pie

4 Websites I visit everyday:
  • Mine
  • Yours
  • Yahoo
  • I can't say;it's not work safe

4 Places I would love to be:
  • At the final table of the World Series of Poker facing Daniel Negreanu, Phil Hellmuth, Mike Matusow, Jennifer Tilly, and Antonio Esfandiari.
  • Camping in the mountains in autumn
  • Scuba diving off the Great Barrier reef
  • On a 50' houseboat floating down the Mississippi on my way to the Florida Keys

4 Favorite Colors:
  • Sea Green
  • Candy Apple Red
  • Sky Blue
  • Big Orange

4 Names I love but would/could not use for my children:
  • Rose
  • Marie
  • Simon
  • Bailey

1 Navy Nuclear Reactor Operator
2 Plutonium Contaminated Soil Cleanup Operator
3 Operations Specialist for Decommissioning and Demolition of a contaminated radioactive processing plant
4 The highlight of my career to date

And now for the taggees: Lissa, Cathy, Doug, and Barry

Posted by Rich
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Monday, August 13, 2007

Good People.

Some people are just good folks. They don't make a big production about it, they just go out of their way to help out others.

This weekend, I helped my girlfriend move to a new place. I get no props for that; it's in the boyfriend job description. (By the way, is there no satisfactory replacement word for boyfriend/girlfriend? Once you're past 40, it feels a bit awkward.) But we were assisted by three very generous folks over the course of a very long and hot Saturday. And I know they had better things to be doing.

Mark Steel,and Doug and Cathy McCaughan took time out of their busy lives to help her move, and I know they all had better things to do, Doug and Cathy in particular. They could have taken advantage of a child free evening by getting hot and sweaty on their own and instead chose to get hot and sweaty with us.

Wait, that came out wrong. Never mind.

Anyway, I just wanted to let them and everybody else know how much I appreciated their help. It's nice to know that there are still good people around.

Posted by Rich
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Friday, August 10, 2007

South Carolina Pipe Dreams

The story so far:

Two men are stopped for speeding. When they are pulled over, one shuts a laptop. This makes the police officer suspicious, so he asks permission to search the car. The occupants agree. The officer finds a GPS unit, a cellphone, model rocket parts including motors, fuses, and launchers, PVC pipe, and assorted odds and ends.

The two men are arrested and charges with possession of explosives.

What's interesting is the reaction to this story by folks on either side.

Some folks think the young men were targets just because they were from two Middle Eastern countries.

Some folks think that they were obviously terrorists since they were carrying pipe bombs near a Navy base.

A couple of sanity checks for folks on both sides to consider:

My nephew was charged with possession of explosives because he taped a bunch of sparklers together. My nephew probably can't even name two different Middle Eastern countries, yet he was investigated for domestic terrorism.

I, along with 5 of my buddies, was stopped on the side of I-95 for the crime of driving through New Jersey with Florida license plates. We were searched, without giving permission, and they found fireworks, and a baggie of loose pipe tobacco. We weren't arrested, mainly because we all had our military IDs.

They weren't stopped for driving while Middle Eastern. They were stopped for speeding. Their actions made the cop suspicious, although I'm not sure how closing a laptop is a suspicious activity. They agreed to the search, so it seems they didn't think they had anything to hide. They were carrying all the components for pipe bombs, but apparently nothing powerful enough to harm the nuke subs on the Navy base, more along the lines of blowing up mailboxes. They were heading away from the base, not towards it.

So, what's my point? Simple. We don't have enough information to determine whether these guys are terrorists or just stupid. Any commentary on either side is premature.

Posted by Rich
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Thursday, August 09, 2007

My Addiction no-repeat; font-family: Times New Roman, sans-serif; font-size: 30px;">90%How Addicted to Blogging Are You?

Austin Singles from Mingle2

Hey, it's cheaper than drugs, less harmful than smoking, and more fun than gambling.

Posted by Rich
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A Puzzling Thought

A long long time ago, a guy sitting out in the desert for too long, with no food or water, had a vision. In that vision, his God told him that this desert region would one day be the most important place in the entire world. In fact, the fate of the entire human race would be settled in this arid, poor region. Other prophets had similar visions, but most refused to take them seriously. After all, it was a desert. There was nothing of value there.

Flash forward a couple of thousand years, and the deserts of the Middle East are now key to the prosperity and security of the entire planet.

But that's just a coincidence, right?

Posted by Rich
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Saturday, August 04, 2007

A Progressive Look at Immigration Reform:  Steve Dupree’s Disinformation Zone

The latest issue of the Metro Pulse has a column by Steve Dupree, a frequent poster at the place I am not allowed to link to. Fortunately, the Pulse has a more open definition of "open" so I can link to the column.

Dupree's column is all about how impossible a task it would be to deport 12 million illegal aliens,and why we therefore must have some kind of amnesty.

Don't laugh; he's serious.

Since it's Friday night,and my lady friend is studying for finals, I have some free time, so let's look at what Steve has to say and see if it makes any kind of sense at all.

But don't get your hopes up.

Dupree writes:
Our nation simply does not have the infrastructure or the will to do what would have to be done to actually get rid of that many people. We. Can. Not. Do. It. If you are going to have a serious discussion on the issue, some level of amnesty will have to be a part of it.

Let's apply this logic to other areas of life and see if it flies.
The large majority of burglaries are never solved, and even when they are solved, the stolen property is rarely recovered. Our nation simply does not have the infrastructure or the will to do what would have to be done to actually end burglaries. That being the case, it would be unfair to punish those burglars we do catch when the majority receive no punishment at all. We must consider amnesty as part of the solution to burglaries.

Hmmm. Not such a good plan, is it? The logical fallacy is clear; just because removing all illegal aliens is a difficult job that does not mean we have to legalize their continued presence here. We don't legalize other crimes simply because we can't prevent them 100% of the time; the very suggestion of such a policy is ludicrous, yet this is the idea that Dupree is advancing.

Okay,so his conclusion is patently false. Maybe he still has some good points to make in his lead up. After all, the question does have to be answered. Can we come up with an immigration policy that deals with the illegal aliens already here without resorting to amnesty?

Let's see what Dupree says.
Anybody out there remember the lead-up to hurricane Katrina? Remember the stories of people sitting in their cars on the highways for 12-plus hours to go 40 or 50 miles? Huge traffic jams, broken down vehicles, insufficient refueling facilities, incompetent and distracted drivers, and other factors combined to create the situation of essentially turning the interstates and other roads into steamy parking lots.

A few days later, we got to see a rerun of that situation but with Houston, Tex., and hurricane Rita cast as the lead characters.

I'm not entirely certain that evacuating a city before a hurricane is an appropriate analog for deporting illegal aliens. In fact,I'm certain that it isn't. First, illegals aren't concentrated into one metro area; they are dispersed throughout the US. Instead of trying to evacuate a city, think of transporting a very small number of residents from multiple cities. Let's take Knoxville for example. If the current estimates of illegal alien population are accurate, there are roughly 12 million living in the US and dispersed throughout the country. That means there's roughly 5 aliens per one hundred residents. According to the 2000 census, the Knoxville Metro area has 655,000 residents, and approximately 2% of these are Hispanic. We want as conservative an estimate as possible, so assume that all of them are illegal, which will give us the biggest number.

13,000 people. 13,000 people would be lost inside Neyland Stadium. We clear 100,000+ people out of Neyland Stadium 6 times a year in roughly 3-4 hours. I hardly think that 13,000 are going to gridlock our roads. Heck, KAT transports roughly 10,000 people every weekday. Yes, other cities will have a higher percentage of illegals, but those cities also tend to be closer to the border, so it's pretty much a wash. We're not looking at evacuating a city; we're looking at moving a small fraction of it.

So much for the hurricane analogy.

Recently, I heard on NPR some guesstimates of how long a pullout of the less than 300,000 American troops in Iraq would take. The estimates rang in at up to nearly a year to remove all of the troops and their equipment safely.

Now there's a stretch for you. Moving illegal aliens 2500 miles over land is exactly like moving an army with all of its equipment 10,000 miles across two continents and an ocean.

I don't think so. Anything else?

We would probably have to create and fund a completely new bureaucracy to keep up with the logistics of the deportation alone. Everyone would have to be fingerprinted, photographed, and possibly DNA tested so as to positively identify them.

Without doing that, and possibly even with doing it, we would still need to pay disgusting homage to the Nazis and somehow permanently identify illegals as illegals. Would we brand them with some sort of mark or tattoo?

I hereby invoke Godwin's law and pronounce that Dupree has lost the argument. But pay close attention folks; this is probably the only time you'll ever hear a progressive come out against a new bureaucracy.

Dupree's failure is one of imagination. He sees the argument only in terms of the past. His invocation of the Nazis clearly demonstrates this bias. In his limited perception, sending illegal aliens home is an act comparable to the Cherokee Trail of Tears, the Japanese internment, or the Nazi death camps. It never occurs to him that it doesn't have to be that way. What if instead of using the government as a bludgeon to force people to do what we want, we use it more delicately, to encourage them to do what we want?

The first thing to realize is that 12 million people did not arrive overnight, so there's no reason to think they have to be removed overnight. Also, they came here because they were offered tremendous incentives to do so. What if there were a way to remove those incentives, while replacing them with equally strong incentives to return home and come back legally?

It wasn't too long ago that I wrote up a plan that would address border security, illegal immigration,and the problem of deportation, and all without any form of amnesty. You can read it here, but the short version is this:
Step 1: Secure the Border
Step 2: Create a sane visa policy that recognizes the need for unskilled labor. Included in this policy should be reforms that make the visa stick with the worker, not the employer.
Step 3: Institute and enforce massive fines for businesses that hire illegal workers. Make it cheaper for them to hire legal workers at a decent wage than illegals at slave wages.
Step 4: Any illegal alien arrested for any reason is subject to immediate deportation.

The combined effect of these steps will create a strong incentive for illegal aliens to return home and enter America legally. As their job market shrinks, so does their incentive for being here. As legal immigrants come in and fill the jobs, as companies no longer turn a blind eye to forged IDs and work documents, their best choice becomes to return home and enter legally. Notice that there is no massed forced deportation required. The good guys go home and come back legally. The bad guys stay, get arrested, and are never allowed back.

So much for Dupree's Nazi nightmare. It doesn't have to be that way.

Will it happen overnight? No. But the natural incentives built into the plan, plus the fact that any arrest is a one way ticket for deportation will make it certain that it will happen over a period of several years.

Will they all go home? No. But we haven't licked burglary yet either; that doesn't mean we should stop trying. The illegal immigration problem is certainly solvable;all it takes is a little foresight and imagination.

Posted by Rich
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Friday, August 03, 2007

How to Rig a Vote: A Study in Partisan Differences

Let's compare and contrast, shall we?

When Republicans want to rig a vote, they take the long approach. Four years out, they isolate the critical state, then make sure the governor is related to the candidate you haven't picked yet. Next, you enlist a Democrat election official to design a ballot that is so diabolically twisted that the average state resident can't figure it out. Then you make sure that the ballot is ratified by those same voters. Then, you stack the election boards with loyal Democrats who for some reason will work for you, their political rivals. Finally,you persuade the previous President to stack the Supreme court in your favor.

If you're a Democrat,you just change the numbers so the vote count equals what you want it to be.

Remember kids, a vote isn't final until you win.

Interestingly, the vote was on whether or not to allow illegal aliens to get federal aid destined for American farmers. House Republicans think that's a bad idea. Democrats must like it.

Posted by Rich
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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Altruism: Ideal or Cynical Self Deception?

Dr. Helen started it.
In my experience, most people are motivated by some sort of self-interest when they engage in an altruistic act. I used to have discussions with a psychoanalyst I knew who said, like Heinlein, that no one really does anything unless it is in their self-interest in some way.

Dr. Helen then goes on to cite an article in Reason that seems to demonstrate that we give capriciously, and not altruistically.

First of all, let's define our terms so we can ignore any claptrap about "reciprocal altruism" or "enlightened self interest."

Merriam Webster defines altruism as
1 : unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others
2 : behavior by an animal that is not beneficial to or may be harmful to itself but that benefits others of its species.

While I consider these definitions lacking (more on this in a moment) they suffice to make it clear to all, except of course for philosophers and evolutionary psychologists, that any action motivated by any self interest, whether direct or indirect, is not altruistic. Any expectation of reciprocity negates the altruistic motivation entirely. Just like being pregnant, you can't be a little bit altruistic.

Let's take a look at the study in Reason magazine.

In the experiment, 2 participants are chosen at random. One is given $10. He is instructed to take however much of the $10 he wants and put it into an envelope to be passed to the other participant. As you might expect, very few dollars got stuffed in envelopes. There is a very simple explanation for this; our capacity for giving must first be stimulated by an awareness of need. If we don't see a need, we aren't stimulated to give. Handing dollars around becomes a game, nothing more. There are several variations on the theme, but all suffer from the same flaw; there is no perceived need.

And this brings us to the flaw in Merriam Webster's definition. It neglects to specify a perceived need. A fuller definition of altruism would be: Placing the needs of others ahead of your own, without an expectation of reward or reciprocity.

Now that we have defined altruism, we can ask the question, "Do humans possess the capacity to act for pure altruism?

Most say no.

Let's look at the record.

  • Corporal Dunham's squad was conducting a reconnaissance mission in the town of Karabilah, Iraq, when they heard rocket-propelled grenade and small arms fire erupt approximately two kilometers to the west. Corporal Dunham led his Combined Anti-Armor Team towards the engagement to provide fire support to their Battalion Commander's convoy, which had been ambushed as it was traveling to Camp Husaybah. As Corporal Dunham and his Marines advanced, they quickly began to receive enemy fire. Corporal Dunham ordered his squad to dismount their vehicles and led one of his fire teams on foot several blocks south of the ambushed convoy. Discovering seven Iraqi vehicles in a column attempting to depart, Corporal Dunham and his team stopped the vehicles to search them for weapons. As they approached the vehicles, an insurgent leaped out and attacked Corporal Dunham. Corporal Dunham wrestled the insurgent to the ground and in the ensuing struggle saw the insurgent release a grenade. Corporal Dunham immediately alerted his fellow Marines to the threat. Aware of the imminent danger and without hesitation, Corporal Dunham covered the grenade with his helmet and body, bearing the brunt of the explosion and shielding his Marines from the blast. In an ultimate and selfless act of bravery in which he was mortally wounded, he saved the lives of at least two fellow Marines. By his undaunted courage, intrepid fighting spirit, and unwavering devotion to duty, Corporal Dunham gallantly gave his life for his country, thereby reflecting great credit upon himself and upholding the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.

    Rank and organization: Corporal, U.S. Marine Corps. Born: 17 April 1924, Pulaski, Va. Accredited to: District of Columbia. Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division, during action against enemy Japanese forces on Peleliu Island, Palau Group, 15 September 1944. Valiantly placing himself at the head of his squad, Cpl. Bausell led the charge forward against a hostile pillbox which was covering a vital sector of the beach and, as the first to reach the emplacement, immediately started firing his automatic into the aperture while the remainder of his men closed in on the enemy. Swift to act, as a Japanese grenade was hurled into their midst, Cpl. Bausell threw himself on the deadly weapon, taking the full blast of the explosion and sacrificing his own life to save his men. His unwavering loyalty and inspiring courage reflect the highest credit upon Cpl. Bausell and the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.

    Rank and organization: Private First Class, U.S. Army, Company B, 5th Battalion (Airmobile), 7th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division. Place and date: Republic of Vietnam, 1 December 1966. Entered service at: Seattle, Wash. Born: 27 April 1946, Venice, Italy. G.O. No.: 12, 3 April 1968. Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life and beyond the call of duty. Pfc. Albanese's platoon, while advancing through densely covered terrain to establish a blocking position, received intense automatic weapons fire from close range. As other members maneuvered to assault the enemy position, Pfc. Albanese was ordered to provide security for the left flank of the platoon. Suddenly, the left flank received fire from enemy located in a well-concealed ditch. Realizing the imminent danger to his comrades from this fire, Pfc. Albanese fixed his bayonet and moved aggressively into the ditch. His action silenced the sniper fire, enabling the platoon to resume movement toward the main enemy position. As the platoon continued to advance, the sound of heavy firing emanated from the left flank from a pitched battle that ensued in the ditch which Pfc. Albanese had entered. The ditch was actually a well-organized complex of enemy defenses designed to bring devastating flanking fire on the forces attacking the main position. Pfc. Albanese, disregarding the danger to himself, advanced 100 meters along the trench and killed 6 of the snipers, who were armed with automatic weapons. Having exhausted his ammunition, Pfc. Albanese was mortally wounded when he engaged and killed 2 more enemy soldiers in fierce hand-to-hand combat. His unparalleled actions saved the lives of many members of his platoon who otherwise would have fallen to the sniper fire from the ditch, and enabled his platoon to successfully advance against an enemy force of overwhelming numerical superiority. Pfc. Albanese's extraordinary heroism and supreme dedication to his comrades were commensurate with the finest traditions of the military service and remain a tribute to himself, his unit, and the U.S. Army.

Now, you can tell yourself that these are all military men, that they were trained, some might even say brainwashed, to make sacrifices like this. In answer, I want you to take a closer look at the citations. They were awarded the Medal of Honor for actions "above and beyond the call of duty." Yes, soldiers are trained to fight and kill the enemy,and they are well aware of the fact that they may die, but that alone isn't enough to warrant the Medal of Honor. Their actions have to go further than that; their actions have to demonstrate a selflessness that goes beyond their training, deeper than any conditioning.

In every case, these men sacrificed their lives for the good of others, placing their own welfare beneath that of another man.

But it still might be conditioning, a reflex, rather than a rational choice.

Read this passage:

In my home town sixty years ago when I was a child, my mother and father used to take me and my brothers and sisters out to Swope Park on Sunday afternoons. It was a wonderful place for kids, with picnic grounds and lakes and a zoo. But a railroad line cut straight through it.

One Sunday afternoon a young married couple were crossing these tracks. She apparently did not watch her step, for she managed to catch her foot in the frog of a switch to a siding and could not pull it free. Her husband stopped to help her.

But try as they might they could not get her foot loose. While they were working at it, a tramp showed up,walking the ties. He joined the husband in trying to pull the young woman's foot loose. No luck---

Out of sight around the curve a train whistled. Perhaps there would have been time to run and flag it down, perhaps not. In any case, both men went right ahead trying to pull her free...and the train hit them.

The wife was killed, the husband was mortally injured and died later, the tramp was killed--and testimony showed that neither man made the slightest effort to save himself.

The husband's behavior was heroic...but what we expect of a husband towards his wife: his right, and his proud privilege, to die for this woman. But what of the nameless stranger? Up to the very last second he could have jumped clear. He did not. He was still trying to save this woman he had never seen before in his life, right up to the very instant the train killed him. And that's all we'll ever know about him.

This is how a man dies.

This is how a man...lives!

For those of you who do not recognize this story, it is from "The Pragmatics of Patriotism," by Robert Anson Heinlein. I generally prefer quoting the man himself, rather than one of his fictional characters.

Posted by Rich
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