Saturday, February 25, 2006


When I was in high school, my school put on a play based on the book I never saw another butterfly. That play was based on an epynonymous book that was a collection of poetry and paintings from Terezin, the Czech concentration camp where a secret school was set up, where a teacher collected and hid the poetry of the students before he was shipped to Aushwitz and died.

I remember very little from the play except my friend's screaming.

A blog post from a teacher reminded me of the play. The teacher is trying to teach the Holocaust and WWII and leads into the history through poetry.

The Butterfly

The last, the very last,
So richly, brightly, dazzlingly yellow.
Perhaps if the sun’s tears would sing
against a white stone…

Such, such a yellow
Is carried lightly ‘way up high.
It went away I’m sure because it wished to
kiss the world goodbye.

For seven weeks I’ve lived in here,
Penned up inside this ghetto
But I have found my people here.
The dandelions call to me
And the white chestnut candles in the court.
Only I never saw another butterfly.

That butterfly was the last one.
Butterflies don’t live in here,
In the ghetto.

-Pavel Friedmann

Thursday, February 23, 2006

War and the Soul 

A promised review, also posted to AltarMagazine.com:

“War and the Soul: Healing Our Nation’s Veterans from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder” by Edward Tick, Ph.D. is probably the best book on PTSD and veterans I have ever read, and I’m an MA student studying the effect of killing in combat on veterans’ experiences with PTSD. Tick’s premise is simple: PTSD is not a stress/anxiety disorder, as it is currently classified by psychologists. It is a disorder of the identity, of the soul. His use of psychology is easy to understand; he writes for the educated lay person. He relies on the psychology of Carl Jung to explain the soul. He uses mythology to elucidate the human identity. He references everyone from Mircae Eliade, Paul Keegan, Homer, Sophocles, and Elie Wiesal. He quotes the masters of his field: Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, (ret.), Jonathan Shay, and others, but he relies on mythology to interpret the human need for combat as a rite of passage and to explain how modern combat, with distance fighting and increased mortality, has lost its ability to provide the rite of passage. Men and women are trapped between life stages. This identity crisis becomes PTSD. While in combat, this in-between stage explains war atrocities (thought Tick never attempts to explain the routine and systematic destruction of cities that occurred during wars centuries ago, for example Rome’s destruction of Carthage). Tick claims thus that PTSD is better treated by completing the transition from one life stage to the next than through drugs. He describes many of his patients and how his work has helped them. The interviews with veterans are illuminating and heart-rending. Though occasionally too political, this book clearly illuminates the effect modern warfare has on the common soldiers’ souls and the steps needed to save them.

Origin Unknown 

"Outside a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside a dog, it's too dark to read."

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


This could have been me.

Although I actually didn't read Sun Tzu until middle school...

Monday, February 13, 2006


I have always hated writing in books. I prefer Post-Its. When necessary, I use pencil or (horror!) highlighters.

I'm rethinking that.

I now own (or am borrowing from my grandmother) three books my grandfather owned and read. One is the Harvard Classics edition of Essays and English Traits by Emerson. The paper's old. I could get better text online for free. But when I look through the essay "Self-Reliance" and see certain sentences marked with parentheses for emphasis, it's like he's talking to me. He died 24 years ago, but I know he read, and he dwelled on:

  • To believe your own thought, to believe what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, -- that is genius.
  • It takes a divine man to exhibit anything divine.
  • Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.
  • The virtue most in request [ by society] is conformity. Self-reliance is an aversion.
  • Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist.
  • To be great is to be misunderstood.

    I want to buy a new copy just to make my own marks in this great text, a new copy so that I don't overwrite my grandfather's thoughts. To emphasize,
    "Instead of the gong for dinner, let us hear the Spartan fife. Let us bow and apologize no more. A great man is coming to eat at my house. I do not wish to please him: I wish that he should wish to please me."
    And I will leave my book and my grandfather's book on the shelf together until my own grandchild shall someday pull both volumes down and read what I imagine to be a dialogue across generations. A quarter century, and another quarter century. And she will read our marginalia conversation and dwell on it, and maybe she will be inspired to add her own thoughts.

    On a similar note:

    My first gun was a Beretta .22 Bobcat, given to me by an uncle who could barely stand, not even 50, but with a 2% chance of surviving the year. I carried some spent casings in my pocket for luck.

    He survived.

    Now he's back to his wily old self. He "lent" me his dad's shotgun, a Merkel over/under, insisting that it was a loan until his kids get interested in guns. The gun belonged to the same grandfather who read and wrote in "Self-Reliance." I know my uncle's kids - they don't like guns. My uncle just didn't want to call it a gift. It's a tough object to part with, not just for the monetary value, but knowing - "this gun was my fathers', I used it in my sporting days, and now I pass it on to the next generation." Now he complains that when he's well enough to go duck hunting, he won't have anything to shoot. I say, "yeah, that's a problem, you should get a shotgun or something," and leave it at that. :)

  • *I'm* delighted, at least 

    Your Ultimate Sci-Fi Profile II: which sci-fi crew would you best fit in? (pics)
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    Thursday, February 09, 2006

    Armed Society 

    This is an analysis of an article that's been floating around the gunblogs these days. for more, see SayUncle, geekwitha.45, and John Lott.

    I turned this in for a Master's level class in scientific methodology, so I don't (think I) swear.

    In Press: Hemenway, D., Vriniotis, M., Miller, M. Is an armed society a polite society? Guns and road rage.” Accident Analysis and Prevention.

    This study attempts to empirically analyze the statement “an armed society is a polite society” with a telephone survey looking at aggressive driving and gun ownership / possession. Immediate problems arise in the introduction. As the authors point out, communication between cars is difficult at best. Directions, apologies, and minor threats are difficult. Road rage, as the authors use the term, is visibly aggressive driving that can involve illegal actions (tailgating or brandishing a gun, for example). The authors claim that the “armed society is a polite society” quote yields 33,000 websites from an Internet search then claim “no one seems to have explained what the phrase means” (1), a statement that implies they read all 33,000 websites searching for the meaning and that they read the source text, Beyond This Horizon by Robert Heinlein.

    So the study operationalizes “armed” to mean owning a gun or carrying a gun in one’s car, loaded or unloaded. “Polite” is operationalized to mean not engaging in aggressive behavior while driving. I question whether a person can be called “armed” when driving with an unloaded gun locked in the trunk with ammunition locked in another container, and I question whether “polite” is simply the absence of illegal, aggressive behavior.

    The study is a survey of 2459 people conducted via random telephone calls. Of the calls that were successful (when the experimenters spoke to an adult of the intended, randomized gender, etc.), 31% of potential subjects refused to participate. From what I know of survey response, this is a high response rate, but I believe it is biased toward people who do not own guns, people who own guns illegally, and people who are irresponsible gun owners. My own (limited) experience with responsible gun owners has shown me that they are extremely cautious about revealing themselves to own guns, especially to people perceived as “anti-gun” (the experimenters are from Harvard and received money from the Joyce Foundation); people change pediatricians over this issue and decide where to live based on gun laws. At least some of the gun questions in the survey were worded improperly. For example, the question, “…how many days were you in a motor vehicle in which there was a gun” could lead to false positives when correlated with questions like “…have you been arrested…” because one can be in a car but not own or be in possession of the firearm. The “gun-in-car” question was turned into a yes/no (anything over 0 = yes). The authors also asked if the subject owned any firearms that were in their home. The study focused on an analysis of these four categories.

    6.3% of the subjects who admitted making obscene gestures and following aggressively carried a gun in their vehicle at least once in the past year, compared with 2.8% of subjects who never carry a gun (p<0.001), with a multivariate odds ration of 1.7 (95% CI = 1.0, 2.9). Other results showed that male gender, smoking, binge drinking, youth, and a criminal record were also predictive of aggressive driving. The authors note briefly that those who carried guns were both more likely to report being the victim of impolite behavior.

    The questions asked do not look at complete incidents (was a reported rude gesture a response or instigation? Was the subject armed during any of the incidents? Did the subject have access to the firearm and was the firearm operational?). The authors pad their discussion section with a few comments that point out these shortcomings. They reference studies defining what makes a good driver and studies that show correlation between driving drunk, smoking, youth, living in urban areas, and being male and aggressive driving. Obviously correlation does not mean causation. The authors do not go so far as to claim that it is, but they do say “riding with a firearm in the vehicle appears to be a marker for aggressive and dangerous driver behavior”(8). But they don’t quantify the correlation. An increase from 2.8% to 6.3% is more than doubling, but the figures are still relatively small, and the authors don’t mention the strength of the correlation compared to other mentioned factors.

    Finally, the authors acknowledge funding from the Joyce Foundation, an anti-gun nonprofit. This raises the issue of bias.

    In sum, I give them a D-. I would fail them, except they had a lot of statistics and made some interesting general observations. But their methodology, conclusions, and impartiality are all flawed.

    Monday, February 06, 2006

    Molon Labe 

    Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield. Read it. Now.

    Thermopylae (literally, the gates of fire) was the site of a battle during the Persian War. Xerxes and his tens of tousands of troops were fought to a temporary standstill by 300 Spartans.

    "Xerxes says he does not want your lives, only your arms."

    "Tell him to come and get them." (in Greek, Molon labe)

    Historically, every Spartan died in the battle. The premise of the book, however, is that one man, a squire, survives the fighting long enough to be captured and interrogated by the Persian's historian. The captured man, Xeonas, tells of Sparta and the Spartan way of war. He tells of the battle from Sparta's perspective.

    Michael Yon talks about the book and how LTC Kurilla gives a copy to every new officer.

    “I would be the one. The one to go back and speak. A pain beyond all previous now seized me. Sweet life itself, even the desperately sought chance to tell the tale, suddenly seemed unendurable alongside the pain of having to take leave of these whom I had come so to love.”

    If the Marines like the book, it can't be that bad. :)

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