science

Heroes

You all know Plato's famous Euthyphro dilemma, but it's worth re-printing here:

"Is the pious loved by the Gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the Gods?"

Plato's always a good place to start when discussing the touchy subject of personal heroes, and the Euthyphro is how I like to frame the discussion. I know people, friends and family, who don't have any heroes because these are people, hey, we're talking about, and people are flawed, people let you down, people have grey areas and are, in short, not worthy of being put on the Hero pedestal.

That's a point of view I can understand, but it's not one I subscribe to. For me, a person doesn't have to be perfect or even exceptionally virtuous to be a hero of mine. My heroes have one or more traits I find exceptional and admirable, or they've done exceptional and admirable things. In a more Platonic formulation, I might say "These ideals are heroic, and Bob is my hero because he does them," as opposed to "Bob is my hero, so the things he does are heroic." 

Anyway, this is a long way of getting to saying that Neil Gaiman is a personal hero of mine. It's not because he writes terrific stories, stories which inspire me and I find myself re-reading over and over. What makes him a hero, to me, is this: He has the extremely rare ability to speak about ideas the sort of ideas which tend to provoke strong, emotional responses in a way that is calm, thoughtful, and definitive in a way that defuses rather than escalates. Here's Neil Gaiman discussing "political correctness" a couple of years ago:

I was reading a book (about interjections, oddly enough) yesterday which included the phrase “In these days of political correctness…” talking about no longer making jokes that denigrated people for their culture or for the colour of their skin. And I thought, “That’s not actually anything to do with ‘political correctness’. That’s just treating other people with respect.”

Which made me oddly happy. I started imagining a world in which we replaced the phrase “politically correct” wherever we could with “treating other people with respect”, and it made me smile. 

You should try it. It’s peculiarly enlightening.

I know what you’re thinking now. You’re thinking “Oh my god, that’s treating other people with respect gone mad!”

In a sense, it's the opposite of trolling. I admire that and recognize that it's a lot more difficult than it looks. I try to make my point and still be above the fray the way Mr. Gaiman can be, but...well, I'm a bit of a work in progress in that respect.

So, count me in the pro-hero column. I admire John Steinbeck and Warren Ellis and Sarah Vowell and Neil deGrasse Tyson and Greg Graffin and many others. I admire them for what they do and say. They've all given me something to aspire to be. I think that's a fine thing so long as I don't stick them up on a pedestal and say that everything they do is heroic just because they're the ones doing it. 

-RK

Pictured: Not heroes of mine, but funny.

Pictured: Not heroes of mine, but funny.




Grackles are a lot cooler than I thought.

So this happened last night:
 

Beautiful girlfriend and I were eating dinner on a restaurant patio. The restaurant had recently secured its waste disposal against birds, which had done nothing to reduce the number of birds trying to get an easy meal. Instead, it just made the birds stare at diners even more intensely with their just-this-side-of-reptilian eyes. 

We were next to the parking lot and, as fate would have it, so were a couple of grackles. One of them was a fine specimen, with deep purple-black feathers reflecting a spectrum that suggested he had enough oil in his diet. The other one was in worse shape. He had a badly maimed foot that couldn't bear any weight. He didn't seem to be getting his share of the leftover morsels and it was starting to take a toll on him. 

Beautiful girlfriend, being beautiful in all possible definitions of the word, tossed a few chips out into the parking lot to distract the bigger bird. She then tossed some to the maimed grackle. Strangely enough, the wounded bird ignored her offering and, loudly (as if grackles did things any other way), followed the larger bird. 

This frustrating dance went on for a short while until beautiful girlfriend stopped tossing and just watched. I wish I had video evidence of what happened next because it was one of the most goddamn wonderful things I've ever seen. The bigger grackle picked up a piece of chip in his beak and stood patiently while the bird with the bum leg took it from him. 

For no obvious reason, the healthy bird just sat there, picking up chips, and feeding his wounded...friend? I don't know how else to describe it. Maybe they were related, maybe they were a nesting pair, maybe they were just friends. Regardless, it was unexpected and surprisingly touching to see.

I'm not a big fan of bird in general, but after seeing those two last night? I think I need to reconsider.

 

Like I said, I wish I'd thought to take some video or at least a picture. This is pretty much what it looked like, though.

Like I said, I wish I'd thought to take some video or at least a picture. This is pretty much what it looked like, though.