Sunday, November 16, 2014

Getting in the way of celebration

In Victor Hugo's book 93 is a scene in which a warship is in deadly danger from a loose cannon. It has come free, and the half ton of iron slides back and forth with each wave, breaking bulkheads and crushing everything in its path and threatening to breach the hull and sink the ship. One man risks his life to jump in its path to ram wedges in place to stop it--and succeeds. The commander rewards such bravery with a medal--and then has the man shot because he was the one whose carelessness let the cannon come loose.

Perhaps that is logical, but it seems less than justice.

A few real-life people with accomplishments:

Alexander Grothendieck died quite recently. He was one of the top mathematicians of the 20'th century, ground-breaking in several fields. The link is a bio of him with thumbnail descriptions of his work (and I need to look up some terms before I will understand the thumbnails). He assembled and inspired a wonderful team, and then his own inner struggles led him to tear the group apart and hide as an unpleasant hermit for the rest of his life.

Feynman was a ground-breaking physicist. He had such an appetite for the ladies that the story goes that undergraduate girls found they could get easy money by telling him that they were pregnant by him and needed to get an abortion. (He apparently stood up for a woman physicist who was being belittled for her sex, so his attitude wasn't purely utilitilitarian.) Martin Luther King Jr. allegedly had an eye for the ladies too. Nelson Mandela started off as a hard-line Marxist, and never quite abjured that murderous faith, though his later words and deeds were more peaceful.

Paladins are a little thin on the ground, and even though the US tries to hold its military men to Knights Templar-like vows of poverty, chastity(*) and obedience, they often seem to have the usual collection of vices--though with fewer cowards than the rest of us.

We celebrate what we can. And try to let the accomplishment atone for the failures, when we can.

And then...

A project director celebrating landing a probe on a comet (a huge accomplishment for European Space Agency) wore a tacky Hawaiian shirt, and several ladies got a case of the vapors. (The response of Nancy Hopkins is beyond parody.) Ho hum. Except that shortly thereafter the accused director apologized in tears. Wait, what? That doesn't happen, even with Aspie folks, unless somebody has taken them out back and threatened them.

Who are these people in the back room who have given the professionally aggrieved the power to become harpies and defecate all over the feast?

I think I understand why they enable the harpies--keeping people worried and off-balance helps keep them in line. But who are they, and how do we depose them?

(*) According to my dictionary that includes fidelity in marriage.

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