Diego Azeta's Planet of the Sapiens
You call this the apotheosis of evolution?



Welcome to Planet of the Sapiens!
—decoding the species—


Why is it we always wind up with the dolts?




Now it’s permanent press!


My brother-in-law forwarded me this e-mail. Thought I would share it with you.

We’re hearing a lot today about big splashy memorial services.

I want a nationwide memorial service for Darrell “Shifty” Powers.

Shifty volunteered for the airborne in WWII and served with Easy Company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, part of the 101st Airborne Infantry. If you’ve seen Band of Brothers on HBO or the History Channel, you know Shifty. His character appears in all 10 episodes, and Shifty himself is interviewed in several of them.

I met Shifty in the Philadelphia airport several years ago. I didn’t know who he was at the time. I just saw an elderly gentleman having trouble reading his ticket. I offered to help, assured him that he was at the right gate, and noticed the “Screaming Eagle”, the symbol of the 101st Airborne, on his hat.

Making conversation, I asked him if he’d been in the 101st Airborne or if his son was serving. He said quietly that he had been in the 101st. I thanked him for his service, then asked him when he served, and how many jumps he made.

Quietly and humbly, he said “Well, I guess I signed up in 1941 or so, and was in until sometime in 1945 . . . ” at which point my heart skipped.

At that point, again, very humbly, he said “I made the 5 training jumps at Toccoa, and then jumped into Normandy . . .  do you know where Normandy is?” At this point my heart stopped.

I told him yes, I know exactly where Normandy was, and I know what D-Day was. At that point he said “I also made a second jump into Holland , into Arnhem.” I was standing with a genuine war hero . . .  and then I realized that it was June, just after the anniversary of D-Day.

I asked Shifty if he was on his way back from France, and he said “Yes. And it’s real sad because these days so few of the guys are left, and those that are, lots of them can’t make the trip.” My heart was in my throat and I didn’t know what to say.

I helped Shifty get onto the plane and then realized he was back in Coach, while I was in First Class. I sent the flight attendant back to get him and said that I wanted to switch seats. When Shifty came forward, I got up out of the seat and told him I wanted him to have it, that I’d take his in coach.

He said “No, son, you enjoy that seat. Just knowing that there are still some who remember what we did and still care is enough to make an old man very happy.” His eyes were filling up as he said it. And mine are brimming up now as I write this.

Shifty died on June 17 after fighting cancer.

There was no parade.

No big event in Staples Center.

No wall-to-wall, back-to-back, 24×7 news coverage.

No weeping fans on television.

And that’s not right.

Let’s give Shifty his own Memorial Service, online, in our own quiet way. Please forward this email to everyone you know. Especially to the veterans.

Rest in peace, Shifty.

“A nation without heroes is nothing.”
— Roberto Clemente

Thank you, Shifty, and all WWII veterans.



Before I begin expressing my views about human nature —which could at times be construed by some readers as lacking in political correctness, especially when discussing certain subsets of humanity including nationalities, cultures, ethnic groups, social classes, special interest lobbies, business syndicates and professional associations plus assorted subcultural groupings composed of such odd miscellanea as political fringe elements, wacko fundamentalists and neocon Republicans— I should make clear my positions regarding the critical assessment of individuals versus groups and the inadmissibility of prejudiced opinion in intelligent discourse.

The only real entities that exist in the world, biologically, are individuals and families, kin. The rest of the social superstructure consists of notional abstractions claimed to exist by individuals themselves and assented to as real by a sizable proportion of the population of individuals who happen to be localized together, mostly geographically and temporally, and thus collectively constitute a society or group as notionally defined by themselves. Things such as nations, societies and even cultures have no actual physical existence. They are solely creations of the mind.

Individuals, by virtue of belonging to the human species, have a more or less well-defined repertoire of possible behaviors that is common to all members of the race — the human race. All individuals are basically capable of engaging in any of these possible behaviors. Some groups of individuals, however, tend to habitually behave in ways that are distinct from other groups, perhaps because of environmental influences or historical factors. Thus, cultural and social differentiation arise. Although all individuals retain the capability to behave as any other fellow human, the fact remains that collective behavior is observed to be differentiated among groups, and that it is therefore valid to speak of behavioral traits pertaining to the collective (group tendencies) apart from the conduct of any one individual member of that collective.

For any given category of behavior it is possible, at least in principle, to conceive of the extent of actions that individuals may engage in (or alternatively, the range of postures an individual may adopt relative to a given situation) as a separate psychological dimension. Think of a dimension as a geometric line running along the horizontal axis of a graph. The particular conduct of a given individual can (again, in principle) be plotted somewhere along this dimension. For instance, consider the issue of belief in God. At one end of the dimension (say, the point 0 on the x-axis) we can plot the atheists, and at the other extreme (the point 1) plot the believers. Agnostics would be plotted somewhere between the endpoints, according to their degree of belief or lack thereof. Now, if the height in the y-axis is made to represent the number of individuals adopting a specific posture, the result would be a graphical distribution of the belief in God for that group of individuals (at a certain point in time). Summarizing, when talking about groups, a distinction must be made between the statistical distribution of the collective as a whole and the position of each constituent individual.

Distributions may or may not have locations of central tendency, that is, places along the x-axis where many individuals tend to cluster about. In statistics, for example, there is the famous bell curve (more properly, the Gaussian or normal distribution) which is symmetric about the mean and is said to pervade nature, cure all manner of ills and even make you the next millionaire. Actually, distributions come in all manner of shapes, many assymetric, and may have more than one peak (a type of central tendency point) or none at all. It all dependes on the behavioral choices made by each of the individuals in the population. What I wish to highlight is this: it is possible to talk about the tendency of the population or group as a whole even while it is patently clear that individuals in that group may exhibit a markedly different behavior. To restate this very important point: it is perfectly acceptable to talk about national or cultural traits while clearly understanding that such generalizations need not apply to specific individuals within that group. One can criticize the group yet imply nothing about a given individual.

To arbitrarily impute to an individual a trait held to apply to a group is stereotyping, a form of prejudice. That is invalid reasoning, which has no place in intelligent discourse nor in this Weblog.



Fourth of July fireworks at the Washington National Monument

Fourth of July fireworks at the Washington National Monument


Azeta at Large:
Musings on the Fourth of July

America’s national holiday brings to mind not only spectacular displays of dazzling fireworks but colorful patriotic parades, savory backyard barbecues, community concerts in the park, a memorable day at the beach, traditional family picnics with friends and relatives, classic games of baseball and, of course, political speeches praising the nation’s heritage in all manner of public ceremonies. National days in every country are grand events which everyone loves to celebrate.

But what is it, exacty, that the citizens are celebrating? The straightforward answer is seemingly obvious: independence from Britain, the colonial master. But was the point of contention Britain itself, or was it what British power represented? The Declaration of Independence, in its famous preamble, proclaims a more profound matter: a defense of the unalienable rights of man, rights which no governement has the legal or moral standing to abolish, usurp or curtail. That is what makes the Fourth of July a world-class event: it speaks for all of humanity throughout the ages, not just this or that nation at such-and-such a time facing these or those circumstances. The Fourth of July roundly proclaims universal personal freedom.

So how has humanity fared after more than two centuries of Independence Day celebrations? Are men and women truly free to enjoy life and act with liberty and pursue their happiness as they see fit, or are governments still infringing on their inalienable rights by recourse to legalistic subterfuge? Does it matter if the infringers are Brits or Yanks? Independence means sovereignty. But for whom, one must ask: the individual or the state? Is statism the current incarnation of King George? Is emancipation still a mere abstraction, an ideal deserving admiration but not to be literally enjoyed?

These are important questions that arise from the legacy of the Fourth of July, questions to be addressed and discussed in this blog.


Pop quiz: When did Congress declare independence?
Answer:   On the second day of July.