October 15, 2010

Miners Get Paid, As Expected

real American heroes

Are they tough?  Damn straight.  Are they heroes?  No way, Jose.

COPIAPO, Chile - The first three rescued Chilean miners out of the hospital celebrated their new lives as national heroes Friday, as word emerged that the 33 want to closely guard their story so they can fairly divide the spoils of their overnight media stardom.

There's a subtlety to this story that might have been missed: they were already anticipating big paydays while they were still in the hole.

If society wants to pay them for the human interest story; if there's a market for that, I certainly won't stand in their way, but don't ask me to participate in the alteration of reality  that these guys are heroes.  Put me in a hole for 69 days with no hope of rescue-- call me a hero.  Put me in a hole for 69 days with no hope of rescue but every probability of a big pay day, and this stops being heroism and starts being a reality show.

"This is not a reality TV show," he said.

He's half right-- it's not reality, it's meta reality: pretend to be miners trapped in a hole.  Pretend not to be miners trapped in a hole about to get paid. 

Ramirez, as you'd expect from a man who embraces the risks of his profession [mining], scoffed at the need for all the psychological treatment.

"When we first spoke to the miners down below ... they weren't in bad shape," he said. "Psychologically, they weren't in bad shape at all."

But being thrust from the dark chambers of a gold mine into the limelight -- and knowing how to cope with overnight fame -- is quite another matter.

Note that the last sentence appears in the form of a reversal: that's narrative construction to keep you interested in a story, but it is factually inaccurate.  They weren't psychologically tough and now have to deal with overnight fame; they were psychologically tough because they were anticipating overnight fame.  Which isn't to say that they wouldn't have survived even if there was no money-- who knows?

So now they're going to make a TV show about them?  I'd like someone to explain to me how a movie about their ordeal differs from the news coverage of their ordeal, except that it is temporally contiguous.  Did the news not capture the drama?  Did the news not sex it up? 

The real mind bender for the media is: how do you tell the story about heroism, when the "heroism"  exists precisely because of the story?


God told Abraham to take his only son, Isaac, to Moriah and sacrifice him.  The popular telling of the story is that this was a test of Abraham's faith.  Abraham obeyed God; but at the moment he was about to plunge the knife into Isaac's heart, God called to him and stopped him

for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.

Abraham passed the test!  Yay!

But what did he really do?  If God tells you to do something, there's no issue.  He's the highest law, so you obey.  Abraham's actions-- murder-- would neither be wrong (God is the highest law, he decides what's right and wrong) nor heroic: I did this because God said to.  All Abraham did was exhibit a preference for God over his son.  In the logic of the Bible, is that such a big deal?

St. Paul adds:

By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son... Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.
Abraham had in the back of his mind that God could even raise Isaac from the dead.  So what's the worry?  And, despite God's insistence that Isaac was his only son, he had a backup in the woods somewhere.  Just call him Ishmael.

This is a painting of Abraham leading Isaac to sacrifice in what I assume is colonial Williamsburg.  Domenichino thought it important enough to paint three palm trees, but you know what he didn't paint?  God.  Because he's not there.  

Could Abraham actually hear God?  Of course not-- so he could only assume that what he thinks he heard was God telling him to kill Isaac.  Otherwise he was insane.  If he heard God, there's no test of faith, only a test of preference-- God or Isaac.  But not hearing God, he had to both prefer God and believe he had heard Him.

If Abraham had actually killed Isaac, then Abraham would actually be a murderer, punishable by whatever they did back then.  And he would know that, but he would have to kill Isaac anyway.

But neither was belief in God enough.  He had to believe in God and simultaneously have faith that such a God would not allow Isaac to die. "I believe God wants me to do this, but I have faith that this kind of God would not allow me to do something wrong, and no, even I'm not sure about any of this."  The real test God was challenging him with was, "do you believe in the right kind of Me?"

"All of this is absurd."  That's why he's anxious.  But the question is, what's Isaac to make of all this?


Bible study is over.  Now to NYC, where the city has paid about $1B since 2000 in settlements for claims against the NYPD.  

"Right now it's open season against the city. Just file a lawsuit, and you're going to get money," said City Council member Peter Vallone, who has sponsored a bill he hopes will make it impossible to pay out dubious claims.

I realize many are legitimate, their legitimacy is not my concern.   "Some multimillion-dollar settlements have gone to officers themselves for on-the-job injuries."  Fine.

NY public hospital claims were almost $3B.

There's a shortage of money but a plethora of lottery tickets, and you can't fault a person for playing the numbers.  There are too many other people in the world, sufficiently odd looking to be slightly unreal, and so only a tiny, tiny amount of the world's attention, help, concern, love, is directed at you.  Hell, your own wife doesn't like you that much.  So if a transit bus happily breaks your leg, there's no shame in taking a 100 grand with you into your isolation.

But there's no honor in it, either.

The money, the narcissism, makes even good men go the wrong way.  Why not me?  Why not get paid for my suffering?  And the answer is: there is no reason, you earned it.  I guess.

But don't call it heroism.  Have the dignity to hide it from everyone, you may have earned that money but you did not deserve it.  It is not a mark of distinction, any more than sleeping with your sister-in-law.  

A real hero would come out of that hole, take one look at the nonsense around him, and say, "Fuck you.  Fuck you and your cameras.  I'm getting a sandwich."   That would be a show of inner strength, people would wonder "how did he do it? how could he survive? how could he not make a statement?" and they would be infuriated by their inability to tie it to something outside, to tie it to their own shame. 

But they very preposterousness, the impossibility of even conceiving this kind of response shows that if we were Abraham, Isaac would be dead.