Killed and Injured

I was working at home the other day. The nice thing about working from home is that one avoids the distractions of people stopping by to ask questions, or loud speakerphone conversations from the office next door. The downside is the occasional distracting phone call.

I got another call from tin rattlers. They zipped through their script at high speed: regaling me with an impassioned plea to support the "Police Officers' Benevolent Fund" or something similar. They began by explaining that many policemen are killed or injured in the line of duty, leaving loved ones uncared for. Or somesuch. "Do you still live in [my town]?" I was asked, "if so, you'll soon receive our donation kit. How much should I put you down for -- $100 or just $50?".

I hate this shit. I hate people ringing me up unbidden and begging for money. I hate people reading off scripts designed not to let you get a word in edgeways. I hate charities using the name of the police to intimidate you into giving. I hate loaded questions like "would you like to give $100 or just $50" that pressure the weak willed into donating without really being sure what they are supporting.

Normally, I just get them off the phone as quickly as possible by saying something like "I'm sorry, I don't respond to unsolicited phone calls". I always try to be polite, since usually the poor person on the end of the phone is being paid minimum wage to do this work, and also if I just hang up they might ring back.

This time, I was somewhat prepared, since this "charity" rings regularly. I asked "can you answer a question first? How many policemen have been killed or injured in [my town] in the last five years?".

To explain, [my town] is a ridiculously well to-do commuter town. The police exude the aura of smug contentment at all times. The main impact they seem to have is to creep round the streets in the middle of the night, putting a $20 parking fine on any car parked on even the quietest side street due to a town-wide "no street parking 2am-6am" rule that seems to serve no other purpose than to bring in extra revenue and irritate the citizens. There's virtually no crime. So the chances of any cop getting shot is spectacularly small. Hence, I have no idea what this "charity" actually does: for all I know, it could just be a front for some kind of bribery.

There was a confused pause, a request to repeat the question, and then a response of "I don't know". If I was in more of a antagonizing mood I woul dhav epressed the point, but I had other things to do, so instead I replied "OK, well, thanks for you help anyway. Goodbye!" and hung up. Best not to prolong these things.

For some reason, I was reminded of this call this morning, when I heard good old President Clinton talking about torture. He seemed to be rather against the idea. In the context of torture, those who think that brutally abusing captives is a good idea often wheel out the familiar thought experiment of "the ticking bomb".

It's a very compelling argument. There's a time bomb about to go off at any moment, and the person who absolutely certainly planted it is in captivity but refuses to disclose the location. Do you torture them to extract the location? Well, as we know from everyday life, these ticking time bombs are a serious hazard on a regular basis. It is so frustrating to the police in London and New York who each day have to deal with literally dozens of suspects in custody who, without a shadow of a doubt, planted the bomb, as seen by hundreds of reliable witnesses, yet no one seems to know where it is and the bomber won't say. The only way to guarantee finding the lcoation and saving the city is to hold their head down the toilet while flushing it repeatedly. Would you pull the chain? I know I would.

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