host: You will have all heard about the Mystery Man, and I think it’s obvious that we are going to be hearing a lot more about him in the coming days. A lot more. For those of you who live in a cave and don’t have a Wifi connection in the cave, the Mystery Man is a white male who was wearing a navy blue business suit, without a tie, and was apparently staying at the hotel in Istanbul where there was the terrorist bombing four days ago. This unknown man can be seen in probably the most dramatic scenes of heroism ever captured on film.

I’ve seen it, and we’ll soon have it up on the site. In the meantime, here’s what it is. The film comes from a news team that was setting up outside the hotel to interview an eminent Russian cardiologist who was staying at the hotel. When the film starts, we see some people, including the cardiologist, standing around, chatting. The camera swings left and right and we can see the front of the hotel, the entrance about fifty feet away, and some other people crossing the scene. There is an explosion—explosions always sound like small craaacks on film, even though this one was quite large—and the camera’s picture drops suddenly. You can hear yelling and screaming. The cameraman runs and hunkers down behind a car. He points the lens back to the space in front of the hotel, and you see a brown cloud of dust and debris flying out from the hotel.

And there is the first image of the Mystery Man. He’s lying on the pavement, seemingly unconscious. Then he slowly gets to his knees, and then to his feet. He touches his head, seems disoriented. He strips off his blazer, which is pasted with dust. Then he spots something in the hotel and runs toward it. Meanwhile, people around him are fleeing.

He enters the hotel, where the glass in the front doors has been blown out. About a minute later, he emerges, carrying a small boy. He goes back in and comes out with an unconscious man in his arms. The building is now on fire, flames can be seen in the windows. The Mystery Man nevertheless returns to the building eight more times, each time bringing someone out. At one point, the police arrive and try to stop him from going in, but he breaks away from them and reenters the building. Eventually, fire trucks arrive and the scene fills with people. The man reappears and talks to the firemen. They use hand signals a lot, indicating that the man does not speak Turkish. He appears to be saying that there is no one else in the building that he knows of. He stands aside a moment while the firemen start their hoses. And then the man can be seen looking around vaguely for his jacket, and then just walking away, to the left of the screen, disappearing.

The jacket was recovered but had no identification in it. It was made in France but could have been bought anywhere. The man did not check in at any of the major hotels in town that day or the following day. No one meeting his description could be picked out of the crowds in the airport the next day. The hotel guest registration data was destroyed in the explosion, and two people who worked at the desk were killed. It was in fact a lucky thing, as these things go, that the attack came at the time it did, just before lunch, as almost everyone was out of the building. Anyway, you will be seeing the film. And it’s spectacular.

About the Mystery Man: He is being universally described as a hero. It seems to be true. And I for one will say I am glad about it, because we need heroes, and in recent times so many people have bandied about the term for just about anyone, usually for political purposes. We needed a true example, to set the standard. So we remember what the standard is.

I don’t think he’s a hero. We don’t even know who he is.

Who cares who he is? He’s a hero if ever there was one.

What makes him such a hero?

Oh, he only went into a burning hotel which had just been attacked by terrorists, where more bombs could have been waiting to explode, and carried out ten incapacitated people, even when the police tried to stop him. This guy is a rock. And you don’t see why he’s a hero? You need a new dictionary, friend. One with this guy’s picture next to the word hero.

And next to the entry for badass.

Is badass in the dictionary?

Should be.

Should be now.

This should help us redefine, or at least remember, the proper definition of hero. Nowadays anybody who dies is a hero. Anyone with the bad luck to end up in a burning building, or at the center of an earthquake, or in a car wreck. If you die, you’re a hero. For what?

For having lived, I’d say. It’s a tough thing.

Is living so hard? Is it heroic just to be on earth? It’s painful, it’s confusing, it’s existentially baffling, but heroic?

I’d say it’s heroic.

What about the good things in life? The beauty? The pleasures?

All temporary.

So we’re all heroes. Just for living.

No, only those who die young are heroes.

Why? As if they chose it. As if they knew it was coming and dealt with the blow stoically, without complaint. They may have gone down screaming, trying to throw their grandmother in front of the oncoming train, but if we didn’t see that, they’re heroes.

I think there is a feeling out there that it is heroic just to survive in this place. And that, if someone else dies young, it somehow saves us. It’s the Mercantile Theory of survival: not everyone can live. When people die young, it allows others to live. We call them heroes, but we need another term.

Right, if it wasn’t that guy who died in the fire, it could have been me. Unknowingly, he saved me.

But this is not heroism. Heroism is a conscious act. Not to mention that the theory of a trade in survival is incorrect, a superstition.

A superstition, but it’s how people think. People are superstitious, even in this day and age, as crazy as that may seem.

It’s not crazy. There’s not enough yet of something else, of science or rational thought, to replace superstition completely. There’s too much unexplained. And there always will be. Superstition is rational.

I agree—being disdainful of superstition is just being superstitious about superstition.

THE POINT WAS, it’s not heroism when someone dies, if they don’t consciously make a sacrifice for another. We call them heroes, but it’s just that in our dumbed down world, we lack the vocabulary to express our sadness at their loss. We feel bad for them. We suddenly, at the moment of their death, see their innocence. All of a sudden we are compassionate, forgiving, understanding. We suddenly don’t care if the dead guy was a jerk, we feel it is unjust for anyone—anyone at all—to have their life taken from them early.

So what’s the word for someone like that?

The Unfortunate.

No, not the “unfortunate.” We need a positive term, a positive term for something based in negativity (death).

They are The Redeemed.

The Redeemers. They redeem us.

They are both, the redeemers and the redeemed. In short, they are The Pure.

But we’re all that. We’re all pure. It’s just that we don’t allow ourselves to see it in others in normal circumstances.

Well, it’s worth naming the people who bring about these special circumstances, where we can see innocence in others. These are special people, in a way, who let us see our compassion for them. Then we could turn that compassion around and shine it on everyone else.

But we don’t. Why?

Because we have no training to do so. We need to be trained to increase our awareness, our compassion, from childhood. We don’t train our children this way. Quite the opposite.

We get caught in a trap by calling these dead people “heroes” or anything else. This means they are special—and they are special, as someone said, if they help us view the world compassionately. But we stop after viewing them compassionately, because we label them something, and this means they are special cases and the rest of us aren’t. Naming them at all takes away from the point, that they are normal human beings, and normal human beings are innocent.

They are Saints.

Saints also make us feel compassion for others, but they do so consciously. They make a sacrifice they are aware of. These other folks just croak.

And again, saints are special. You can’t relate to a saint. The problem with saints is they can’t inspire anybody. Sure, saints do amazing things. But that’s them. I’m normal. I ain’t no saint. And anything they make me feel is probably a special case, too.

late update: Now we are getting word that another hero has been caught on film, this time in Sofia, Bulgaria. This hero, who actually appears very similar to the hero of Istanbul in height, color, and build, happened upon a pediatric hospital that had caught fire due to a gas explosion in a nearby apartment block. Video shot by a resident of the neighborhood shows the man repeatedly entering the building and retrieving sick children, six in all. Some were bedridden, others too scared to move. At one point, he entered through the front of the building moments before the entranceway collapsed. He was not seen again, but it was later found that he had continued rescuing children, bringing them out the back, sometimes carrying two at a time. Afterward he disappeared. He has not responded to calls from the press to come forward. Now instead of a Mystery Man we have Mystery Men.

Who knew there were so many heroes around? Two in one week?

It just took technology and globalization this long to be able to show it to us.

That’s odd—it’s been showing us the nightmare visions for some time now.

It is intriguing how much is captured on video nowadays. Random events in poor countries. Nothing will ever be anonymous anymore.

Well, now we have two bona fide heroes, so we can define a type. They are heroes because what they did they did consciously. They took known risks. They sought no reward, or even acknowledgment. So this should reset the balance as to who we name “hero.”

You can’t be a hero for doing something subconsciously? Why not? If the result is good . . .

Then the result is heroic, or good, or the circumstance is heroic, but the person is not.

So, the GIs who fought and died in WWII, and liberated the concentration camps, they’re not necessarily heroes because they didn’t know about the existence of the concentration camps when they went over.

They made other sacrifices they knew they were making.

But we’ll still have to find another name for those other people, whose suffering shows us something.

This is just a semantic debate.

Maybe, but it seems like there’s a hole in the language here, which points at how we think. It’s something—heroic, for lack of a better term—to live. And to suffer the fate of dying before your time.

I’d call it “Neroic” just to live, and to die young, as in Nearly Heroic. These people are Nearly Heroes, or “Neroes.”

A life is truly heroic when it shows us to be compassionate.

This is the story of Jesus.

No, it’s not the story of Jesus, because again, Jesus was Mr. Special. The story of Jesus would have been more effective if it had involved an ordinary guy, or, in fact, someone who was not likable, even bad. Then it would be meaningful to feel compassion for him when he gets killed.

All of this certainly has a lot of import for the debate on capital punishment. If we’re all so forgiving and understanding of the average joe, why . . .

It’s what somebody said before. It’s a trade. We kill someone so someone else—one of our own—can live. The law just gives us the excuse to do it.

We all seem to believe in some demented form of karma. You can kill, under certain circumstances, and it will yield a good result. But if you do it wrong, or too much, you pay the price.

That’s not karma.

I know it’s not karma. It’s some demented version of it, like I said.

There is a long tradition of sacrifice to God in Christianity.

unbelievable late update: Word is that the hero of Sophia and the hero of Istanbul are the same man. I’m seeing reports that computer-aided analysis of the videos show striking similarities in physique and movement. Close-up shots of the face are quite blurry, however. And he seems to have left no trace of his identity in either place. So no one knows who he is. Stay tuned (as if you had a choice). This is about as dramatic as it gets.

Twice? This guy is most definitely a hero. Clearly, the first incident was not a fluke for him. He’s a hero.

Now I admit it, he’s a hero. And I must know who this man is.

You’re not the only one. It’s on all channels. All the time. This is the media storm of the century.

It’s what I was saying before about everything being recorded nowadays, nothing is anonymous. And now people expect to know everything. In the information age, it’s frustrating having this mystery. Wondering all the time, Who is this man? Who is this man? It feeds the media frenzy, the public buzz. It’s not so much what he did, or even who he is exactly, it’s the fact that a piece of information is being withheld from us. That’s the cause of the furor.

Dead on. If you want to make a million bucks nowadays, or create a firestorm of publicity, create a mystery. Withhold, as you say, some information—even about something you are making up. Tell people you know something they don’t. It will drive them crazy. They’ll pay you to tell them even a worthless piece of information. And they’ll feel relieved and satisfied when they find out the thing you’ve been withholding.

No, it’s deeper. This is about the search. The ultimate search for good news. This is why we probe the earth, the seas, the atmosphere, space, the moon, the planets. Why we have twenty-four-hour news. Why we are constantly digging on the Internet, blogging, reacting, linking linking linking linking. Why we invented the Internet.

You know how they linked people’s personal computers to analyze data from the giant satellite dish they are using to look for extraterrestrial life? The Internet is us doing that, but pointing inward.

Right. We are desperately seeking the good news. The arrival, finally, of the good news. We built civilization for it, like building a gigantic telescope, which took millennia to construct. Now . . . turn it on . . . take a look . . .where’s the good news? The Answer?

In any case, the Mystery Man should never come forward. It would be a relief to have someone do some good anonymously.

Yeah, unlike these hypocrites, like, say, Sen. Visser. Always getting credit for doing the right thing. But, wait a minute—he’s a congressman. Aren’t they supposed to do the right thing?

Congress sucks.

I agree it would be best if the Mystery Man remained a mystery. A good mystery is what we need. So we can continue to believe in mysteries.

He should remain a mystery, because if not, it’ll just be a media circus, and all the good feeling about what he did, that people can be heroic, will go in the toilet.

It’s already a media circus.

It will also ruin his life. He’ll be hounded by paparazzi until the day he dies.

He’ll end up making chewing gum commercials and cutting an album.

I very much want the world to have an example of someone who could sell out but doesn’t do it. Just one. Just one guy. Come on. Please.

I don’t know—it doesn’t appear like he’s seeking the spotlight. It’s been several days now, and he hasn’t surfaced.

I’m sick of this guy. Hero or not. No one talks about anything else.

This is getting out of control—on the news just now, they ran a story about how their reporters are criss-crossing Europe and the Middle East and elsewhere looking for this guy. No news, just a story about them trying to get a news story. Meanwhile, masked gunmen held six people hostage in the Japanese consulate in Cape Town, South Africa, for twelve hours. An extensive energy trade agreement was also reached between all of the countries on the South American continent, and member states voted on a preliminary measure to move the United Nations headquarters out of New York. Is something wrong with this picture?

They don’t know who he is, so they talk on and on about who he could be. Some say he’s traveling businessman. A European, based on the French blazer. But people everywhere wear blazers. Some say he’s a doctor, because there was a medical conference in Istanbul and one in Sofia. But the one in Sofia wasn’t set to begin until the week after the guy rescued the children. Still, he could have gotten there real early. Some say he’s a secret agent who was tracking the terrorists in Istanbul and happened upon the explosion in Sofia by accident. Or that the explosion was no accident, and the two events are linked. And this would explain why he hasn’t come forward. But there’s no positive evidence of who he is whatsoever. It’s all just a nonstop guessing game.

Are we avoiding life here? Talking, opining, blogging all day every day? I’m quitting . . .

You see how it happens? A thing occurs, and it’s important. But then the chatter starts. People start pulling threads off of it. It becomes a phenomenon. And everyone forgets the central issue, the central act. Everyone just blathers on and on about details.

It’s human nature—it’s how our brains work. We don’t take information and sit on it, and meditate on it and come to deeply understand it. We take information and make more information out of it. We start by asking questions about it. Then we follow leads, invent new ideas, investigate them, ask new questions about new answers, and keep the whole thing going ad infinitum.

We think this intellectual exercise is the most impressive thing about humans, but it is the easiest thing for us to do. We’re really just lazy. It would be much harder to learn to live with facts, to listen to them deeply, to come to peace with them.

Is it how our brains work, or could we train them to work differently?

This is why religion is so tightly tied to war. We could possibly train our brains to work a different way, which the spiritual path demands—it demands one conquer oneself. But this is the most difficult challenge there is for a human. So we choose anything else instead, especially something that seems difficult and dangerous, to do in the name of religion. Like war, which we do in the name of, actually in place of, conquering ourselves. War on others is much easier.

It is much easier to impose your will on someone else than on yourself.

A good religion should point this out directly: don’t bullshit me, trying to make war in my name and call it a sacrifice. This is not practicing your religion, this is avoiding it, profaning it.

Blah blah blah—life, beauty, heroism, war, compassion, you, me, our brains, evolution, psychology, karma, law, killing, suffering, value, blah, blah, blah. What is blog spelled backwards?

What it really comes down to is, this guy, an average human being, saw the importance of other people’s lives, of their suffering, and put it above his own. And he did it instinctively and repeatedly. He saw his life as valuable only insomuch as he could use it to help others. And we could all be that way. We may all be that way, in truth. And that’s it. All the rest is b.s.

So is there really any use talking about it? This time I mean it—I’m quitting.

breaking news: Sources tell me that the Mystery Man has been identified. More soon.


Oh no!

update: Mystery Man to speak on live television next Tuesday.

I think it’s fair to say the whole world will be watching. It’s the old set-up: What would you say to the entire world if you had the chance? And it’s come true for someone, finally, due to global technology. And from what we know, the speaker is a pretty interesting character.

So what will he say? A message of peace? Of hope? Of love?

“Drink Coke.”


Vote for me.

Drink the grape kool-aid.

Send one dollar to this address . . .

I see a lot of us have sick senses of humor. Could we just try, a little, to be optimistic?

He’ll say something bland like “I just did what anybody would do, only glad to help, etc.” Because he’s an ordinary guy.

He shouldn’t be doing this at all. His actions speak louder than words. Now his words will replace his actions in the public mind.

I agree, he shouldn’t do it, unless . . . he really has something good to say.

He must be aware of all of this. He has until now avoided the spotlight. Now he has it all focused on him at one time. So he clearly will have something good to say. I’m dying to know what it is.

Me too, but I’ve given up wracking my brain trying to figure it out. It’s too good to figure out, we can’t guess it. If we could guess it, there would be no point in him doing it.

Christ, listening to you guys makes me think this guy really should say Vote for me. Or Drink Coke.


Sometimes the world seems so dumb, so full of dumb animals, all so addicted to curiosity like caffeine, it’s just as well to go ahead and take advantage of them, to use them like you use everything else as raw materials to help yourself, to better your life. What’s the difference?

Can’t buy that. People need help to channel their curiosity for good ends.

Maybe it’s too late. They’re too dumb to save now. We waited too long to do anything about ourselves.

It’s the nature of people that they are salvable. That is human nature. That is the basis of everything.

Maybe he won’t say anything at all. He’ll just sit there in silence. That’ll make everyone think. Think, I say, think for a change!

Won’t work. Everyone’d think for a minute or two, get bored, and give up on it. They’d all laugh and say it was a rip-off, like a bad movie that got hyped too much. And then it’d be back to normal.

Damn—that means we’ve had it. We’ve dumbed ourselves down so much we couldn’t be enlightened even if it hit us on the head. It’s hopeless.

He’d reach a few people that way. And that’s all that counts.

host: I just want to add a few thoughts here to a lively discussion.

Strange things are going to happen next Tuesday night, when the Mystery Man is revealed to the world, and when he speaks. More people around the world will watch this event than any before in history. More than watched the men landing on the moon. Many more.

This night will be special. Crime will go down. Power outages will go up. More electricity will be burned that night than any night in history. Everyone wants to know. Everyone wants to see. We are all on the same side, rooting for the same thing. We are all, globally, on the same page. For the first time in history.

Maybe this is why he’s doing it. For these moments, now. Not for the moment he appears. But for these moments beforehand, when we are all united. Forget about guessing what he will say. Forget about placing bets on it, as many have. Forget about trying to imagine what effect his words will have on the world the day after. Just relax, and enjoy these moments. No matter what happens, the taste of this global togetherness will stay with us. The cat will be out of the bag. Once you know that the earth is round, once you know that it revolves around the sun, there’s no going back. We are not ready for change, we have not prepared for it, but we want it. For such creatures, these moments of anticipation may be the best chance we have.

hmmm . . .

. . . you think he can put it off for a while?

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