Tuesday, March 31, 2009

America's newest altar boy

Is there anyone in this entire solar system who doesn't think that Newt Gingrich's recent conversion to Roman Catholicism was a cynical attempt to pander to a potential voting bloc?

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Gingrich has spent the past few years waiting for the GOP to recognize him as its last, best hope for regaining power. Not nominating him for president last year was a clear sign that they weren't paying attention, so Newt has apparently decided to start nudging them. "Look at me! I'm now part of an important voting bloc! Hispanics will vote for me now, and look at how important they are! And remember JFK? He was Catholic, and now I am too, so that makes me just like him! Vote for me, dammit, vote for me!"

Newt's track record for political success hasn't been very impressive lately. In fact, pretty much everything he's done since 1995 has been a horrible failure. I'm going to go way out on a limb and predict that his "conversion" will be a horrible failure, too.

Carnival of the Liberals #87

The carnival continues at the Blue Gal blog. Drop in and have a look at the liberal bloggy goodness. Sadly, my own Take me to your leader post didn't make the cut, but them's the breaks. Per Fran at Blue Gal, issue #88 of the Carnival is due out on April 8 at the Liberal England blog.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Taking aim at "High-Frequency War"

Earlier this month, the Johnny Pez blog brought you Harl Vincent's "High-Frequency War" from the February 1940 issue of Astounding Science-Fiction (starting here). Vincent's story is a startlingly grim picture of the United States of America suffering from foreign invasion in the mid-1970s. As unlikely as that seems today, it's important to place the story within its moment in history, at the cusp of the debate between isolationists and interventionists. At the time, it didn't seem unreasonable to suppose that an unprepared America might eventually find itself being invaded.

Just when was the story written? As it happens, we can make a good educated guess about that. Isaac Asimov's first two published Astounding stories neatly bracket "HFW": "Trends" from the July 1939 issue, and "Homo Sol" from the September 1940 issue. In The Early Asimov, we learn that Asimov wrote "Trends" in December 1938, and revised it the following month at the request of Astounding editor John W. Campbell. Campbell accepted the revised story on January 24, 1939, and the story appeared five months later in the July 1939 Astounding. Asimov wrote "Homo Sol" in February 1940, and again revised it at Campbell's request the following month. Campbell accepted the story at the end of March, and it appeared, again, five months later in the September 1940 issue. This gives us a consistent five month lead time between a story's acceptance by Campbell and its appearance in Astounding. If we accept a similar lead time for "HFW", then Campbell would have accepted it for publication sometime in September 1939, implying that Vincent wrote it in August or early September.

In the four years leading up to the writing of "HFW", isolationists in the U.S. Congress had passed a series of Neutrality Acts placing ever greater restrictions on American commerce with nations at war. At the same time, the world saw a series of aggressive moves on the part of various totalitarian nations: the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in October 1935, the German remilitarization of the Rhineland in March 1936, the Japanese invasion of China in July 1937, the German annexation of Austria in March 1938, the German annexation of the Sudetenland in September 1938, the German annexation of the rest of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, the Italian conquest of Albania in April 1939, the Italo-German alliance of May 1939, and finally the Soviet-German nonaggression treaty of August 1939.

Interventionists such as Vincent believed that if the United States continued to ignore the aggression of totalitarian states, the end result would be the domination of Europe and the western Pacific by hostile nations, with the United States finally left alone to face the aggressive dictatorships sometime in the future. This is the situation Vincent depicted in "HFW": an isolated United States being invaded by the nations of the Quadruple Alliance. Vincent doesn't name the members of the Quadruple Alliance, but given the recent Nazi-Soviet treaty it isn't hard to guess that the QA consists of Germany, Italy, Japan, and the Soviet Union.

"HFW" takes place in 1976 or 1977. The Alleghenies mark the battle zone between the occupied East Coast of the United States and the rest of the country, one of several fronts in the war between the United States and the Quadruple Alliance. The war began in 1974 with a surprise attack by the Quadruple Alliance using powerful high-frequency radio waves that killed or injured millions of Americans. Those not killed outright by the radio weapons were left with amnesia and demyelination.

Vincent's depiction of an unprepared, isolationist America at the mercy of foreign invaders places "HFW" firmly in the tradition of invasion literature, a genre of cautionary tales that goes back to 1871's The Battle of Dorking. Vincent combines the traditional invasion story with a science fiction background, placing his story decades in the future and showing the use of scientifically advanced weaponry by both sides. In "HFW", fleets of aircraft sweep across the sky while radio weapons, both offensive and defensive, are brought to bear against them. However, Vincent failed to anticipate two important classes of weapons, atomic bombs and rockets, even though both were staples of science fiction at the time he was writing, and military rockets were actually under development.

Vincent was a writer of the Gernsback Era, when radio waves were at the forefront of engineering. By 1940, twelve years after the appearance of his first story, advances in both science and science fiction were leaving Vincent behind. It may have been for this reason that Vincent would soon give up his career writing science fiction. The next story he published in Astounding, "Deputy Correspondent" in the June 1940 issue, would be his last.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I've been downhearted baby

In a country that's facing the worst economic downturn in 80 years, what we really need to make it through the day is an embedded music video in an obscure blog. Today it's "Standing Outside a Broken Phonebooth With Money in My Hand" by Primitive Radio Gods.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Everybody talks about the weather . . .

. . . so I will too.

It's four days past the vernal equinox (better known as the first day of spring), but you couldn't tell by looking out the window. It's below freezing, and a howling north wind has got the wind chill factor down in the teens. The only positive aspect is that the sun is riding high in a hard, cloudless blue sky, and this time of year she's up there for a good twelve hours, which is four more than we got three months ago around the winter solstice. Despite the north wind, energy is splashing across the trees, buildings, streets, and open spaces of Newport from that thermonuclear generator sitting in the sky.

In his autobiography, Isaac Asimov tells a story about the first day of spring back in 1958. He had agreed to speak at the convocation at Swarthmore College near Philadelphia, arriving the evening before. It was snowing as Asimov arrived at the college, but he wasn't worried, because the weather forecast called for only a couple of inches. The next morning, the first day of spring, he woke up to find over a foot of snow on the ground; very wet, very heavy snow. When he reached the convocation hall he was warned by the school's vice president that since attendance at the convocation was compulsory, some students made a point of ostentatiously ignoring the proceedings by reading newspapers during the speaker's talk. Faced with a large audience that had been forced to trudge through masses of wet snow to attend, there was only one thing for Asimov to do, and he did it:

I began with a stirring encomium on spring, the rebirth of nature, the season green and perfumed, the epitome of hope, the welcome release from winter's icy grip -- making the whole thing more and more lyrical until I greeted the coming of the vernal equinox that day in a veritable Everest of floral gush.

Asimov's audience found his ironic introduction enjoyable, and he had no trouble maintaining their interest during the rest of his talk.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Left Limbaugh

A few weeks back, when the "Rush Limbaugh rules the GOP" meme was first making the rounds, Tim F. at Balloon Juice sought to highlight Limbaugh's power among Republicans by contrasting their treatment of him with the Democrats' treatment of Michael Moore. Why did Tim F. choose Moore as the liberal version of Limbaugh? Mainly, I think, because they're both big white guys. It seems to me that, apart from that, and apart from the fact that both have published several books and hosted short-lived television shows, the comparison is not an apt one.

Michael Moore makes documentaries. Since 1989 he has produced six cinematic documentaries, two televised documentaries, and the comedy film Canadian Bacon. Most of his work has appeared in movie theaters, which is to say, people who wished to see them had to travel to a movie theater and pay money to do so.

Rush Limbaugh hosts a radio show. Since 1988 his show has been broadcast three hours a day, five days a week, on hundreds of stations all across the United States. People who wish to hear his show only have to walk over to a radio, tune in an AM station, and listen. His success has resulted in the creation of an entire industry devoted to right-wing talk radio gasbags.

Who is the left's Limbaugh? If you want to know what a liberal Rush Limbaugh would be like, imagine the following:

The time is fifteen years in the future. The liberal wing of the Democratic Party dominates Congress, a liberal Democrat is President of the United States, the cable news shows and the Sunday morning bobblehead shows always make sure to invite at least one liberal talking head, and usually more than one, because their greatest fear is being accused of exhibiting conservative bias. The liberal wing of the blogosphere is the source of the talking points that dominate American political discourse, and Daily Kos is the most important left-leaning blog in America. In this scenario, Markos Moulitsas Zúñiga would be to the Democratic Party what Rush Limbaugh currently is to the Republican Party.*

Right now, there is no liberal Rush Limbaugh, which is an important reason why conservatives still dominate American political discourse even though their policies have been discredited and they have lost control of the federal government. This is also why Nate Silver is wrong (an unusual situation for him to be in) when he says that the GOP has no leader, just as the Democratic Party had no leader in 2005. In 2005 the Democrats had no Limbaugh analog with a nationally syndicated soapbox and a nationwide mass following to dictate orthodoxy and punish any politician who got out of line. That's why, as I've said before, Rush Limbaugh is the leader of the GOP.

* I suppose to make the analogy more accurate I ought to have moderate Republicans control Congress and the White House following eight years of disastrously incompetent liberal government, but I can't make myself believe that there will be any moderate Republicans around in fifteen years, or that liberal Democrats could screw things up as badly as conservative Republicans have.

Friday, March 20, 2009

DBTL 19: The Darkness and the Light

Warsaw, Polish Commonwealth
16 March 1945

"Ambassador Kurusu isn't pleased," said Foreign Minister Edward Raczyński. "He wants us to keep on fighting until the Bolsheviks agree to evacuate Manchuria."

War Minister Stanisław Skwarczyński shook his head. "Being allied with the Japanese does not obligate us to be as stupid as the Japanese."

It was dark in the Cabinet room of the Belvedere Palace. The windows were blocked off as part of the wartime blackout conditions, and most of the lights had been switched off to conserve power. The four men who made up the Polish Commonwealth's War Cabinet sat in the dim light and tried to steer their embattled country towards a peace that beckoned through the gloom.

"It's not a matter of stupidity as much as stubbornness," pointed out President Jósef Beck. "In their whole history, the Japanese have never lost a war, and Prime Minister Tojo does not intend to be the first Japanese leader to do so."

"You don't have to tell me about stubbornness," said Skwarczyński. "I am a Pole, after all. We are a stubborn people. But we also know when to cut our losses. If the Japanese keep fighting, they may well be driven off mainland Asia completely. They are lucky the Bolsheviks are willing to call a halt to the war now."

"They will not accept the loss of Manchuria," said Raczyński. "They consider it a matter of honor."

"Then they will fight for it alone," said Skwarczyński. "We will not sacrifice our victory for the sake of their pride. If they will not agree to the terms of the truce, then we should sign it without them."

"Would we truly be sacrificing victory?" asked Prime Minister Edward Rydz-Śmigły. "In five months of campaigning, we have halted the Bolshevik invasion of the Commonwealth, and gone on to drive them back hundreds of miles. Kiev and Smolensk are ours. If we wished, we could take Moscow as well."

Again Skwarczyński shook his head. "Napoleon took Moscow, and what good did it do him? This is Russia. The Bolsheviks could retreat for another year, and still not be beaten. And do not forget, when they first invaded our country, the Bolsheviks had not fought a real war in over twenty years. But they have spent the last five months learning how to fight, and they are learning. Another six months, and our armies would be deadlocked. In a year, we would be retreating. In three years, the Commonwealth would be gone, and a new clutch of Soviet Socialist Republics would be hatching in Central Europe."

Now Skwarczyński smiled. "It is said that genius consists of knowing when to stop. I do not claim the title of genius, but I do at least claim to know when to stop. The Bolsheviks have offered to cede Belorussia and the Ukraine to us, and Karelia to the Finns. It is enough, and more than enough. The Finns and Estonians have pronounced themselves satisfied with these terms, and if the Japanese had more sense and less pride, they would do the same. I believe we should accept."

"If we do," said Raczyński, "our alliance with the Japanese will be at an end. They will neither forgive, nor forget."

"The price they ask is too high," said Skwarczyński.

"I find I must agree with the Marshal," said Beck. "The Japanese have been given a chance to back away with most of their empire, if not their dignity, intact. If they refuse this chance, on their own heads be it."

"It would be better," said Rydz-Śmigły, "if we could end the Bolshevik threat once and for all."

"On that much," said Skwarczyński, "we agree. The Bolsheviks will only keep the peace for as long as they think they must. They have learned much from us about how to fight a modern war, and they will build on what they have learned. Once they decide they are ready, they will attack again. I believe we will have ten years at least before that day comes, but I also believe we will have no more than twenty. Rest assured, gentlemen, there will be another war." Skwarczyński shrugged, then added, "Barring anything unforeseen."

Murzuq, Tripolitania, Kingdom of Italy
16 March 1945

General Galeazzo Ciano, Director of the Prometheus Project, stared in awe and exhilaration as the small, man-made sun rose up above the Libyan desert, temporarily turning the arid night into day. The human race was entering a new era today, and Ciano was proud to know that he had done so much to bring it about.

His father-in-law, he knew, would be quite pleased.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

So this is goodbye

Is it time for another embedded music video? It must be, because here comes one now: "Porcelain" by Moby.

Traffic circles of tyranny!

One of Newport's best kept secrets is the Rotary, our very own traffic circle, a little bit of Europe (or possibly New Jersey) here in the City by the Harbor. You'll find it at the intersection of Connell Highway and Admiral Kalbfus Road, watched over by a 7-Eleven, a Shell gas station, Bishop's 4th St. Diner, and Mama Leone's Pizza Restaurant. But what you may not know is that, in the not-too-distant future, it will also serve as an observation and control post for the United Nations.

Mrs. Polly at the Rumproast blog has the gruesome details. Mrs. P. was able to locate this YouTube video from a vigilant Minnesotan explaining how the U.N. was going to put huts on top of all the traffic circles (or roundabouts, as they apparently call 'em up there), and put U.N. troops in the huts, and then use the traffic circles as checkpoints ("May I see your papers?) after the Obama administration hands over America to the U.N.

Mrs. Polly found further evidence at a website called abovetopsecret.com, where poster mastermind77 has the straight dope:

“I just got word from a person who knows a local contractor that UN checkpoints are being planned to go up in the next few years. With round-about’s being put in to stifle traffic so these usurpers of sovereignty and liberty can have their way with our country.”

You may laugh, but remember that they also laughed at the Marx Brothers Wright brothers. You'll be laughing out of the other side of your face when the black helicopters descend upon America's traffic circles and our nation's sovereignty is ground under the iron heels of Ban Ki-moon's jack-booted thugs!

Wake up America! Your future oppressors are only a traffic circle away!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

In which I confess my listserv sins

It seems that a Politico, um, journalist named Michael Calderone has done a story about a listserv (basically a group of people emailing each other en masse) started up by blogger and health care wonk Ezra Klein. The existence of this listserv is now being touted throughout the wingnutosphere as proof that the libruls are conspiring against us!

They say confession is good for the soul, so just in case I have a soul, I'd better take care of it by confessing my own listserv sins. I myself have participated in two listservs (or, as the saying has it, listserv-related program activities), both connected to the legandary Usenet newsgroup soc.history.what-if, or shwi for short. Shwi is a forum for alternate-history enthusiasts, and I began participating in its deliberations way back in 1999. In the spring of 2000, the group became consumed with the burning question: how would we shwi regulars react if we all found ourselves transported back to the year 1800, with nothing more than the clothes on our backs and some self-contained laptop computers that would let us communicate with each other? The resulting discussion was so all-consuming that by mutual agreement it was moved off of the newsgroup itself and onto a listserv. Thus, I found myself participating in a listserv for the first time, following the adventures of my fellow shwinees at the turn of the 19th century. After about a month, I realized that I didn't have enough free time to keep up with the others, and I dropped out.

A year later, a small group of shwi regulars began a project to create a sequel to Robert Sobel's alternate history classic For Want of a Nail. Although not formally a listserv, the For All Nails cabal communicated with each other via email in what was essentially an unofficial listserv. The For All Nails project continued for three and a half years, resulting in 300 vignettes, before finally coming to a halt in the summer of 2005.

So, although I didn't take part in any vast conspiracies, nevertheless I was a participant in the shame of the modern American republic, the listserv. I can only hope that you, my hypothetical readers, can forgive me.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Carnival of the Liberals

A Carnival is basically a celebration centered around a parade, traditionally associated with the arrival of Lent. The blogospheric version is the Blog Carnival, basically a parade of blog posts on a particular topic and/or theme. From the left blogosphere comes the Carnival of the Liberals, a bi-weekly parade of ten liberal blog posts, each time hosted at a different liberal blog.

The upcoming Carnival of the Liberals, for Wednesday, March 25, is being hosted by Blue Gal. I've submitted my recent Take me to your leader post for consideration, so we'll see whether it makes the cut.

If you've got a recent liberal blog post you're particularly pleased with, go ahead and submit it (submission guidelines are here), and maybe you can find yourself on parade at the Carnival of the Liberals, throwing beads and trinkets to the onlookers.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

From the rooftop shout it out

One of the traditions of blogging is that of embedding music videos from YouTube. I was always a little puzzled about the point of doing so, and being a little slow on the uptake, it's taken me five years to figure it out. The point of embedding music videos is to feed the blog by creating blog posts with no actual content.

Well, as Mark Twain almost said, immature bloggers borrow, but mature bloggers steal, so I'll be following in the footsteps of Atrios, Rumproast, and Blue Gal (and revealing my antiquated musical tastes to a candid world). First up is a song that's been playing in my head lately for some reason, so I'll be sending it out to infect yours as well: "Ready to Go" by Republica.

Friday, March 13, 2009

"High-Frequency War" by Harl Vincent, part 3

This is the third and final installment of "High-Frequency War", a 1940 science fiction story by Harl Vincent, a prolific writer of the 1930s who has since fallen into obscurity. I have taken it upon myself to introduce Vincent's work to the (potentially) vast audience of the internet. The first two installments can be found here and here. And now, we return to "High-Frequency War" . . .

* * *

"Buckley, you crook!" Slim screamed, plunging directly into the line of fire. "You traitor! You're finished!"

Momentarily confused, the enemy began blazing away wildly. A searing pain stabbed through Pinky's shoulder as he zigzagged toward his destination. From a corner of his eye he saw Slim fall with dungarees smoldering. Six more feet and he'd be at those controls. One of the squat ones was almost on him. Pinky lashed out with a suddenly strengthened right arm. The man sprawled, mouthing thick curses, his ray pistol clattering to the floor. Pinky grabbed the gun and a control knob in sweeping opposite motions of his two rejuvenated arms. A fluorescent green blazed eerily down from high in th dome as a bank of old, dusty vacuum tubes lighted. There were no further hisses of stab-rays.

Bellowing encouragement to Slim, Pinky brought down the pistol butt on the clipped head of the one who had dropped it. Crack! One of the three was out of the fight. Odds were even. And those radiations from the dome had neutralized the energies of the ray guns.

Pinky catapulted across the floor at Buckley. The renegade scientist was tripping the release of his gun frantically. Disgusted at its refusal to operate, he foolishly flung it away just as Pinky landed on him. That mistake cost him any chance he may have had, for this raging redbeard wasn't fighting by any sporting rules. Not now. Not in this. Pinky was fighting for his country and no holds, or anything else, barred. He smashed down the pistol on Buckley's skill and the man sank down.

Slim had not been so fortunate. His opponent had him tied in a knot on the floor. Pinky went to help.

"Go 'way!" shouted the engineer. "I'll get this bird myself. I'll break his dirty neck."

Slim almost did just that, though he was bleeding and panting when he rose and swayed groggily over the prostrate foreigner.

Pinky chortled and said: "Good work."

"Think I'd let you do everything?" Young Harvey glared, wiping the blood from his mouth. "And now, dammit, you've got to tell me all about everything."

"When we fix them up for a while, Slim." Pinky pointed to one of the three who was stirring. "Where's some cord or wire?"

It didn't take them long to truss up the precious trio and lay them side by side on the floor. When they had finished, they examined one another's wounds. Pinky had a clean hole burned through his shoulder, missing the joint entirely. Slim's burn was horribly deep, a crinkled, white-lipped groove across his middle. Painful, both wounds, but self-cauterized. That was one good thing about the stab-rays; unless they reached a vital spot, there was little real danger.

"Well," said Slim, when they'd finished, "come clean now. All the way. You faked the amnesia, didn't you? And the paralysis?"

Pinky shook his head and Slim could see that his eyes had lost the far-away look and the pallid hue. "No, I didn't fake anyting, Slim. The radiations from that transformer restored by memory and the use of my limbs. That's all."

"It isn't all. How about knowing about this?" He jerked a thumb upward toward the green flare that was still on.

Pinky laughed and went to switch it off.

* * *

"All right," he agreed, when he came back. "I'll come clean."

Slim was goggling at the videoscreen. The enemy fleet, caught between the second and third barriers, was being blasted out of the skies by the reserve American fleet and by the scathing vibro-rays from the ground.

"Too bad their plans went wrong," chuckled Pinky. "Oh, the war'll be over in a week, all right, just as Vardos said. But the victory'll be ours, not theirs."

"Vardos?" asked Slim, blankly.

Pinky indicated the unconscious one Slim had known as Buckley. "He's not Buckley," he averred. "Name's Vardos. He was assistant to the real Buckley a couple of years ago. Started just before the war did. And he knew the real doctor had something that would make this country invincible in warfare. His job was to get the dope on Buckley's weapon. And he rayed Buckley with the same frequency radiated from the regular bombs. Left him to die in the swirl. Once Buckley was out of the way, he tried to discover the secret of the weapon. But there were a few things Buckley had kept in his head, so it took Vardos until only recently to learn the important activating tie-in. That's why he demanded and got the isolation. It took time -- for him. He doesn't know a thing about the rest of the apparatus here. That's why he didn't know what I was up to when I ran for those controls. None of the other stuff in here has been used since Buckley, himself, went out of the picture, only the main thing -- the multiple frequency propagation mechanisms."

"But how could --"

"There was enough similarity between Vardos and Buckley so he could get away with the impersonation. It was easy, with a little make-up -- even with the military. Also, on account of the reputation of the real Dr. Buckley, who was always a staunch patriot."

Slim's brown eyes seemed about to pop from their sockets. "But you -- then you --"

"Yes, I'm Francis Xavier Buckley, if that's what you're driving at. Naturally, I knew about the things here when I remembered. And, incidentally, Vardos rayed me right here and sneaked ou, leaving me in the ray swirl. But I managed to crawl out of it and away before it could kill me and consume me, as it always does if given enough time. He thought that was what happened. But I wa the wandering, mentally lost, partly crippled Pinky you first saw. You see, the frequency used by him and in what we call freak bombs, acts first on brain and nerve cells. Electric charges are built up in individual cells, first producing unconsciousness, then paralysis, by implantation in the nerve ganglia. A definite multiple wave harmonic will release those charges and cure the sufferer. That's what happened to me behind the transformer. It took two shots to do it. But it's done. It was sheer luck I stumbled into the old cottage. Luck, or a buried remnant of familiarity and memory."

Slim was dancing around him, trying to hug him. "Gee!" he kept repeating awedly.

"Ouch!" yelped the man who had been known as Pinky. "Keep away from that shoulder. And let me finish. Might as well get it off my chest now."

"I'm just a punk operating engineer. I wouldn't know," apologized Slim.

"Yes, you will. It's simple, the principle of the multiple frequency propagation. You know that all the modern weapons and defenses are dependent for their effectiveness on some sort of radio frequency projection. Various high frequencies produce various results. And for many years man tried to neutralize various destructive effects by superimposing frequency upon frequency. It was done in some cases -- like the stab-ray. But to bring stratoplanes down or to stop fan barriers or trench moles, complex radiations were required. That's how I developed the multiwave apparatus. It produces a great number of individual frequencies separated in definite multiples between which there are heterodyning effects which result in an almost infinite number of beat notes to cover any result desired. Vardos only found the one combination which could close down the fan barriers and permit the Q.A. fleet to drive through the space where formerly an electronic wall had been erected. It happens to be the same combination which will release the cell charges in a sufferer such as I had become. Simple enough, isn't it?"

"It isn't," Slim said decisively. "But it'll have to do. So now what?"

"So now we can produce any combination of harmonics we want. We can render powerless the enemy fleets and their ground forces and blank out their defensive barriers. We have them licked."

"You mean you have them licked." Slim looked his companion up and down with approval. "You sure are a different man, Dr. Buckley."

The real Buckley grabbed his arm. "Listen," he laughed, "until I get these whiskers off, you call me Pinky. You hear?"

"All right -- Pinky," chuckled Slim. "And what do we do next?"

"We go down to your bailiwick and feed me those sandwiches you told me about. I'm hungry. Then we audio Regional Headquarters and have these babies picked up for quick trial. I imagine they'll look nice under the cone swirls they use on spies."

Vardos was stirring, groaning, muttering curses. His eyes widened with horror as the rested on the man who was the real Buckley. Even with the pink disguise, he recognized him.

Pinky turned away and said to Slim: "Let's go downstairs. I want to juggle a pair of shears and your razor before we get the military on the job."

"O.K., Pinky," grinned the engineer. "And the eats."


(continue on to "Taking aim at High-Frequency War")

We have a winner!

My "pick the new New York Times wingnut" contest has come to an end with word that the Times has chosen Atlantic Monthly scold Ross "Dudley" Douthat to fill the seat recently vacated by legacy neocon Bill "William the Bloody" Kristol. The winning (and only) entry is Nomi Hurwitz' suggestion of Ann Coulter. Although Nomi didn't win the distinguished Platinum Pez Award by actually predicting Dudley's ascension to the Safire Chair of Punditry, her choice of Coulter is close enough to earn her the prized Golden Pez Award. She can pick up the award the next time she finds herself in Newport.

Springtime for stupidity

As I've noted before, a traditional wintertime activity is for some random wingnut somewhere to look around them at the falling snow and say, "Well, lookee here! It's cold! I guess that means there ain't no global warmin' goin' on after all! Hyuck, hyuck, hyuck!"

Well, spring is almost here, but that hasn't kept the Boston Globe's house wingnut, Jeff Jacoby, from saying, "Well, lookee here! It's cold! I guess that means there ain't no global warmin' goin' on after all! Hyuck, hyuck, hyuck!"

(Why does Jacoby have a job at the Globe? My theory, and I'll admit it's just a theory, is that the sneaky liberals running that paper decided to try to discredit conservatism by hiring the stupidest wingnut they could find in the greater Boston area, and that's how Jacoby got his column.)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

"High-Frequency War" by Harl Vincent, part 2

This is the second installment of "High-Frequency War", a 1940 science fiction story by Harl Vincent, a prolific writer of the 1930s who has since fallen into obscurity. I have taken it upon myself to introduce Vincent's work to the (potentially) vast audience of the internet. The first installment can be found here. And now, we return to "High-Frequency War" . . .

* * *

He didn't know until a minute later, that Slim had saved his life.

"It's Doc Buckley," the engineer explained after he had answered the audio call. "He's up in the lab and wants me for a while. So you wait right here in the engine room. And whatever you do, don't try to go outside the building."

"Why?" asked Pinky, innocently. Then hastily: "Of course, I wouldn't."

"There's a frequency barrier all around the building, Pinky. It's what dropped you on the stair. You'd be dead by now, if I hadn't hauled you in."

Slim was gone then through a narrow hall and Pinky sat on a bench near one of the machines to mull this over. Of course, with government research going on here, that's what they'd do. A lot of guards outside the fence would be a dead give-away to any enemy detectoscopes that might scan the area. But they couldn't see through a freak barrier, and it was a sure defense against spies. Pinky whistled at the thought of his own narrow escape. If Slim hadn't been coming to the door just at that time, he'd have been shriveled up to a cinder by now. Lying in the frequency swirl for only a few minutes, would do it. You were helpless once they'd put you to sleep -- unless someone like Slim was there.

The soup was taking effect. Pinky dozed off where he sat, lulled by the drone of the machines. He dreamed blissfully of signing enlistment papers and getting a uniform. Then suddenly he was awake with a start. Something had awakened him, something not right with one of the machines. It was groaning loudly, as if in pain or something. Pinky looked at the clock and saw he had slept for two hours. Slim wasn't back yet. Something was wrong, somewhere.

Pinky went near the groaning machine and saw a curl of smoke arise from a gadget at its end. Slim ought to know about this. Hobbling to the audiophone, Pinky tried to put through a call to Buckley's lab. No use; the thing seemed to be dead. He'd have to find Slim, himself.

He found him by instinct and by feel, at last. The halls and the stairs were in utter darkness, so it was a slow job. And when he did find Slim it was in a rubbish-cluttered corner, huddled in with a pile of junk, bound and gagged. Pinky went to work on the gag and had it off swiftly. He was worried about that sick machine.

"Slim," he said frantically, "I had to find you. One of those machines of yours is making a terrible noise. And now, you're like this. Who did it?"

"Never mind that machine," Slim whispered. "It's only an overloaded generator. It won't burn out. Get the knife out of my hip pocket and set me loose."

"Who did it?" repeated Pinky, getting the knife and sawing at the cord that held Slim.

"Buckley. He's a traitor, the skunk."

"A traitor!" Pinky had the engineer's legs free and was working on the cords that held his arms behind his back.

"Yeah. Don't talk so loud or they'll be hearing us. There's a couple of guys with him I know are Allied agents. They're up to something. That's why Doc got me up here. To have me out of the way when they loaded up the generators downstairs. What they're up to, I don't know, but it's bad business. And we've got to stop it -- somehow." Slim was free now and Pinky helped him limber up his arms.

"What can we do?" he whispered. A thrill, such as Pinky could not remember having ever experienced, ran through him. He'd managed to serve the United States, somehow, whether they wanted him or not!

"I don't know." Slim sounded sort of hopeless. "We can audio the military, for one thing, only that might be too late."

"Audio's cut off," Pinky told him.

"They would do that. Well, come along -- let's see what we can do ourselves." Slim grabbed his hand in the darkness and they felt their way along to another stair.

At the head of this flight was a door under which a slit of light appeared. Behind the door was the sound of voices in monotone and the sudden keening scream of some mechanism coming swiftly up to speed. The scream held its high note for a second and broke off abruptly. A chorus of guttural exclamations followed.

Slim opened the door a crack and peered inside. "We'll sneak in," he breathed. "There's a transformer that'll hide us."

Pinky followed him and softly closed the door. From their vantage point behind the bulky transformer case he could see three men absorbedly regarding a large videoscreen. Its news audio was off.

"The tall guy's Buckley," whispered Slim.

* * *

This was the main laboratory, a huge room with a great dome overhead and with al sorts of apparatus along the walls, in the center, and scattered here and there. Pinky looked around it and was amazed by the number and size of the queer-looking machines and by the gadnets that clustered around some, making them look like Christmas trees. His gaze returned to the man Slim had said was Buckley. Something tenuously obscure stirred in his memory as the man turned his head slightly. There was a certain familiarity to that aquiline profile. Buckley was talking to the two squat men with the close-cropped hair, in that thick, foreign tongue. That, too, was vaguely reminiscent of something.

"What're they doing?" breathed Pinky.


Pinky gave some attention to the large videoscreen and gasped at what he saw. The far-off pickup was sweeping a blasted, mountainous region. The Alleghenies! The front-line pill-boxes were here, the main strongholds which had held back the Allied advance for more than a year. The view shifted to the skies where a hundred V's of tiny light points could be seen approaching. A Q.A. fleet in battle formation! The view swept down again to the front lines and a dozen fans of pale-blue light lanced skyward. The men at the videoscreen were silent, tense; so were the two men behind the transformer. The war was here, with them!

Buckley moved his hand to a lever and the silence was blasted by the blare of the news audio. Pinky jumped a foot and Slim hung on to him.

"-- out 22Z and 23Y!" roared the military announcer. "Blackout sections 22Z and 23Y. Allied air forces advancing in this sector. American fleet and fan barriers rising to defense. But a few minutes ago there was a mysterious interruption to the fan barriers. Either something went wrong or the Allies have a new weapon. To prepare, orders are to blackout sections 22Z and 23Y. Blackout --"

Buckley grinned satanically as he flipped off the sound. The video continued. The American defense flet was up with feeler-rays, springing toward the enemy. Cross-rays darted down. A burst of white flame enveloped an entire enemy squadron. Three American squadrons flared into sudden incandescence and were gone. But the enemy was almost at the fan barrier. They could not pass that. Unless--

There was suddenly, here beside them, that shrilling crescendo they had heard in the hall. If Pinky had jumped a foot before, he jumped six now. Every roseate whisker stood on end. His skin tingled from the electrification of the air. Blue flame lashed from a huge helix high in the dome. And when the screech of the frequency generator had risen to its peak and held it a second, those far-off fan barriers flicked into blackness. The enemy fleet was inside! The second line of defense would have to take up the battle.

"Gee!" husked Slim. "That was done from here. What'll we do?"

Pinky felt a strange stirring within him. He was thinking in a new and unaccustomed way. Things long forgotten were surging up from his subconscious. Not clearly at all, but pricking into the conscious.

"Wait," he told Slim. "Listen to what they're saying." The three at the videoscreen were jabbering excitedly.

"Huh, who can understand that?" grated Slim.

"I can." Suddenly Pinky found he could understand the jargon. A little. Some words. Enough. It was amazing.

"You see!" Buckley was exulting. "I told you. We now have them inside. We will do the same with the second and third barriers and on every front. In a week, the war will end -- with our victory."

"Suppose we are discovered before then?" one of the squat ones retorted.

"I have arranged," said Buckley. "The stupid fools of the American government will not suspect the great Dr. Buckley. Already, I have the permission to isolate her for ten days to complete what they think is to be the great new weapon. By the time they suspect, it will be too late -- for them."

Pinky's wrath mounted. With each word he understood better. And other things besides the language he was remembering. Things -- well, maybe this fool would not be so smart, after all. Maybe Pinky could find a way at last to serve his country.

"What'd they say?" demanded Slim.

"Too much to tell, Slim. But they're planning to end the war from right here and have everything arranged. I think it is to be by what might be called a multiple frequency propagation--" Pinky's lower jaw dropped as he realized what he had said. Where had those words come from and what did they mean?

* * *

Slim was equally incredulous. "Why, you . . . you seem to know something. Do you know what to do?"

Pinky passed a shaking hand across his brow to wipe away the sudden beads of persperation that were dripping into his eyes. "Wait -- wait," he begged. "It hasn't come, yet. But I'll know in a minute, maybe."

A terrific struggle was going on within his brain. He knew there was something to be done, something that was within his consciousness, but hidden. Something that was fighting to be out. Meanwhile, thousands of his countrymen were dying. The flashes in the sky and on the terrain beneath told him that. Why didn't they turn off the video so he couldn't see? The three over there at the controls were jabbering anew, but Pinky didn't listen. He was sweating to listen to that small inner voice of his consciousness, trying to fish out something tremendously important.

"What can we do? What can anyone do?" Slim was whimpering now in horrified despair.

It was weird. Here everything was so calm and comparatively still. Out there, less than a hundred miles away, bloody warfare was raging. A country on its last legs was being wiped out of existence. And three men, only three, were doing it. Three against two, Pinky was thinking, and the three with many times those odds in their favor.

Fan barriers in the second line radiated upward. The American defense fleet was almost down in its entirety. Again Buckley reached for a control. The squeal of the generator keened toward the upper limit of audibility. Once more Pinky's whiskers bristled. And then he knew! He knew! He hugged the humming transformer case. It was the very transformer that had them, the one supplying this energy. Its radiations were restoring memories. Of course. He grabbed Slim's arm with fingers that were suddenly of steel.

Slim winced and his eyes widened, looking into those of his companion. "Why . . . why, what the hell?" he gasped. "You're a different guy."

Pinky was a different guy. "We'll lick them at their own game," he grated. "You and I, Slim. And I know how."

"You do? How?" gasped the engineer.

"You've got to take a big chance, Slim. So've I."

"But, do you know? Are you sure it'll work?"

"It's a fifty-fifty chance. But I think it will work. Are you game to risk your life with me?"

Slim gaped at the new Pinky. "Gee, if I'd have known what you had on the ball! You bet, I'm game."

Pinky gripped his hand and whispered, "Thanks. And trust me, Slim. Here's what I want. I'm going to sprint for those controls back there. They're bound to see me on the way unless their attention's distracted. It's up to you to do that."


"By staying right here and yelling. Let them start this way and begin their shooting. But keep under cover as much as you can. Once I get to those unused controls, I'll have them stopped."

Slim's eyes bulged. "How'd you know what --"

"Never mind that now. Still trust me?"

The engineer looked long and hard at his erstwhile guest and what he saw convinced him. "Yes; say the word."

Pinky peered around the corner of the transformer, seeing that their three enemies were absorbed in the videoscreen. "I'm going to crawl," he whispered, "for ten feet. They probably won't notice at first, but when you see me out that far, it's time to start yelling. I'll do the rest."

"Go ahead. Shoot," husked Slim.

Pinky started crawling into full sight of the three, at right angles to their line of vision. Ten feet away was another transformer. Fate was against him; one of the squat aliens spied him before he reached it. Gutturals rolled forth and a hissing, stab-ray scorched across Pinky's neck just as Slim commenced yelling. Pinky leaped to his feet and scooted for his controls. Forgetting caution, Slim came out of hiding.

(continue on to part 3)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

"High-Frequency War" by Harl Vincent, part 1

Harl Vincent was the pen name of Harold Vincent Schoepflin (born Buffalo, New York, 19 October 1893; died Los Angeles, California, 5 May 1968), a mechanical engineer employed by Westinghouse. Vincent was one of the most prolific writers of the Gernsback Era of science fiction, publishing 56 stories between 1928 and 1935. However, he had dropped out of the field by the time science fiction began to move out of the pulp magazines after World War 2, and his work has been largely forgotten.

With the rise of the internet, though, everything old is new again. Vincent's fiction is starting to see the light of day once more. His story "Creatures of Vibration" from the January 1932 issue of Astounding Stories was uploaded into Project Gutenberg on July 26, 2007, and can be found here. Meanwhile, I've taken it upon myself to resurrect as many of his stories as possible here on this blog, starting with "Terrors Unseen" from the March 1931 issue of Astounding, which begins here. I've also started a Harl Vincent Facebook group, of which I am currently the sole member.

Next up on my revival list is the story "High-Frequency War" from the February 1940 issue of Astounding Science-Fiction. By 1940 the Campbell Revolution was in full flight in the pages of Astounding, and Vincent's story shared the magazine with such science fiction luminaries as Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and Leigh Brackett. I now present, for the first time since its initial publication 69 years ago, "High-Frequency War", presented in a blog-friendly multipart format.

High-Frequency War
by Harl Vincent

You could see that the fellow at the recruiting officer's desk was doing his level best to stand erect in his baggy clothing. He turned a battered felt hat over and over, in nervous, clawed fingers. In his pale eyes was a far-away look and almost servile pleading. His nondescript, rose-hued whiskers were something to remember.

"But listen," he was insisting mildly, "there must be something a guy like me can do. Even if I am a little lame. I just got to help."

Sergeant Hurley screwed up his scarred features in a grin that was meant to be kindly. "Sorry, Pinky," he said. "Not in this man's army. Looks like you've seen enough of this rotten war, anyway."

"Not even in a ground kitchen?" the mild one wheedled.

"Not even anywhere. Hell, man, we got physical exams. Take a walk now, like a good guy." The hard-boiled sergeant shook his head sadly at the nearby noncom as the man shuffled away. "Poor old geezer," he muttered.

Pinky wasn't old. He wasn't forty yet, but might have been anything up to sixty. To look at him, you'd think he wasn't quite all there. He wasn't. In the early days of the war, in 1974 or maybe 1973, something had happened to him. He'd been gassed, or perhaps caught up in one of those invisible wave eddies from a frequency bomb -- something, anyway.

He didn't remember. Nobody did. Pinky didn't even know where he came from, or who he was. There were thousands like him. But Pinky was different. Most of those other poor devils, who'd been through the first awful days when the combined air fleets of the Quadruple Alliance had swept over the eastern seaboard and inland, were all washed up. Pinky wasn't; at least, he wouldn't admit it. He drifted from one half-ruined city to another, to the small towns, even, always trying to enlist. Of course, they wouldn't let him.

He earned the sobriquet Pinky by the color of his beard, which had not been removed in he didn't know how long. He was broke, of course, and had to depend on canteens or relief stores for occasional shelter, or a meal, or a too-big pair of shoes. Most of the time he spent on the road. He was too sick even to be a good hobo; he was bent and twisted and lame from whatever had happened to him. But he kept going and he kept trying to enlist.

It was cold tonight. Pinky held the collar of his threadbare coat up around his neck with skinny fingers. He dragged himself along the State road that led out of town. He didn't know how far it might be to the next one. All he knew was that, wherever he was, it was way back of the lines. You couldn't even hear gunfire back here, or see a flash in the sky. He was hungry and wished now he'd remembered to stop in the canteen back in that burg. It's hell to be cold and hungry.

No traffic on this road and no lights at all. Must be a blackout around this part of the country. Dimly against the brooding sky ahead, Pinky caught the outlines of a group of fairly large buildings on a low hill. Not a light there, either. He limped on up the hill, hungrier and colder than ever.

There was a high iron fence, a gravel drive leading to an open gate. Pinky went into the grounds. It would be warmer sleeping alongside one of those buildings than in the open. Then he saw a closely shuttered light shining from a basement window. He moved cautiously toward it. There was the faint hum of machinery that throbbed in that basement. The window was partly open and a grateful warmth from inside enveloped Pinky as he moved next to it. He could see the glittering machines and a lot of clocklike gadgets and lights on the wall. There were steps leading down to a sort of hall, It would be warm down there. Perhaps he could curl up out of sight.

He was halfway down the steps when a door opened and a glare of light and damp heat swept over him. There was a chunky young fellow in greasy dungarees coming toward him with a wrench in his hand. With the light at his back, you couldn't see his face. Pinky threw up his arm to ward off the blow he expected. Then something went wrong inside of him. He couldn't breath at all and his muscles went limp. He slumped down and just forgot everything.

* * *

When Pinky came to, he was in where it was warm and light. The chunky fellow was holding up his head and pouring something down his throat. Whiskey. The heat of it in his stomach revived him and he sat up and blinked owlishly. The young chap in the dungarees laughed relievedly.

"Gee!" he exclaimed. "You scared the devil outta me. I thought it was a corpse falling down the stairs."

Pinky waggled the whiskers in an apologetic grin. "Guess I was just about all in," he admitted.

"I'll say you were! You are yet." Bright brown eyes narrowed in their inspection of Pinky. "How long since you've eaten?"

"Oh, I don't know" -- negligently. "Couple of days, I guess."

"I thought so. Here, can you walk, Pinky?"

Everybody called him that without being told. One look at the odd foliage was enough. Pinky said, "Sure, I can walk," and let the young fellow take his arm.

They walked through the aisle of the shiny, humming machines and into a sort of locker room where there was a table and a few padded, board chairs.

"Sit down," directed the young chap, "and I'll get you a bowl of soup. What's your name?"

"You named me, already."

The dungareed one, opening a can he took from a locker, grinned appreciatively. "What? Pinky?" He laughed.

Pinky nodded and his pale eyes twinkled. "Suits, doesn't it?"

"Sure does. Well, mine's Slim -- 'cause I'm so short and wide. Slim Harvey." He was busy with a pan and the soup, and an electric grill. "All you get is soup, Pinky. At first. In an hour or so you can have some sandwiches and stuff. Your belly's too flat for more, right away."

Pinky nodded again. This Slim Harvey knew what he was doing. "What is this place, Slim?"

The university. Doc Buckley's you know." Young Harvey had out a bowl and the thick soup steamed in. "This is the power plant for the whole place down here and I'm supposed to be engineer. Doc's lab is up above, in the same building."

The soup smelled great and Pinky began ladling it in. "Let's see," he said, "Buckley's the one's been working on a new weapon or something, isn't he?"

"Yeah, that's why the blackout around here. Been working for a year, year and a half, and nothing doing yet." Slim Harvey sat across the board table, eying his guest curiously.

"Must be swell, said Pinky, between swallows of hot soup, "to be working here. Government subsidy, isn't it?"

Harvey's eyes narrowed, though the friendly gleam did not die out. "Say!" he exclaimed. "What're you doing around here, really?"

His guest looked into nothingness. "Just been trying to enlist."

"Where'd you come from? Where'd you try and enlist?"

Pinky waved the soup spoon in a vague arc. "Around," he said. "Just about everywhere. I don't remember."

A light seemed to burst on Slim Harvey. "Let's look at your arm," he demanded.

Pinky laid down the spoon and pulled up a ragged sleeve. The soup was finished anyway, and he felt better. Harvey peered at the skinny forearm and noted the droop of the hand at the wrist.

"Hell's bells, man," he sympathized. "They freaked you; and that's let you out. Gee for a minute, I thought you was a spy. But a freak bomb can do anything. Don't you remember about it?"


"Don't know your real name or where you come from?"

Pinky's cheeks flushed to match his beard. "No," he admitted.

"Holy smoke! Amnesia and --" A bell rang faintly out where the machines hummed and Slim jumped up. "Come along," he said, "while I see who that is. You can have more eats later and bunk here tonight."

Pinky followed. He felt warm all over inside. It wasn't just the grub. He knew he'd found a friend.

(continue on to part 2)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

DBTL 18: I'll Say They Are!

Moscow, USSR
3 March 1945

"How can the kulaks be revolting?" General Secretary Josef Stalin demanded. "I thought we killed all the kulaks?"

"We did," Lavrenti Beria affirmed. "I suppose more have arisen in their place."

"I was under the impression," Stalin said in a voice that was even more menacing than usual, "that it was your job to see to it that more did not arise in their place. I was under the impression that it was your job to liquidate any kulaks that appeared to sabotage the workers' paradise we have established."

Beria was not a happy man. As head of the NKVD, every internal security problem that appeared within the USSR was his responsibility. And there was just no getting away from the fact that the loss of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic to a counterrevolutionary uprising represented a significant internal security problem.

The Poles were to blame, of course. The Galician lackeys they had sent across the border into the Ukrainian SSR had spread awful, terrible lies about the Soviet government and Beria's own noble security service. The poor, simple, gullible Ukrainian peasants had fallen for the Poles' slanders and, goaded by the treacherous kulaks that Beria had to admit shouldn't have been there in the first place, had risen up against the Party hierarchy and had even, so reports indicated, joined the brutal, undiscipled hordes of degenerate bourgeois monsters who were terrorizing their way across the Beacon of Socialism.

"The, er, trouble is, Comrade Stalin," Beria finally managed to say, "is that every peasant is by nature a kulak at heart, and we, um, couldn't kill them all. Could we?"

Stalin glared at Beria and said nothing, which was probably the very worst thing that could happen to a man while speaking with the General Secretary. It suddenly seemed very hot to Comrade Beria.

Some temporary relief (but Beria knew it was only temporary) was provided when Stalin shifted the focus of his attention to General Georgy Zhukov, Chief of Staff of the Red Army. "How is it, General Zhukov," Stalin asked, "that the Poles and Finns are able to advance at will against us, despite the fact that we outnumber them two to one?"

Beria hated Zhukov for the confidence and equanimity with which he was able to answer Comrade Stalin. "Comrade General Secretary, the Poles and Finns have both tactical and technical advantages over our forces. They have rockets and jet aircraft which we lack, and their use of massed tank formations in close conjunction with aerial and rocket bombardments is a tactic to which we have as yet been unable to formulate an effective response. Remember as well that it is not simply the Poles and Finns which we face; the Poles have incorporated considerable numbers of Germans into their forces." It was, Beria recognized, a masterful answer, which of course made Beria hate Zhukov all the more. Zhukov could not be blamed for the Red Army's technical deficiencies, for weapons development was ultimately under Beria's control, as Comrade Stalin knew very well. And Zhukov had countered the contempt for the Poles and Finns which all Russians shared (and which Stalin, a Georgian, had absorbed from the Russians) by emphasizing the presence of the Germans, whose presence inspired as much awe and dread among Russians as that of the Poles and Finns inspired contempt.

"And do not forget," Zhukov added, "that our forces continue to advance on the Manchurian front. The Japanese do not share the Poles' tactical and technical advantages, and thus cannot stand against us."

Another excellent point, Beria thought with growing hatred. Once the Japanese had seen the success the Poles and Finns were having against the Red Army, they had decided that the USSR would be easy pickings, and had launched their own attack on December 7. But Stalin, the ever-watchful, the unrelentingly paranoid, had been expecting just such an attack from the Japanese all along, and the Red Army had been ready and waiting for them. The Japanese Kwantung Army had run up against a brick wall, and the Red Army had driven them back across the Amur, and had been advancing ever since. The whole of Manchuria was now under Soviet control, and the Red Army was poised on the frontiers of Korea and China proper.

The proof of Zhukov's success was Stalin's reaction. He simply said, "Very well, Comrade Zhukov", and turned his attention to Foreign Commissar Vyacheslav Molotov.

"Comrade Molotov," he said evenly, "as you can see, our efforts to win back the western regions lost by the reactionary traitor Kerensky regime have not met with total success. I would be interested to hear your own views on how we should procede."

Beria felt his dark mood lightening. This was a familiar game that Comrade Stalin liked to play. You had to guess what he had decided to do, and advise him to do it. If you advised him to do the wrong thing, you lost points. Lose enough points, and you also lost your job, your freedom, and eventually your life.

Molotov of course showed no fear, which was one of the things Beria hated about him. He said, "Comrade General Secretary, in the present circumstances, I believe our best course of action would be to negotiate a truce with the Poles and Finns. If we continue on our present course, we may find the events of the Ukraine being repeated within Russia itself. After all, if there are secret cells of reactionary kulak traitors within the Ukraine, who can say that there are not also similar cells within Russia?" Beria's mood plunged back into depair. Just like Zhukov, Molotov was shifting the blame onto him!

Molotov continued. "Until Comrade General Zhukov can develop sufficient weapons and tactics to deal with the Poles and Finns on equal terms, there is little point to be gained in continuing the western war. We need a breathing space in which to develop such weapons and tactics. It may prove necessary to temporarily cede to the Poles and Finns some of the territories which their forces have occupied. Those can be reoccupied at a later time when we are better prepared for the task. Concerning the eastern war against the Japanese, I see no need to offer a similar truce to them. We may accept such a truce if one is insisted upon by the Poles and Finns as a condition of a truce with them, but if so we should insist upon the retention of all our gains in Manchuria."

Stalin nodded. "And you, Comrade General Zhukov?"

"I am in agreement with Comrade Molotov," said Zhukov.

Beria had been dreading the moment when Stalin would ask him his advice, but to his horror Stalin ignored him completely. Instead, the General Secretary said, "Comrades, I believe the course you advise is the one we should follow. Comrade Foreign Commissar, bring me a draft for a proposed truce with the Poles and Finns."

"You shall have it within the hour, Comrade General Secretary," said Molotov.

"Very well, comrades. You are dismissed."

If pistols had been allowed within Stalin's presence, Beria would have blown his brains out right then and there. As it was, he would have to wait until he was back in his office to do so.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Take me to your leader

Who is the leader of the Republican Party?

After CNN and Fox carried Rush Limbaugh's CPAC speech live, in full, and without commercial interruption on Saturday, February 28, Rahm Emanual was just pointing out the obvious when, on Meet the Press the following morning, he called El Rushbo Gigante the "voice and the intellectual force and energy behind the Republican Party". But is he? Nate Silver believes that the GOP has no leader at the moment, which is why the porcine radio host and RNC chairman Michael Steel have been butting heads lately. Needless to say, Kathleen "K-PAX" Parker is still dreamy about Mitt Romney.

People who deny that Rushbo is the leader of the GOP point to the fact that he is "just a talk radio host". He is a talk radio host, but he's not just a talk radio host. He is the godlike authority figure of millions of dittoheads. At Rush's mere word of command, the dittoheads can, and will, rise up and inundate anyone Rush targets with hostile emails, phone calls, faxes, and even IMs and tweets for all I know. That's why any Republican who criticizes The Bloated One quickly backs down. The dittoheads are actually the backbone of the modern Republican Party: angry white men suffering from relative deprivation who hate women and minorities. Rush knows this, and the rest of the GOP leadership knows he knows it. That's the source of his power, and that's why Rush Limbaugh really is the leader of the Republican Party.

DBTL 17: Counterattack

Vilnius, Central Lithuanian Devo, Polish Commonwealth
22 October 1944

It had been raining in Vilnius ever since General Heinz Guderian's arrival there a week before. A cold, penetrating rain that seemed indifferent to whatever sartorial barriers were placed in its path. Guderian thought, if Poland's troops can make it through the Russians as easily as Poland's rain makes it through my topcoat, this war will be over in a week.

Just how effective the Polish army would be had yet to be demonstrated, but Guderian was hopeful. Although the Russians had flooded the country with men and tanks, and the sky with planes, the Poles had kept them from making any breakthroughs. The Russian push into Central Lithuania, for example, had ground to a halt twenty miles from Vilnius. Overhead, Russian and Polish aircraft ducked in and out of the cloud cover in a deadly game of hide and seek, while the Polish anti-aircraft rockets exacted a steady toll from the Russians.

In the last forty-eight hours, Guderian had traveled up and down the line of battle, visiting with his divisional commanders, the rocket batteries, the artillery regiments, and especially the armored cavalry regiments. It was, to Guderian's thinking, an oddly diverse army. There were Polish units, Belorussian units, Ukrainian units, German units, even Jewish units. And the journalists! Guderian had never seen so many journalists from so many countries in his life. Englishmen, Frenchmen, Italians, Swedes, Dutch, even Americans. Which reminded him...

"Colonel Blair," Guderian called out.

"Sir!" the Englishman answered as he followed Guderian across the muddy field of Airstrip One.

"Has General Sosnkowski reported back from Lwow?" Guderian spoke in French, because for the life of him he couldn't understand Blair's Polish.

"Not yet, sir!" Blair answered in the same language.

"Damn! Send another message to his HQ! I'll be back in one hour, and I'll expect an answer by then!"

"Sir!" Blair saluted and ran back to the communications room while Guderian climbed aboard his helicopter. They really were the most amazingly versatile aircraft. Guderian wondered how he had ever managed to get around without one.

As he choppered through the Lithuanian night, Guderian pondered the fate that had led him to his current station in life. A promising career in the old German army had ended abruptly in 1933 when the fat scarfaced queer who called himself Germany's Führer had relieved him of his post in the General Staff. When some of Guderian's former colleagues had started showing up in concentration camps and morgues, he had decided to take a quiet leave of absence. Poland was the closest foreign country to hand, so Guderian had joined Warsaw's growing community of expatriate Germans.

A mutual friend had introduced him to a Polish cavalry officer named Stanisław Skwarczyński, and the two had spent long evenings discussing weapons, tactics, politics and personalities. When the fat queer declared war on Poland in '36, Skwarczyński had offered him a place on his staff. Guderian couldn't bring himself to join the Polish army and make war on his countrymen, but he did provide Skwarczyński with some unofficial advice from time to time. As the war between the two countries ground on, Guderian had the odd experience of watching as his casual suggestions to Skwarczyński were translated into Polish army tactics. It was with a combination of elation and despair that he followed the course of Skwarczyński's campaign from Warsaw to Berlin.

After the war, Guderian had returned to Germany, to help his shattered homeland recover from its self-inflicted wounds. Along with the rest of his countrymen, his heart fell when he learned of Poland's annexation of eastern Germany. Then there came an unexpected hope when the Law of Devolution was passed by the Polish Sejm. On Autonomy Day Guderian joined the throngs in the streets of Berlin as they celebrated Brandenburg's rebirth. That evening, he had received a phone call from Stanisław Skwarczyński, who had succeeded Jósef Piłsudski as First Marshal of Poland. Brandenburg was to have its own militia, the National Guard, and Skwarczyński wanted Guderian to command it. After days of soul searching, Guderian had finally chosen to accept.

As other devos came into being, they too gave birth to National Guard units, with Guderian acting as midwife. By the end of 1940, Skwarczyński had appointed him to the Polish General Staff, and Guderian had found himself directing the creation of Poland's Armored Cavalry units.

Now Poland was at war again, and this time at least Guderian had no qualms about fighting Poland's enemies. His last-minute inspection tour over, Guderian leapt out of the helicopter to the welcoming mud of Airstrip One, where Colonel Blair was waiting to meet him.

"Sir," Blair shouted above the still-spinning rotor, "General Sosnkowski reports that all units are in position and awaiting your orders!"

"Excellent," said Guderian. "Send word out to all units that Operation Lightning will procede as scheduled."

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Sane or insane?

How do you tell the difference between sane conservatives and insane ones? You may be thinking it's a trick question, that there are no sane conservatives, but it turns out there are. John Cole, Lord of the Juice, cites the following post by Daniel Larison which includes the following sentence: "As we all know, income stagnation is something that most conservatives and Republicans have spent years pretending was not happening, because it did not fit in with the assumption that working- and middle-class Americans were thriving as part of the 'greatest story never told.' ”

So, having established that there are sane conservatives out there, how do we distinguish between them and the insane conservatives? A rough and ready guide is to note that insane conservatives are addicted to a series of words and phrases describing a parallel reality, while sane conservatives are not. Here is a sample list of these words and phrases. Remember, if you find any of these terms being used by a conservative, it's a sure sign of insanity:

Fairness Doctrine
marsh mice
maglev train
birth certificate
drill, baby, drill
Vince Foster
liberal fascism
homosexual agenda

Just keep this list handy, and you'll be able to tell at a glance whether you're encountering an insane conservative.

(This has been a public service announcement by the Johnny Pez blog.)

UPDATE: Nemski at the Delaware Liberal blog (ah, the old home state) went and linked to this post and solicited more terms to add to the insane conservative terms list. Here's a few culled from the comments:

The One
Bush was really a liberal/wasn't really a conservative
volcano monitoring
Democrat Party
class warfare
generational theft
wealth redistribution
liberal media
welfare queen
War on Christmas
tea party

And I've come up with a few more of my own:

Christian nation
rapture ready
intelligent design
Long War
World War IV
Neville Chamberlain
Community Reinvestment Act
country first
George Soros
Barney Frank
dijon/gray poupon
Chrysler dealerships
Death panels

If you can think of any more that we've missed, post them to the comments.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Have you read these books?

This is the question that's making the rounds at Facebook. Allegedly, someone at the BBC thinks most people have only read six out of the following 100 books.

Turns out, though, it's not the BBC, and nobody thinks that most people have only read six of these books. Book Geek has the real story about this list. In brief, it's actually the Guardian quoting something called a World Book Day poll. This would explain the duplications (Chronicles of Narnia, but also The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; the complete works of Shakespeare, but also Hamlet) and some questionable choices (Midnight's Children but not The Satanic Verses; A Town Like Alice but not On the Beach; nothing by Mark Twain or Ernest Hemingway).

Still, as long as the list is here, I might as well score myself and see how many of these I've actually read.

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien x
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling X
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible (read parts but not the whole thing)
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell X
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller X
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare (some but not all)
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien X
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald X
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy (started but didn't finish)
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams X
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens (started but didn't finish)
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Berniere
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell X
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown X
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert X
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens X
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley X
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker X
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens (seen countless dramatizations, never read the actual story)
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White X
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle X
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad X
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas X
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare X
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl X
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

Final score: 19 hits and 4 near misses. And seriously, what's up with no Mark Twain?

UPDATE 11/26/10: The meme is back, and the above link is now dead. So here's another link to Kristjan Wager's Pro-Science blog on the subject.