Tuesday, June 30, 2009

"Too Many Boards" by Harl Vincent, part 2

This is the second installment of "Too Many Boards", a story by pioneering science fiction writer Harl Vincent. The story first appeared in the April 1931 issue of Amazing Stories magazine, and has since passed into the public domain. This is the first time "Too Many Boards" has seen the light of day since its original magazine publication 78 years ago. The first installment can be found here.

In part 1, Larry Conover, the President of United Synthetic Food, laments to his friend Art Hovey the fact that the Board of Eugenics is forcing him to marry his friend Alta Farrish. It's the year 2030, and by law all members of classification A2 must marry by age 32. Conover is an A2, and two months short of the deadline. Then he meets his new secretary, Una Sinclair . . .

* * *

"I've found her at last."

Ten days had passed, and Larry was again entertaining Art Hovey in his apartment.

"That's no news. Una Sinclair, isn't it?"

"Of course."

"How about her B. of E. rating?"

"A2. I wanted to do a handspring when she told me."

"Easy now, Larry. You're getting all excited. And, quit your eternal tramping. Don't you know that old man Mills is getting set for your marriage to Alta?"

"Sure, but I'm going to call it off. Right now, too, over the opto. Alta'll be tickled silly. She doesn't want me any more than I want her."

"All the same, you can't do it, Larry. Mills'll break you. United Synthetic will hit bottom in this crazy market, if he starts unloading. Then where'll you be?"

"Hang it! I'm in love, I tell you. What do I care for the money? I can earn a substantial living. Maybe have to live in level forty, but what's the difference?"

"Have you asked Una?"

"Not yet. But there've been things -- more than mere hints. I'm pretty sure she'll have me."

"With your money gone?"

"Another crack like that, Art Hovey, and I'll crown you. Una isn't that sort."

"Sorry, Larry. I know it. But you're in for trouble, do you know that?"

"Trouble? If there's any I'll start it right away."

Larry turned to his optophone.

"Hello Laurence," came the hearty voice of John X. Mills, when his ruddy features materialized on the disc, "what brings you to the opto on a rest day?"

"It's about Alta, John. The wedding's off."

Larry spoke crisply and the bristling eyebrows of John X. Mills raised in surprise, the red of his round cheeks deepening perceptibly.

"What do you mean, off? Everything is arranged."

"I know it and I'm sorry, John. But I have other plans. My decision will come as a relief to Alta -- you know that."

"Come, come, my boy. Don't be hasty. That new secretary of yours has turned your head."

"Perhaps. But this is final." The conversation was growing distasteful to Larry, and Mills' appearance of imminent apoplexy made him want to laugh.

"Final? Final? I'm not sure of that, Laurence. At any rate, you'll not marry that red-head in your office." The disc went dark, for Mills had disconnected.

"Red-head! Red-head!" yelled Larry to the unresponsive instrument. "You old fossil!"

Then he stared foolishly at Art, who remained calm and wholly undignified where he lay stretched among the cushions.

"Told you so," his friend remarked soothingly.

* * *

The die was cast, and Larry hastened to be sure of Una. He rushed from the apartment, leaving Art to shift for himself. Panicky doubts assailed him when he entered the uptown pneumatic tube and took his place in the bulletlike car that would whisk him to the upper reaches of
Westchester Borough. He had been rather hasty and abrupt with Mills. Should have talked with Una first.

The girl, he thought, greeted him with some indication of constraint, but he imagined this to be due to the fact that this was his first visit to her modest eighteenth-level apartment. She flushed as prettily as ever when she pressed his fingers, and he plunged headlong into the subject of his chaotic thoughts.

"Una," he blurted forth, "I love you, and I want you for my wife. In these past few days you have become to me the essence of all that is worth while -- the . . . "

She dropped weakly into a chair as he spoke, and a look of fear widened her eyes. "But Mr. Conover -- Larry --" she protested.

"I know, dear -- it is short notice. But this thing is real with me. I can think of nothing else. And somehow I've come to believe you reciprocate. Am I wrong? Do you?"

"No -- no -- it isn't that!"

"What then? There's no one else?"

"No one. And -- I do care -- but --"

Suddenly the girl was in his arms -- weeping uncontrollably. She clung to him in terror, it seemed. He had not been wrong. But the depth of her feeling frightened him. He sensed calamity.

"Larry," she finally whispered, "I do care for you. More than you will ever know. But we can not wed."

"Can not wed? But why? Why?" He held her at arm's length and his heart sank at what he saw written on her blanched features.

"My eugenic rating -- it -- it --"

"But it's A2. I saw your card."

"It was A2, Larry." She was quieting now and spoke with hopeless finality, "But now it is F2. Day before yesterday I took my annual test and I just received notice this morning."

"There isn't any 'F' grade. Only the five letters and their sub-numbers. You must be mistaken."

"It's the new classification. Something to do with pigmentation, they tell me. Guess it's my freckles." And she smiled bravely through her tears.

Larry raved. These rotten restrictions again! But he had never anticipated this, and had entirely forgotten the added classification. To think that Una, of all girls, should be reclassed! He thought darkly of Mills and his threats. But this was no doing of his. The Eugenics department was incorruptible. Besides, it had been done two days ago. But how Mills would gloat over him! Suddenly he stopped in his tracks -- he had been walking the floor again, he realized shamefacedly -- and wrinkled his brow in thought.

Una regarded him kindly and sympathetically from where she sat. She was as crushed as he, but, being a woman, was more resigned. Her heart ached more for Larry than for herself, and she longed to pillow his head on her knees and mother him. He was such a big, overgrown boy!

"Say!" Larry's forceful exclamation startled her. He was at her side in a single bound and squatted beside her chair. "Are you game to elope with me?"

"Elope? We can't. It is impossible to be legally married on either Earth, Venus, or Mars. Where else is there to go?"


"Larry! It has a terrible climate and is -- oh -- uncivilized. Besides, its government is unrecognized by the Tri-planetary Alliance. We'd be exiles in an awful land where we could never live in peace."

"Honey -- listen! It's just the opposite. I've a very good friend, Chick Davis, who's captain of the Rocket III, one of the Tri-planetary liners. He tells me Mercury is one of the finest of the inhabited bodies. It's terrifically hot on the side always toward the sun and frigid on the other, but there's a narrow belt where the climate is moderate -- semi-tropical by earthly standards. And it's not uncivilized, but highly cultured. They've a real democratic government there and aren't members of the Alliance only because it's their own desire to remain aloof. Our rigid laws and the resulting standardization of types, habits, and activities of our people are distasteful to them. But Chick's been there and he says it's ideal -- the very place for such as we. We could be free and untrammeled -- happy."

"But the liners are not permitted to stop there."

"Good reason. The Alliance fears their population would be educated to a spirit of revolt if they saw too much or knew too much of the conditions on Mercury. So they permit no voyagers to land there. But I'll bet I can get Chick to smuggle us in somehow. He's a great schemer."

"It seems so -- I don't know -- barbaric somehow. Are you certain of all these things your friend has told you?"

"Absolutely. Chick hasn't a reason in the world to misrepresent it to me. And there aren't barbarians there, sweetheart. They are a kindly people, and wise -- too wise to mix with the others of the outer planets. I'm sure we would be welcome. And I'll work; I'll break my back to make you happy there. What do you say?"

"You almost convince me." Una's eyes were starry. They now visioned a ray of hope.

Larry drew her fiercely close. "You've got to, honey," he begged, "it's our only chance. Six weeks you know and I've got to marry -- someone in A2 -- someone I don't love. Else it's the penal colony of Mars for the rest of my life -- laboring on the canals. I swear I'd rather --"

Una placed the tips of her warm fingers over his lips. "Don't say it, dear," she whispered. "It isn't necessary. I"ll go. I'm not afraid. And, oh Larry -- I -- I need you."

Wordless happiness crept in to replace the erstwhile gloom of the tiny apartment.

(continue to part 3)

Monday, June 29, 2009

The birth of the Birthers

As Media Matters for America recently noted, the Obama birth certificate conspiracy theories continue to circulate, spread by such notable conservative voices as Rush Limbaugh, G. Gordon Liddy, and Michael Savage. The Birthers are now apparently a permament part of American conservatism, providing daily proof to non-conservatives that the Right has gone batshit insane. But how did this come about? What chain of events has led us to the point where a significant fraction of the conservative movement has embraced a crazy conspiracy theory? The answer, I think, is that this is an unintended consequence of one of Karl Rove's dirty tricks operations.

Our story begins in the summer of 2004, when the men masterminding George W. Bush's re-election campaign receive word that CBS's 60 Minutes is researching a story on Bush's incomplete service with the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War. For Karl Rove, the solution is obvious: just do a variation of the trick he pulled during the 1986 Texas Governor's race, where he planted a bug in his office and then claimed it had been planted by his opponents. In this case, Rove fed several forged documents to 60 Minutes, then alerted the three proprietors of the right-wing blog Powerline that the documents were forgeries. The "forged documents" story quickly drowned out the National Guard story, Bush went on to win re-election in November, Dan Rather was forced to resign from CBS, and Powerline was named Time magazine's "Blog of the Year" for 2004.

Needless to say, this isn't the official version of the "Rathergate scandal". Officially, nobody knows how 60 Minutes wound up basing its story on forged documents. Officially, the Powerline boys figured it all out by themselves. In the wake of the "Rathergate scandal", right-wing bloggers were deliriously high-fiving each other over having killed the National Guard story and gotten Dan Rather fired. They convinced themselves that they were a new breed of citizen journalists. From that point on, the wingnutosphere began searching feverishly for "the next Rathergate", the next chance to demonstrate their citizen journalist chops. This has resulted in the 2005 Schiavo Memo freakout, the 2007 Scott Beauchamp blogswarm, and Michelle Malkin's countertop stalk. Despite all their efforts, though, the wingnut bloggers were unable to replicate the success of "their" Dan Rather takedown.

Then came Barack Obama's presidential run.

At first, the Citizen Journalist Right ignored Obama, believing as they did that Hillary Clinton had a lock on the Democratic nomination. Then, on January 3, 2008, Barack Obama won the Democratic caucus in Iowa. Suddenly there were chain e-mails flying into in-boxes all over the country claiming that Obama was a secret Muslim, that Obama's campaign was being funded by Hugo Chavez, and, above all, that Obama wasn't an American citizen.

Obama responded to the last claim by releasing a Certificate of Live Birth from the state of Hawaii in June. This caused the Citizen Journalist Right to spring into action, determined to prove that the CoLB was a forgery. Since the CoLB was genuine (as attested to by numerous Hawaii state officials), the Citizen Journalist Right went into a paranoid frenzy, building ever-larger conspiracy theories to explain why nobody was paying any attention to them.

Which brings us down to the present. A disturbingly large proportion of American conservatives still believe the birth certificate was a forgery, still believe Barack Obama was born in another country, still are filing lawsuits, and still hope to force Obama from the presidency. The Birthers are a monster that is consuming conservativism, and conservatives have Karl Rove to thank for their existence.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

"Too Many Boards" by Harl Vincent, part 1

It's time for another public domain story by forgotten science fiction pioneer Harl Vincent. Today's story comes from the April 1931 issue of Amazing Stories magazine. At this point, three years into his writing career, Vincent is an established pro, with twenty-four stories in print. He has even sold a story to Argosy, the Cadillac of pulp magazines. Not bad for a mechanical engineer who writes as a hobby. And now, for the first time since its original magazine publication 78 years ago, the Johnny Pez blog is proud to present the first installment of . . .

Too Many Boards
by Harl Vincent

"Why not take your medicine and have it over with, Larry?"

The words were gently spoken by Arthur Hovey, who sprawled lazily on a divan in his friend's luxuriously appointed apartment.

Laurence Conover cut short his restless pacing and crushed a half-smoked cigarette in the already heaping tray. For a moment he glared at the speaker. Then he smiled grimly and shrugged his shoulders.

"Guess I'll have to," he admitted. "Odds against me are too great. But it burns me up. I've only two months, too."

"Yeah. Two months." His friend gazed dreamily at nothing in particular.

Art Hovey was that way. Larry's companion since boyhood, he had ever been easygoing -- a dreamer too. Larry, though two years his senior, was more impetuous, the leader in all their youthful adventures and leader still, having attained the presidency of the corporation for which Art worked as a department manager.

"It isn't that I dislike Alta Farrish," continued Larry, "she's a good friend. But, hang it, I don't want to marry her. Guess I'm old-fashioned, but I'd like to go back about a hundred years to the days of Lindbergh and Gene Tunney and Owen D. Young. They did things in those days. And they didn't have their every conscious act controlled by legislation."

"They had prohibition."

"You would bring that up. That's what started the whole business, too. The gloom-dispensers got away with that and they've gotten away with murder ever since. But our Board of Eugenics beats anything they ever cooked up. I rebel against having a bride forced upon me. Think of it! I'm two months short of thirty-two and have to marry before my birthday. Have to! And not outside of class A2."

"What's the matter with A2? There's only one higher class, and it with only eighteen members."

"Nothing the matter with it. But I haven't found romance in my own rating. I want to choose my own mate; court her as they used to; take her away from someone if necessary. What do I care about their intelligence tests, their blood counts, and other ratings? Maybe our ancesters didn't raise a regulated number of kids; kids who wore thick glasses at five years of age and quoted Ovid as ours do today. But they loved and hated normally; played and fought, and got a kick out of life. How're you going to do it today?"

"Can't. But it's a pretty good old world at that. Better than Mars or Venus."

"Sure it is. But that's not the point. It's this infernal regulation of everything. The Martians and Venusians were used to it. So was most of our old world population. But in America we've had our heritage of freedom and independence taken from us. And to some of us it comes pretty hard."

"But we don't do anything, Larry."

"No. A lot of sheep!"

"You couldn't do anything anyway. Alta's guardian, you know."

"I know. John X. Mills votes fifty-one percent of our stock. And he's set on the match. Otherwise there's a lot of other A2's I might look over in two months."

"Still thinking of romance?"

Larry laughed. "Good old Art," he said. "Romance means nothing in your life, does it?"

"Not a thing."

Arthur Hovey gazed reflectively at the swarms of dancing aircraft high above the crystal expanse of New York's roof. These visits to Larry's apartment were his greatest joy. Here he could lie in the light of the sun. He could revel in its warmth as it came through the fused quartz covering of the homes of the wealthy and influential in the topmost level of the world's greatest city, one hundred and ten stories above ground. It was great! Cares and dissatisfactions seemed of no consequence.

* * *

Next morning Larry sat at his desk and stared disapprovingly at the pile of work that lay before him. He glanced at the calendar. Fifty-nine days left! He rang for his secretary.

"Miss Henderson has resigned, Mr. Conover." The voice of his chief clerk spoke from the optophone, simultaneously with the appearance of that individual's alert features in its disc.

"Resigned? Wasn't she satisfied?"

"Yes indeed. Board of Vocational Supervision de-rated her and she was ashamed to remain with us. She's taken a lesser position elsewhere, Sir."

"What? Can't we determine the fitness of our own employees?"

"Yes sir. That is, I mean, no sir. The Board is sending a substitute at once."

"Oh damn the Board!"

The startled face of the chief clerk vanished from the disc.

For a long time Larry scowled at the silent instrument before him. Boards, Boards, Boards! There was a Board for almost everything, it seemed. Well, there was nothing he could do. Might as well submit to the inevitable. He was only a cog in the huge machine that moved at the command of the terrestrial government. A fairly easily-worked cog it was true, but immutably fixed in position and function. What was the use?

The optophone spoke. "Miss Sinclair to see you."

"Miss Sinclair?"

"Yes sir, from the Board. Applying for Miss Henderson's place."

"Oh yes. Send her in."

Larry was utterly unprepared for the vision of loveliness that met his eyes a moment later. His heart skipped a beat, and he sprang from his chair with unconcealed eagerness. Then he caught himself short in embarrassed realization of the situation.

"Miss Sinclair?" he faltered.

"Yes, Mr. Conover. Una Sinclair, VR1869."

"Never mind the numbers. You're an experienced secretary?"

"Five years with the Board of Tri-planetarian Communication."

"Another Board, so help me!"

"I beg your pardon?"

Larry chuckled. "Don't mind me, Miss Sinclair," he apologized. "Think you'd like to work for United Synthetic Food?"

"I'm sure I would."

"Very well. Tell Mr. Sprague I've put you on. He'll arrange your salary with you. Then return to me for instructions, please."

When Una Sinclair tripped from the room, Larry took up the nervous pacing that was becoming a habit with him. Not such a bad Board at that, this Vocational one!

(continue to part 2)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

How old am I?

I'm so old I can remember the last time an American politician got into trouble with an Argentinian hottie.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Shorter Chief Justice John Roberts

Ian Millhiser, The Wonk Room:
In 5-4 Decision, Conservative Supreme Court Denies DNA Evidence to Potentially Innocent Man

  • If we let this wrongfully convicted person use DNA testing to prove his innocence, we'll have to let every wrongfully convicted person do it, and that's just too much trouble.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

David Letterman jokes about Sarah Palin

So, Sarah Palin and her daughter visit Yankee Stadium, and David Letterman makes a joke about said daughter being knocked up by Alex Rodriguez. Pretty much your standard unwed-mother-Bristol-Palin joke. Only it turns out that it wasn't Bristol who visited Yankee Stadium; it was her fourteen-year-old sister Willow.

So was Letterman making a joke about A-Rod banging a fourteen-year-old girl? Or did he just assume that it was Bristol who was making the visit? Being sane, you and I can be pretty certain it was the latter, but right-wing blogger Jim Treacher has decided it must have been the former, and boy is he steamed! Roy Edroso of Alicublog mocks Treacher, and Treacher cannot resist jumping into Edroso's comments section. He also can't resist jumping into John Cole's comments section when he blogs about the offending jokes.

Well, if that's all it takes to get some guy I never heard of to increase my traffic, count me in! Jim Treacher, your mother was a hamster and your father smelled of elderberries! And David Letterman is the funniest guy on television, especially when he's badmouthing Sarah Palin.

What are you gonna do about it?

P.S. Your fish and chips suck too.

UPDATE: Qapla'! Multiple comments, including one from Treacher himself. The Johnny Pez blog has hit the big time, bay-beee!

UPDATE 2: Well, well, well. It turns out that Willow Palin wasn't at the game. None of the Palinettes were at the game. It was just Caribou Barbie, the First Dude, Rudy Gi911ani, and the third Mrs. Gi911ani. The whole "controversy" was ginned up out of nothing by the wingnuts. What a surprise.

So why did Letterman make a joke about A-Rod knocking up Bristol? BECAUSE IT WAS FUNNY! Because he couldn't pass up the opportunity to mock A-Rod AND Bristol, two of his favorite targets, at the same time.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

"Old Crompton's Secret" and "The Copper-Clad World" by Harl Vincent

Harold Vincent Schoepflin (born in New York City on 19 October 1893, died in Los Angeles on 5 May 1968) was a mechanical engineer employed by Westinghouse. Under the pen name Harl Vincent, he began publishing science fiction stories in Hugo Gernsback's original science fiction magazine, Amazing Stories, in 1928. Over the course of the next fourteen years, he published over seventy stories in the science fiction pulp magazines, as well as the mainstream weekly pulp magazine Argosy. His output dwindled in the early 1940s, and his writing hobby remained in abeyance until the publication of his novel The Doomsday Planet in 1966, two years before his death at the age of 74.

After Astounding Science Fiction editor John W. Campbell, Jr. revolutionized science fiction in the 1940s, there was a tendency to look back at the Gernsback Era as unworthy of notice. As a result, when science fiction emerged from its pulp magazine cradle and began to appear in book form, the stories of the 1930s tended to be neglected (except in a few cases such as Edmond Hamilton, Jack Williamson, E. E. Smith, and Murray Leinster, who continued to produce well-regarded work during and after the Campbell Era). As a result, few of Vincent's stories have appeared anywhere other than the original pulp magazines.

Until now.

Thanks to the miracle of the internet, stories (like Vincent's) that have entered the public domain can now be found online. On 26 July 2007, Vincent's story "Creatures of Vibration" from the January 1932 issue of Astounding Stories was uploaded to Project Gutenberg. The Johnny Pez blog has reprinted three more stories: "Terrors Unseen" from the March 1931 Astounding, "High-Frequency War" from the February 1940 Astounding, and "Microcosmic Buccaneers" from the November 1929 Amazing.

Now, two more Harl Vincent stories can be found online. First, the complete February 1930 issue of Astounding, including Vincent's "Old Crompton's Secret", was uploaded to Project Gutenberg on 26 April 2009. An audio version of the story read by Maureen O'Brien is also available from Maria Lectrix. Second, "The Copper-Clad World" from the September 1931 issue of Astounding was uploaded to Project Gutenberg on 19 May 2009.

Slowly but surely, the work of this unjustly neglected pioneer of science fiction is seeing the light of day for the first time in decades. As more of Vincent's work becomes available online, the Johnny Pez blog keep you updated.

More Rule 7

The current hot topic within the blogosphere is how Failin' Ed Whelan, NRO pseudoblogger, ex-lower-echelon Loyal Bushie, and President of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, outed the real-life identity of liberal Obsidian Wings blogger publius in a fit of snit. Failin' Ed then compounded the douchebaggery by whipping up a sockpuppet with the clever name lsdjkflkj and posting a comment to ObWi defending his actions.

Why out a pseudonymous blogger? Petulance, of course, and childishness, and the realization that one cannot answer the blogger's criticism on its merits. But of course, being a conservative who was dealing with a liberal, Failin' Ed is also operating under the strictures of Rule 7. Failin' Ed had to out publius, because that would piss off publius, and pissing off liberals is one of the few principles that conservatives still adhere to.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Rule 7

Around the left blogosphere, many are asking: why did the National Review have to resort to such blatant racism with their Sonia Sotomayor cover?

The answer, of course, is because of Rule 7.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Six degrees of Markos Moulitsas

There are plenty of people who find fault with the Daily Kos. It's an echo chamber, say some. Markos rules the place with an iron fist, say others. But you just can't ignore the Great Orange Satan, any more than you can ignore gravity. James Wolcott called it "the Battlestar Galactica of Net-roots activism". For better or worse, the Daily Kos is the central mass around which the rest of the left blogosphere revolves.

So one day, I found myself wondering just how far the Johnny Pez blog orbits from the Orange Mothership. In blogtopia (and yes, Skippy coined that word) distance is measured in blogroll links. The Daily Kos currently blogrolls 59 other blogs, so there are 59 blogs within one degree of Markos Moulitsas. Each of those blogs links to others, all of which are thus within two degrees of Kos. And so on and so forth.

One of the blogs on the dK blogroll is John Cole's Balloon Juice, making it a first-degree blog. Cole, in turn, has Kevin K.'s Rumproast blog on his blogroll, making it a second-degree blog. And wonder of wonders, the Johnny Pez blog can be found on Kevin's Polisnark blogroll, making us a third-degree blog.

So, I now challenge all my fellow bloggers who read this: is your blog within six degrees of Markos Moulitsas?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Carnival of the Liberals

Edition #92 is now out at Obama Action Comics!. As OAC host Jason notes, this may well be the first webcomics edition of CotL. In addition to excellent blog posts from excellent bloggers such as Mad Kane, Greta Christina, and the Digital Cuttlefish, Jason has also inexplicable included my own nominee, "A message to all the people I've robbed at gunpoint".

Go over and check 'em all out.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The end of the Collective

While the Republican National Committee's recent "Democrat Socialist Party" resolution brou-ha-ha had its amusing aspects, it's important to keep the larger meaning in mind. After all, the last time the Republicans decided to change the other party's name, they didn't bother calling an emergency meeting of the RNC and voting on a resolution. Instead, the central GOP hive mind at Unimatrix Zero One simply issued a telepathic command to the drones that from that point on everyone should refer to the Democratic Party as the "Democrat Party", and from that point on every drone in the GOP did just that.

However, since Captain Obama destroyed Unimatrix Zero One seven months ago, the Republican Collective has been suffering from collective dementia, going into a series of spasmodic frenzies over teabags, teleprompters, car dealerships, and mustard. When the Federalist Party died, it went out with a certain amount of dignity, helped along no doubt by its most prominent figure, the always-dignified Daniel Webster. Given that the Republican Party's most prominent figures are a drug-addled sex tourist, a serial adulterer, and a war criminal, it seems pretty unlikely that the word "dignity" will figure in any future accounts of the Republican Party's decline and fall.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Driving is a serious game

As a change of pace from the recent spate of text-heavy posts, the Johnny Pez blog presents an embedded music video: "I Love You" by Yello.