Sunday, December 30, 2007
I posted my first comment today to a front page story on Mike Huckabee's embarrassing lack of knowledge about foreign policy. It has attracted six recommends and one follow-up comment.
I know now that there is no going back. It's too late for me, but it's not too late for you! Save yourselves! Run for your lives! It lives!
The Great Orange Satan lives!
Thursday, December 27, 2007
If I can have an honest-moment now, I look at thousands of words of right-wing spew daily, beginning in the morning when I first check my feeds, and ending when the last press-releases thwonk onto the pavement in the evening. There are hundreds of items every day. And it does all, literally, drive you batshit, if you try to follow the main currents honestly and plain-mindedly . . . .
Because you see, after a point, you encounter the worst of it, and see that ‘the worst’ replicates willfully, every week, as well as most days (and more than half of the empirical hours). And as I’ve been sitting here in this computer-chair writing this, several new columns have been published, for instance, on Townhall.com. And each one is in whooping bad faith, and no sane person in the world has the time to refute them all.
I’m not complaining, and none of us are. I imagine our conservative friend, Stephen, reading this, but don’t imagine him as morally impressed by it.
And in a way, I suppose this site, day by day, chronicles our failures as human beings. (As well as, not-unremarkedly, successes.) There’s simply too much, and we’re not enough. It’s shovel-funded and unremittent. But then, of course, we try every day . . .
You couldn't pay me enough to do what these folks do. I freely admit that I just don't have the fortitude to wade through the daily morass of right-wing sludge that inundates our public discourse. I have no idea how they do it. What I do know is that they perform a valuable service, so go ahead and leave them a little spending money. I did.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
c/o The New Republic
1331 H Street, NW Suite 700
Washington, DC, 20005
Dear Mr. Siegel,
No doubt you are aware of the impending publication of Jonah Goldberg's long-awaited and much-postponed monograph on the subject of liberal fascism. In fact, thoughout the book's long pre-history and frequent subtitle changes, the main title has remained Liberal Fascism, a remarkable instance of persistence for such a protean project.
While it is true that Goldberg's claim on the idea of liberalism as a form of fascism goes back several years, nevertheless you were the first to actually achieve publication of the idea in your online article "The Origins of Blogofascism", as well as accomplishing the notable feat of coining the word "blogofascism" itself. (By the way, in the course of composing this post I've discovered that "The Origins of Blogofascism" is no longer available on The New Republic's website. You may want to alert them to this dismaying technological mishap.) Of course, one might argue that the term "blogofascism" doesn't necessarily apply only to liberals. The proper response is to note that in your seminal article on the phenomenon, you cited Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, founder of the liberal blog Daily Kos, as the definitional example of a blogofascist, pointing out his "rootlessness" and his three-year hitch in the US Army as proof of the essentially fascistic nature of his personality.
Given the widespread notoriety evinced by your explication of this phenomenon, it seems to me that your own intellectual precedence on the topic of liberal fascism is beyond dispute. That being the case, I think it behooves you to speak up on this subject. You need to remind the world that Goldberg's work is nothing more than a rehash of concepts that were pioneered by yourself. At the very least, you ought to be entitled to a notice within the pages of Liberal Fascism acknowledging your own contribution to the idea's intellectual pedigree. If you're willing to kick up enough of a fuss, you could even browbeat Goldberg into offering you co-author status. Heck, if you play your cards right, you could even parlay your prior claim to this particular piece of intellectual property into a book deal with Doubleday of your own, a companion piece to Goldberg's book called Liberal Blogofascism: The Secret History of the Left Blogosphere from Mussolini to Markos Moulitsas. I picture the front cover as having a smiley emoticon with a Hitler mustache. (Yes, I know you already have a book deal with Doubleday, but a man can never have too many book deals.)
According to Amazon.com, Goldberg's book is (currently) due out on January 8, so you're going to have to act quickly if you want it to properly reflect your intellectual contribution.
Best of luck,
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
"Videogame sales are in the toilet," confirmed the head of Nintendo.
"Ratings have dropped, and they're still dropping," confirmed the head of NBC. "Even on Saturday mornings. Especially on Saturday mornings!"
"Toy sales are down too," reported the head of Hasbro. "Except," he added darkly, "for Harry Potter tie-ins."
The other corporate executives all winced at the name. The head of Sony snarled (in Japanese, with inexpertly translated subtitles) "You dare speak that name among us?" ("All your Potter are belong to us!")
"Gentlemen," said their leader, the chairman of the Association of Global Conglomerates, "we cannot afford to be squeamish. We all know the source of our problems. Books!"
There was another round of wincing, but nobody dared speak against the chairman of the AGC.
The chairman continued, "We all thought that we could weather the storm. We all thought that when the last of those books was published, everything would go back to normal. But we were wrong. They started buying other books: Terry Pratchett, Piers Anthony, even L. Frank Baum. L. Frank Baum, for heaven's sake! And there are plenty more where they came from! Gentlemen, we must face the harsh facts: our children are reading." As the others averted their eyes in horror, the chairman savagely repeated, "Reading! Reading books! Little black letters on white pages! With spines! And covers!"
The head of MGM/UA cried out in horror and fainted dead away.
"But what are we to do?" wondered the head of Sony. ("You have no chance to survive make your time.")
"We have no choice," said the chairman. "We must make the ultimate sacrifice."
"You don't mean . . . " cried the head of ABC.
"I do!" insisted the chairman. "We must cancel Christmas! We must make the world understand the price to be paid for this unnatural habit."
The other executives mumbled, but in the end the chairman had his way.
On Christmas morning, in gated suburbs throughout America, loudspeaker trucks fanned out, broadcasting the message: "ATTENTION CHILDREN OF AMERICA! ATTENTION CHILDREN OF AMERICA! CHRISTMAS HAS BEEN CANCELLED BECAUSE OF HARRY POTTER! REPEAT, CHRISTMAS HAS BEEN CANCELLED BECAUSE OF HARRY POTTER!" On every channel of every television the message was repeated. Christmas was cancelled. And Harry Potter was to blame.
On every street corner, in every small town and suburban subdivision and urban neighborhood, mourning families gathered with their handfuls of Harry Potter, of Xanth, of Discworld, of Narnia, and stacked them neatly in piles on the sidewalk. Gasoline was poured, matches and zippo lighters flared, and the skies of America were filled with greasy dark clouds.
A year later, Black Friday dawned bright and early across the country. Box stores threw open their doors, but the expected flood of customers failed to materialize. That evening, the heads of the Association of Global Conglomerates gathered at a secret emergency meeting. All looked at the chairman for an explanation.
"We thought everything would return to normal once we took away their books," he said, his expression that of a man numbed with horror. "We were wrong. They haven't stopped reading. Instead, they've started writing their own stories. The internet is clogged with them. Ficblogs, they call them."
"Can't we do something?" asked the head of Sony. ("Take off every 'ZIG'!!")
The chairman shook his head. "We'd have to shut down the internet, and we can't. We can't! We'd be cutting our own throats." He signed. "We'll just have to learn to adapt. Start selling pens and paper, maybe, with advertising. Or marketing tie-ins." He tried to sound brave, but he knew as well as the rest that the world had changed, and there was no going back.
Harry Potter had triumphed.
Monday, December 24, 2007
I have not read this book, and I was initially disappointed when I found out that it was not, as I had at first assumed, about fishing. My disappointment vanished, though, when I realized that it was actually about World War II. Mr. Heller was apparently one of the earliest writers to write about what Tom Brokaw has dubbed the Greatest Generation and its wonderful battle against fascism (which was, as Jonah Goldberg reminds us, actually an early form of liberalism). In fact, Mr. Heller himself was apparently a member of the Greatest Generation who actually served in the European Theater during World War II. Although it is extremely suspicious behavior for someone writing about a war to actually take part in it, Mr. Heller probably deserves a pass, since he lived in a time before it became firmly established that the people who cheerlead a war are at least as important and as deserving of praise as the people who fight in it. Mr. Heller's tribute to the brave officers and men who battled against Eurolibrofascism in the 1940s is as timely today as when it was first published in 1961.
The question is troubling because my own thoughts have been paralleling hers. They go like this:
The three Democratic frontrunners all have not-too-dissimilar policy positions. It won't make a whole lot of difference which one wins the nomination, so choosing one over the others in the Democratic primary is not an urgent priority.
On the other hand, the Republicans have quite dissimilar policy positions. In particular, Ron Paul, crazy as he is, is the only major candidate in either party with a sane foreign policy. As one character put it in Joseph Heller's Catch-22, "That crazy bastard may be the only sane one left."
Yeah, Ron Paul is nuts. He basically wants to abolish huge chunks of the federal government, eliminate all federal regulations, gut the 14th Amendment, amend the Constitution to criminalize flag-burning, withdraw from the United Nations, and return the country to the Gold Standard. But he also wants to eliminate the vast global military establishment that the United States has established since the start of the Cold War, starting with the occupation of Iraq. If he became the Republican nominee, we would be treated to the unusual spectacle of a Republican running to the left of the Democrats on foreign policy and military policy. More generally, having Paul running for president as the Republican nominee would move the Overton Window on foreign policy in the direction of less militarism and fearmongering.
So I understand where Jen is coming from. We need a debate on America's global military hegemony, and we won't get one until a major party candidate start talking about it. And right now, the only person in a position to do that is Ron Paul. Is the need for that debate great enough to justify switching parties and voting for crazy Ron Paul in the Republican primary?
I've been giving that question a lot of thought.
UPDATE: In her comment, Jen raises another salient point: given the GOP's recent spate of electoral fraud, being a registered Republican is probably the best way to avoid having one's vote stolen. I don't have to worry about that at the present time, since Rhode Island's Secretary of State is a Democrat, but it's something to keep in mind for the future.
Saturday, December 15, 2007
Some background: The Conventional Wisdom in DC (which I'm pretty sure can be traced directly back to Karl Rove) is that actually trying to impeach Bush or Cheney for their various abuses of power would be Bad News For The Democrats, because the American People would be turned off by the idea of trying to hold these criminals responsible for their actions, and there would be a huge backlash against the Dems and a surge in popularity for the impeachee. Needless to say, the Democratic leadership in Congress has adopted this view, and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Beltway) very ostentatiously took impeachment "off the table" after the 2006 elections. Nevertheless, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Campaign Trail) has introduced
Nevertheless, three members of the Judiciary Committee do want to proceed with hearings against Cheney: Wexler, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), and Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI). They wrote an op-ed in support of their position, which various Important Newspapers refused to run, so in the end Wexler had to make the announcement via a blog post on the Huffington Post. Wexler has put up a website with an online petition, and in his blog post he wrote, "If we can get 50,000 or even more people to sign up in support of this effort I will report back to each and every Democratic colleague of mine the true power that exists behind this movement."
As far as I know, Jen Clark is the only person in the world who reads this blog regularly, and she's the one who told me about it. Nevertheless, to anyone out there reading these words: go and sign Wexler's petition, tell everyone you know about it, and if your representative is on the Judiciary Committee (mine, alas, is not), contact them and ask them to support Wexler. Do we, the people, have the power to force our elected leaders to do their jobs? We'll find out.
UPDATE: Over at the Great Orange Satan, Dave Lindorff has a diary on the Cheney impeachment that has made it up into the Recommended area. This is encouraging news.
UPDATE 2: A slight correction to Kucinich's role. Plus, a front page post by Kagro X at Daily Kos, mostly focusing on the ominous media blackout, and another diary by Lindorff tracking the progress of Wexler's petition.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
If this breaks just the right way, we could have every political reporter's fondest dream: a brokered convention. The shakers and movers of the GOP retire into the proverbial smoke-filled room. Assume that all of the leading declared candidates refuse to back down, and the Republicans have to choose a compromise candidate. Who would it be?
The most important clue is the oft-repeated observation, "I'll say this for Dubya -- he makes you realize what a good president his dad was." This, I think, is the sentiment that will rule the hour in Minneapolis. The Republicans will realize that, yeah, Poppy did do pretty well. And if you want an experienced man in the oval office, who better than someone who actually held the job for four years? And anyone who expresses concern about Poppy being in his 80s can be reminded of his skydiving hobby. You can't get more vigorous than that. And if the Republicans do decide to pick #41, who would he pick for his running mate? Who else but good ol' Dan Quayle? And the campaign slogan practically writes itself: PARTY LIKE IT'S 1988!
Yeah, I know, go ahead and laugh. But you'll all be bowing down and worshipping my brilliant prognostication skills when the Republicans emerge from Minneapolis with their Bush/Quayle '08 campaign paraphernalia.
Saturday, December 8, 2007
German federal and state interior ministers declared the Church of Scientology unconstitutional on Friday, opening the way for a possible ban on the organization.
They said Germany's domestic intelligence agencies should continue gathering information on the legality of Scientology's activities in Germany so that a decision could be made about a possible ban next year.
But the domestic intelligence agencies have been closely monitoring Scientology's operations for a decade and see little hope of amassing sufficient evidence to justify a ban.
Citing unnamed domestic intelligence agents familiar with the Scientology issue, Der Spiegel magazine reported that German authorities where having little success infiltrating the organization.
The magazine also said Scientology's membership in Germany had stagnated.
Germany does not recognize Scientology as a religion and regard it as a cult masquerading as a church to make money.
To be sure, the Germans are right about Scientology. It is a cult masquerading as a church to make money. It's a racket, plain and simple. The problem is, how much more of a racket than other religions does Scientology have to be before it becomes banworthy? There's a certain amount of racketry to all organized religions, just as there is in any human institution.
If the Germans ever do come up with a formula for determining the outer bounds of racketry-within-religion, I'll be very interested in seeing it. It might prove useful here in America.
Friday, December 7, 2007
I've decided to take up thene's challenge, but I'm going to cheat, because the male sci-fi writer I'll be testing is Isaac Asimov. This is cheating because it's clear from the context of her post that thene is talking about current male sci-fi writers. Nevertheless, Asimov it is, for two reasons. One, he's the sci-fi writer whose works I'm most deeply versed in; and, two, I think he'll serve as a sort of baseline writer.
The test itself is pretty easy, since, as I cast my mind over Asimov's body of work, I honestly can't think of any sex workers among his female characters, giving him a rating of .000 on the Miller Scale. I suspect that thene might consider this too much of a good thing.
The reason for Asimov's low score isn't hard to work out. He was a product of the pulp SF tradition of the 1930s, and he first gained fame in the pages of the Golden Age Astounding Science Fiction, quite possibly the most puritanical SF magazine of all time. A lot of his stories didn't have any female characters, and the few who did appear tended to be wives and girlfriends (though there were a couple of very notable exceptions). And unlike some of his fellow Campbell Authors who continued writing into the latter part of the century, Asimov didn't take advantage of the freedom from censorship to explore sexual themes. His writing remained just as puritanical as it had been in the 1940s.
It wasn't until his fifth story, "Ring Around the Sun", that Asimov even created a female character:
Jimmy Turner was humming merrily, if a bit raucously, when he entered the reception room.
"Is Old Sourpuss in?" he asked, accompanying the question with a wink at which the pretty secretary blushed gratefully.
"He is; and waiting for you." She motioned him towards the door on which was written in fat, black letters, "Frank McCutcheon, General Manager, United Space Mail."
And that's it, Isaac Asimov's first female character, a nameless secretary who is described simply as "pretty" and who is grateful to be winked at. His next couple of female characters are equally minor: an industrialist's wife in "The Magnificent Possession" and a wealthy starship passenger in "Black Friar of the Flame". However, in his fourteenth story, "Robbie", Asimov finally has a major female character: Grace Weston, a shrewish housewife. Grace takes a deep dislike to her eight-year-old daugher's robot nursemaid and nags her husband incessantly until he agrees to send the robot back to its factory.
It wasn't until his 28th story, "Liar!", that Asimov created a female character who wasn't some other character's wife, girlfriend, or secretary. This was Dr. Susan Calvin, a robopsychologist at the United States Robot corporation. Although she would later gain in stature, in this first story Dr. Calvin's role was an inglorious one: she was a plain, bespectacled, spinsterish woman in her late 30s with an unrequited crush on a handsome male co-worker several years her junior. In later stories such as "Escape" and "Little Lost Robot" she took on her defining characteristics: her icy demeanor, formidable intelligence, and disinclination to suffer fools gladly.
It was in 1945 that Asimov created his first fully rounded female character (or at any rate, as fully rounded as his characters ever got) in his short novel "The Mule": Bayta Darrell, a historian and member of the democratic underground on her despotically ruled homeworld. "The Mule" reaches its climax when Bayta kills a man in cold blood to keep him from revealing the most important secret in the galaxy. Yet, Bayta is also a housewife who as a matter of course cooks and cleans for her husband. Asimov had been married for three years when he wrote "The Mule", and he based Bayta on his own wife.
Asimov followed up with "And Now You Don't" in 1949, a story featuring Bayta's granddaughter, Arcadia Darrell, a 14-year-old schoolgirl and aspiring novelist with a romantic streak. "And Now You Don't" also featured a second prominent female character, Lady Callia, who is apparently the scatterbrained mistress of the Warlord of Kalgan, but is actually a secret agent from a group of highly advanced mental supermen.
In the Empire novels of the early 1950s, the few female characters served mainly as a love interst for the male heroes. In the two robot novels of the mid-1950s, all the female characters served mainly to move the murder mystery plot along (though admittedly, so did all the male characters except Baley and Daneel). By contrast, in 1955's The End of Eternity, the character of Noÿs Lambent is actually the puppetmaster pulling all the strings from behind the scenes -- as well as being the hero's love interest.
There followed a period of a decade and a half when Asimov concentrated on writing nonfiction. This ended spectacularly with his 1972 novel The Gods Themselves. The first section, in an echo of his Astounding days, had no female characters; the second section had no human characters at all; but the third section had an actual female viewpoint character, a Lunar tour guide named Selene Lindstrom. Selene is pretty much the opposite of the standard pulp fiction female character: independent, intelligent, outspoken, and thoroughly in control of events.
Ten years later Asimov published Foundation's Edge, his first work in that series in over thirty years. Conscious now about the lack of female characters in his earlier stories, he made an effort to even the sexual balance in Foundation's Edge, and the result was four major female characters: the Thatcheresque Mayor Harla Branno, the power-hungry Second Foundationer Delora Delarmi, the Trantorian farm girl Sura Novi, and the Gaian Blissenobiarella.
Women continued to play prominent parts in Asimov's fiction, most notably the artist and fashion designer Gladia Solaria in The Robots of Dawn and Robots and Empire, Blissenobiarella in Foundation and Earth, the telepathic teenager Marlene Insigna Fisher in Nemesis, and the historian Dors Venabili in Prelude to Foundation and Forward the Foundation (though, being an android, Dors probably doesn't count).
So, how does Asimov do in the Frank Miller test? He was a pulp writer who, in his later years, consciously sought to overcome his pulp origins to create female characters who were the intellectual equals (for good and ill) of his male characters.
UPDATE: Thene responds in comments by pointing to the Bechdel Test as a better determinant of whether a piece of fiction can be considered feminist. The three basic requirement of the test are that a work of fiction:
1. Has to have at least two women in it,
2. Who talk to each other,
3. about something besides a man.
Failure to meet the Rule is a strong indication that female characters are under-characterized or under-developed in the work.
ISTM that the Bechdel Test would be more applicable to mainstream fiction than genre fiction, since mainstream fiction tends to be more focused on (and have conversations involving interpersonal relationships, while genre fiction is more likely to involve conversations involving a genre-specific situation. Provided there are a sufficient number of female characters, there's a pretty good chance that at some point, two of them are going to talk about How do we get past these zombies? or Does the butler's alibi hold up? or Is it safe to land on this planet?, thus technically passing the Bechdel Test despite the presence of under-characterized or under-developed female characters.
The Imperial Japanese military machine ran on oil (unlike the civilian economy, which was mostly coal-powered at the time). However, most of Japan's oil came from two sources, both of them controlled by other nations: the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) and the United States of America. To Japan's leaders, having such an important resource under the control of hostile foreign governments was intolerable. They thought that the solution was obvious: go out and conquer the oil fields.
Specifically, they intended to conquer the Dutch East Indies. However, to secure the route, they felt it necessary to conquer everything in between, including the Philippines. The Philippines being a US possession at the time, this meant that conquering the Dutch East Indies would involve fighting a war with the United States.
Japan's leaders were not terribly concerned by the prospect. They figured that after they destroyed the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor in a surprise attack and conquered the Philippines, the defeated Americans would meekly accept Japanese domination of the Pacific. They didn't think that a defeated enemy would keep on fighting them. Besides, they really wanted that oil, and their plans required their conquered enemies to accept defeat. So, not only did they not prepare for a long war, they refused to even consider the possibility of having to fight one.
To the dismay of Japan's leaders, their defeated enemies kept on fighting them. The territories that had been so swiftly and easily conquered refused to stay conquered, and bit by bit, Japan's newly won empire was lost. In the end, so was the war.
The lessons for latter-day empire-builders should be obvious: first, conquest may be easy, but control is hard; second, you should always prepare for the worst; and third, refusing to face reality is a certain guarantee of ultimate failure.
Thursday, December 6, 2007
11. Dissidents in USA not sent to loony bins for brainwashing.
Boy, I bet those dissidents must be sweating bullets right about now.
These are the stories that the Dogs tell when the fires burn high and the wind is from the north. Then each family circle gathers at the hearthstone and the pups sit silently and listen and when the story's done they ask many questions:
"What is Man?" they'll ask.
Or perhaps: "What is a city?"
Or: "What is a war?"
There is no positive answer to any of these questions.
Clifford D. Simak's City (1952) is an example of a fix-up: a collection of related short stories. Sometimes a fix-up will include a framing story to provide it with a greater sense of overall unity. City has such a framing story, as do other SF works such as Isaac Asimov's I, Robot (1950), Gordon R. Dickson's The Spirit of Dorsai (1979), Robert Silverberg's Majipoor Chronicles (1982), and Larry Niven's Crashlander (1994). (Notable examples of fix-ups without framing stories are Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles  and Arthur C. Clarke's Tales from the White Hart .)
The parallels between City and I, Robot are particularly close. All but one of City's eight stories first appeared in Astounding Science Fiction during that magazine's "golden age" of 1939-1950, as did all but one of I, Robot's nine stories.* Both books were published in the early 1950s by a small genre publishing house called Gnome Press. Simak and Asimov were both notable "Campbell authors" who first gained prominence within science fiction due to their regular appearances in the pages of John W. Campbell's Astounding. Finally, Simak and Asimov were friends who corresponded regularly with each other over the course of their lives (though their meetings were infrequent due to their geographic separation).
In a Foreword to City written in 1976, Simak states that the stories that make it up were the result of his disillusionment with the coming of World War II. "There was, it seemed, no limit to the horror that men would inflict on one another." Although Simak's disillusionment was originally the product of the war itself, and not the arrival of nuclear weapons, he states that"Hiroshima and Nagasaki served only to confirm and deepen the disillusion."
In writing the stories, Simak says he was "seeking after a fantasy world that would serve as a counterbalance to the brutality through which the world was passing. Perhaps, deep inside myself, I was trying to create a world in which I and other disillusioned people could, for a moment, take refuge from the world in which we lived."
The stories in City follow the world through twelve thousand years of future history, as the human race grows in power, before abandoning the Earth, leaving it in the possession of robots and uplifted dogs. The first story, "City", set in 1990 and first published in the May 1944 issue of Astounding, shows the decay of urbanism as people abandon the cities to live in isolated estates where all the maintenance work is done by robots. "City" introduces the character of John J. Webster, the ancestor of most of the human characters in the later stories.
The second story, "Huddling Place", is set in 2117 and was first published in the July 1944 issue of Astounding. "Huddling Place" tells the story of Jerome A. Webster, the great-great-grandson of John J. Webster. Jerome is a surgeon who is called upon to travel to Mars to save the life of Juwain, a brilliant Martian philosopher. However, Jerome is afflicted with agoraphobia, the result of spending most of his life living on the rural estate established by his great-great-grandfather, and finds it impossible to leave. This story introduces the character of Jenkins, the Websters' household robot, who will appear in most of the later stories.
The third story, "Census", is set in 2183 and was first published in the September 1944 issue of Astounding. Jerome's grandson Bruce is burdened by his grandfather's failure to save Juwain's life. He has devoted his life to uplifting his dogs, hoping to make up for his grandfather's failure by giving humanity a companion race with a complimentary viewpoint. "Census" introduces the character of Joe, a mutated human with enhanced intelligence and an extended lifespan. In his Foreword Simak reveals that Nathaniel, the first of Bruce Webster's uplifted dogs, was based on Scootie, Simak's beloved Scottish terrier, to whose memory City is dedicated.
The fourth story, "Desertion", is set around the year 3000 and was first published in the November 1944 issue of Astounding. The story leaves the Websters and looks in on a small human base on the surface of Jupiter. Kent Fowler is in charge of a project that transforms men into an intelligent Jovian race called Lopers and sends them out to explore Jupiter. So far, five men have gone out, and none has reported back. Fowler finally decides to go through the transformation himself, together with his dog Towser (who is not one of Bruce Webster's uplifted talking dogs, but simply a standard-issue tail-wagging dog). After becoming a Loper, Fowler finds that the surface of Jupiter is a wonderful place to be, and that being a Loper is much more enjoyable than being a man (and he can also talk with his Loperized dog). The reason the men he sent out failed to come back was because they didn't want to go back to being human. Fowler realizes that he doesn't want to go back, either.
The fifth story, "Paradise", is set five years after "Desertion" and was published in the June 1946 issue of Astounding. Kent Fowler's sense of duty has compelled him at last to return to human form and report back to his superiors. This presents a problem for Tyler Webster, the head of Earth's government. Webster knows that if Fowler's story gets out, the human race will abandon its civilization and retire to Jupiter. His efforts to bury Fowler's story are thwarted by Joe the mutant, who has worked out Juwain's lost philosophy and unleashes it on an unsuspecting humanity. After being exposed to Juwainism, Webster realizes that it would be wrong to keep Fowler's revelation hushed up. He must let Fowler tell his story, even though it will mean the end of human civilization.
The sixth story, "Hobbies", is set around the year 4000 and was published in the November 1946 issue of Astounding. The only humans left on Earth are a small enclave located in Geneva, led by Jon Webster, and a few scattered naturalists led by Webster's son. The rest of the planet has fallen by default to the Dogs, descendants of Bruce Webster's uplifted dogs, aided by an army of robots. Jon Webster makes a trip back to his ancestral homestead in North America. After talking to a Dog named Ebenezer and to Jenkins, the leader of the robots, he learns that the Dogs have discovered a series of alternate dimensions they call the cobbly worlds. Webster realizes that the new civilization established by the Dogs and the robots deserves a chance to develop free from human interference. He returns to Geneva, sets off an ancient defence mechanism that isolates it and its human inhabitants from the rest of the world, then retires to a permanent state of suspended animation.
The seventh story, "Aesop", is set around the year 9000 and was published in the December 1947 issue of Astounding. The Dogs have undertaken the task of uplifting and civilizing the rest of the animal kingdom, creating a civilization they call the Brotherhood of Beasts. When one of the few remaining humans reinvents the bow and arrow and inadvertantly kills a robin, Jenkins realizes he must lead the last of the humans to one of the cobbly worlds, lest they reintroduce warfare to the world and destroy the Brotherhood of Beasts.
The eighth story, "The Simple Way", is set around the year 14,000 and was published in the January 1951 issue of Fantastic Fiction under the title "The Trouble With Ants". Jenkins returns to the world of the Dogs to find that a new threat to the Brotherhood of Beasts has arisen: a colony of uplifted ants established long before by Joe the mutant is slowly remaking the world. Remembering that men once had a simple way of dealing with ants, Jenkins travels to Geneva and communicates with Jon Webster, who is still in suspended animation. Webster informs Jenkins that the human way of coping with ants was to poison them. Jenkins decides that the human way is not his way; he will lead the Dogs and robots to another cobbly world, leaving the Earth to the ants.
When Simak assembled the City stories for book publication in 1952, he created a framing story in which a Dog academic who is editing the book discusses the vexing question of whether the stories (a set of popular legends among the Dogs) are purely mythical, or whether they have some basis in truth. In particular, he discusses the question of whether the race of Men they describe was real or not. The editor notes the contending views of three important Dogs: Rover and Bounce, who believe that the stories are mythology and nothing else, and Tige, who believes that the stories have a historical basis, and that the earliest ones were actually composed by Men rather than Dogs.
Twenty years after the publication of City, science fiction writer and editor Harry Harrison was moved by the death of John W. Campbell to assemble a memorial anthology called Astounding, featuring new stories by notable Campbell authors such as Isaac Asimov, Theodore Sturgeon, and of course Clifford D. Simak, whose contribution was a final City story called "Epilog". This story is set in the far future, when the Earth's only inhabitants are the ants, some mice, and Jenkins the robot. The Dogs have led the other animals to one of the cobbly worlds, and the ants have covered the whole world with a single vast city. The only remaining open area is a circle ten miles in diameter centered on the Webster House that the ants have left alone for some inscrutable reason of their own. When the Dogs left Jenkins remained behind to maintain the Webster House, and the mice decided that they preferred to stay where they were. Jenkins' solitary vigil is interrupted by two events. First, the ants' city starts to fall apart, and Jenkins discovers that the ants have died out. Second, a spaceship crewed by robots lands and asks Jenkins to join them. When Jenkins realizes that even his robotic memories of humanity is fading, he decides to leave with the other robots. His only regret is that, being a robot, he cannot weep for the abandoned Earth.
*Sadly, none of Simak's City stories ever appeared in the same issue of Astounding as one of Asimov's Positronic Robot stories. Such is life.
Saturday, November 24, 2007
These signs were all placed there in the middle of the night by one of Paul's dedicated, enthusiastic supporters. By the time the sun sets on Newport, though, those signs will be gone, because it's illegal in Newport to leave unattended signs on public property. But that's all right. The Paul campaign has plenty of lawn signs, and plenty of dedicated, enthusiastic supporters, and more signs will eventually sprout there again, and elsewhere in Newport, before the Republican presidential primary on March 4, 2008.
Make no mistake: Ron Paul is nuts. But he's nuts in an old-fashioned Barry Goldwater way, rather than the newfangled hooray-for-Gestapo-tactics-and-imperialism way of modern conservatism. As a former Deaniac, I can't help but be impressed at the level of commitment displayed by Paul's supporters. Four years ago, that would have been me driving up to the bridge on-ramp in the dead of night and planting Dean for America lawn signs.
And as a former Deaniac I also have a warning for any Paulies who are led by Google to this blog post: the political establishment doesn't like your guy, and if he shows any signs of gaining traction, they will do everything in their power to stop him, and in the end, they will succeed. At that point, your candidate (and you yourselves) will have to decide whether you think that beating the Democrats is more important than getting revenge on the mofos in your own party who screwed you over. Dean himself (and most of his followers, including me) decided that beating the other side was more important than beating his own side. He (and we) fell in behind Kerry, and he (and we) worked our asses off (no pun intended) trying to get him elected. And because Dean remained loyal to the Democratic Party, he became its next Chairman, and his revolution continued from the inside, helping the Dems to regain control of Congress.
So, when Ron Paul loses the Republican nomination (and he will lose), where will he and his supporters go?
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Friday, November 16, 2007
Cosmic Engineers was an example of Doc Smith-style universe-spanning space opera. The story opens with a scientist named Caroline Martin being awakened from a thousand years of suspended animation when a newspaper reporter named Gary Nelson stumbles across her ship in space near Pluto in the year 6948. Nelson and his photographer sidekick Herb Harper are on their way to Pluto to cover the launch of humanity's first faster-than-light ship for their paper, the Evening Rocket. (Yes, they still have newspapers in 6948. Not only that, they still have evening papers in 6948.)
In spite of her state of suspended animation, Martin remained conscious the whole time, and preserved her sanity by pondering the laws of time and space. She also found herself receiving not-quite-comprehensible telepathic messages from an alien race. When Martin and the news guys reach Pluto, they discover that the team working on the FTL ship has been in contact with the same group of aliens. Martin is able to use the Pluto team's equipment to communicate with the aliens, who live at the edge of the universe and call themselves the Cosmic Engineers. They tell her that the universe is in imminent danger of being destroyed, and that they desperately want help from humanity. The Cosmic Engineers instruct the Pluto team on how to build a hyperspace thingie that will let them travel instantaneously to their world at the edge of the universe. The Pluto team does so, and Martin, the news guys, and two members of the Pluto team travel to the CE world.
They meet the CEs, a mechanical race living in a huge, nearly-deserted city. The CEs tell them that the universe is on the verge of coming into physical contact with another universe, which will result in an influx of energy destroying both universes. To avert the catastrophe, Nelson and Martin must travel millions of years into a possible future and make contact with the descendants of the human race.
In 1950 Gnome Press published Cosmic Engineers as a novel, and Simak took the opportunity to revise and expand it slightly. Paperback Library published a paperback edition in December 1964, followed by at least two reprints (the copy I'm reading is a second reprint from June 1969). The novel was also published in the UK in hardcover and paperback in the 1980s.
Cosmic Engineers has several notable features. First is the obvious Mary-Sue nature of the protagonist, Gary Nelson, like Simak himself a newspaper reporter. Second is Caroline Martin; she is not a simple damsel in distress character, whose only function in the plot is to be placed in danger and thus motivate the hero into being heroic. Martin is an accomplished scientist, and by far the most intelligent of the novel's human characters. It is due to her that the group on Pluto is able to communicate with the Cosmic Engineers, and is able to travel to the edge of the universe to meet them.
Finally, for all its universe-spanning scope, Simak keeps the science in Cosmic Engineers on a remarkably firm footing. The threat to the universe comes from the extra mass that will result from the influx of energy; with the added mass, the universe will no longer continue expanding, but instead will quickly contract back into a primordial cosmic egg, and will have to go through the Big Bang all over again.
Cosmic Engineers is an unusual novel with an interesting cast of characters. At 159 pages, it's a fast read, and the cosmic scope provides the sense of wonder that is the hallmark of good science fiction.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Sunday, November 11, 2007
In 1978, the fantasy writer Chelsea Quinn Yarbro published a novel called Hôtel Transylvania in which St. Germain was actually a 3500-year-old vampire. Yarbro followed up Hôtel Transylvania with a series of other novels featuring the vampire St. Germain set in various historical periods, including ancient Rome in the time of the Emperor Nero, the courts of Ghenghis Khan and Ivan the Terrible, and France during the Black Death. These are technically horror novels, but the central conceit of the series is that all of the horrors portrayed are the work of ordinary human beings, and not of St. Germain and his fellow vampires.
In 2002, she published Night Blooming, featuring St. Germain in the Frankish Kingdom of Charlemagne. Thanks to one of the inexplicable quirks of the publishing industry, several hardcover copies of this novel wound up in the remainder bin at Shaw's supermarket in Middletown, Rhode Island last week, on sale for $4.95, about one fifth of the cover price. I happened to spot them there, and since I'm a fan of the series, I bought a copy. A quick search of Amazon.com shows that hardcover copies of this novel go for $3.18 and upwards (plus 3.99 shipping and handling), so thanks to the Shaw's supermarket chain, I have a copy on my bookshelf in perfect condition, without serious damage to my meagre checking account.
Thursday, November 8, 2007
Some background: LaHaye and Jenkins are both premillennial dispensationalists, who believe that a particular scheme of Biblical history and prophecy, as outlined in the Scofield Reference Bible, with further refinements made by Hal Lindsey in the 1970s, gives a surefire preview of the End of the World. The Left Behind series is basically a novelization of the Scofield-Lindsey scheme of the End Time.
Clark does not share LaHaye and Jenkins' belief in the truth of the Scofield-Lindsey scheme. He puts it like this:
Let's be clear: there is nothing literal about this convoluted, herky-jerky, cut-and-paste collage. Their reading is neither literal nor linear -- arbitrarily leaping about from Revelation to Ezekiel to Zechariah to John Birch, leaving no context intact.
Premillennial dispensationalism is as far from a "literal" reading as you can get. These folks are not orthodox Christians and they're not illiteralist "fundamentalists" either. So don't buy their pose.
Clark regards the Left Behind series as heretical, dangerous, and fundamentally un-Christian.
The 20-something Jen wouldn't remember some interesting stuff that happened in the early 1970s, but I do, so I think I'll share. Back in 1972, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos was nearing the end of his second (and legally last) term of office. Even though the country was generally peaceful, there was a sudden spate of political terrorism in the summer. Marcos responded by declaring a state of martial law on September 21 (secretly at first; he didn't actually announce that the country was under martial law until two days later). The military seized control of the media and various opponents (actual and potential, real and imaginary) of the regime were arrested. Elections were suspended.
At the time, the Philippines was the USA's closest ally in that part of the world, and formed an essential component of the military organization that had been built up to carry on the war in Vietnam. So, what was US President Richard Nixon's response to such a vital ally suddenly becoming a dictatorship? Pretty much identical to Bush's response to Pakistan. In fact, given how important the Philippines were, it's pretty much inconceivable that Marcos could have seized absolute power without Nixon's complicity.
If the Watergate scandal hadn't intervened, would Marcos' seizure of power have served as a model for Tricky Dick as his own second term came to a close in 1976? It would be irresponsible not to speculate.
Monday, November 5, 2007
This is nonsense. Authoritarian governments are afraid of their people; that's why they try to turn their countries into huge prisons. The more frightened the government is of the people, the harsher its rule becomes. In the end, neither people nor government should be afraid of the other, because the people ultimately make up the government (which is a truth that libertarians are always at great pains to deny).
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
The reason there's been insufficient policing of the contracts that have been handed out, of course, is that that would have gotten in the way of Dick Cheney's pals at Haliburton running their scams. The basic problem is that the Republicans think ripping off the taxpayers and fucking over our troops is a legitimate way to make money.
You can't trust a Republican with public funds. It's that simple. It's central to their ideology. They don't think the government should have the money in the first place, so they figure they're doing the taxpayers a favor by stealing it.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
SUX will now be at the center of the airport's new marketing campaign. FLY SUX will appear on souvenir caps and t-shirts, and form the URL of the airport's redesigned website, www.flysux.com.
I salute Sioux City's bold attempt to make a virtue of necessity. As airport board member Mark Bernstein notes, many airports, including some of the busiest, have forgettable three-letter codes (Providence's own T.F. Green Airport, frex, has the totally forgettable PVD), but nobody ever forgets Sioux City's code.
Friday, October 26, 2007
That's right, the Bushies, possibly embarrassed by the Jeff Gannon fiasco, have finally decided to cut out the middleman and have the government officials themselves ask the questions at press conferences.
One can see where this is leading. Someday, in the not-too-distant future, all reporters will be banned from press conferences, and the press secretaries will ask as well as answer all the questions.
It should make for a much more efficient process.
UPDATE: Jen Clark, my first ever commenter, notes that the FEMA presser itself was an exercise in unnecessity, since FEMA didn't actually do much during the SoCal wildfires. So, to recap: they held a fake press conference to announce insignificant measures. Jen thinks this is a sign of overwhelming stupidity, but I think it's more sinister. This is what happens when the people running the government know they won't suffer any penalty when they do something wrong. As proof, I offer this: John "Pat" Philbin, one of the FEMA employees-turned-fake-reporters, has received a lateral promotion to head of public affairs at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
UPDATE 2: Like a demon from a medieval grimoire, apparently speaking Jeff Gannon's name causes him to appear in a flash of fire and brimstone. Unlike a medieval demon, however, instead of trying to eat your soul, Gannon just deposits long rants full of lame-ass right-wing talking points in your comments section. Sic transit gloria mundi.
UPDATE 3: In her latest blog post, Jen Clark reminds us just how breathtakingly awful FEMA still is two years after Katrina.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
The Lunar Republic Society is offering parcels of Lunar real estate for the bargain price of $18.95 per acre (plus $8.00 shipping and handling). What is the Lunar Republic Society? Basically, it's a couple of guys who proclaimed themselves the government of "an independent and sovereign Lunar Republic" back in 1999. As the Society's website states:
In much the same way that major corporations — such as IBM or General Electric — offer shares of stock to raise capital, we are offering a limited number of "shares" in lunar property in order to fund privatized exploration, settlement and development of the Moon. The value of the shares is directly related to their location on the Moon, and the growth of their value is directly dependent upon successfully achieving our goal of permanently inhabiting the Moon by 2015.
Send in your money, and in return you receive a personalized parchment deed certificate, a satellite photograph of the property, and an information sheet containing geographic information on the region of the Moon where your property is located. Mind you, $18.95 just gets you property in the Sea of Vapors, the Moon's low-rent district. For property in the posher areas of the Moon like the Bay of Rainbows and the Sea of Tranquility, you can expect to pay up to $37.50 an acre.
Purchasing a plot on the Moon also entitles you to a two-year membership in the Society. As a member, you automatically gain citizenship in the Lunar Republic, which entitles you to participate in Lunar elections, receive a subscription to the Society's newsmagazine The Lunar Journal, discounts on Lunar property, and access to the members-only section of the Society's website. If you're not interested in buying property but still want to join the Society, you can get a two-year membership for $16.00.
So, if you've got some money burning a hole in your pocket, you can realize your secret dream of becoming a Lunar real estate baron. It's a small step for a man, but a giant leap for the interplanetary economy.
UPDATE: To give the Society its due, I have to admit that their managing director, David Ferrell Jackson, saw right through Bush's empty rhetoric back in 2004 when he briefly made noises about establishing a manned base on the Moon.
Monday, October 22, 2007
But just to prove what a terrific guy I am (how white I am, as a Republican would say), and what wonderful people Democrats are, I'm going to return good for evil, and do for the Republicans what they're only pretending to do for us. I'm going to give them some good political advice: get out while the gettin's good. The GOP brand has been hopelessly compromised by Bush and the Bushies, and the national party itself has been taken over by Christian fundamentalists and neoconservatives. Republicans are already a dying breed here in New England, and the time will come when anyone who isn't a full-bore Freeper will be ashamed to admit to being a Republican.
The modern GOP consists of 3 main subgroups, two of which are already represented by minor parties. First, there are the Christian fundamentalists (or "values voters" as it pleases them to call themselves), whose bedrock principles are theocracy, antifeminism, and homophobia. The misnamed Constitution Party consists largely of former Republicans who have decided that the GOP, extreme as it is, isn't extreme enough. Second, there are the libertarians, whose bedrock principles are Social Darwinism, unfettered capitalism, free trade, isolationism, and total personal freedom. Most of the members of the Libertarian Party are former Republicans who became fed up at the growing power in the GOP of the fundies and the neoconservatives. Third, there are the Dixiecrats, former Southern Democrats who became alienated from the Party of the People after LBJ finished off segregation in the 1960s and who flooded into the GOP after Nixon started pandering to them with his "southern strategy". Although there are a number of tiny racist groups such as the Council of Conservative Citizens and the American Nazi Party, there is no significant racist third party, since racists have found such a receptive home in the GOP.
The rise of Rudy "I Have 9/11 Tattooed On My Chest" Giuliani's presidential campaign to frontrunner status has alarmed the fundies, who are appalled by his refusal to flip-flop on abortion and gay rights. The result has been a meeting of the shadowy Council for National Policy, where the idea of abandoning the GOP for a third party (probably the Constitution Party) has been bandied about. If the fundies do bolt the GOP, that will leave the party as an even more uneasy coalition of libertarians and Dixiecrats. Given the libertarians' unhappiness with the growing authoritarian streak in the GOP, a Giuliani nomination might well drive many of them out of the Republican Party and into the arms of the capital-L Libertarians, leaving a rump GOP consisting largely of Dixiecrats.
If this happens, then here in New England the GOP might very well vanish, and in its place will be the Libertarian Party. So, my advice for the local Republicans: get out now, and get in on the ground floor of the Libertarians.
*Something that really annoys me even more are Democrats who take the Republicans seriously and try to act on their "advice". These Democrats tend to be Beltway political consultants.
UPDATE: From PoliticsNJ.com comes word that the entire governing board of Lyndhurst, New Jersey, is switching parties from Republican to Democrat. Bergen County Republican Organization Chairman Rob Ortiz is not pleased.
Meanwhile, Digby thinks the fundies are just jerking the GOP around, reminding them that the Republicans are the religious right's bitches.
Saturday, October 20, 2007
From Radiohead lead singer Thom Yorke: "I like the people at our record company, but the time is at hand when you have to ask why anyone needs one. And, yes, it probably would give us some perverse pleasure to say 'Fuck you' to this decaying business model."
From an unnamed A&R man at a major European label: "This feels like yet another death knell. If the best band in the world doesn't want a part of us, I'm not sure what's left for this business."
From an unnamed rap producer: "Once you open that door and start giving music away legally, I'm not sure there's any going back."
The Time article points out that, at most, a band only ends up with 30% of overall revenues from their album sales, and that's for well-established big-name bands like Green Day. It ends by noting that Prince released his last album online for free in July, then went on to sell out 21 consecutive London concert dates.
Radiohead are planning to embark on a world tour in support of In Rainbows next spring.