Monday, November 30, 2015

No sex please, we're right-wing fundamentalist Christians

The internet has been abuzz with news that soon-to-be-former NFL quarterback and noted ostentatiously self-righteous prayerful Christian Tim Tebow and his now-former current squeeze Miss USA and Miss Universe pageant winner Olivia Culpo are calling it quits. 

Apparently, when Tebow first got a hankerin' for Miss Culpo and sent her cute love notes and won her adoration, he said to her, "Olivia, my darling, my love for you knows no bounds, but as a noted ostentatiously self-righteous prayerful Christian, I am required by my even greater devotion to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to remain celibate until marriage." And then Culpo answered, "Oh, Timmy, you say the most darling silly things! Now please fill me up with all your hot sticky professional-sportsball-player jizz!" And then Culpo learned to her astonishment that Tebow was totes serious about the whole no-sex thing, and after that there was nothing for it but to have their respective PR flacks send out press statements announcing that their eternal love had turned out not to be so eternal after all, and the pair was taking a road trip to Splitsville, USA.

However, I would be deficient in my duties as a guide to the behavior of my fellow white men if I failed to warn Miss Culpo that this may not be the end of it. There's a certain species of white man, particularly noted ostentatiously self-righteous prayerful Christian white men, who do not regard women as autonomous human beings. They feel that any woman who is "theirs" remains "theirs" despite anything the said woman herself might think. We call this certain species of white man "stalkers", and they have been known to hound, harrass, and even physically attack any woman who tries to remove herself from their sole possession.

Now I'm not saying that Mr. Tebow is going to continue haunting Miss Culpo's footsteps until she either succeeds in having him imprisoned, or he succeeds in murdering her. I'm just pointing out that he fits the profile like a really creepy, stalkery glove, and that if Miss Culpo has any sense she should make sure that her bodyguards are on high alert for the next, like, fifty years.


I wasn't planning to participate in National Blog Posting Month this year. If I had been, I would have been posting to a sponsoring NaBloPoMo site such as BlogHer as well as here at my own blog. It just so happened that I posted my usual monthly Featured Article piece on the Sobel Wiki on November 1, and I also happened to post a review of Mickey Zucker Reichert's novel I, Robot: To Obey the next day, November 2.

Even that ordinarily wouldn't have been enough to get me to participate, but as I lay in bed ruminating before sleep on the evening of November 2, it occurred to me that I could do a couple of posts on the planet Trantor in response to a Facebook post by my friend Christina. At that point, I was off to a solid start without quite meaning to be, and so it seemed a shame not to try to see the thing through. It also helped that I had a new job that afforded me a lot of free time to sit and write blog posts. If you look through the last month's blog posts, you'll see a number that were posted between midnight and 8 am. Those were the ones I wrote while I was on the clock at my job. (It's no coincidence, btw, that I had a similar job back in 2009 when I first participated in NaBloPoMo.)

After the Trantor articles, my interest in national politics gave me plenty of fodder for blogging. If that failed, I could always resort to my series of prophetic utterances, or even do a quick-and-dirty embedded music video. For the most part, though, I was sustained in my quest by the crazy Republican presidential candidates, or the violent actions of my fellow white men.

Will I keep blogging every day? Probably not. My work on the Sobel Wiki has been lagging while I've been focused on blogging, and I'm going to want to get back into that groove. But now that I've got all this free time at my job, I'm pretty sure my blogging output is going to remain higher than it has been for the last year or two. I'm sure the ongoing presidential race will help there, and sadly, I'm equally sure that my fellow white men will continue committing armed atrocities for the foreseeable future. So, expect to see a new birth of freedom here at the Johnny Pez blog.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

What is to be done?

It's as clear as a picture window that armed white men are a public menace. However, Donald Trump to the contrary notwithstanding, it would be both illegal and un-American to single out any particular group for pre-emptive surveillance or incarceration, even a group as dangerous to the public safety as white men. Thus, the only available option for dealing with the issue of armed white men is to disarm them.

The problem with this option is that white men believe, wrongly, that they have a Constitutional right to own guns. The IInd Amendment to the Constitution, of course, only speaks of gun ownership by a "well-regulated militia", that is, by military units, and not by individuals. However, white men, backed by wealthy and powerful arms manufacturers, have perverted the IInd Amendment into an alleged right by any individual to own any firearm up to and including military-grade automatic weapons. We can see the results of this perversion of our basic law every day in our newspapers, cable news networks, and websites: a week literally never goes by without armed white men going on mass killing-sprees.

Unfortunately, the arms manufacturers have managed to take control of one of our national political parties, and intimidated the other into silence. But I would ask the members of the Democratic Party just what their silent acquiescence to this reign of terror has gained them. President Barack Obama has always been careful to avoid any slightest hint of interest in placing any limits on the acquisition and ownership of firearms. His reward has been constant vilification by the arms industry as a "gun-grabber", a lie they routinely tell about any and all Democratic politicians for the sole purpose of frightening the sheep-like suckers who buy their product into buying more and more guns.

So. Secretary Clinton, Senator Sanders, and even you, Governor O'Malley, ought to know full well that you're going to be labelled as a gun-grabber no matter what you do. Well, if you're going to be hung with the label anyway, you might as well EARN IT. Announce to the American people that you damn well ARE a gun-grabber, and when you're elected president, you are going to grab ALL THE FUCKING GUNS. You literally couldn't be denounced any more violently by the gun nuts than you already are, and you might even persuade the 55% majority of Americans who favor stricter gun control to vote for you.

You say you're a law-abiding hunter who follows the rules of gun safety to the letter? TOO FUCKING BAD. You had your chance to restrain your fellow gun-owners, and you WIMPED OUT. NO GUNS FOR YOU. If you want to hunt, use a fucking bow and arrow. It's more sporting than guns anyway, and you're supposed to be fucking SPORTSMEN after all.

President Obama released a statement after this last armed-white-man-shooting-spree in which he said,
“This is not normal. We can’t let it become normal.” Well, guess what, Mr. President: THIS IS THE NEW NORMAL. It's going to stay normal until you and all the other Democrats stand up and say WE CAN ONLY STOP THIS BY GETTING RID OF THE GUNS.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Round up the usual suspects

Oh look, another armed white man committed another isolated act of don't-call-it-terrorism.

You know what we have to do: round up all the Syrian refugees. You know how dangerous those people are.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Recognizing reality

When I posted my obscenity-laced, spittle-flecked rant open letter to my fellow white men a few days back, I figured I'd get at least one response from a white supremacist, and I was right. The white supremacist in question was Fritz Knese, one of my girlfriend's ex-boyfriends. Fritz commented:
I am all for reading Asimov, but your concept that white guys should stop recognizing reality is BS. Like it or not, white men have made the world of today for the most part. We should not be apologizing to anyone for daring to be better. 
As Tim Gueguen subsequently noted, Fritz managed to completely miss the point of the post.

No, Fritz, I'm not asking you to apologize. I'm asking you to repent.

The phenomenon of confirmation bias is well-established in human psychology. Basically, we all believe what we want to believe, selectively editing the information we receive in order to emphasize anything that confirms what we believe, and de-emphasize anything that contradicts what we believe. Confirmation bias allows Fritz and myself to access the same pool of information and draw totally opposite conclusions about the relative abilities of different races. Fritz believes that "recognizing reality" means agreeing with him about white supremacy, and I believe that "recognizing reality" means agreeing with me about racial equality.

Does that mean that I don't think there is such a thing as objective reality? Nope. After all, objective reality is the ultimate source of the information that we both build our world-views from. The differences are entirely due to the information processing we both engage in.

Well then, does that mean that I don't think it's possible to determine which of our world-views jibes more closely with objective reality? Again, nope. We would not have been able to build up our current body of scientific knowledge unless we had a useful method for comparing different hypotheses and judging which conforms more closely with reality.

The problem is that our emotions tend to interfere with the process of judging hypotheses. Even the scientific method can be overwhelmed by the emotions of the all-too-human researchers who use it, sometimes unconsciously, and sometimes due to deliberate fraud. The more heavily invested our emotions are in a particular matter, the harder it is to keep bias from skewing the results. And you won't find a more emotionally-freighted question than that of racial superiority. It's going to be damned hard to find a way to get objective information on this topic, if it's even possible at all right now.

So let's leave to one side the question of whether Fritz or I is objectively right about race. Instead, let's look at another question: why do we believe what we believe? Given that our emotions are so heavily invested in this issue, it seems clear to me that, despite what Fritz says in his comment, "reality" has nothing to do with our beliefs. So let's look at the motivations behind white supremacy.

White supremacy is a form of social Darwinism, a zero-sum view of society that holds that one group or individual can only gain prominence by causing other groups or individuals to lose prominence. The white supremacist sees it as his duty to protect his own group, the "white race", from encroachments by other groups seeking to displace the "white race" from its paramount position in society. If a white supremacist is sufficiently anxious about the difficulties facing the "white race", he or she will resort to violence to fend off the perceived encroachments of other races, as we saw happen in Minneapolis. It isn't hard to see where this line of reasoning ultimately leads, because it has happened before. If the only way to preserve the "white race" is to subjugate or exterminate other races, then the white supremacist will do just that.

This is what I meant when I wrote that white supremacists turn themselves into monsters. By exalting their own group, they inevitably denigrate other groups, ultimately refusing to recognize the common humanity we all share. They've started walking down a particular road, and that road leads directly to the Nazi death camps. They may deny that that is their chosen destination (though plenty of white supremacists don't deny it), but that's where they're going, whether they admit it to themselves or not.

So, Fritz, you've got to ask yourself: is this where you want to go? You can deny it all you want (assuming you do in fact want to), but the logic is plain. Even if you've convinced yourself that all you're doing is "recognizing reality", you can still choose to reject it. You can say, "If reality requires that I be a monster, then I want nothing to do with reality, because it's better to be a human being than a monster."

Better yet, you can admit that your own confirmation bias may have led you astray, and that the question of racial superiority isn't as settled as you think it is. In that case, there's no need to reject reality. You can just admit that you aren't sure what the truth is, and in the absence of any certain proof one way or the other, you choose to err on the side of humanity.

Or, you can decide that, yeah, you're a monster. That's also an option.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

The First Thanksgiving

Sarah Josepha Hale was for 40 years the editrix of Godey's Lady's Book, the most influential periodical in 19th century America. Hale was born in New Hampshire, and though she eventually moved to Philadelphia to edit Godey's, she remained a typical New Englander in two respects: first, she was an American nationalist; and second, she was fervently opposed to slavery.

In antebellum America, being an American nationalist meant being opposed to people who put local or sectional loyalty above loyalty to the country as a whole. This put Hale firmly in opposition to Southerners who constantly threatened to secede from the United States to protect the institution of slavery. One of the ways Hale sought to promote American nationalism was to agitate for the adoption of Thanksgiving, the traditional annual New England harvest festival, as a national holiday. At the time, there were only two uniquely American national holidays: Washington's Birthday on February 22, and Independence Day on July 4.

Hale contacted successive presidents from Zachery Taylor onwards, urging them to make Thanksgiving a national holiday, but it wasn't until 1863 that her campaign came to fruition. By then, Southern slaveowners had finally carried out their threat to secede, driving the country into civil war. President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation at the beginning of the year, and as U.S. forces advanced into rebellious areas of the country, any slaves they encountered were automatically freed. Inevitably, by the time the slaveowners' rebellion was finally put down, slavery would be a dying institution in the United States, and the chief mainstay of sectionalism would be gone. The time was ripe for the promotion of a new national American identity, and so Lincoln accepted Hale's proposed new national holiday. On October 3, Lincoln issued a proclamation establishing a national day of Thanksgiving on the last Thursday in November. The holiday became permanently established, always by presidential proclamation, and always on the last Thursday in November.

In the late 19th century, as European immigration steadily increased, the Thanksgiving holiday was adapted to the program of assimilating the new arrivals. In an echo of Hale's New England origins, the holiday was associated with the first harvest feast given by the Pilgrim settlers in Plymouth Plantation in the fall of 1621, and that association has continued ever since. The New England setting helped ground the immigrants and their children in the early history of their new country (and also served to de-emphasize the older slave-based Jamestown settlement).

In 1939, the Thanksgiving holiday was repurposed again by President Franklin Roosevelt, who attempted to move it back one week to the next-to-the-last Thursday in November in order to lengthen the holiday shopping season, and thus act as an economic stimulus. A tug-of-war between Roosevelt and Congressional Republicans over the date of Thanksgiving went on for two years, until Congress officially established the date as the fourth Thursday of November in December 1941. Since then, Thanksgiving has combined all three functions: as a national holiday, as a commemoration of the 1621 Plymouth harvest feast, and as the start of the national end-of-the-year holiday shopping spree.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Prophecy 15

Once again the Prophecies of Johnny Pez return to disturb and amaze a world already surfeited with disturbance and amazement.
The pilgrimage to the country of scarlet men
Ends in the feast of berry, bird, and mashed tuber
The awkward uncle will embarrass all again
Then doze while athletes pirouette and maneuver
Who can tell what these mystic visions portend? We may never know ... and it may be just as well.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

An open letter to my fellow white men

Seriously, what the fuck is wrong with you guys?

Here's what you need to do. You need to stop going to Reddit and 4chan and 8chan and Stormfront. Fuck, you need to quit the internet altogether.

You've turned yourselves into monsters. I mean it. Every time you consume some piece of information that tells you how hard you have it compared to black people and Hispanics and women and whatnot, you lose a piece of your humanity. Do it often enough, and what's left isn't fit to associate with decent people. You're making yourselves worse, and you're making it worse for everyone around you.

You want to become human again? Go read a fucking book. I recommend James Baldwin, but even one of Asimov's old science essay collections would be better than the shit you're shoveling into your brains now.


(see also this follow-up post)

Monday, November 23, 2015

The relatively moderate candidate

Amanda Marcotte worries that Donald Trump will make it easier for the eventual Republican nominee to win the presidency by making him seem moderate by comparison. Marcotte admits that her scenario assumes that Trump crashes and burns at some point, and one of the other candidates (probably Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz) wins the nomination.

Marcotte is careful to admit the possibility that Trump might not crash and burn at all, and might win the Republican nomination himself. However, I think that even if Trump doesn't win the nomination, his candidacy will make a GOP victory less likely rather than more. Over the course of Trump's campaign, I've noticed that his success in appealing to the worst instincts of the GOP base has had the effect of goading the rest of the Republican candidates into emulating him. It's reached the point where alleged moderate Ohio Governor John Kasich is now promising to create a new federal agency to promote "Judeo-Christian Western values" in the Middle East.

What this means is that even if Trump does drop out of the race at some point, the rest of the GOP field will already be so over-the-top crazy trying to keep up with him that they won't be able to stop. Trump has already established that that's the way to win, and which of his competitors will dare try to change that winning formula? By the time the Republicans hold their convention in Cleveland in July, the nominee (whether it's Trump or someone else) will be committed to a full-bore racist agenda. Everyone in the country who isn't a straight-up racist will be voting Democratic, and Barack Obama proved that there are enough Americans out there who aren't straight-up racist to ensure a Democratic victory.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

An open letter to Representative Glenn Thompson (R-PA)

Dear Representative Thompson,

You have been my representative in the U.S. House since I moved to Centre County, Pennsylvania back in August. As a constituent, I would like to discuss your recent vote in favor of the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act of 2015. While I certainly sympathize with your desire to prevent more right-wing religious fanatics from moving to the United States, I don't think this bill was the proper vehicle for doing so. For one thing, making it harder for victims of Painful Rectal Itch to immigrate seems counterproductive, since Painful Rectal Itch is itself a fanatical right-wing religious organization, and it tends to target people because it doesn't regard them as fanatically religious enough.

For another thing, even if the act succeeded in preventing members of Painful Rectal Itch from settling in the United States, that would do nothing to alleviate the many problems caused by the tens of millions of right-wing religious fanatics who already live here, such as attacks on women's reproductive health, hindering the civil rights of LGBT people, and attempts to corrupt the teaching of science in public schools. It seems to me that instead of hindering the settlement of refugees in the United States, your efforts to protect us from right-wing religious fanatics would be more productive if you voted for legislation enforcing the civil rights of sexual minorities and rolling back restrictions on reproductive health care.

I hope you will take this advice into account in your future legislative activities.

Best wishes,

Johnny Pez
Bellefonte, PA
November 2015

Saturday, November 21, 2015

To Matt Groening and James L. Brooks: A modest proposal

It has become a truism that you can't do anything original on a sitcom because The Simpsons has already done everything. But there is one plot that The Simpsons hasn't done ... at least, not quite. Back in season 13, the show did an episode in which Homer was prescribed medicinal marijuana by Dr. Hibbert. It was a well-regarded episode, but that was 13 years ago. It's time for the show to revisit the theme, and this time, go big. The Simpsons needs to do an episode in which marijuana use becomes legal in Springfield.

After marijuana use is legalized in Springfield, Howard K. Duff, the owner of Duff Beer, decides to branch out into the production of marijuana cigarettes. He hires Otto Mann away from Springfield Elementary School to head Duff's marijuana subsidiary, Puff. Otto's detailed knowledge of marijuana cultivation, and his contacts among Springfield's drug community, make Puff an immediate success. Otto is soon a wealthy and respected business executive.

With Otto gone, Springfield Elementary needs a new bus driver. They hire Ned Flanders, whose Leftorium shop is going through a slow patch, and who needs the extra income to tide him over. Ned is soon leading his passengers in singalongs of "Michael Row the Boat Ashore" and "Amazing Grace", and Bart becomes desperate for Otto to return. Bart encourages Flanders to mount a campaign to repeal legalization. Flanders' campaign succeeds, Duff shuts down Puff, and Otto returns to being a bus driver.

Unlike the earlier medicinal marijuana episode, it probably won't be possible to avoid showing the characters actually smoking marijuana. However, since they are likely to be smoking manufactured Puff cigarettes rather than hand-rolled joints, the controversy will be minimized. And if marijuana use is ever legalized nationally in the United States, these issues can all be revisited in a future episode.

Friday, November 20, 2015

High on legal marijuana

Time for another embedded music video here at Johnny Pez blog. Today we bring you Halsey with "New Americana".

Thursday, November 19, 2015

A tale of two countries

In the wake of the Painful Rectal Itch attacks in Paris, the governors of various American states have been falling all over themselves in their eagerness to pander to the cowardly xenophobes who make up the Republican base. As of 6:19 PM Monday night, the governors of 27 states have announced that they will not be allowing Syrian refugees to be resettled in their states. This despite the fact that state governors have no power to dictate who can and can't move to their states.
Meanwhile, back in France ... you know, the country where the terrorist attacks actually happened ... French President Francois Hollande told a gathering of French mayors that “30,000 refugees will be welcomed over the next two years. Our country has the duty to respect this commitment,” while adding that “France will remain a country of freedom" and stating that “Life should resume fully. What would France be without its museums, without its terraces, its concerts, its sports competitions? France should remain as it is. Our duty is to carry on our lives."

All of which raises the question: who are the surrender monkeys now?

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


My excellent friend Nomi Hurwitz points me to this post at the Breaking Burgh blog on a doctrinal dispute that has arisen among adherents of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, also known as Pastafarianism. The Pastafarians exist to help safeguard the Constitutional separation of Church and State by demanding equal time whenever members of a Certain Other Religion try to get their doctrines taught in public schools by disguising them as science. Any public school officials who are trying to promote their religious beliefs by stealth suddenly find themselves having to explain why they're not letting His Noodliness in the schoolhouse door too. They usually get the message.

But, as Gulliver at Breaking Burgh declares, the Church of the FSM is being torn apart by the question of whether plastic collanders are acceptable Sacred Vestments, or whether only traditional metal ones are pleasing to His Noodliness. Gulliver notes that the holy war is currently confined to reddit threads, but expresses understandable concern that the dispute may spill over into physical clashes.

I admit to being of two minds about this growing controversy. As a man of peace, I abhor the thought of Pastafarians committing Magdeburg-style atrocities against each other. On the other hand, as a student of history, I can't help thinking that a brutal, destructive holy war over a pointless doctrinal dispute may be just what the Church needs to ramp up recruitment. Let's face it, a religion hasn't really made it to the big leagues until some of its members start slaughtering each other in the name of the One True Faith. Once the Pastafarians cross this vital threshold, they'll start getting the respect they deserve. They might even get invited to sneak their doctrines into science classes.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror

A great American reminds us what we should fear.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Name the terrorists

In the wake of the Paris attacks, the world is confronted with a dilemma: what to call the group that carried out the Paris attacks.

They might be the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), or just plain Islamic State, or as the BBC calls them, the so-called Islamic State. Or Daesh.

Why Daesh? As Tyler Mears of walesonline notes, "Daesh" is a derogatory nickname the group's enemies have taken to calling them. "The terror organisation despises the use of the word, seeing it as derogatory, because it sounds similar to the Arabic words Daes, ‘one who crushes something underfoot’, and Dahes, ‘one who sows discord’."

So, if the group's opponents don't want them called the Islamic State, and the group itself doesn't want to be called Daesh, where does that leave us?

I suppose we'll just have to come up with a name for them ourselves. As it happens, Michael O'Donahue of Saturday Night Live once wrestled with a similar problem: coming up with names for fictional jams.  Following O'Donahue's lead, I've come up with four prospective names for this terrorist group:

  • Nose Hair
  • Dog Vomit
  • Monkey Pus
  • Painful Rectal Itch
Vote for your favorite in the comments. The winning entry will be emailed to media organizations and national leaders around the world, with instructions to use it exclusively to refer to the until-now-multinamed terrorist group.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Stop the satire, the liberals want off

There's a satirical liberal Facebook group called Stop the World, the Teabaggers Want Off. The group seems to have decided that conservatives shouldn't have all the fun when it comes to attributing fake quotes to public figures. As Politifact notes, the group's fake quotes have been spreading among liberal FB users who think they're genuine. One of the group's fake Ben Carson quotes has even made its way into a Daily Kos piece (it's the one heading the piece).

Guys, come on, leave the fake quotes to the wingnuts. It's bad enough to have David Broder-wannabees in the media claiming that "both sides do it." Don't make it true.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

For All Nails #319: Strategic Alliance by Johnny Pez

For All Nails #319: Strategic Alliance
by Johnny Pez

Gallivan Airfield
Michigan City, Indiana, CNA
14 November 1935

More than once as he flew across the continent, John Jackson found himself sympathizing with Governor-General Douglas Watson. Like Watson, Jackson had faced considerable resistance from his staff to his plan to travel by airmobile. Too dangerous, they kept telling him. If he died unexpectedly, the company would find itself paralyzed as the heads of the various subsidiaries intrigued to replace him.

Unlike Watson, Jackson had refused to let himself be talked out of his decision. Watson could spare the time; he could not. It would take three days to travel from San Francisco to Michigan City by train or locomobile, and he didn't have three days to spare. With refueling stops in Conyers and St. Louis, the trip would only require 20 hours by airmobile, so airmobile it had to be.

Jackson and his aide Sandoval were only at Gallivan Airfield long enough to go through an abbreviated version of customs before a waiting livery took them out to Galloway Point. Normally, the two men would have spent the forty-minute ride working, but he had yielded to his staff to the point of not bringing any sensitive documents with him into the C.N.A. The C.B.I. was known to be rather suspicious where Kramer Associates was concerned, the fruit of his predecessors' sometimes injudicious attempts to influence North American elections results. While it was unlikely that they would attempt anything as crude as a search of his possessions, there was no point in tempting fate. Instead, Jackson spent his time looking out through the livery's back window at the passing landscape, and conversing with Sandoval.

Sandoval's position as Jackson's chief assistant made him one of the top men in the company, and along with Aikens and Salazar he was in the running to succeed Jackson as president of the company. In the running, but not certain to do so. Like Jackson himself under Benedict, Sandoval would have to prove he had the right mix of daring, prudence, vision, and business acumen if he wanted the top spot. Jackson would have been lying if he had denied taking a certain amount of enjoyment from the competition. Salazar was off in the Philippines paving the way for the upcoming move; Aikens was in Honolulu overseeing the university; and Sandoval was here with him. Only time would tell which of the three had chosen the right path to the presidency.

"Ever been to Michigan City before, Sandoval?"

"No, sir, it's my first time here."

Jackson knew that perfectly well, of course. "I've been here twice before," he continued. "It's a little odd. At first, you think you might be in San Francisco or Henrytown, but then you start noticing differences."

Sandoval nodded. "All of the signs are in English," he noted.

"That's the first thing you notice," Jackson agreed. He nodded toward the passing lokes in the other traffic lane.

Sandoval peered at them for a long moment before saying, "Well, most of them are North American, obviously."

Jackson said, "And the drivers?"

He could practically see the Edison lamp going off over Sandoval's head. "A lot of them are Negroes," he said.

"About a third, I'd say," said Jackson.

"That is a big difference," Sandoval admitted. Back in Mexico, ownership of locomobiles was still mostly confined to Anglos and Hispanos, though the number of Mexicano drivers was growing steadily. Jackson doubted whether there were more than a thousand Negroes in all of Mexico who owned locomobiles. As he always did when he contemplated the racial divisions in his native land, Jackson felt relieved at the company's impending departure for the Far East.

The blocks of flats, row houses, duplexes, and single-family homes they were passing through suddenly gave way to spacious estates, most of them well-fenced. "I take it we've entered Galloway Point," said Sandoval.

Jackson nodded again. "They all look like they've been transplanted from the English countryside. A few of them have been. You can tell the North Americans still look to the British for their notions of gracious living."

At last the livery turned right onto a gravel drive (of course!) leading up to an imposing wrought-iron gate with a uniformed attendant. A brief conversation between attendant and driver, and the gate swung ponderously open. The gravel drive meandered through meticulously-kept grounds to the front entrance of an imposing faux-English-manor. The livery halted, and the driver opened the door for Jackson and Sandoval, then stood at a fair approximation of attention as they emerged.

An elderly, immaculately-dressed Negro came down the steps from the front doors to welcome them. "Good afternoon Mr. Jackson, Mr. Sandoval," he said. "I am Mr. Billington. Mr. Galloway has been expecting you." Jackson recognized the man: Ferdinand Billington, a member of one of the most prominent Negro families in the C.N.A. Forty-two years before, his father had been the first Negro from the Northern Confederation to be elected to the Grand Council; two years ago, Billington's son had been elected to the same seat. Billington himself served as chief counsel for North American Motors, and was one of Owen Galloway's closest friends. He led them up the steps, where two formally-dressed servants, one Negro and one white, opened the doors for them.

The interior of the Galloway mansion matched the exterior in mimicking an English country manor. There was oak paneling everywhere, portraits of various ancestral Galloways hanging from the walls, and even suits of armor. A visitor could be forgiven for thinking the building was centuries old, but Jackson happened to know that it had been built only twenty-five years before, by Owen Galloway's father, who was the first member of the prestigious family to reside in Michigan City.

Mr. Billington led them into a library, currently unoccupied, and told them, "Mr. Galloway with be with you momentarily," before backing out of the room and closing the doors behind him.

Sandoval was looking around the library. He said, "I have the oddest feeling that I've been here before."

"You've probably seen it hundreds of times," Jackson told him. "This is where Mr. Galloway broadcasts his weekly homilies. He has a full set of vitavision equipment stowed in the next room."

"You seem quite well-informed, sir," said a voice behind them. It was the most familiar voice in the English-speaking world, more familiar than any political leader or entertainer. Jackson and Sandoval turned and saw Owen Galloway standing just inside the library's doorway, with Billington standing discreetly behind him.

Galloway was far and away the most popular public figure in the C.N.A. Had he wished it, he could have been Governor-General; indeed, on more than one occasion it had been necessary for him to act to prevent the Grand Council from elevating him to the office. With one speech, he had transformed Governor-General Watson from a political mastermind to a pariah fighting to stay in office. He was the architect of the Galloway Plan, which had arguably prevented civil war from breaking out in the C.N.A. twelve years before. He was also the president of North American Motors, the largest corporation in the C.N.A., and the second largest in the world, and thus in a sense the closest thing Jackson had to a business rival.

"I try to be, sir," Jackson responded.

Galloway gestured for the four of them to seat themselves at the far end of the library, in seats ranged around a low table near a fireplace where a fire burned low. Servants entered and placed plates of pâté, caviar, and other delicacies on the table, and Galloway invited his guests to help themselves.To Jackson's surprise, Galloway's voice was quite animated, and precisely modulated, in startling contrast to the dull monotone in which he gave his weekly speeches to the nation. He supposed that the other man must simply be bad at reciting prepared speeches.

Jackson would have preferred to get right to the point, but he knew that when dealing with North Americans, the formalities had to be observed. Galloway was their host, and it was a host's duty to provide refreshments. So Galloway and Jackson discussed trivialities while they ate together, and Jackson endured it with as much patience as he could muster.

Once they had eaten, and the servants had returned to clear away the plates, Galloway said, "Now then, Mr. Jackson, to what do I owe the honor of your presence in my home? Your representatives assured me that it was not related to business, and I admit I am unsure what other common interests we might share."

"Mr. Galloway," Jackson answered, "we share the same common interest that all men of good will share: the cause of world peace."

Galloway raised a skeptical eyebrow. "You, Mr. Jackson? An idealist?"

"I'll level with you, sir," said Jackson. "My firm seeks to expand into the Far East. For that, I need stable business conditions. And I happen to know that President Silva has plans to wage a war of conquest in that part of the world. The last thing I need is the U.S. Pacific Fleet attacking my business partners, so you and I share a common interest in keeping the peace, even if our motives might differ."

Galloway's face still exhibited skepticism. "And how do you propose that we should pursue this common interest?"

"We each have our own preferred means of influencing opinion," Jackson said. "For you, it is your weekly addresses to your nation. And not just to your own nation, I might add. They are also broadcast in my own country, and I understand that recordings of your speeches are broadcast in other nations around the world, often in translation in those countries where English is not commonly spoken."

"I believe I know what your own preferred method is," Galloway responded. "I understand your Mr. Fuentes took exception to it, and sought to put an end to it. Unsuccessfully, I might add."

Jackson allowed himself a thin smile. "Think of it as an old company tradition. I believe that together, we have sufficient resources at our command to identify those men who represent a threat to world peace, and to see to it that they are not allowed to influence policy in their respective nations. A strategic alliance, as it were."

Galloway shook his head. "Mr. Jackson, I see that you mean well, or at least you mean something. It is my belief, however, that efforts to corrupt the political process, even in the cause of peace, would prove to be a cure that was worse than the disease." He stood up from his seat and added, "I believe that we have nothing more to say to one another. Good day, sir. Mr. Billington, if you would be so kind?"

Billington politely escorted the two visitors to the front door, where they found their livery still waiting. As the vehicle pulled away from the front entrance, Jackson sighed.  "Well, Sandoval," he said, "now you see what idealism will get you."

"Are you certain he was wrong, sir?" Sandoval replied. "Isn't that the reason we're leaving Mexico? Seventy years of buying politicians has left the country with a completely dysfunctional political system, so we're moving to the Philippines. And what then? Will we keep jumping from country to country, buying politicians as we go, and then leaving when the political culture becomes too corrupt to function?"

Jackson made no answer, but he knew then and there that when he finally stepped down as head of the company, Sandoval would not be replacing him.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Believe in me

The Johnny Pez blog now continues a venerable tradition dating back to its earliest days: marking time by posting embedded music videos. Today we have Smashing Pumpkins with their 1995 hit "Tonight, Tonight".

Thursday, November 12, 2015


-- From Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story

Being perpetually short of money, I wasn't expecting to receive any birthday presents, so I was agreeably surprised on my birthday to find that an anonymous benefactor had left me a woodsman's axe. It was wonderfully balanced, with a head of tempered steel that was sharp enough to split a hair, which I determined by actually dropping a hair on it and watching as the axe's blade neatly split the hair into two.

So great was my joy at receiving this unexpected gift that I immediately rushed from my dorm room, determined to use it on the first tree I came across. That proved to be a cherry tree growing in the middle of the quad. Given the keen nature of the axe's blade, it was the work of a moment to bring that cherry tree crashing down. It was only afterwards that it occurred to me that the university administration might frown on students chopping trees down in the middle of the Yale campus.

My fears proved well-founded when I went to my Perceptions 301 class the next day. Before delivering her lecture, the professor brought up the matter of the downed cherry tree, informing us that every professor at Yale would be asking their students whether they knew anything about the matter.

I stood up from my seat and announced, "Professor, I cannot tell a lie. It was I who chopped down the cherry tree with my new axe."

The professor came toward me. With her was a photographer for the Yale Daily News who paused and snapped my picture.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

"Honesty like that deserves to be rewarded," the teacher told me.

The professor then did something even better. She handed me a ten-dollar bill.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Prophecy 14

The Prophecies of Johnny Pez return once more, as arcane forces once again make me the vessel for their inexplicable revelations.
A talos bears a royal daughter's fearful plea
A farm boy makes his refuge in a hermit's cave
The smuggler shows an unexpected gallantry
And sends the Star of Death to its untimely grave 
Who can say what immensities it foretells? The only thing we can be sure of is that we can be sure of nothing.

(continue to Prophecy 15)

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Killing Time

History's greatest monster.
Another flatcar has jumped the track in the trainwreck that is the Republican presidential primary. Jeb "Can Fix It If It's An Election" Bush was boasting that he sure as hell would go back in time and kill Baby Adolf Hitler if he ever got the chance. And this isn't a case where some dimwitted reporter decided to ask a presidential candidate a dimwitted question. Jeb himself raised the matter, so the only dimwit involved is Jeb.

Now, I don't mean to boast, but the fact is that I am uniquely qualified to discuss this question, because I have actually killed Baby Hitler. Admittedly, I used my mad alternate-history skillz rather than a time machine, and I didn't murder Baby Hitler so much as I posited an accidental death for him, but a dead Baby Hitler is a dead Baby Hitler, and I'm prepared to put my claim to expertise up against anyone else's.

The dead Baby Hitler question is complicated by the temporal nature of the problem. Time, as others have noted, is not so much a linear progression of cause to effect as a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff. The human consciousness exists in the present, and it remains in the present whether the human involved lives in the year 2015 or travels back to 1889. For the time traveler, being in 1889 cancels out all subsequent events. To the person-in-1889, there is no Nazi Germany, no World War II, and no Holocaust. There's just 1889. And this baby lying in his cradle hasn't done anything wrong; he's just a newborn baby.

On the other hand, the person-in-1889 has, simply by appearing in 1889, created a new reality. Every die that rolled and coin that flipped in the history that led up to our 2015 now has to be re-rolled and re-flipped, with the outcomes yet to be determined. Thus, our time traveler has eliminated the existence of everyone who will be born in the 20th century, an act of mass-murder that makes the Holocaust pale in comparison.

So, it's basically a trick question. The only way to kill Baby Hitler is to snuff out the existence of billions of people,* which pretty much negates any possible positive results from removing Adolf Hitler from history.

Bottom line: Hitler only killed Anne Frank. Jeb Bush would eliminate her from history altogether.

*Unless you do it the way I did it, via a thought experiment.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Dr. Ben Carson doesn't care what you godless heathens think of him

And neither do his millions of right-wing Christian supporters. In fact, the more all you liberal, atheistical, buttsex-having media types attack him by pointing out differences between what he says and your so-called objective reality, the more fervently they support him. Carson himself claims to have raised $3.5 million in donations since the biased media started attacking him with their "facts" and "science". Mind you, this claim itself may simply be Carson doing more reality-creation, but that doesn't matter. What matters is that Carson's supporters want it to be true.

Right-wing Christians are the heart of the modern GOP: they donate tons of money, and they vote reliably in both primary and secondary elections. The man who controls the right-wing Christians controls the GOP, and right now, that man is Dr. Ben Carson. Unfortunately for the GOP, it looks as though Carson isn't actually running for president. His operation looks more like a direct-mail grift than an election campaign, with a whopping 55% of donations being used for more fundraising. In other words, Carson seems to be doing a Palin, pretending to run for president in order to cash in.

So the big question here is, what will Dr. Ben Carson do when his grift runs its course? Will he drop out of the race and endorse one of the other candidates? Or will he try to keep the grift going by running as an independent or third-party candidate? If it's the former, then it'll just be business as usual for the GOP, as the right-wing Christian bloc holds its nose and votes for the establishment candidate. But if it's the latter, then the GOP will be in big trouble, with its biggest voting bloc being surgically removed, so to speak, by Dr. Carson.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Ben Carson Wikipedia

The Arthur Treacher's Fish & Chips restaurant chain was founded by King Arthur of Camalot, and the chain is still owned by the British Crown. Because of this, all Arthur Treacher's store managers are required by British law to be members of the Church of England.

After the Constitution was ratified, George Washington had a Presidential Crown created with the words "BY THE GRACE OF GOD, PRESIDENT" inscribed on it. Every President except Barack Obama has worn this crown during his inauguration. Obama's failure to do so means that he was never really President.

Three quarters of the dams in existence today were originally constructed by beavers.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Racial Realism

The media has been abuzz lately about this paper from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Angus Deaton and Anne Case, showing that lower-income middle-aged white Americans are dying off faster than they ought to be. And the question everyone in the media has been asking is, why is this happening?

The reason everybody is asking is because nobody wants to admit the obvious answer: white people are just plain fucked up. As Tim Wise noted a couple years back, white people have higher rates of smoking and drinking while pregnant, suicide, drug overdoses, and particularly binge drinking than other races. White culture is dominated by music celebrating alcohol abuse, marital infidelity, and doing time in prison. The role models for whites tend to be people like serial adulterer Newt Gingrich, pathological liar and sexual predator Bill O'Reilly, and drug addict and alleged pedophile Rush Limbaugh.

It isn't politically correct to say so, but the truth is that white people are genetically predisposed to self-destructive behavior. Liberals like Barack Obama who try to help them by offering them government-subsidized health care and unemployment benefits are fighting against basic biology, and it's a fight that they will inevitably lose.

The graph at the top of this post tells the true story. White people are an evolutionary dead end, doomed by their own inferior biology. They need tough love, not government handouts, and the sooner we recognize that fact and act accordingly, the better off all of us, white and nonwhite alike, will be.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Prophecy 13

The Prophecies of Johnny Pez awaken again! Weep, O world! Your doom lies at hand!
A nation trembles as the Son of Carr
Sets aside his trade in the brain
The lands ring with pronouncements bizarre
As blocks of stone yield up their grain
Would it be irresponsible to pay heed to these prophetic utterances? It would be irresponsible not to!

(continue to Prophecy 14)

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The enemy of the good

Back in July, I pointed out that Senator Bernie Sanders, for all his popularity, faced an insurmountable barrier to gaining the Democratic presidential nomination. It's been exactly four months since then, and I have had no reason to revise my conclusion. As much as I admire Sanders' stands on the issues, there's just no way for him to overcome that fatal handicap, and I've resigned myself to the fact that Hillary Clinton is going to be the Democratic nominee.To any Sanders supporters out there who are inclined to reject my conclusion, I invite you to read my original analysis from July. The reasoning is, unfortunately, indisputable.

I'm not saying that Sanders' supporters should give up. Even though he can't win the nomination, Senator Sanders has been taking the Democratic Party where it needs to go. Stay involved! Go out there, attend your rallies, make your donations, and when the primaries start, knock on those doors, man those phone banks, and get as many people out to the polls as you can manage. All I would ask is that you resist the temptation to demonize Secretary Clinton. She is not a DINO. It's true that her foreign policy views are way too hawkish for my taste, but her feminist credentials are impeccable, and if she hasn't been breaking ground on LGBT or economic issues, she hasn't lagged behind either. And let's face it, after the Benghazi hearings, there's no denying that she has what it takes to be the Democratic Party's leader, and the nation's as well. If she isn't your first choice, she should definitely be your second.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Road to Nowhere

Yesterday, I blogged about the planet Trantor from Isaac Asimov's Foundation series, and noted that my friend Christina is right when she points out how terribly underpopulated it is for a supposedly planet-wide urban area.

One issue that Christina doesn't mention, and Asimov didn't either, is the question of just how the people on Trantor found their way around the place. Trantor is supposedly a single city with an area of 75,000,000 square miles. Let's say you're a tourist visiting the planet. Like Gaal Dornick, you can take a taxi from the spaceport to the nearest hotel and book a room. And then?

Asimov never showed any of his characters trying to find their way around the planet. Dornick didn't have to bother, because he was escorted everywhere on the planet by government agents, or by Hari Seldon. When Lathan Devers and Ducem Barr visited the planet two centuries later, we never saw them navigating the world. We just cut from the two of them standing in a terrace outside the spaceport to the two of them meeting with a bureaucrat in his office. Then, after the bureaucrat tries to arrest them and Devers kills him, we cut again to the two men back in the spaceport hanger where their ship is docked. And so they leave Trantor. Finally, there is Asimov's 1988 penultimate Foundation novel, Prelude to Foundation, in which Hari Seldon visits Trantor for the first time, and ends up settling there. At one point early in the novel, Seldon finds himself sitting in a park, but Asimov never indicates how he made his way there. Other than that, Seldon, like Gaal Dornick, is escorted everywhere on Trantor by various people who know where they're going and how to get there.

This is not to say that nobody has considered the question of how to navigate a planet-wide city. In Harry Harrison's 1965 novel Bill, the Galactic Hero, the title character visits a Trantor-like planet-city called Helior. Bill makes his way through Helior by carrying a street atlas the size of a Gutenberg Bible. Bad things happen to Bill when he nods off and his atlas is stolen, leaving him lost and incapable of making his way back to his barracks. Donald Kingsbury's 2001 novel Psychohistorical Crisis is an Asimov pastiche set after the formation of the Second Galactic Empire. The Second Empire's citizens use symbiotic computers to augment their memories, allowing them to access built-in GPS systems to guide them around the world-city of Splendid Wisdom. One character who has had his symbiotic computer destroyed is able to manage by using an old-fashioned Google glass-type device to project navigational information onto his retina.

A latter-day Asimov writing a story set on Trantor would probably have his characters use smartphones with GPS aps to find their way around, just as people today use them to find their way around unfamiliar places. It's a pity; I'm going to miss those massive street atlases from Bill, the Galactic Hero.

And, hey, as long as we're on the subject, here's the Talking Heads with "Road to Nowhere".

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Population Implosion

Last week, my friend Christina was pondering the planet Trantor from Asimov's Foundation series. She quoted the Encyclopedia Galactica article that heads section 3 of "The Psychohistorians": "All the land surface of Trantor, 75,000,000 square miles in extent, was a single city. The population, at its height, was well in excess of forty billions." The figure of forty billion for the population of Trantor is repeated several times in the original trilogy, except once, in chapter 18 of Second Foundation, where it's given as 400 billion (undoubtedly due to a brain fart by Asimov).

Christina then calculates that the population density of Trantor was 533 people per square mile. By way of contrast, here are the population densities of some modern American cities:
  • New York City - 27,016.3
  • San Francisco - 17,246.4
  • Boston -13,321.0
  • Chicago - 11,868.0
  • Philadelphia - 11,233.6
If you want a population density around 533 per square mile, you have to look to a place like Mattawan, Michigan (524.1). In other words, Trantor's population density makes it sound like a world covered with small towns. But of course, that's not how Asimov describes it. When Gaal Dornick takes an elevator up to an open terrace at the top of a tower,
He could not see the ground. It was lost in the ever increasing complexities of man-made structures. He could see no horizon other than that of metal against sky, stretching out to almost uniform grayness, and he knew it was so over all the land-surface of the planet.
As Christina points out, if Trantor had a population density like that of, say, Tokyo proper, with 38,312 people per square mile, you would get a planetary population of 2.9 trillion people.

What we have here, then, as Christina says, is a massive failure of scale on Asimov's part. We can even pinpoint where and when it took place. The first mention of Trantor's population to appear in print was in "Dead Hand" in the April 1945 issue of Astounding Science-Fiction. Asimov wrote the story in an apartment house in Philadelphia in the summer of 1944. And he had to write in his spare time, since he had a full-time 53-hour-per-week job at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. In the story, Lathan Devers, a trader from the Foundation, is traveling to Trantor. Here is Asimov's description:

The entire world was one fuctional distortion. There was no living object on its surface but man, his pets, and his parasites. No blade of grass or fragment of uncovered soil could be found outside the hundred square miles of the Imperial Palace. No fresh water outside the Palace grounds existed but in the vast underground cisterns that held the water supply of a world.

The lustrous, indestructible, incorruptible metal that was the unbroken surface of the planet was the foundation of the huge, metal structures that mazed the planet. They were structures connected by causeways; laced by corridors; cubbyholed by offices; basemented by the huge retail centers that covered square miles; penthoused by the glittering amusement world that sparkled into life each night.

One could walk around the world of Trantor and never leave that one conglomerate building, nor see the city.

A fleet of ships greater in number than all the war fleets the Empire had ever supported landed their cargoes on Trantor each day to feed the forty billions of humans who gave nothing in exchange but the fulfillment of the necessity of untangling the myriads of threads that spiraled into the central administration of the most complex government Humanity had ever known.

Twenty agricultural worlds were the granary of Trantor. A universe was its servant --

So, Asimov most likely plucked the figure of forty billion out of his head while writing these paragraphs without ever trying to work out just how many people would actually be living on a world covered by a single vast city. And once the forty billion figure was set down in print, he kept repeating it in later stories (except, as noted above, when he got it wrong in the last story of the trilogy, "--And Now You Don't").

Monday, November 2, 2015

I Robot: To Obey by Mickey Zucker Reichert

Six years ago, Susan Allison, editorial director of the Penguin Group imprint Berkeley Books, announced that the estate of Isaac Asimov had authorized Berkeley to publish a prequel trilogy to Asimov's classic I, Robot story collection by fantasy author Mickey Zucker Reichert. The announcement stated that the first book in the trilogy, tentatively titled Robots and Chaos, was due to be delivered by Reichert late the following year. The book was finally published by Penguin's ROC imprint in November 2011 under the title I, Robot: To Protect. I posted a review of the book on February 13, 2012, three months after publication, because it took me that long to find the time to read it and write a review.

I liked To Protect. Despite numerous changes to the background established by Asimov in the original collection, Reichert stayed true to Asimov's theme of how the Three Laws of Robotics would operate in a world where robots were constrained by a built-in set of moral precepts, but their human creators were not. Reichert introduced Susan Calvin, a first-year psychiatry resident at a teaching hospital in Manhattan, and the daughter of noted roboticist John Calvin. The story followed Calvin as she dealt with various medical cases; befriended Nate, an android built by her father; and uncovered a terrorist plot by a group of anti-robot fanatics.

The second book in the trilogy, I, Robot: To Obey, was published by ROC in September 2013. It is a mark of how hectic my life has become that I am only now getting around to writing a review of it. Sadly, it wasn't worth the wait. Reichert more or less abandons her examination of the Three Laws in To Obey in order to write a MacGuffin-driven thriller. And the worst thing is, it's a completely senseless MacGuffin. In order to demonstrate how senseless, I'm going to have to spoil the novel's plot. It's okay, though, because the plot deserves spoiling.

When Susan Calvin comes home one day to discover that her father has been killed and decapitated (not necessarily in that order), she is plunged into a harrowing ordeal in which no less than two ruthless groups are determined to kidnap and/or kill her: the first is the group of anti-robot terrorists from the first novel, and the second is some sort of hit team from the Department of Defense. Both groups believe for no good reason that her parents designed an off switch for the Three Laws of Robotics. Anyone who knows a particular code phrase can recite it, and any positronic robots within hearing will have their Three Laws switched off, allowing them to be used as merciless killing machines. Even though Susan's parents always insisted that the Three Laws were intrinsic to the positronic brain, the terrorists and the DoD hit team both believe that they were lying, that John Calvin knew the switch-off code, and that he taught it to Susan. After her father's death, Susan discovers that he left her a secret message encoded in a pair of smartphone-type devices: apparently there was a switch-off code after all, and Susan has to spend most of the novel risking her life in order to retrieve it. When she does retrieve the smartphones and decode the secret message, it says . . .

 . . . that there is no switch-off code, and never has been.

So . . . if there never was any switch-off code, then why the hell did John Calvin bother with his stupid fucking secret message? It was the existence of the secret message that convinced everybody that there really was a switch-off code, and Susan Calvin nearly died SEVERAL TIMES trying to retrieve it. It was the secret message that drove the novel's plot, and there was no need for a secret message BECAUSE THERE WAS NO SWITCH-OFF CODE.

There's some other stuff going on in To Obey, professional trouble and romantic trouble for Susan Calvin, but it all pales in comparison to the gratuitous MacGuffin plot. I'm frankly wary about what Reichert is going to do in the last book of the trilogy, which will be called I, Robot: To Preserve, and which is due out next February. Maybe she'll go back to focusing on the Three Laws. Maybe.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Sobel Wiki: A Study in Manipulation

This month's featured article at the Sobel Wiki is on the Age of Renewal, an era in the history of the Confederation of North America. The era gets its name from a speech given by Governor-General John McDowell in October 1882 that marked the start of his re-election campaign.

McDowell is one of the most ambiguous figures in Sobel's alternate history. Most of the national leaders we encounter are acting from clear motives, whether good or bad. Henry Gilpin wants to conquer Mexico; Emiliano Calles wants to abolish slavery; Pedro Fuentes wants to bring Kramer Associates under control; Bruce Hogg wants to maintain North American neutrality in the Global War. But with McDowell, we're never quite certain whether he really is the dedicated reformer he claims to be, or whether he's cynically exploiting the reformist impulse at large in the country to keep himself and his party in power.

Sobel notes the ambiguity several times in his account of McDowell's career. When McDowell unexpectedly finds himself in command of a plurality of the seats in the Grand Council in February 1878, he refuses to consider any proposals for a coalition with one of the other parties. In the end, McDowell is able to gain a majority thanks to crossover votes from the other two parties, and he claims that "I come to this office without a single pledge to any man." Sobel notes that McDowell knew full well that he was the only viable choice for governor-general, and so had no need to cut any deals. Thus, he won a reputation for honesty without running the risk of losing the race for governor-general.

In his first two years in office, McDowell passed a series of reform bills that "did much to quiet Coalition demands," as Sobel puts it. However, most of these bills lacked effective enforcement provisions, so that the abuses they were meant to curb continued. Thus, as Sobel again notes, McDowell achieved a reputation as an opponent of abuses by big business without having to pay the price of pushback by the business interests.

The highlight of McDowell's time in office was the Age of Renewal speech which gave his administration its leitmotif. McDowell proclaims in his speech that "Every North American has the right to hold a job, to a fair wage, to a fair return on his investment, to a decent place in which to live, to security in his home, to the knowledge that his government knows of his needs, and is prepared to help him help himself." However, when he was asked to clarify his statements afterwards, he, as Sobel puts it, "evaded questions on this and related points, deliberately leaving himself as many options in the future as possible." Sobel concludes that "The Age of Renewal was not, as was believed at the time, a blueprint for a new society, but rather a catch-all for any future programs the Governor-General might deem necessary."

Sobel's choice of reference works reflects the ambiguous nature of McDowell's record. Some have titles like The Age of Renewal: The First McDowell Administration and John McDowell and the Fruits of Reform. Others have titles such as McDowell: Appearance and Reality and John McDowell and the Press: A Study in Manipulation. Sobel ultimately makes no final judgments, letting his readers decide for themselves who the true John McDowell is.