Thursday, December 31, 2015

What I Believe

As we look back on the year 2015, I think we would all do well to remember actor/director/comedian Steve Martin's heartfelt message "What I Believe", as true today as when he recorded it back in 1981.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Who is Snoke?

No need for spoiler warnings here, because I won't be talking about any particular plot points in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Instead, I'll focus on an odd bit of background: Supreme Leader Snoke, head of the evil First Order.

The most pressing question concerning Snoke is who is he? The prequel trilogy dealt with several of the older characters in the original trilogy, including both of the major bad guys: Palpatine and Darth Vader. So, say what you want about the prequels (and plenty can be said about them), at least they didn't leave us hanging about who these guys were.

Snoke, on the other hand, is just sort of there, running the First Order. His name suggests ...

You know what? I'm going to pause this analysis for a bit to reflect on what a terrible, terrible name "Snoke" is. Snoke is no proper name for an Evil Overlord. An Evil Overlord name needs to be something Greco-Latinate like Sidious or Galactus or Thanos or Davros; or else something that sounds just plain evil like Morgoth or Voldemort. But Snoke? Snoke is the name you give to the comic relief character, or at best to the plucky sidekick. You do not name the Evil Overlord Snoke.

Where was I? Oh yeah, his name (which is, I must repeat, just terrible) doesn't suggest a Sith Lord, even though he seems to be a master of the Dark Side of the Force. Maybe he's just some bush league Force sensitive bad guy who happened to luck his way into the leadership of the First Order. Or ..

Or you may be familiar with a fan theory that was making the rounds a few months ago, arguing that Jar Jar Binks was the secret mastermind behind the rise of the Galactic Empire in the prequel trilogy. Is it possible that Darth Jar Jar is Snoke? True, Snoke looks nothing like Jar Jar, but bear in mind that we never actually see Snoke in the flesh. He's always just an image, a hologram issuing orders to Kylo Ren and General Hox, and images can be manipulated, or even created from scratch. The Darth Jar Jar theory suggests that Jar Jar always operates from behind the scenes, using Palpatine as a catspaw in the prequel trilogy (and presumably in the original trilogy as well). Creating a holographic alter ego to act as the face of the First Order would be completely in character for Darth Jar Jar.

In that case, maybe the name Snoke is Jar Jar's crowning achievement: giving the presumed evil mastermind a name that's even more ridiculous than his own.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Invisible Man III: The Thousand and One Bottles

We resume the tale of The Invisible Man the day after he takes a room at the Coach and Horses. Mr. Fearenside, the postman, has brought the stranger's belongings from the railway station: a couple of normal traveler's trunks, a box of books, and a dozen or so assorted other boxes. Mr. Hall's curiosity gets the better of him, and he looks in one of them. He finds dozens of bottles packed in straw. The stranger emerges from the inn to supervise the unloading of his boxes, and is immediately set upon by Mr. Fearenside's dog, who rips one of the stranger's gloves and tears a pantleg. The postman uses his whip to drive the dog away, and the stranger rushes back inside the inn. Mr. Hall follows him to his room and enters. Inside the dark room he gets a brief impression of three empty spots in the bandaged face, and a handless arm, before a sudden blow sends him tumbling out of the room.

The two trunks are brought to the stranger's room, while the rest of the boxes are delivered to the parlour. The stranger unpacks the bottles and sets to work combining their contents in a set of test tubes. Mrs. Hall pauses outside the parlour long enough to hear the stranger groan in dismay at the vast scope of the project before him.

Later that afternoon, while Mr. Fearenside is having a beer with Mr. Henfrey, he reveals that after his dog tore the stranger's clothing, there was nothing but blackness within. Given that the stranger's nose is pink, the two men come to the conclusion that he is some sort of piebald half-breed.

We also learn in this chapter that the date of the stranger's arrival is February 29, and thus that the story takes place in a leap year, most likely 1896, the year before its publication, and probably the year Wells wrote it. The incident of the dog in the daytime took place the next day, on March 1. If the story was indeed set in 1896, then the stranger would have arrived in Iping on a Saturday.

Friday, December 25, 2015

The Invisible Man II: Mr. Teddy Henfrey's First Impressions

 In chapter II of The Invisible Man, we are introduced to Mr. Teddy Henfrey, the local clock-jobber. If anybody in the Bramblehurst-Iping Metropolitan Area has a clock that needs repairing, Mr. Teddy Henfrey is the man to call. He turns up at the Coach and Horses around four in the afternoon, as the light of this snowy day is starting to fade. Mrs. Hall is pleased to see him, since he has his bag of tools with him, and the clock in the parlour has an hour hand that won't move.

The parlour of course is the room her mysterious guest has rented for the week, so for Mrs. Hall the arrival of Mr. Henfrey is doubly fortuitous. She taps lightly at the parlour door and ushers Mr. Henfrey in. Her guest is asleep in the armchair facing the fireplace, and the dying embers provide the only illumination. She can just about make out his bandaged and goggled head in the dim light, but to her astonishment she can't see any sign of his jaw; it's as though his mouth has expanded to absorb the lower quarter of his face.

Then the mysterious man wakes up and holds a muffler over his mouth, and Mrs. Hall decides she was seeing things. She asks her guest if Mr. Henfrey can come in and fix the clock, and he agrees. He then asks Mrs. Hall to fix him some tea after Mr. Henfrey is finished, and she agrees. He also inquires again about the boxes he left at the train station, and Mrs. Hall explains that she has told the postman, who will be picking them up the next day. The guest once more asks whether that's the earliest he can have them, and Mrs. Hall, now becoming annoyed by his persistence, tells him again that, yes, that's the earliest he can have them.

The guest, clearly not wishing to see his hostess become annoyed with him, explains that he is an inventor, and that the boxes contain his supplies and apparatus. This increases the landlady's opinion of her guest, and he goes on to explain:
"My reason for coming to Iping," he proceeded, with a certain deliberation of manner, "was ... a desire for solitude. I do not wish to be disturbed in my work. In addition to my work, an accident—"

"I thought as much," said Mrs. Hall to herself.

"—necessitates a certain retirement. My eyes—are sometimes so weak and painful that I have to shut myself up in the dark for hours together. Lock myself up. Sometimes—now and then. Not at present, certainly. At such times the slightest disturbance, the entry of a stranger into the room, is a source of excruciating annoyance to me—it is well these things should be understood."

"Certainly, sir," said Mrs. Hall. "And if I might make so bold as to ask—"

"That I think, is all," said the stranger, with that quietly irresistible air of finality he could assume at will. Mrs. Hall reserved her question and sympathy for a better occasion.
As he sets to work on the clock, Mr. Henfrey is just as unnerved by the guest's appearance as Mrs. Hall was, and he deliberately takes his time working on the clock so he'll have more time to rubberneck. The guest sees what Mr. Henfrey is up to, and becomes annoyed. When Mr. Henfrey tries an opening conversational gambit about the weather, the guest interrupts him. "Why don't you finish and go?" said the rigid figure, evidently in a state of painfully suppressed rage. "All you've got to do is to fix the hour-hand on its axle. You're simply humbugging—"

Mr. Henfrey quickly finishes his work and retreats from the Coach and Horses. On his way into town, he passes Mrs. Hall's husband, who is returning from a trip to a neighboring village in the inn's horse and carriage. We learn that Mr. Hall and his wife are recently wed, and Mr. Henfrey surmises from Mr. Hall's driving that he remained at the neighboring village for a while to wet his whistle.

Mr. Henfrey warns Mr. Hall that he's got "a rum 'un" at the Coach and Horses. He darkly suggests that the guest has disguised himself for some nefarious purpose, and expresses alarm over the fact that the guest hasn't revealed his name. Mr. Hall decides he'd better look into the matter, but when he arrives at the inn Mrs. Hall gives him hell for staying away so long. After the guest retires to his bedroom for the night, Mr. Hall sneaks into the parlour to make sure he hasn't nicked any of the furnishings. He sees a sheet of mathematical computations that the guest left behind, but is not impressed by it.
When retiring for the night he instructed Mrs. Hall to look very closely at the stranger's luggage when it came next day.

"You mind your own business, Hall," said Mrs. Hall, "and I'll mind mine."

She was all the more inclined to snap at Hall because the stranger was undoubtedly an unusually strange sort of stranger, and she was by no means assured about him in her own mind. In the middle of the night she woke up dreaming of huge white heads like turnips, that came trailing after her, at the end of interminable necks, and with vast black eyes. But being a sensible woman, she subdued her terrors and turned over and went to sleep again.
The outstanding question the reader is left with from chapter II is not anything to do with the mysterious stranger, but what Mr. and Mrs. Hall see in each other. Mr. Henfrey observes that Mr. Hall is "a man of sluggish apprehension", and apparently he's also lazy and rather too fond of the bottle. Not only do they not act like newlyweds, they act like an old married couple who have grown heartily sick of each other. Is it possible that the two of them had a drunken night of sexual hijinks that left her pregnant and in need of a husband? Or does he know some dark secret about her, perhaps regarding the mysterious death of a previous husband, and blackmailed himself into a comfortable situation with the owner of a moderately profitable business?

Perhaps we'll learn the answers to these questions in chapter III, "The Thousand and One Bottles."

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

"Trump's Deal" jumps the shark

 "Trump's Deal" famously began in 1984, when NBC approached veteran television producer Stephen J. Cannell about creating a "prime time soap" for them in the mold of ABC's "Dallas" and "Dynasty". Cannell agreed, and that fall NBC premiered the hour-long drama starring Ted Danson as New York City real-estate mogul Donald Trump and Czech supermodel Paulina Porizkova as his wife Ivana. NBC got the backdrop of wealth and high fashion it wanted, but it also inevitably got Cannell's quirky humor. "Trump's Deal" was as much a satire of the prime time soap genre as a member of it. Danson's Trump was a loud, vulgar buffoon who moved among New York's wealthy elite like a rhino among a herd of thoroughbred horses.

The series was not the blockbuster NBC had been hoping for, but it quickly won a dedicated fanbase, and its solid ratings made it a fixture on the network. However, network executives clashed with Cannell over the direction of the series in 1990, and he left the show. Series star Danson took over production of the show, and he made a series of changes to the show that alienated longtime fans, including writing out co-star Porizkova in favor of Shelly Long, with whom he had co-starred in the short-lived sitcom "Cheers".  The series' rating fell sharply, and NBC cancelled "Trump's Deal" in 1992.

The series was unexpectedly revived in 2004 due to a chance meeting between Danson and actor/comedian/producer Gary Shandling. Shandling was best known for "The Larry Sanders Show" (1992-1998), an HBO series in which he played a talk show host, with the series centered around the production of the talk show. Shandling was looking to produce a similar series about a reality show. Danson convinced Shandling to use the Donald Trump character as the host of the series, and the result was the second incarnation of "Trump's Deal". Now the Trump character was the host of a reality show called "The Apprentice" where he tyrannized a group of would-be business executives, firing one at the end of each episode.

"Trump's Deal" was facing cancellation again last year when Danson arranged for the series to move from HBO to AMC, this time with Aaron Sorkin as producer. Once again, the series underwent a radical change in format. Now, the Trump character was running for president in the Republican primary. Sorkin took advantage of cutting-edge CGI to show the Trump character interacting with actual Republican primary candidates, including Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina, and Dr. Ben Carson.

Unfortunately, Sorkin's own liberal political ideology has turned "Trump's Deal" into a travesty. The loud, vulgar buffoon has been transformed into a loud, vulgar racist ideologue. And not content with having Trump run as a Republican, Sorkin has him leading the candidate field by a large margin. The result is a bizarre alternate version of the Republican primary, with frontrunner Bush reduced to a pathetic also-ran, Dr. Carson parodied as a somnolent know-nothing evangelical Christian, and Fiorina launching a series of defamatory attacks on Planned Parenthood.

Sorkin clearly intends to continue the series by having the Trump character win the Republican nomination, and rumors from the production suggest he intends to have Trump win the general election. Sorkin apparently seeks to turn "Trump's Deal" into a dark mirror-image of his celebrated NBC series "The West Wing" (1999-2006), showing a crazed Republican administration under Trump. We can only hope that AMC has better sense than to renew the series for a second year.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Invisible Man I: The Strange Man's Arrival

Now that I've finished reading (and blogging about) H.G. Wells' The Island of Doctor Moreau, I've decided to move on to his third scientific romance (and fifth novel), The Invisible Man, a Grotesque Romance. Like Moreau, The Invisible Man is a classic SF novel that shares the fate of all classics: everybody has heard of it, but hardly anybody has read it, including me.

Unlike Wellls' two previous scientific romances, The Time Machine and Moreau, The Invisible Man does not have a framing story or a first-person narrator. We simply have an ordinary third-person narrative, which opens with the arrival of a man at a country inn. The inn is the Coach and Horses in Bramblehurst, a fictional town in West Sussex. It's early February, there's a driving snowstorm, and the man apparently walked all the way from the railway station carrying a small black suitcase. Given the weather, it's not surprising that the man is bundled from head to toe. What is surprising is that the man is wearing goggles, so that the only visible part of his entire body is the tip of his nose. The man pays two sovereigns* for a room, and the inn's owner, Mrs. Hall, is not inclined to argue with such a generous guest, especially given how rare guests are at this time of year. Mrs. Hall, by the way, speaks with a bucolic accent that Sam Gamgee would find perfectly familiar, scolding her lethargic servant, "ain't you done them taters yet, Millie?"

Oddly, when Mrs. Hall offers to take the man's hat and coat and hang them in the inn's kitchen to dry, the man refuses, saying, "I prefer to keep them on." He also never removes his goggles. The man sits down and warms himself in front of the fire in the inn's parlour, still wearing his hat and coat. When Mrs. Hall brings the man his lunch, she sees that he has finally removed his hat, revealing that his whole head is bandaged, and she assumes that he has been injured. When she hints about it to him, he neither confirms nor denies her supposition. He does mention that he left some baggage at Bramblehurst railway station, and asks whether anyone can go get it for him. Mrs. Hall tells him that it won't arrive until the next day. It seems that the road to the station is too steep to travel in the snow. The man, though disappointed, resigns himself to the wait. He spends the rest of the day alone in the parlour.

Mrs. Hall is quite perplexed at her guest's peculiar refusal to allow his face to be seen. The reader, however, knowing that the story is called The Invisible Man, will have his own suspicions about the man's reasons. We will doubtless learn more of the man's story in chapter II: "Mr. Teddy Henfrey's First Impressions".

*A sovereign is a gold coin worth £1.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Moreau After Dark

H.G. Wells was not a man to shy away from the most intimate aspects of humanity. However, writing in the late Victorian Era, he could not be as explicit as he may have wished to be. For instance, in The Island of Doctor Moreau, you have a situation where three men are living on an island full of uplifted animals of both sexes. If the uplifted female animals are sufficiently human, the men are going to be sexually attracted to them. Wells never actually comes right out and says that any of his human men are banging the animal girls, but if you read between the lines, it becomes clear that, yeah, they are.

In chapter XV, "Concerning the Beast Folk", for instance, Prendick makes an odd observation about Montgomery: "I fancied even then that he had a sneaking kindness for some of these metamorphosed brutes, a vicious sympathy with some of their ways, but that he attempted to veil it from me at first." This sentence is sufficiently opaque that Prendick/Wells might have been talking about anything, but given the attitudes of the time, the only subject he would need to be opaque about would be sex. In addition, a few paragraphs earlier, Prendick/Wells states that "The females were less numerous than the males, and liable to much furtive persecution in spite of the monogamy the Law enjoined." In other words, the Law included a prohibition against rape and sexual promiscuity, but most of the male uplifted animals ignored it, and it doesn't require a great stretch of the imagination to believe that this was the "vicious sympathy with some of their ways" that Montgomery exhibited.

As for Prendick himself, after Moreau and Montgomery are killed, he takes to living in the village established by the uplifted animals. As the uplifts slowly revert to animalism, Prendick remarks on "how the quasi-human intimacy I had permitted myself with some of them in the first month of my loneliness became a shuddering horror to recall." Again, this is sufficiently vague that Prendick/Wells could be talking about anything; it is suggestive because there is only one topic he would need to be this vague about.

A few decades later, when Hollywood made its first film version of this novel, "Island of Lost Souls" it was made explicit that the Prendick character (named Parker in the film) was attracted to an uplifted panther woman named Lota. Every subsequent dramatization of the novel includes a romance between the variously-named Prendick character and an uplifted animal woman, because every Hollywood movie needs a romance plotline, and the writers can't resist the idea of a match between a human man and an uplifted animal woman.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Moreau XXII: The Man Alone

As chapter XXII: "The Man Alone" opens, Prendick sets out from the island of Doctor Moreau on board a ship's boat. As he drifts along, eating and drinking sparingly from his stores, he finds that he doesn't particularly want to return to the company of his fellow humans. He remains adrift for three days before being rescued by a brig sailing from Apia to San Francisco.

In his introduction, Prendick's nephew states that his uncle was rescued on January 5, 1888. Working backwards from this, we find that Prendick first saw the boat's sail on December 31, 1887. He first boarded it, dumped its deceased occupants on the beach, and sailed off on January 1, 1888; the next day he made his last visit to the island for food and water, then set out for the open sea.

Prendick tells his story to the captain and first mate of the brig, but they refuse to believe him and decide he must have been driven mad by solitude. After that, he keeps his story to himself, feigning amnesia to avoid explaining how he spent the eleven months after the wreck of the Lady Vain.

Although he of course doesn't use the term, it is clear that Prendick is suffering from post-traumatic stress. He observes, "My memory of the Law, of the two dead sailors, of the ambuscades of the darkness, of the body in the canebrake, haunted me; and, unnatural as it seems, with my return to mankind came, instead of that confidence and sympathy I had expected, a strange enhancement of the uncertainty and dread I had experienced during my stay upon the island. No one would believe me; I was almost as queer to men as I had been to the Beast People. I may have caught something of the natural wildness of my companions. They say that terror is a disease, and anyhow I can witness that for several years now a restless fear has dwelt in my mind,—such a restless fear as a half-tamed lion cub may feel."

Prendick's PTSD results in his being unable to relax around other people. He can't rid himself of the feeling that they, too, are uplifted animals (as in a sense they are, though due to natural evolution rather than Moreau's brutal surgery), and that at any time they may start to revert to animalism as Moreau's experimental subjects did. Once back in London, Prendick tells his story one more time, to a psychiatrist who knew Moreau, and who is inclined to give Prendick the benefit of the doubt. The psychiatrist is able to help Prendick come to terms with his experience, though he is never entirely free from the terror. In the end. Prendick leaves London and takes up residence in the unpopulated countryside, where he reads and conducts chemical and astronomical research. His greatest solace is to look up into the night sky and contemplate the stars.

Prendick's nephew notes that the only island known in the region his uncle was picked up was Noble's Isle, "a small volcanic islet and uninhabited. It was visited in 1891 by H. M. S. Scorpion. A party of sailors then landed, but found nothing living thereon except certain curious white moths, some hogs and rabbits, and some rather peculiar rats." Noble's Isle is an invention of Wells; the area where he places it is an open stretch of the Pacific Ocean about 500 miles west of the Galapagos Islands.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Moreau XXI: The Reversion of the Beast Folk

As chapter XXI: "The Reversion of the Beast Folk" opens, Prendick acknowledges that he has "became one among the Beast People in the Island of Doctor Moreau." He awakens at night to find that the uplifted St. Bernard dog has joined him in his hut. The uplifted dog declares himself Prendick's slave, and Prendick accepts him. With a faithful servant at his side, Prendick's courage revives. Together, the two of them join a score of the other uplifted animals who have gathered together around a fire. Prendick repeats that Moreau is not dead, and is still watching over them.
“The House of Pain is gone,” said I. “It will come again. The Master you cannot see; yet even now he listens among you.”

“True, true!” said the Dog-man.

They were staggered at my assurance. An animal may be ferocious and cunning enough, but it takes a real man to tell a lie.
Over the course of the next hour, Prendick manages to convince a few of the uplifted animals, and sow enough doubt in the minds of the others to ensure his own safety and maintain the force of the Law.

However, Moreau's surgical uplifting was not permanent. By slow degrees, his experimental subjects lose their grip on humanity and revert to animalism. As they do so, Prendick and the uplifted dog move out of the uplift village and set up a separate hut in the ruins of the burned-out compound. "Some memory of pain, I found, still made that place the safest from the Beast Folk."

Prendick keeps watch for ships, especially the Ipecacuanha, but the few he sees never come close enough for him to signal them. By September or October, after his arm has healed, Prendick starts to build a raft, but he is severely hampered by his own lack of mechanical skill. After his first attempt fails, Prendick is moping in his hut when the uplifted sloth -- by now almost completely reverted -- returns. Prendick eventually realizes that the sloth wants him to follow it, and he does. The sloth leads him to a clearing in the jungle where he finds that the hyena-swine has killed the St. Bernard. The predator growls at Prendick, and simultaneously Prendick shoots it as it leaps at him. The hyena-swine knocks Prendick down, but it is already dead from his shot, and he is able to crawl out from underneath it.

With the animals almost completely reverted, Prendick realizes that he has to leave the island to save himself from them, and he makes another attempt to build a raft. Before he can launch it into the sea, he sees a sail slowly approaching the island. Prendick builds a signal fire, but the boat ignores it. The next day, the boat is close enough for Prendick to see that its two passengers are dead. The boat beaches itself, and Prendick goes aboard. He finds that one of the dead men has red hair like the captain of the Ipecacuanha. (In his introduction, Prendick's nephew states that the Ipecacuanha had gone missing.)

Prendick tilts the boat over and drags the corpses out. This immediately attracts three of the remaining carnivores, two wolves and a bear-bull hybrid. Prendick pushes the boat out to sea and climbs in. He sails around to a stream near the former village of the uplifted animals, fills an empty keg from the boat, collects some fruit, and kills two rabbits with the last of his cartridges. Prendick is ready at last to leave the island of Doctor Moreau.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Moreau XX: Alone with the Beast Folk

As chapter XX: "Alone with the Beast Folk" opens, Prendick faces three of Moreau's uplifted animals single-handed -- literally, since his left arm was broken the day before. Observing that "There was nothing for it but courage," he decides -- again literally -- that he needs to have the whip hand. He retrieve's Montgomery's whip from the beach and uses it to cow the three uplifted animals into submission. He then orders them to carry the bodies of Montgomery and the uplifts into the sea for disposal.

While the first three uplifted animals are carrying bodies into the sea, a fourth comes onto the beach. This is an uplifted hyena-swine hybrid, currently the biggest, most dangerous carnivore on the island. Prendick orders the uplifted hyena-swine to submit, but he refuses. Prendick does not mean to leave up alive, and fires the revolver at him, but, regrettably, misses. The uplifted hybrid runs off, but Prendick knows he doesn't dare fire and miss a second time lest his mystique as "the Man with the Whip" be damaged.

The first three uplifted animals finish taking the bodies into the sea, and Prendick dismisses them. With the crisis past, he suffers a failure of nerve. It occurs to him that there is no place on the island that he can rest or sleep. He knows that he ought to go among the uplifted animals and firmly establish his dominion over them, especially with the hyena-swine uncowed, but by this time he is exhausted. He has been up for over 24 hours, his arm is broken, and he never fully recovered his strength from the ordeal of being shipwrecked. Instead, he retreats to a point where the beach runs out to a coral reef, and sits down facing the island.

Prendick's fears overwhelm him. He notices that one of the bodies has washed up on the beach to his left, but he cannot deal with it. Instead, he moves away from it. As he does so, one of the three uplifted animals he had gained control of, an uplifted St. Bernard dog, approaches him. Prendick pulls out his pistol and yells for the uplifted dog to go away. "May I not come near you?" the uplifted dog asks, but Prendick is too fearful to allow it. He picks up a stone and drives the dog away.
So in solitude I came round by the ravine of the Beast People, and hiding among the weeds and reeds that separated this crevice from the sea I watched such of them as appeared, trying to judge from their gestures and appearance how the death of Moreau and Montgomery and the destruction of the House of Pain had affected them. I know now the folly of my cowardice. Had I kept my courage up to the level of the dawn, had I not allowed it to ebb away in solitary thought, I might have grasped the vacant sceptre of Moreau and ruled over the Beast People. As it was I lost the opportunity, and sank to the position of a mere leader among my fellows.
Driven by hunger, Prendick approaches some of the uplifted animals and asks where he can find food. An uplifted ox-boar hybrid tells him, “There is food in the huts." Prendick enters one of the huts, eats some fruit he finds there, cleans it out, and builds a barricade across the entrance. Then he falls asleep.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A challenge to Donald Trump

Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump made headlines yesterday when he called for the United States to bar all Muslims from entering the country until the nation’s leaders can “figure out what is going on.” Frankly, I'm a little disappointed that Trump is being such a wishy-washy, namby-pamby weakling.

Let's face it, ALL monotheistic religions are pretty frightening. How can you not be frightened when somebody declares that all gods but his own are false? History shows that every monotheistic religion has carried out wars of aggression against members of other religions, and justified their actions by claiming that their enemies worshiped false gods.

Therefore, I call on Mr. Trump to prove that he's serious about defending the United States. We need to ban all followers of monotheistic religions from entering this country until our leaders can "figure out what is going on." Anything less is just setting ourselves up for more attacks by religious fanatics.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Moreau XIX: Montgomery's Bank Holiday

Chapter XIX: "Montgomery's Bank Holiday"

Once they've finished piling the corpses of Moreau's victims atop Moreau himself, Prendick and Montgomery sit down together to plan out their future. Prendick wants them to leave the island, but Montgomery insists that's out of the question. Whatever it was that Montgomery did to get himself exiled from England, he's convinced that there's no going back for him.

Montgomery starts drinking again, and while he's sozzled, he decides to share his brandy with the uplifted animals. When Prendick tries to stop him, Montgomery pulls a pistol on him, and Prendick relents. After Montgomery leaves, Prendick starts making plans to leave the island himself. Under the light of a full moon he goes into the supply shed and starts gathering food and other supplies for the journey.

Prendick's preparations are interrupted when he hears a shot fired outside the compound. In the dawn's early light he finds a crowd of uplifted animals gathered around a bonfire. He fires his pistol and most of them scatter. All that remain are Montgomery and four of the uplifts, all lying on the ground. All but one of the uplifts, including the Speaker of the Law and M'ling, are dead. The only survivors are Montgomery himself and an uplifted wolf who has been so badly burned that Prendick shoots him. Montgomery has been throttled by the Speaker of the Law, and is dying.

While he stares at the scene in front of him, Prendick hears a thud and hiss behind him. He sees that the compound is on fire, and realizes that he must have upset his oil lamp when he ran outside. Then he looks back and realizes that Montgomery built the bonfire by chopping up the boats. Montgomery dies as the sun rises, and Prendick sees three uplifted animals emerge from the brush. Prendick is the last human on the island.

The casual detail of the full moon allows us to assign a date to Montgomery's Bank Holiday.The Lady Vain went down on February 1, 1887. Prendick drifted in the Lady Vain's boat for eight days, and was rescued on February 9. Two days later, Prendick revives, and shares his story with Montgomery. The next day, February 12, Prendick is stranded on the island of Dr. Moreau. Seven or eight weeks later, or possibly more, the puma escapes and Moreau is killed. Seven weeks would bring us to April 2, and eight weeks to April 9. The full moon falls on April 8, so Moreau's death would mostly likely have taken place on Thursday, April 7, and chapter XIX ends with the sun rising on the morning of Friday, April 8, 1887.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Moreau XVIII: The Finding of Moreau

As chapter XVIII, "The Finding of Moreau" opens, Montgomery is ready to drown himself in brandy, but Prendick won't let him. He insists they have to go out and find out what happened to Moreau. Prendick overrides Montgomery's feeble protests, and after a quick meal, the two men and M'ling go out.

We learn for the first time that it was Prendick's left arm that was broken when the puma freed herself. One can picture how it happened. Prendick would have been staring out at the sea holding his cigarette in his right hand. He hears the sound of the puma pulling her chain out of the wall and knocking down Moreau, he turns and sees her running toward the entrance. He raises his left arm, because even as startled as he is, he won't risk any damage to his precious cigarette. The puma knocks him down, breaking his left arm, and runs off. Presumably, Prendick's care for his cigarette comes to naught in the end, and he drops it at this point as the force of the puma's blow sends him rolling over and over in the sand.

Prendick ignores whatever pain he is suffering in his left arm, which was broken by the puma only hours before, and leads the others out of the compound, carrying a pistol in his good hand. M'ling had lost his hatchet earlier in the day when he was grappling with the uplifted swine, and he doesn't bother replacing it. As Prendick observes, "Teeth were his weapons, when it came to fighting." Montgomery carries the other pistol, but he does not have it at the ready -- he simply follows the others with his hands in his pockets.

M'ling leads the group through the jungle, "his shoulder hunched, his strange black head moving with quick starts as he peered first on this side of the way and then on that." Montgomery follows him, still half-sozzled, and Prendick brings up the rear, revolver in hand. After making their way for some time, M'ling suddenly stops, and Montgomery almost runs into him.

Half a dozen uplifted animals emerge from the jungle, led by the Speaker of the Law, a gray-haired uplift whose animal origins Prendick never mentions. The uplifts are in shock, and they reveal to Prendick's group that Moreau is dead. The next question the uplifts have for Montgomery is whether there is still a Law.

Prendick, thinking fast, steps in front of Montogmery and says:
“Children of the Law, he is not dead!” M'ling turned his sharp eyes on me. “He has changed his shape; he has changed his body,” I went on. “For a time you will not see him. He is—there,” I pointed upward, “where he can watch you. You cannot see him, but he can see you. Fear the Law!”

I looked at them squarely. They flinched.
Having re-asserted control over the uplifts,  Prendick inquires about the puma, and learns that she is also dead. He orders the uplifts to lead them to Moreau's body, and the group sets out.

During their journey, they are interrupted by a disturbance:
Then came a yelling, a crashing among the branches, and a little pink homunculus rushed by us shrieking. Immediately after appeared a monster in headlong pursuit, blood-bedabbled, who was amongst us almost before he could stop his career. The grey Thing leapt aside. M'ling, with a snarl, flew at it, and was struck aside. Montgomery fired and missed, bowed his head, threw up his arm, and turned to run. I fired, and the Thing still came on; fired again, point-blank, into its ugly face. I saw its features vanish in a flash: its face was driven in. Yet it passed me, gripped Montgomery, and holding him, fell headlong beside him and pulled him sprawling upon itself in its death-agony.

I found myself alone with M'ling, the dead brute, and the prostrate man. Montgomery raised himself slowly and stared in a muddled way at the shattered Beast Man beside him. It more than half sobered him. He scrambled to his feet. Then I saw the grey Thing returning cautiously through the trees.

“See,” said I, pointing to the dead brute, “is the Law not alive? This came of breaking the Law.”

He peered at the body. “He sends the Fire that kills,” said he, in his deep voice, repeating part of the Ritual. The others gathered round and stared for a space.
When the party reaches the site of Moreau's final battle with the puma, it is clear that both are indeed dead. Moreau shot the puma in the shoulder, but the puma was able to  brain Moreau with its chain. The puma is half-devoured.

The uplifts assist Prendick in carrying Moreau's body back to the compound. They all leave, and M'ling leaves with them. Prendick locks the gate, then he and Montgomery go into Moreau's laboratory, where they "put an end to all we found living there."

This chapter ends with Prendick and Montgomery in a precarious position. Moreau is dead, and their control over the uplifts is on shaky ground. Prendick is able to salvage the situation for the time being by spinning a tale of Moreau's spirit keeping watch over the island, and by killing one uplift who is breaking the Law (and incidentally keeping an uplifted sloth from being killed and eaten). However, the situation is clearly unstable. How long will the uplifts allow themselves to be cowed by an invisible Moreau, when they clearly saw Moreau dead?

Moreau's death also marks a change in Prendick's fortunes. Montgomery is incapable of dealing with the sudden crisis. It is Prendick who insists on going out to learn Moreau's fate, and it is Prendick whose quick thinking prevents the collapse of the Law that keeps the uplifts docile. With Moreau gone and Montgomery sinking into an alcoholic stupor, Prendick is now the de facto leader of the island's bizarre society. To see how he deals with his perilous situation, tune in for chapter XIX, "Montgomery's Bank Holiday".

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Moreau XVII: A Catastrophe

The first uplifted animal we encounter in The Island of Doctor Moreau is M'ling, who had accompanied Montgomery on board the Ipecacuanha on the alcoholic doctor's annual expedition to acquire more animal subjects for Moreau. He had assisted Montgomery in carrying Prendick out of the boat he had been marooned in, though Prendick had been delirious at that point and had no reliable memory of the event. Prendick first encounters him in chapter III, "The Strange Face":
He was standing on the ladder with his back to us, peering over the combing of the hatchway. He was, I could see, a misshapen man, short, broad, and clumsy, with a crooked back, a hairy neck, and a head sunk between his shoulders. He was dressed in dark-blue serge, and had peculiarly thick, coarse, black hair. I heard the unseen dogs growl furiously, and forthwith he ducked back,—coming into contact with the hand I put out to fend him off from myself. He turned with animal swiftness.

In some indefinable way the black face thus flashed upon me shocked me profoundly. It was a singularly deformed one. The facial part projected, forming something dimly suggestive of a muzzle, and the huge half-open mouth showed as big white teeth as I had ever seen in a human mouth. His eyes were blood-shot at the edges, with scarcely a rim of white round the hazel pupils. There was a curious glow of excitement in his face.
Later on in the book, Prendick describes M'ling's origins: "It was a complex trophy of Moreau's horrible skill,—a bear, tainted with dog and ox, and one of the most elaborately made of all his creatures." M'ling is Moreau's greatest success. He looks more human than any of the other uplifted animals, and lives with the humans in Moreau's compound rather than in the ramshackle village the other uplifted animals have built for themselves. Montgomery has trained M'ling to act as a servant, and he seems to be the only one of the uplifted animals with a name (or at least the only one whose name Prendick learns). He is also the only one of the uplifted animals who is allowed to carry a weapon.

The catastrophe that the title of chapter XVII refers to occurs at least eight weeks, probably more, after Prendick arrives at the island, which would put it in April or May of 1887. Prendick has risen early, eaten breakfast, and is smoking a cigarette while standing outside the open doorway of Moreau's compound. He sees --

Hang on, let's pause a moment. How does Prendick come to be smoking a cigarette? He had absolutely no possessions when he arrived on the island. Even his clothing consists of Montgomery's hand-me-downs (which don't fit well, since Montgomery is several inches taller than Prendick). Everything he consumes presumably comes from supplies that Moreau sends Montgomery to fetch on his annual excursions, except perhaps for whatever food grows on the island. If there are cigarettes on hand for Prendick to smoke, it can only be because one of the other two men is a smoker and has generously allowed Prendick to poach on his stash. Prendick doesn't seem to do anything on the island to earn his keep, even though Moreau only let him stay because of his scientific training. Prendick himself admits, "I spent an increasing proportion of my time upon the beach, looking for some liberating sail that never appeared." It's no wonder if Moreau is getting annoyed at having this freeloader mooching off of him.

Anyway, one day in late April or early May of 1887, Prendick is hanging around the entrance to the compound smoking one of the other men's cigarettes, and he sees Moreau walk by, they greet each other, and Moreau goes in and unlocks the door to his laboratory. After all this time, he's still working on a puma that Montgomery brought to the island on the Ipecacuanha. Prendick continues to stare out to sea while behind him the puma "met its persecutor with a shriek, almost exactly like that of an angry virago."

The puma has had enough of this shit. She manages to pull the chain binding her from the wall it is attached to, knocks down Moreau, and runs out of the compound, knocking Prendick out of the way as she does do. Prendick suffers a broken forearm and falls to the ground, where he watches the puma, "swathed in lint and with red-stained bandages fluttering about it," run off. Moreau, armed with a pistol, chases after the puma, and the two disappear inland into the island's foliage.

Prendick painfully regains his feet, and Montgomery appears, also armed with a pistol. Prendick explains what he saw while Montgomery sets his broken arm and puts it in a sling. Then Montgomery goes off in search of Moreau and the puma, while Prendick paces back and forth by the compound.

Several hours pass, during which Prendick hears three shots. Montgomery returns in a disheveled state, accompanied by M'ling.
“My God!” The man was panting, almost sobbing. “Go back in,” he said, taking my arm. “They're mad. They're all rushing about mad. What can have happened? I don't know. I'll tell you, when my breath comes. Where's some brandy?”
He tells Prendick that he has been unable to find Moreau or the puma. While he was searching, he was joined by M'ling, who had been out with a hatchet chopping wood. The two went to the village of the uplifted animals, and found it deserted.

Montgomery, becoming afraid, decided to return to the compound. On the way there, he encountered two uplifted swine with blood-stains around their mouths. The two uplifts attacked Montgomery and M'ling. Montgomery shot one, while M'ling grappled with the other. M'ling had his teeth in his opponent's throat when Montgomery shot it as well. When Montgomery wanted to resume the trip back to the compound, M'ling resisted for a time before agreeing to go with him. On the way, M'ling flushed an uplifted ocelot from the brush, and Montgomery shot it as well, "with a certain wantonness," as Prendick observed.

Chapter XVII ends with Prendick asking, "What does it all mean?" Montgomery can only shake his head and down some more brandy.

Clearly, all is not well on the island. It sounds as though something has happened to cause the uplifted animals to reject Moreau's Law and revert to their natural states. Moreau's hunt for the escaped puma seems like the proximate cause. Did the puma attack and injure him? And would that break the hold that Moreau exercises over them? Tune in tomorrow for chapter XVIII, "The Finding of Moreau".

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Island of Doctor Moreau: a progress report

Although he spent pretty much his entire adult life writing books, H.G. Wells is best known for half a dozen "scientific romances" he wrote in his late 20s and 30s. These books are now considered classics of the science fiction genre, and I suspect that they share the fate of all classic books: everybody has heard of them, but hardly anybody has actually read them.

I myself read The War of the Worlds in the sixth grade when Scholastic Books published a discount edition for schoolchildren in 1974. I had already seen the film version by George Pal, and I found the novel a bit of a slog and hardly anything like the movie. A few years later, in high school, I borrowed and read a classmate's copy of The Time Machine. I had not seen the Pal version at that point, so I didn't have that comparison in mind, but I did find it kind of slow and tame compared to later, more sophisticated time travel stories I had already read by that point.

And that was basically it for my Wells reading until I came upon a copy of In the Days of the Comet in a used bookstore, bought it, and eventually read it. I found it moderately interesting, but it turns out this was not so much a scientific romance as a utopian novel in which the Earth passes through a comet's tail and everybody suddenly loses their irrational beliefs and realizes that H.G. Wells was right all along.

The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896) is best known for introducing the now-common SF trope of biological uplift, the practice of raising animals to human intelligence. Modern uplift stories involve the use of genetic engineering, but almost nothing was known about genetics when Wells was writing, and his Dr. Moreau is a vivisectionist who uses brutal surgical methods to refashion animals into near-humans.

An odd, perverse impulse has led me to start reading this book at Project Gutenberg. I'm currently most of the way through chapter XVI; this blog post is by way of being a progress report on my reading of the book.

As was common with 19th century works of fantastic fiction, there is a framing story that tells how the main narrative came to be presented to the public. In the framing story, a man named Charles Edward Prendick finds a manuscript written by his late uncle, Edward Prendick, relating the story of what happened to him after he was shipwrecked in February 1887. Charles Edward states that his uncle disappeared for eleven months after the shipwreck, and after he was rescued the story he told was so strange that he was regarded as demented. He also notes that almost nothing in his uncle's story can be independently verified.

Edward Prendick is an independently wealthy man who studied biology under T.H. Huxley. After the wreck of the Lady Vain, he is marooned on one of the ship's boats until being rescued by a passing tramp freighter called the Ipecacuanha. His rescuer is a passenger on the Ipecacuanha, a disgraced alcoholic English medical doctor named Montgomery, who is overseeing the shipment of a cargo of animals to a mysterious island. The even-more-alcoholic captain of the Ipecacuanha takes a dislike to Prendick, and after dropping off Montgomery and his animals at the island, leaves Prendick marooned there.

Montgomery's boss, a vivisectionist named Moreau, is initially reluctant to allow Prendick ashore, but changes his mind after he learns about Prendick's scientific background. Prendick is deeply disturbed by the various inhabitants of the island, who are all misshapen and distinctly beastial. He initially concludes that Moreau is surgically altering people into animals, and flees into the jungle. Moreau eventually convinces Prendick that he has it backwards: Moreau is actually surgically altering animals into people.

Moreau's surgical technique is imperfect, and he is troubled by the fact that his uplifted animals invariably start backsliding as soon as he creates them. To hold off the backsliding, Moreau has instilled a religion called the Law in his uplifted animals, a series of prohibitions against reversion to animal behaviors:
 “Not to go on all-fours; that is the Law. Are we not Men?
“Not to suck up Drink; that is the Law. Are we not Men?
“Not to eat Fish or Flesh; that is the Law. Are we not Men?
“Not to claw the Bark of Trees; that is the Law. Are we not Men?
“Not to chase other Men; that is the Law. Are we not Men?”
 Trouble raises its biologically uplifted head when Prendick discovers that one of the animal people, an uplifted leopard, has killed and partially eaten a rabbit, a violation of the Law. When Moreau learns about the violation, he calls the animals to a council where he accuses the leopard, and sentences him to be returned to his laboratory (known to the uplifted as "the House of Pain") for additional surgery. The leopard flees, and is hunted by Moreau, Montgomery, Prendick, and the rest of the uplifted animals. When the leopard is finally cornered, Prendick chooses to shoot him rather than allow him to be returned to the laboratory.
“Confound you, Prendick!” said Moreau. “I wanted him.”
“I'm sorry,” said I, though I was not.
Moreau is presented as being utterly amoral. He specifically tells Prendick, "To this day I have never troubled about the ethics of the matter." He is contemptuous of humanity for its preoccupation with pain and pleasure, which he regards as an unworthy holdover from its own animal origins, and he is indifferent to the pain he inflicts on his experimental subjects. Victor Frankenstein may be the original Mad Scientist, but I'm sure Dr. Moreau gave the trope a healthy boost.
Prendick, the viewpoint character and the person Wells' audience (and likely Wells himself) would identify with, does not accept Moreau's dismissal of pain. He is unwilling to allow the uplifted leopard to be further tormented by Moreau, and he views the scientist's uplifted experimental subjects more sympathetically than their creator.
Poor brutes! I began to see the viler aspect of Moreau's cruelty. I had not thought before of the pain and trouble that came to these poor victims after they had passed from Moreau's hands. I had shivered only at the days of actual torment in the enclosure. But now that seemed to me the lesser part. Before, they had been beasts, their instincts fitly adapted to their surroundings, and happy as living things may be. Now they stumbled in the shackles of humanity, lived in a fear that never died, fretted by a law they could not understand; their mock-human existence, begun in an agony, was one long internal struggle, one long dread of Moreau—and for what? It was the wantonness of it that stirred me.
And that's where I've left off the story for now. How will the conflicting beliefs of Prendick and Moreau play out? We shall see.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Cold dead hands

Details are starting to emerge about the couple that went on a shooting spree in San Bernardino, California yesterday. One of the shooters was a quiet, devout county health inspector named Syed Rizwan Farook and the other was his domestic partner and the mother of his child wife, Tashfeen Malik. From what we know so far, Farook was apparently an honest, liberty-loving American who enjoyed exercising his Constitutional right to purchase and own firearms and create his own home-made remote-control-detonated pipe bombs.

Although much remains to be determined, it is clear that Farook was made the victim of Political Correctness at a holiday party he was attending along with his co-workers, and he courageously chose to Stand His Ground by applying a Second Amendment remedy to the matter. Malik demonstrated her womanly devotion to her man by standing by him during his time of trial and assisting him in implementing his Second Amendment remedy.

Afterward, the two were apparently betrayed by a freedom-hating statist who alerted the government to their whereabouts. This resulted in an appalling exercise of government overreach as officials confronted the couple in their home (or at any rate, a home), as far as we know without a warrant. The couple then once again courageously Stood Their Ground by exercising their Second Amendment rights, until they were killed by agents of the state. It can truly be said of Farook and Malik that the government was only able to take their guns from their cold, dead hands.

Meanwhile, as far as the shooting spree in Savannah, Georgia (remember that?) is concerned, we don't yet know the shooter's race, so we can't say for certain whether he was also a courageous American who was Standing His Ground, or a dangerous thug.

UPDATE: Latest report confirms that the two Patriot American Second Amendment Heroes in San Berdoo were an actual married couple and not just sinfully shacking up together. Blog post updated to reflect this important new information.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

And counting

Two! Two shooting sprees! Ah, ah, ah!

The trouble with Joe

Media critic Jay Rosen talks about why the Trump candidacy has been so confounding for journalists. They point out that he's lying, and it doesn't matter. Not only does he refuse to admit to his lies, he keeps doubling down on them, and his constant lying does nothing to reduce his popularity. In fact, it actually makes him more popular among Republicans. The reason Trump is able to do this goes back to a technique for manipulation that is known in sports as "working the refs".

Working the refs is when a team tries to intimidate the referees by constantly challenging their decisions, accusing them of making bad calls. The idea is that if you keep it up long enough, the referees will either A) start to question their own judgment, or B) decide to take the easy way out and just do what you want. Either way, the result is the same: the referees will start shading their calls to favor your team.

In a democracy, the media are our referees. Their job is to penalize politicians who break the rules. Conservatives are basically contemptuous of democracy, and constantly seek ways to subvert it, so in the early 1980s they started working the refs hard, initiating a campaign accusing newly-elevated CBS Evening News anchorman Dan Rather of "liberal bias". From there, the campaign expanded to include every media outlet. The finishing touch was the creation in 1996 of Fox News Channel, a conservative propaganda mill that insisted that it was unbiased, and that all of the real news organizations had a liberal bias.

And it worked like a charm. The establishment media became utterly terrified of conservative accusations of "liberal media bias", and they bent over backwards to avoid it. The way they did so was to basically stop being referees. Instead of telling the truth, the new goal of journalism was to maintain the appearance of objectivity by refusing to point out when one side in a controversy (invariably the conservative side) was lying. The result was the spread of the "he said-she said" style of political reporting, which David Roberts aptly summarized this way: "Quote this one, quote that one, opinions differ, done."

Roberts notes that conservatives gave journalists an alibi for abandoning the referee role by creating an entire alternate universe of think tanks and media outlets that journalists could quote for their he said-she said stories. This gave journalists an excuse to stop passing judgment on dishonest policy claims, and focus on trivialities like "Al Gore said he invented the internet" or the minutia of John Kerry's Vietnam War record, or Hillary Clinton's remark that she once landed in Bosnia "under fire."

What Trump has done is refuse to provide journalists with any pretext for ignoring his lies. He doesn't rely on any studies, even bogus right-wing think tank studies, to back up his claims. He simply makes them, and dares journalists to call him on them. Then journalists do, and discover that nobody cares. And the reason nobody cares is that journalists have made it their business to ignore important lies; therefore, any lie they take notice of must ipso facto be unimportant.

Rosen, meanwhile, has proposed a way for journalists to start to reclaim their referee roles. They can begin, he says, by distinguishing between realities and appearances, and between facts and arguments. Rosen created the grid at the top of this post showing how news stories can be placed into one of four categories: reality-based factual stories, reality-based argument stories, appearance-based factual stories, and appearance-based argument stories.

However, there is a flaw in Rosen's proposal which he doesn't allow for, and doesn't even seem to be aware of. The flaw is that Rosen's proposal assumes that journalists are actually capable of distinguishing between facts and arguments, and between appearance and reality. But why should they be?

If this was a new situation, it would be a simple matter for journalists who were familiar with those distinctions to resume making them. But, as I've noted, this is not a new situation. This situation has been going on for over thirty years. I would argue that in that time, a whole generation of journalists has grown up for whom the ability to distinguish between appearance and reality is not only irrelevant, but actually counterproductive. After all, a journalist who doesn't know he's doing anything wrong has an advantage over one who does know, and has to fight the desire act on his knowledge.

The canonical example of this has to be Joe Klein of Time magazine. Back in November 2007, Klein wrote a column called "The Tone-Deaf Democrats" in which he claimed that a Democratic bill to reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act “would give terrorists the same legal protections as Americans.” It turned out that Klein had been played by GOP Representative Pete Hoekstra. Hoekstra had fed Klein a line of bullshit about the bill, and Klein gullibly took his word for it without bothering to ask any of the bill's Democratic authors if it was true. When Klein's stupidity was exposed, he notoriously insisted that "I have neither the time nor legal background to figure out who's right."

Mr. Rosen, I hope I'm wrong about this, but I think it's too late for American political journalists to start acting like political journalists again. They don't know how.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Sobel Wiki: The Modern Moses

In recognition of the holiday season, this month's featured article at the Sobel Wiki is on the Galloway Speech of December 25, 1922, wherein North American locomobile magnate Owen Galloway outlined his plan for averting civil war in the C.N.A. Galloway's Big Idea was that since the country was divided between two irreconcilable factions, the most sensible thing to do would be to separate the two groups by encouraging the minority faction to emigrate and establish their own society. To that end, Galloway created an endowment that would subsidize emigration within and from the C.N.A.

Initially, Sobel makes it sound as though Galloway's plan represents a triumph of private initiative, saying that "Governor-General Wagner promised cooperation, but none was asked of the government. The entire operation, the bulk of which took seven years, was handled without partisan or political involvement." Later, Sobel admits that the operation did indeed receive considerable assistance from the government: "Although there was no direct connection between the Galloway Trust and the Confederation bureaucracy, government men cooperated whenever possible with the Trust, and did more to aid in relocations than was believed at the time. Minister of Home Affairs Douglas Watson noted that more individuals relocated within the C.N.A. without Trust assistance than did so with its aid, and that only 29.7 percent of those who emigrated received more than N.A. £40 from the Trust, while 31.8 percent asked for no such aid."

Sobel also notes that the administration of Liberal Governor-General Henderson Dewey benefited politically from the Galloway Plan. He quotes from Richard Maltz's Better Than Any of Us? The Ambitious Galloway: "Since most of the emigrants were intellectuals or thought of themselves as such, and since the [[opposition People's]] Coalition was the natural home of intellectuals, Dewey was in fact exporting his political opposition. Those who relocated within the C.N.A. were more often middle-class and professional in background, likely candidates for the Liberal parties in their new homes. Aid from the Home Office oftentimes made a vacillating Coalitionist into a staunch Liberal."

Apparently the consensus within the Sobel Timeline is that Galloway's emigration scheme was the solution to the country's problems that he hoped it would be. Sobel himself states that "The Galloway Plan destroyed much of the basis for the protest movements. Pro-government critics argued that the Galloway Plan would 'shut up the anarchist units for good. Now these weepers will have to accept the Plan or show themselves the cowards they are,' while the more radical reformists welcomed the opportunity to 'denude the nation of its most precious possession, its people. Galloway has done more to destroy this corrupt society than any man in history.' Of course, both sides exaggerated, but neither could restrain their emotional outbursts." Later in the book, Sobel praises the Galloway Plan as "rational, well-considered, and on the whole, led by people with an ability to isolate a problem, find an answer, and organize to achieve results."

You have to wonder, though, whether the Galloway Plan would work as advertised. Suppose in 1968 J. Paul Getty had offered to pay for the emigration of the anti-war protesters of his day to some other country. No doubt some of the draft resisters would have been happy to take him up on his offer, but the larger anti-war protest would have continued, because opposition to the Vietnam War was motivated by larger moral concerns rather than simply being due to military-age men seeking to avoid the draft. There might have been more young men fleeing to Canada, but otherwise the anti-war protests would have continued undiminished, with all the social dislocations and political fallout that they occasioned.

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.