Book Review: Forebidden Thoughts

Short & sweet: I liked Forbidden Thoughts, but I wanted to like it a lot more. Many of the stories are good, a couple are excellent, but a couple are over-the-top satire that doesn’t quite work, and a number of non-fictions essays didn’t work for me at all, but instead made me wonder: why are these here? What purpose do they serve? But, that said, there are a couple stores which alone are worth price. 4 out of 5 stars – go buy this!

I sincerely hope the collaborators try again, with better focus, sticking to stories that are more subtle. That could be a really good 5-star book. My fear is that this book just preaches to the choir. If I weren’t familiar with the works of many of the authors already, I might have given up early on. But I am glad I persevered, as there are at least 10 or 12 very worthwhile stories in there. Less would have been more, and also more likely to appeal to less-involved readers.

Forbidden Thoughts by [Yiannopoulos, Milo, Kratman, Tom, Cole, Nick, Correia, Larry, Torgersen, Brad R., Wright, John C., Day, Vox, Lamplighter, L. Jagi, Hoyt, Sarah A., Niemeier, Brian, Freeman, A.M. , Oxide, Chrome, Shumak, E.J. , Blank, Ray , Ward, Matthew , Young, Joshua M. , Hallquist, David , Oka, Pierce , Lebak, Jane , Zwycky, Ben]Now to the details: this collection is what you’d think it is, based on a quick glance at the contributors: an attack on PC limitations to storytelling. But rather than the pure attack – writing fun stories where men are men, women are women, bad guys are not merely misunderstood but rather, you know, bad and a hero can love God and country without having to explain it or come to a ironic and terrible end – the collection includes a lot of over-the-top attempts at satire or sarcasm which, frankly, don’t work.

If a reader is looking for good stories and lacks patience, he might not make it past the first third of the book. The forward by the head-detonating Milo Yiannopoulos is too long and only occasionally amusing – at half its length, just keeping the good parts, it could have been good. As it is, you find yourself shouting with the off-stage audience in Holy Grail – get on with it!

Next comes a suitable very short poem, and then finally the first story: in “Safe Space Suit” Nick Cole wonders what happens when affirmative action gets off-leash in a space program. He does a pretty good job – upon skimming through it for this review, it was, frankly, better than I remembered upon first reading. But it’s heavy-handed, even if not as heavy handed as it could have been or as, indeed, many of the later stories are. Given all the over the top inside-baseball stuff – the characters tend to be named after well-known puppy kickers – getting any real subtlety going is not likely even if the author wanted to. I’m not rushing out recommending it to all my friends, but not bad.

“Auto America” by E.J. Shumak is a forgettable trifle, which brings us back to the whole editorial criticism: why is this here? Nothing exactly wrong with it, but what exactly is right with it? How does it make the book better? More fundamentally, 4 items into the book and I’m still waiting for that ‘Ah! That’s what I’m talking about!” moment. In fact, I’m almost to the ‘keep reading out of duty’ point.

“A Place for Everyone” by Ray Blank fended off that point a bit by being slyly funny, if still, like everything so far, rather broad in its treatment of the ridiculousness of PC themes. What happens if everybody’s jobs are selected by machines designed to keep everything as balanced-by-quota as possible, including all flavors of self-determined identity? What if you needed hi-tech help just to keep who is what straight? What if the woman you love is assigned a job half way around the world from the one you’re assigned to? Throw in some typical bureaucratic shenanigans, and things get thick.

At this point, I’m wondering: is it just not possible to think forbidden thoughts without more-or-less heavy-handed bashing of PC nonsense? “The Code”, by Matthew Ward, while well-written, hews pretty much to the trend set so far. What if this nonsense about permissions and rape culture evolves into a Code of behavior, where one’s only hope of avoiding ruin is to follow Miranda-rights like legal formulas for permission to touch or kiss anyone?  Would women play this system to the hilt, just to ruin some schmuck?

If I had to rate it at this point, I’m thinking that the collection is kind of OK – a 2.5 star-effort. Nothing has grabbed me yet, no ‘wow’ moments, and I’m almost 1/2 through. If I weren’t a fan of many of the writers, I might have stopped here.

Finally, Joshua M. Young’s “The Secret History of the World Gone By” is a satisfying story with an actual sci-fi premise executed with some verve. We have a bit of the noble savage straightens out a technological world run off the rails thing going, but with enough twists and character development to keep the pages turning. It’s also the first story to have a Superversive-style happy ending. A very good story.

“The Social Construct” by David Hallquist brings the tone right back down again, with a short tale about a couple whose desire for the perfect child cannot, ultimately, be met by the real child (or any child, really) they actually get, even though it is built to their  ever-changing spec. It is well-written and short, which, given its dark tone, is not a bad thing.

Now we come to yet another odd editorial decision: the next story, “At the Edge of Detachment” by A. M. Freeman, deals with fundamentally the same issues – what happens when the idea that children exist solely to satisfy their parent’s desires, and the more sci-fi issue of what ultimately makes something human. While both stories tell of the same tension – what if the child fails to please? – Freeman’s story is told from the perspective of the child, which gives it much more power. Nothing is wrong about either story, but putting both in the same anthology, let alone back to back, is just odd – what is the point? If I had to choose, I’d pick Freeman’s as the stronger story because of the more developed characters and drama. Both are very sad and definitely Forbidden Thoughts.

So now, more than halfway through the book, we’ve gotten a few stories that begin to fulfill expectations. If the anthology had led with either Freeman’s or Young’s story, we’d at least know that we’re getting what we’re promised – Forbidden Thought – rather than mere broad mockery of PC pieties. I like seeing PC pieties mocked as much as the next red-blooded American,  but such mockery is best delivered in quips and maybe cartoons – it takes quite good chops to spin it out into a longer story. But hey, we’re on a bit of a roll.

The next two pieces are completely gratuitous, and fell flat with a splat.  Sure, maybe somebody buys a book called Forbidden Thoughts hoping to catch up on “A History of the Sad Puppies.” But why? I’d hoped we’d all just decided to ditch the Hugo crowd and just write good stuff – at least, that’s what I was hoping for. Instead, we get here a recap, followed by a truly awful spoof of If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love, which perhaps would have been tolerable (I doubt it) if not for there being at least 2 much better ones I’d already read.  So, here, again, I’m starting to wonder what the point of this anthology is? Don’t we readers want to win by just having better stuff to read?(1)

“Imagine”, by Pierce Oka, gets big points for mocking the lame song by the same title. Then, he quickly whips up, in outline, several interesting characters – while there’s no place in a story this short for any kind of in-depth development, the two cops, the two young women and the sister and the monk are human beings, who behave as human beings – good writing to pull this off. And you not quite sure where the story’s going until it gets there. Forbidden Thoughts abound. So we’re back on track.

Up next, “Graduation Day”, is mockery, pure and simple. Given the topic – out of control political correctness on campus – it would be hard to go anywhere else. It’s short, which is good, but seemed like an interruption. Whatever is trying to be advanced here did not get advanced.

Fortunately, we quickly get back on track. Next come two longer stories by two very good writers, who also manage to treat some forbidden thought in interesting Sci-fi ways. Brad R. Torgensen’s “Hymns of the Mothers” answers the question: what if some of the more radical feminists got what they wanted – a world run by them, with men doing exactly as told? But instead of satire or mockery, he functionally imagines and fleshes out such a world and how it might look to a young girl growing up in it.  It’s a very good story, with good character development and twists a-plenty

Next comes John C. Wright’s “By His Cockle Hat and Staff”, which – no surprise – takes a bunch of Sci-fi ideas and rolls them out in a different, unexpected way. This is Wright’s M.O. more often than not. Here, he imagines a PC Hell, then imagines it as one of many parallel worlds. A nice twist: the PC world views it as their duty to enlighten all the less PC (and therefore much happier!) worlds via a technology that allows people to move into – possess –  the alternate version of themselves in those parallel worlds. It’s a love story of sorts, with a pretty cool twist ending. Not up to the highest Wright standards (which are ridiculously high, after all) but a solid read.

At this point, taking these two stories plus the best 3-4 earlier stories, we’ve got enough reason to buy and read this book. We’d have more reason, and, more importantly, more hope for future anthologies, if the other materials had simply been omitted.

Tom Kratman’s “The Rules of Racism” are trenchant, sometimes amusing – and superfluous.

The last 5 stories are good-to-great, which means we could have had an anthology with 10 to 12 good to great stories in it. It would have been shorter – and much better. Here’s hoping there’s a sequel, and that it sticks to a dozen or so better stories.

Each of the last 5 stories is written by a pro with some serious writing chops, so it’s not surprising they’re good.

“World Ablaze” by Jane Lebak is the story of an undercover nun and a possible stool pigeon told with obvious reference to how people really deal with oppressive governments. Its forbidden though might be summed up as: your most demonized opponent just might be a saint. Good characters, nice twist, well written.

“Amazon Gambit” by Vox Day does what many of the earlier stories fail to do: create a gritty, believable world and situation from which the mockery of PC stupidity arises organically. Told backwards, the story would merely be satire; as it is, it’s a pretty good story in itself, which both is more pleasing and packs more punch.

Next up is my current favorite from this book: Brian Niemeier’s “Elegy for the Locust”. Set in his Netherial Universe, it is the story of a man who feels life has dealt him a bum hand and is consuming himself with thoughts of revenge. He want everything his master has. He must become his master! When the opportunity to do so arises, things don’t go exactly as he planned. The Forbidden Thoughts are here portrayed subtly and artfully, and the suspense is maintained until the end. I’m sure the author would be happy to know “Elegy” reminded me of Lovecraft.

“Test of the Prophet” by L. Jagi Lamplighter takes another Forbidden Thought – that some religions might be better than others – and spins it out with remarkably good characters for a short story. You actually care about them! Imagine! The ending goes from totally mundane to apocalyptically surreal in a couple pages without losing the reader – very good writing. As a bonus, I suppose, the story contains the only mention in a SFF story I’ve ever come across of Mary Baker Eddy.  (It works, more or less.)

“Flight to Egypt” by Sarah A Hoyt is a story of forbidden love – forbidden by racial prejudice hiding behind genetic testing for criminal intent. Seems a male black child in the womb is just too big a risk. I loved how the lovers are very different in experience and culture (and race!), but rather than being a barrier, these differences actually increase their interest in each other – you know, like how it often works in the real world, but never works in theory, where nobody can ever understand or identify with a character who doesn’t look and think exactly like them!  Good place to end the anthology.

  1. In an odd way, this brings to mind how, in Catholic circles, there are always some (usually older) people who just cannot let Vatican II go – even though, for just about everyone younger than 50, it’s just ancient history, and the battles described are not their battles. Ends up taking the wind out of the sails of people genuinely interested in the Church. Anyway, how about we (people who’d like to see better sci-fi) not do that?


Update, Upcoming Book Reviews

Home from work today with a Martian Death Cold or something. If my head clears up enough to think for a while, plan to finally review a book or two – Forbidden Thoughts, maybe Souldancer (although I should really reread that last one). Also got the rest of the Moth & Cobweb series out so far, as well as the Rachel Griffin books. Need to find that sweet spot between too sick to go to work (man, we modern sissies!) yet clear-headed enough to write reviews. And let’s not talk about the education history stuff, OK?

Speaking of education history, never finished Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed  because AAAGH! MY EYES! I mean, because it follows a traditional Marxist analysis while at the same time remaining abstract to the point of meaninglessness – but I repeat myself – and my stomach for such nonsense is not as sturdy as it might be. Am trying to plow through now.

Image result for dolly parton body
“It takes a lot of money to look this cheap.” – Dolly Parton (1)

It takes a lot of brains, sometimes, to be this stupid. Not that Freire is all that sharp – he’s learned to apply the Marxist/Hegelian template, which, if I am not mistaken, studies have shown lungfish can be trained to do.

The key is to stay way up in the clouds. Don’t drag the real world (except under the guise of ‘concrete reality’, whatever that might mean) into it until you’ve softened up the target established the intellectual underpinnings, as it were.

Here’s a more-or-less random chunk, for your edification and amusement:

While the problem of humanization has always, from an axiological point of view, been humankind’s central problem, it now takes on the character of an inescapable concern.[1] Concern for humanization leads at once to the recognition of dehumanization, not only as an ontological possibility but as an historical reality And as an individual perceives the extent of dehumanization, he or she may ask if humanization is a viable possibility. Within history in concrete, objective contexts, both humanization and dehumanization are possibilities for a person as an uncompleted being conscious of their incompletion.

It’s not so much that it is incoherent per se (by Marxist standards it’s practically Hemingway), it’s just that in education departments all over America this book is assigned to teenagers and twenty-somethings who, it can be safely assumed, have no philosophical or historical background, no practice deciphering jargon-laden pseudo-philosophy – and no instruction or background in clearing Marxist weeds so that the thoughts – when you get down to it, childish revenge fantasies packaged for people with daddy issues – can be seen for what they are.  In fact, they are encouraged to see this as the height of trenchant analysis and compassion. You know, the kind of compassion that gets 100 million defenseless people murdered.

And that, sadly, is the trick: whereas a liberal education, traditionally, was intended to provide the student with the intellectual, philosophical, logical and aesthetic background needed to do battle with these dragons of incoherence and despair, modern training (not education in any meaningful sense!) lines the kids up and marches them into the gaping maw.

They never know what hit them, and go on through life never laughing at Marx, which, in the abstract, is the correct response.

  1. Story: have a major client in Nashville, and so have taken people out to dinner quite often there in nicer restaurants. Thus, I once ate dinner inside of 10′ from Dolly Parton. Nobody bugged her – I certainly didn’t. That’s the whole thing about country: the stars remain accessible – and the fans give them a little space. Very cool.


Catholic Schools Week: A Modest Proposal

Image result for big children's choir
Children’s Choir of Russia. No reason. Bet they sing better music…

(Usual disclaimer about how all the people involved are no doubt better Christians than me, no hard feelings, just calling it as I see it.)

Got blindsided this morning at Mass, as it is Catholic Schools Week, and not having any kids in K-12 Catholic schools, I didn’t see it coming.

What ‘it’ is is all the schoolkids and their parents showing up for the same Mass. This Mass includes several homilies/sermons – the normal one after the Gospel, as well as a pre-Mass sermon about what we’re all celebrating today (hint: Our Lord and Savior’s redeeming sacrifice as manifested on the altar didn’t seem to figure prominently) and the post-Mass sermon wherein we recognize and thank all sorts of people and remind everyone that there will be donuts and coffee at the school’s open house after Mass.

Remember the part in the V-II documents wherein Mass is supposed to contain performances, musical and otherwise, by kids at every opportunity, because nothing says ‘full, active participation’ like listening to children sing goofy social justice songs during Mass?

Me neither.

On the good side, the children’s choir is much better at this parish than the average in my experience, and they even – amazing! – sang some Latin commons. Whoa. This is not to be discounted – that these kids have learned some beautiful music could change their lives. A very good thing.

But the first and last songs, which nobody except the kids in the choir knew and for which no music or text was supplied, sang about ending discrimination and achieving justice. God may have been mentioned at some point, don’t know, I was kind of not listening after a while out of self-defense.

I If anyone ever wonders why we didn’t send our kids to Catholic K-12 schools, well, this about sums it up.

Anyway, as a public service, thought I’d write a song I’d like the little darlings to learn, and sing every morning right after the Pledge of Allegiance and never, ever sing at Mass:

The I’m Not All That and  Need to Lean Something Song

O my head is empty,

There’s nothing inside.

And teacher’s no better

There’s no place to hide!

Oy Vey! Oy Vey! My head is empty!

Oy Vey! Oy Vey! I don’t know a thing.

There’s no shame in saying

I don’t have a clue

I am still quite little

Now, how about you?

Oy Vey! Oy Vey! My head is empty!

Oy Vey! Oy Vey! I don’t know a thing.

If I pay attention

And read stuff that’s old

I might just learn something

Before my body’s cold.

Oy Vey! Oy Vey! My head is empty!

Oy Vey! Oy Vey! I don’t know a thing.

Needs work.

Here’s another ditty, sung, perhaps, to Deutschland, Deutschland Uber Alles Praise the Lord, Ye Heavens Adore Him. Or not. Trying to reach kids where they are. Suitable for no occasions.

Lord Have Mercy! I’m a Clueless Punk

Lord, Have Mercy, I’m a clueless punk

Not surprising, since I am 10

I’ve been plied from birth with hippy bunk

Same as mom and dad and their kin

Now we make believe

Truth we can retrieve

If we spout the buzzwords right!

Lord, enlighten me!

I would like to see

What in particular’s OK in Your sight.

You’re my friend, Lord Jesus, that I got –

Not as fun as Maddy or James

This whole church thing, fun it’s surely not.

Why can’t we play video games?

Once each month or two

Motions going through

Grandma thinks there is a point!

No theology!

Never bended knee!

All my friends want to blow this joint.

Still, My Lord, I think there’s something

To this praying, kneeling and stuff

You have plans, I get the feeling

Being sort of nice ain’t enough

When I reach the end

I will need a Friend

more than just the final boss!

Help me win this game

Life is not the same

When you look down from that Cross

Light Bulb Goes On

Just today dawned on me, while contemplating how far Scientific American and other once noble scientific organs and organizations (like the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists mentioned in the last post) have fallen or have been conquered by political hacks: given Pournelle’s Iron Law, to take over an organization, one needn’t take over the leadership positions – one merely needs to take over the bureaucracy. Sooner rather than later, that bureaucracy will become the real leaders, and can then get whoever they want as nominal leaders.

One day, I imagine some lover of science who established or joined some group in order to further science will wake up to find some hack who joined in order to run the bureaucracy is his boss, or the one who approves his hires or funding – and he leaves or is driven out. Someone more amenable to the bureaucracy’s goals then get the job or position.

So if you want to co-op an existing organization for your ends, don’t go after the leadership jobs – just get appointed manager or assistant treasurer or HR head – and be patient (and not all that patient) and you can soon call the shots.

This explains a number of things I’ve seen. Y’all probably knew this already?

Make Your Own Doomsday Clock

The completely real and totally scientifilicious Doomsday Clock, which is not at all named in order to incite panic and doesn’t at all try to use numbers to express unmeasurable things like the proper level of fear and desperation we should feel at any given moment, has just been moved 30 – not 27 or 31.3215, but 30 – seconds closer to DOOM. I, myself, have started a project to determine scientifically just exactly how much 30 seconds of more doom is, so that I might start feeling it – Calories of stress eating? Loss of appetite? (it’s hardly a modern scientific theory if it can’t explain how a single cause can cause both an action and its opposite at the same time, after all)

Wow! This is practically the Periodic Table of Panic and Doom! Totally scientific!

A bunch of smart guys, so smart that their expertise extends beyond what they’ve been trained in all the way to recognizing exactly who are, as the website of the project of the Chair of Board of Sponsors  proclaims, “scholars and public intellectuals” whose opinions we lesser mortals need to hear more of, set up this Doomsday Clock thing in order to beat people who are not panicky enough to be easily herded inform the unwashed masses about exactly how much, to the second, they should feel DOOMED.

Exactly 30 seconds more panic is needed due to “The rise of ‘strident nationalism’ worldwide, United States President Donald Trump’s comments over nuclear weapons, and the disbelief in the scientific consensus over climate change by the Trump Administration.” The dispassionate scientific rigor is just dripping off that statement!  I’m sure it’s totally an accident that they used the word ‘disbelief’, because in no way are their efforts a reflection of dogmatic religious fervor. Who would be so gimlet-eyed to suggest that?

This fine, fine effort is the product of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. The Board of Sponsors of the Bulletin is chaired by the director of the Origins Project at Arizona State. The text description makes it sound like really smart people – much smarter than you or me! – are Deeply Concerned. About Everything.

The pictures on the site tell a different story: if one were to suppose the Origins Project is a clever attempt by really smart people (never forget that!) who never got to hang with the cool kids at school to get a chance to hobnob with famous actors and media ‘personalities’ – you know, important and cool people – then one would see nothing to contradict it.

Unless of course Johnny Depp, Cameron Diaz and Hugh Downs really are the Public Intellectuals we need to hear more from. Because, um, I got nothin’. They also give the stage to gender theorist, because wild, unmoored speculation that denies science any role in determining reality based on physically observable and measureable features is JUST LIKE physics and math. Or something. Certainly not political propaganda! Don’t ever suppose that! Other guests include totally not political tool Noam Chomsky, self-appointed moral philosopher and everybody’s favorite poster boy for incoherent Pragmatism let’s-drown-people-like-unwanted-puppies advocate Peter Singer, and fake TV doctor Alan Alda.

There’s even pictures of Dr. Krauss signing autographs! In a completely scientific manner, not at all like his world famous (for nothing that has to do with science) guests. Because it’s completely normal and not at all pandering to narcissistic egotism to stand for autographs after a science lecture – right?  This is the guy in charge of this whole thing, the go to guy for interviews, based on the news reports.

Back to DOOM! As a publicity stunt, it’s genius. As a useful shibboleth to separate the clueless from people with a couple a neurons dedicated to actual thought, it might be useful. As science, it’s partisan propaganda in a lab coat.(1)

You know what? Based on the example given by the people at the Origins Project, it seems anyone can play! It’s not like they’re uniquely qualified in matters moral and political – physics doesn’t help one understand politics any better than, say, bricklaying – probably less, as a bricklayer gets out in the real world regularly. How about:

Death by Red Giant: A real, albeit remote, concern is that the sun is, after all, a main sequence star, which means it burns up it hydrogen and will eventually run out. Long before then, it will swell to red giant size, and burn the earth to a cinder or even maybe burn it away entirely. Current guestimates are that the end is nigh – in about a billion years. There’s your Doomsday Scenario!

Given that the earth is about 4.5 billion years old, that means the earth’s life expectancy is about 5.5 BY. There are 86400 seconds in a day. A little math shows that, therefore, a billion years is about 4.36 hours, if representing the lifetime of the earth as a day:



The advantage here is that any updates to this Doomsday Clock are purely arbitrary – that I could change some assumptions, or decide to measure things a little differently, and thus end up showing more or less time to panic in.

Oh wait – that’s a feature of the original as well. Never mind.

I can think up a million of these, both fanciful and real – death by asteroid, plague, Soviet-style gulags or mass murder (the people lining up to play Lysenko in the reboot are Legion), shark attack (do the numbers: just as it’s *inevitable* that there’s inhabited worlds Out There, it’s also inevitable that you – yes, you! – will die of a shark attack. If you just live long enough.)  Salmonella, tectonic destabilization (that sounds impressive!), starvation due to honey bee extinction, Maybe it will turn out that the antidote for zombie-ism can only be extracted from snail darters! If you want to panic, there’s just no limit!

Gotta stop and post this, or I’ll be off mocking up other clocks until the figurative cows come home.

  1. The chair of the Board of Sponsors of the Bulletin. He’s deeply concerned about population growth. There is exactly the right amount of him, after all. He wants to “empower young women by educating them” and thus stop the runaway population growth that, well, produced him. Speculating about population is, of course, right in the wheelhouse of a dude with a physics and math background. Like another well-know species of tunnel-visioned experts – code monkeys – physics and math guys know EVERYTHING. Lawrence M. Krauss: Books, Biography, Blog, Audiobooks ...

Guacamole Problems & Pool

On the lighter side – reminiscing –

Coining a phrase here: Guacamole Problem. A guacamole problem is where you think you’re up against a serious or challenging obstacle, but it turns out not to be much of a challenge and you end up feeling foolish for having taken it so seriously. A Guacamole Problem is not worth winning, or at least not worth investing any worry in.

Origin: once in my callow youth, there was a girl. Keeping this sub-novel length, she liked me, I sort of liked her – and this other guy, a nice guy, really liked her. I was (and, to a lesser extent, still am) socially pretty clueless, so I was picking up on none of this.

Well, we were part of a chambers singer group, so what with rehearsals and travel and such, hung out together a lot. Dude B was trying to get attention from the girl, who paid attention to me – that I hardly noticed. The subject of guacamole comes up, and he says: I make great guacamole. I say: so do I! So we agree to each make guacamole and bring it to the next get together.

Well, as a Southern Californian and amatuer cook, I take my guacamole seriously: fresh minced garlic, fresh squeezed limes, finely chopped red onions, Mexican (has to be mexican!) oregano, New Mexican ground red Hatch chile powder – you get the drift. I make damn fine guacamole.

So I make a nice big bowl, eager to see what Dude B has to bring. But I had no dog in the fight – I was not desperate for the girl’s attention (I sort of had it anyway more or less by accident), nor did I need validation that my guac rocked. Dude B, on the other hand, really wanted the girl’s attention, really needed validation – and, sadly, made totally pedestrian guacamole.

So, I “won”, without really knowing what I’d won. Dude B was crushed – he was taking this all very seriously, but he felt compelled – he really was a nice guy – to tell me how very much better my guacamole was. As the reality of the situation slowly entered my dull and dense mind, I just felt bad for him. He hadn’t lost a dumb food contest – in his mind, he’d gone a long way toward losing the girl I didn’t really even want! (On a side note, I gotta admit that most any girl worth having would have to prefer the guy who makes the better guacamole, other things being close to equal. There is that.)

Image result for shooting poolSecond, we are going out in a moment on a company team building exercise. It will involve opportunities to bowl and shoot pool, among other teamy things. My knees are not up to much bowling, although I do enjoy it. BUT: back in the day – WAY back in the day, I was pretty good at pool.

At St. John’s, as a freshman I got a dorm room that shared a wall with the Upper Common Room (meaning: not much sleep if there were a party) and upstairs from a pool table. Did I mention I’m a terrible student? One of the ways that manifested was that I spent a lot more time shooting pool than, say, studying Greek. (I was 18 and possibly stupider than most – it got a little better over time.)

So, I started gettin good. In the second semester, somebody put together an 8-ball tournament, singles and doubles. Well, Wes, a sophomore, was the only guy in the school I couldn’t regularly beat, couple other guys were about my level, and everybody else had to get lucky to beat me. So, I lose the singles to Wes – but he got cocky, and got his girlfriend to be his doubles partner.

I recruited a dude for my partner who was a fidgety mess – unless he was stoned. Stoned, he shot pretty good pool.

Well, he showed up for the finals stoned. Wes played brilliantly, and, had he picked a decent partner, would have most likely beat us. But his partner – a lovely young woman, and, you know, OK at pool, wasn’t good enough. It was a pure defensive battle – no leaves. But the girl wasn’t good enough to not leave me and my partner some shots – and, every time she did, we’d just kill ’em.

It was close. Wes was really good, and my partner was really stoned – but we won! The prize was dinner at a local restaurant.

Due to transportation issues, the winners decided to go together. So, Wes, a sophomore, of course takes his girlfriend with his singles champion prize. I end up with a date with a stoner sophomore dude – who had money, back then, to do a dinner date? Not me or him.

It was weird. Food was good, though.

Anyway, I have to go easy on the bowling for my knees’ sake, and I have to go easy on the pool for my ego’s sake, since I’ve hardly shot since – had to go cold turkey or they’d have thrown me out of school eventually. I get rusty fast if I’m not shooting all the time.

Hope your day is going well!



Having an institution named the United Nations does not, in itself, create unity among nations. Whether it does or not is something that can be judged after the fact or, if one is wise in the ways of the world (think: Machiavelli) can be predicted with a high degree of confidence from the  designs and processes it institutes.

Thus, it is perfectly possible to fondly dream of a brotherhood of man and yet, based on some combination of practical political analysis and real-world outcomes, loath the United Nations. Once again, the ends – a united world – is not what is being criticized or defended. Only the means – the UN – is subject to criticism, for example on its track record of delivering a more unified world. Perhaps world unity will never be established by means of a gigantic bureaucracy? Bears thinking about.

Same issue arises with the EU, and, indeed, with all leagues and organizations that have some noble goal as part of their names. Pournelle’s Iron Law  necessarily results in any large bureaucracy becoming its own goal over time – regardless of how much its name suggests some finer goals or tugs on our heartstrings.

Writing, Updates, Quips

Once you lose ‘useful’, all that’s left is ‘idiot’.

The correct heads keep exploding. I could get used to this level of political amusement.

Wish it weren’t so, but I keep running into the means versus ends problem: a large, often sincere, group of people who seem to be experiencing real pain over this, can’t grasp the possibility that one might not be a racist or hate poor people or otherwise wish any harm on anyone and still see enough problems with, say, the ACA and the EPA to want them at the very least serious revised. Instead, mind-reading is performed with an assumed degree of infallibility that would make a Pope blush, and it conclusively presumed to be KNOWN that all opposition to anything proposed by the government that has a name that could be construed to favor a particular end is because EVIL.

This brings to mind a related problem, perhaps a sort of magical reverse  Nominalism is at work here? Rather than thinking that abstract concepts don’t exist, many of the enlightened and their victims seem to think that simply naming something magically brings the concept in the name into being. Sort of like thinking calling a cat a dog makes it a dog.

Thus, if a bill is proposed which simply confiscates and redirects money and resources but is nonetheless named The Fair and Equitable Justice for Poor People Act, one must support it, even or particularly if the actual provisions of the bill lack any logical connection with providing justice to poor people. What? You oppose justice for poor people on the transparently dishonest grounds that the bill doesn’t, in fact. provide justice for poor people? You hater, you!

In the minds of many, the Affordable Care Act IS affordable care. It is not just a law, slapped together by political operatives, named by committee, and rammed through Congress with panicky alacrity,(1)  which can be analyzed and rejected *on the merits of what is actually being enacted* – nope, it IS what its name claims it will achieve. Like the People’s Republic of North Korea is a republic for the people.

Similarly, just because the Environmental Protection Agency’s name suggests that it protects the environment doesn’t mean that’s what it really does any more than the Committee for Public Safety actually promoted the safety of French people. Rather than look to its name, might reasonable people look to it actually does in practice?

Right after the ACA passed, our company had its annual meeting with the benefits company we work with. The woman who did the presentation on health care was still trying to figure out how the law was going to work, but did let slip that while many new benefits had been proposed, so far no mechanism to control underlying costs had come to light. In the years after, she just never mentioned that again and instead stuck to promoting the best options available to a small company like ours – probably, I would suppose, pointing out the truth, a truth painfully obvious now as premiums keep going up, did not get a sympathetic or even rational reception from the enlightened souls here in the Bay Area. She might have scars from daring to mention it.

Patent medicines all had charming names that made it sound like they were good for you! Even the ones that killed people.

Writing: have been attending meeting where, for long stretches, my participation and even attention are not required. Have taken to jotting down characters and relationships and incidents for The Novel That Shall Not Be Named. Things have picked up.

Been trying to make sure I get in at least an hour of writing on TNTSNBN a day. So far in 2017, I probably averaging that, but it’s been far more lumpy. How does one learn self discipline in one’s 6th decade of life? Any tips?

Upshot: while the 1st draft word count has only risen to 3600, the outline of plot points and family tress and notes on space travel science and such have grown a lot. I can see the shape of the whole now. Most important, I have come more to grips with reality: it’s just a story, make it as engaging as possible, follow the template, and get it done. I am sure I’m not alone among amateurs in occasionally getting paralyzed by the idea that I’m writing something GREAT and therefore it must be GREAT at every moment. I think this stems partly from the fear that I’ll never write anything else so I must pour my whole heart into this one thing. Instead, if I think of it as any one of the dozens of home improvement project I’ve done, where you do the best you can with what’s at hand but get it done – well, then I can get it done.

Anyway, the writing is fun at the moment. Don’t know when I’ll next have something to throw up on this blog, and really don’t know when I’ll start recruiting 1st readers and then (gulp!) an editor. But let’s shoot for draft 1 complete this year!

  1. That the movie Lincoln came out shortly after the bill was passed  I would normally dismiss as a mere coincidence, but given the insane relationship between Hollywood and DC, it at least bears contemplation how timely that movie was. Lincoln shows a political icon and martyr stooping to the most egregious manipulation and intimidating to get his law passed, all the while maintaining plausible deniability, and using mealy-mouthed, emotionally charged stories to defend his actions. This is the way its done, so we should applaud how the ACA was passed, not look too closely at the details, nor judge those involved in getting it passed.


Aunt Verna, Rest in Peace

Verna Ann Lander and the first 5 of her 6 kids. Phone pic of framed photo – glare unavoidable

The rosary and funeral Mass for my aunt, Verna Ann Lander, (1) was held today at the church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (St. Mary’s) in Visalia, California, on what would have been her 93rd birthday.

When I was a kid, Aunt Verna and her kids lived in Hollywood on the tail end of Mulholland Drive (the part that overlooks the 101 Freeway, not the ritzy part where all the profound political thinkers with day gigs as actors live) next door to my Aunt Bea and Uncle Art and their passel of kids. They had a large lot with 3 houses on it. We and our passel of kids lived 20 miles away in Whittier, and so we all routinely got together at their place. Lots more room than at out tract home.

Aunt Verna’s kids were all older than me, while Aunt Bea’s two youngest sons were near my age and so, as a little kid I didn’t really get to know Verna or her kids very well since I hung our with Butch and Ricky – oops, I mean Arthur and Richard – mostly (and I’m bad with names and faces and even then already lived inside my own head).


A friend drew this portrait of Verna. What a beauty! 

Today found out a lot of fascinating stuff. A couple of the parish groups, the Rosary Guild being one, had planned a tea for her birthday, as she was a fixture at the parish – it turned into the gathering after the Mass. It was very nice, and got to talk to family and view pictures they pulled together for the occasion. (The pictures here were all taken with my phone of the pictures there – that explains the glare and skew.)

During WWII, a very young Aunt Verna worked as Rosie the Riveter, putting in the firewalls between the cockpits and the rest of the plane on B-17s, and some parts on the top of other planes. They had a model and pictures of some of the planes she’d worked on – see above.

Later, she got involved in computers, starting in the punch-card era and working her way up as the tech advanced. Sharp lady.

Verna, right, with her more demonstrative older sister Bea. 

But what everybody remembers is how sweet and kind she was – that was certainly the impression of her I had as a kid. Just a great lady. May flights of angels sing her to her rest!

  1. I’d bet it’s something like Veronika Anna on her birth certificate, but maybe the ancestors had already gotten into anglicizing Czech names by 1924?

The Lighter Side of Hard(ish) Truths

Mellows getting harshed right and left today. Well, OK, left, mostly. Seems that dizzying sense that the world is just not as one imagines it is a new sensation to some folks. Are my values, my dreams, my feelings not shared by all good people? Am I not on the Right Side of History? Could I be Wrong? (1) I’m here today to say: it’s worse than that. In no particular order:

  • Organic food is a luxury item, like driving a Porsche. Organic food isn’t better for you. In the lab, it’s indistinguishable from other commercially produced foods. More often than not, pesticides cannot be detected in either case, and, when they can, they’re found as often on the organic stuff as any other food. You may like the taste of organic food (I sometimes do) but that’s no better than somebody spending the money to drive a fancy sportscar – because, face it, they are more fun to drive and let everybody see how cool you are.
  • Further, growing organic food requires up to 5 times as much land and other resources, since pesticides and fertilizers allow much more food per acre to be grown. So – you really want to either a) put vastly more land into production (you know, plow prairies and cut down forests and jungles) or b) kill off a large number of people?
  • Probiotics is a fraud. Not a drop of evidence they do anything for you.
  • If you’re miserable, it’s not because your chakras need adjusting. That it also a fraud. Reiki isn’t going to help – fraud. Acupuncture – placebo. And so on and so forth.
  • Your misery is also not the result of giant mystical forces. History doesn’t have a side.
  • Life is never fair. If you have a computer and are reading this, you are among the .01%, blessed beyond the imaginings of 99% of all people who have ever lived.
  • Electric & hybrid vehicles are also a fraud. If you bought a used Hummer and drove it into the ground, you’d be using fewer resources than if you bought a new Prius or Tesla – because the Hummer is already built, so there’s no factory, no mining (especially no mining of the rare earth metals used in all that ‘green’ crap), no manufacturing overhead – you’re just burning gas. But the Prius and Tesla need to get built and sold, which, in addition to involving factories and resource consumption directly,  would not happen at all if it weren’t for all the economic activity being taxed to subsidize their creation – activities that generate waste and consume resources.  So, while the production and operation of an electric or hybrid car might – *might* – consume less energy and fewer resources than the production and operation of a similar traditional car, it can’t compete with just buying a used car, where the production costs are all sunk already.  Which can’t compete with taking the bus. Or riding a bike. Or walking.
  • There’s a reason why the purveyors of all the above things and services can be found predominantly in Progressive strongholds like Berkeley, San Francisco,  and Boston – that’s where the gullible rubes that buy this crap live in the highest concentrations.

Have a nice day!

  1. OK, just kidding – that’s a bit too far – right and wrong are such a primitive concepts, far beneath the ken of those of high and lonely destinies.