Let Me ‘Splain…

No, it is too much. Let me sum up:

Let me explain (With images) | Princess bride quotes ...

I’m an amateur, not going to lie. But I do have a few what seem to me obvious generalizations about history, things you can’t not notice once you’ve noticed them:

The default state for us humans is something like a tribe. We will fall back into this state unless diligent effort is made to prevent it.

For today’s discussion this means: we see tribal membership as primary to survival, for the simple reason that, during the last few million years of evolution, it was. No lone man was likely to long survive, and, if he remained a lone man, he didn’t leave many offspring. You want to play the natural selection game? Better stick with the group , where breeding opportunities exist and children have a decent shot at surviving, too.

Tribes have leaders. While it is nice to imagine small tribes working things out democratically, the reality is that tribal peoples are (despite the endless propaganda to the contrary) typically very violent. The Mauri, the Yanomami, The Iroquois – sure, they may have plenty of redeeming qualities, but you want to see cultures where they would just as soon kill you as say hello? So, in such a setting:

Tribal leaders tend to act like Mafia leaders. When the Roman Republic fell, to take one example, they had a centuries old culture of trying to work things out, and had largely avoided internal political violence for a couple centuries. (Three long wars with Carthage also put internal issues on the back burner.) When it finally fell, leaders in the Senate had Tiberius Gracchi, who threatened their power, clubbed to death along with 300 of his followers – first significant political violence in a couple centuries.

It quickly went to hell. The resulting regimes looked a lot like a mafia sans the titles: Caesars were the people who the muscle would follow; turf wars/civil wars – tomato/tomahto; as far as they could manage it, everybody paid their protection money, and nobody got to do any business without clearing it with the local rep – who got a cut. Etc.

Even in Republican times, life in the Roman countryside (where 90% of the people lived) looked like this: a patriarch had his estate(s), everyone who did anything at all on his turf had to come pay him honor. You would regularly show up to share a graciously-provided meal at the patriarch’s estate, or people would check on why you didn’t. If you ran a business, it was because he let you run a business – and he took a cut. Fail to comply, and people do stuff.

A key feature: all the other clients are desperate for you to go along. To them, the local patrician *is* the government – he’s police, he’s the judge, he’s the one who settles disputes. If he were to murder you, a commoner, there’s no one around to do anything about it. And just like mafia dons, when things are going according to plan, you’re not whacking anybody. The sheep are therefore invested in not rocking the boat. You can play the ‘somebody has to maintain order around here’ card – you’re not exploiting people, you’re *protecting* them!

The transition from lawful government to mafia just isn’t much of a transition. You may have noticed that mafias do a lot of the stuff that governments do: collect taxes, enforce behaviors, ‘regulate’ businesses, ‘police’ their turf. It has long been said that, when the mob more overtly controlled Vegas, crime was all but non-existent there. There was no trial or warrants or any of that nonsense – you do crime on there turf, and there’s a few thousand square miles of god-forsaken desert nearby in which a body can be dumped and will quickly disappear.

Aaaand – that’s the way the tourists liked it! Sure, mom, dad, and the kids from Des Moines were not thinking about how Vegas was so safe – but they counted on it. I’ve heard – not going to research it – there’s more crime now that the mob runs things at arm’s length. All that law and order stuff getting in way of just, you know, solving the problem.

Did you all see the Daniel Day-Lewis movie Lincoln? * It is of course hagiography with a subtle message: Lincoln is shown early telling a story about when he was a lawyer, helping a (very sympathetic) murderer escape. Ignoring the law and his duty as a lawyer to uphold it, he does the ‘right thing’. Later, he tells his henchmen to do whatever needs doing to get the 13th Amendment passed, but don’t tell him about it – plausible deniability, you know. The film follows his team as they cut dubious deal, threaten, bribe, and bully enough votes to get it through.

The movie most definitely does not invite us to spare a thought about how Lincoln was behaving indistinguishably from a mafia don. Instead, we are to simply wipe a sympathetic tear from our eye and nod in agreement with the idea that our Greatest President ™ can ignore the law if he really, really needs to, to do the right thing. What, you want the poor beaten wife to get hanged for killing her abuser? You don’t want the slaves freed? All because of a pedantic belief that public officials should obey the law? YOU MONSTER!

Some of my beloved readers, in a perfectly understandable reaction, may think from my last post that I’m claiming Vinny the Neck has got his feet up on the desk in the Oval Office. Nope, nope, nope! Rather, what I think is that, after the manner of Lincoln as portrayed in the movie above, stuff needed to get done for all sorts of really really good reasons, way bigger reasons than obeying the letter of the law, and so people say things, people do things, and stuff happens. THEN: we reach a state of MAD: if I go down, you go down. Did Lincoln specifically tell thugs to go crack some heads? Did he buy the murderer a ticket out of town? NO! He merely stated his earnest desires – ‘will no on ride me of this meddlesome priest?’ style – and left it up to his underlings to get it done.

To conclude, this is why I don’t think it requires anything like a literal conspiracy for the election to have been stolen. There wasn’t a Democratic official anywhere in America who didn’t know that the Evil Orange Man needed to be defeated no matter what. They’re not waiting around for explicit instructions, which were never going to happen. Instead, they are seeing the same thing on the news we were seeing: Trump ‘inexplicably’ ahead in 5 states they needed. Nobody needed to order the locals to do something about it – they could figure that out on their own. And they’re unlikely to ever discuss it, before or after. What would Vinny the Neck want them to do? Are they getting a nod and wink next time they see him, or a frown of doom?

Hopes this helps.

* That it came out while O was running for a second term makes me laugh.

Stealing Elections: Unheard Of?

I’m beginning to agree with those who think American Exceptionalism is deplorable, but, as usual in our Orwell topsy-turvy land, it’s another case of Goebbels’s rule: always accuse your enemies of what you’re doing. For some people seem to really believe that, unlike every other country that’s tried Democracy of any sort for any length of time in history, our fair land is immune to the obvious temptation for any who’ve gained power through democratic means: use that power to make sure you never get unelected, and to get your buddies elected.

In this respect, America is not exceptional. Our fine leaders are every bit as likely to see free, open elections not as a sacred blessing to be preserved and defended, but as a problem to be solved, as any number of the other illustrious leaders of democracies history puts before us.

Let’s take one example, one of many, one I’ve mentioned before: Fred Roti. Born in 1920, Roti was the son of a Chicago grocery store owner, one of 11 children. Roti began his public service career in road repair, shoveling asphalt, and went on to serve as a machine gunner on a boat in France in WWII. In 1950, Roti, in the words of the Oracle Wikipedia, “was tapped by the Democratic Party organization to run for Illinois state senator from the 1st District.” He won, and served until redistricting broke up his district in 1956.

Going back to his public service roots, he then took a job as a drain inspector, while staying active in Democratic politics as a precinct captain. In 1968, he was again “tapped” by the Democratic Party to run for Chicago Alderman. He won handily, and won reelection handily until he left office in 1993. Over his 25 years in office, he was well known for helping others get their start in government work and elected office.

So, another heart-warming American success story? A few other details: Fred’s father was Bruno “The Bomber” Roti, a capo under Al Capone and a Mafia hitman. That grocery store where he was born was a few blocks down the street from Capone’s headquarters. Bruno managed to get all 11 of his children jobs in government. Fred, the youngest and the runt of the litter, rose to the most prominence.

Fred’s side interests were very profitable. He was estimated to be one of the richest men in America in the 1970s, despite having held only a number of what one would assume were full-time government jobs. He used his wealth and influence to become a major player, although a low-profile one, in state and national Democratic politics. He was a close friend, at least (FBI said: made man), of the Chicago Outfit, a mafia gang that controls much business in the Midwest, with fingers in pies from Florida to California, to this day.

Fred was known as a ‘fixer’ – if you got in trouble with the law, Roti could fix it for you. He managed this via continuing a long-standing Chicago tradition of having police chiefs and judges vetted by the Mob; e.g., “Roti was instrumental in the appointment of William Hanhardt as Chief of Detectives of the Chicago Police Department. Hanhardt was the Chicago Outfit’s main plant, was convicted in 2001 of masterminding multi-million-dollar jewelry thefts, and served 10 years in prison.” (Wikipedia, again. Being a bit lazy this morning.) A good fixer also has his people in the state law enforcement and the FBI. Roti certainly did.

Roti worked closely with Richard Daly and other Chicago mayors. Whenever an important vote came up in city council, all the other aldermen would – out of deep respect, no doubt – let Roti vote first. Then, they would all vote whichever way he did.

Roti won reelection all but unopposed all those years. Would you want to campaign in the first district, put your face and name on campaign signs to run against a guy whose daddy and friends killed people for a living, knowing that, if you were wronged, you would need to go through the police whose leadership Roti controlled, then before judges Roti got appointed? Once this level of power is obtained, you no longer need to do anything so crass as throw ballot boxes in the river or have dead people vote. You win by default.

So, when the FBI finally caught up with Roti, and managed, Al Capone style, to get him on some comparatively minor charges, there was a great purge of all his appointees and associates from all Chicago, state, and national positions of power as good American citizens were horrified that all these people were not already in jail.

Ha ha ha. I slay me. Nope, Roti took a bullet for the team. No one else was convicted, no one else lost their job, all those people he had helped get government jobs and elected office kept right on running things.

They still do.

The national Democratic party paid no price for having had a mafia don in their inner circle for decades. In fact, the team Roti put in place and their protégés got to “tap” a Presidential candidate only 14 years after Fred went to jail. Yes, sports fans, these are the people who discovered and nurtured Barack Obama’s career, grooming him for high office. These are the people on the Lightbringer’s team.

These are the people who ran the country for 8 years.

You may have noticed nothing much happened during the Barry’s reign, except the attempt to place 1/6th of the economy – medical care – under the mob’s indirect management. Gotta get your skim. But that’s because the true work was more subtle: Barack – well, his team, he was an absolute figurehead – got to be “fixers” on a national level. Instead of vetting chief inspectors and local judges, they got to vet FBI directors and Supreme Court justices.

For 8 years.

This is why I always told people that claims that Trump wasn’t moving fast enough misunderstood the situation: he had to replace enough of Obama’s team’s people at the FBI, regulatory agencies, military, judges, and so on and on – you couldn’t get to be federal equivalent of dog catcher unless O’s team knew they could control you.

Now with complete control of the FBI, the Chicago team could use it to research and intimidate anybody who had somehow gotten into office without their approval. If they fail to squash some investigation they didn’t like, they can make sure cases against their people get put before their judges. A Flynn, for one example, must be crushed – as the Dread Pirate Robert says: “Once word leaks out that a pirate has gone soft, people begin to disobey you and then it’s nothing but workworkwork, all the time.” 

Almost as an afterthought: You want to run a news organization, or even work as a reporter? These same mechanisms are in place. You want to do that devastating expose against people who know how your kids get to school? So, effectively, cutting out the middle men, our press has been vetted by the mob. (Note: this does not mean the press isn’t also a nest of Marxists and their useful idiots. The two are hardly mutually exclusive, as history amply shows.)

This is what Trump was up against, and why they were terrified of him and hated him. That’s why they’re loosing their sh*t right now. Chips are being called in, people are being reminded of certain dirt they’d rather not have see the light of day. Anything but complete compliance means your career, and possibly life, are over. It’s frankly a miracle anyone in office is still standing with the President.

Of course, Roti was just a piece in a bigger story. Crime makes what at first might look like strange bedfellows. Marxists and mobsters agree: the police should be defunded. Unions and mobsters agree: businesses need to be brought under out control. Critical Theorists and mobsters agree: right and wrong are all a matter of how you look at it.

For our purposes here, we should note that mobsters fall under C.S. Lewis’s general rule: they just want money and power, and so are willing to let people alone at least some of the time. Therefore, they are not the ultimate threat here. It’s the people who believe that they, in their state of glorious enlightenment, need to fix (or destroy) any who don’t get with their program that will get us killed. Sooner, I mean.

On the plus side, when push comes to shove in the inevitable power struggle and purge, my money is on the mob. In America, at least, that seems more likely.

William Thompson won election as Chicago’s mayor in 1927, the last non-Democrat to hold the office. He had very good relations with Capone. Once he was gone, the Chicago Democratic Party refined its controls of elections, such that no non-Democrat has stood a snowball’s chance of getting elected ever since. Consider: Chicago has –

  • The highest paid teachers in America – AND the worst schools
  • An extensive set of Progressive social programs – AND endemic areas of poverty and despair
  • Some of the tightest gun control in the nation – AND an appalling amount of gun violence

BUT – for 90 years, no one has ever successfully been able to mount any alternative. Nope, the good people of Chicago just keep electing the same old people to keep doing the same old stuff. Chicago must be a paradise. Guess they’re just the most politically contented people on earth.

Boston, Philly, New York, LA, San Francisco, etc. – similar story: demonstrably terrible local governments that, somehow, keep getting reelected, year after year, almost always all but unopposed. At first, as a baby step, you might have to do stuff in actual elections – Roti was a precinct captain, after all – but, once you’ve got it refined, actual outside challenges are simply not allowed to happen.

So, in this light, is stealing a national election some sort of unheard-of crazy conspiracy theory? Or just the next logical step?

It will be interesting to see how this turns out. Just too bad my family and I – and you and yours – get to live through it.

A Possibly Relevant Autobiographical Note

In general, brave people are simple souls. Not stupid, by any means, but simple. Such people will face up to outrageous evil because they cannot imagine doing otherwise. Many great saints suffered outrageous martyrdoms because they simply couldn’t be made to say what they knew was untrue.

With my back against a golden throne, I fought once again for Dejah Thoris.

A somewhat secular example is Captain Carter in Princess of Mars. He says himself several times in the course of the story that he took heroic action because he simply could not imagine doing otherwise. And that’s the trick – in saner times, honorable people saw it as their duty to raise up such people from the cradle, because that sort of simple heroism is what is needed to be honorable in everyday life, let alone at times of crisis.

And it is the right thing to do.

I am not that guy. At my roots lives a deep well of fear. From whence it comes, I can only speculate. It is not attached to anything I can confidently identify. Just as I cannot explain how it could be that I’m not an alcoholic – if I were, no one would be surprised, given my personality and weakness – I cannot explain why I do not spend my days rolled into a ball whimpering in the corner. God knows there are many days I would like to.

So, how comes it that I find myself, trembling, at least trying to stand up for the truth? Growing up, as we all have, amongst the People of the Lie, truth may appear a fragile thing, easily beaten down and ignored. Certainly, the idea that truth is a lion, that you just need to set it free and it will take care of itself, is not something one can often see over the number of years one is given to live. Defending truth, in other words, is generally expensive and fruitless, at least in the short run.

I would like to hear your stories of how you came to care about the truth, Dear Readers, if you care to share. If you put truth above tribe, you are a rare bird.

For me, the answer is 3-fold:

  1. I have always been an outcast, and usually didn’t care. I never remember once obsessing over being a part of some group or other. In fact, I’ve never quite understood the desperate energy with which so many people strive to be part of the Kool Kids Klub, the Inner Circle.
  2. I think the appeal of science, which I began reading compulsively at age 9 (in the form of Time/Life books, tbh, so not *that* precocious), was at least partly in that it provided some level of certainty, truth on some level. As I got older and realized science could not address any of the really important questions, I started reading philosophy.
  3. When, in 5th grade, I made a fool of myself trying to straighten out our poor teacher on some minor point of astronomy, and found nothing by eyerolls and exasperation, I tuned out. These people, least of all the teacher, didn’t WANT TO KNOW. This was a profound realization, even if, at the time, I was not at all clear about it. What I was clear about: school was going to get the absolute minimum effort needed from me to get by.

So, more or less accidentally, I was immunized against caring what the school thought of me. 5th grade was also the only time I ever won the ‘merit pin’, given to the student with the best GPA. Found out that didn’t make me any friends or get me anything positive, either. So, from then on, the head-patting and gold stars and brownie points meant nothing to me.

But none of this makes me brave. I still avoid conflict, and tremble inside when forced to speak out against evil. I’m trying to overcome the fear, and am greatly encouraged by the example of my wife and children, who are brave in the way described above.

In a 10 days, the annual Walk for Life takes place in San Francisco. There is, of course, no rally, probably no mass, but people are planning to walk, my wife and children among them. I tremble, but I will go. Then, the 40 Days for Life starts up over Lent in February.

Word is the SF police are aware and will maintain order for the Walk. Over the 40 days, police in one local city have clearly been told to stand down, so that the harassment, screaming of obscenities’ and physical threats are allowed against the people praying. Our city so far has been better, but who knows? This is where the rubber hits the road. I’m terrified. I need to stand up anyway.

We all need to pray for each other.

Updated Writing Update

A week ago, before the dawn of the Crazy Years and all his pomps and vanities, I posted an update wherein I recounted the gripping tale of having spent 20 hours going through all the fiction I’d written over the last roughly 5 years, finding, formatting, and organizing it. It’s now all tidy. Got everything in OpenDocs on my slightly more secure laptop and on a 2T backup drive.

Yay me.

In the past week, I have gotten more fiction written than in the previous year, for a gain of maybe 4-5K words net, with some fairly extensive rewrites.

I also grabbed some files for the education research projects I go on about here, but have not gone through them. Huge number of notes, drafts, and sources. I think I have more stuff on GoogleDocs, I need to do a thorough search. The amount of work needed to get all THAT stuff organized will be in the same ballpark as the fiction. Sigh.

The goal is to have everything organized, not in GoogleDocs, in a more or less consistent format, with local backup. So far, so good. Not to be a drama queen, but I want to be able to go full samizdat in the unlikely event that becomes necessary. I don’t want anymore stuff out there where our tech lizard overlords can look at them.

The big question: how soon and how well will our new Winston Smiths do their jobs? I often do download and format* the old books I find on the web – the internet is really cool, sometimes – but mostly I just have links. Part of me is going: oh, come on! Nobody is going to take down all that old boring, stuffy stuff with single-digit downloads, of interest to only the geekiest of geeks! But – could some pensive child, in an excess of zeal and caution, cause the Internet Achieves to cease to be? Or, like Herod, decide everything that might someday be a threat needs to die now?

But that is for another day.

Finished one old short story, about 5,000 words, and just have the denouement (if that idea even applies to a short story) to put in on another of about 8,000. Somehow, the first two I choose to finish are both about guys pining after their gals, more or less – in space! Alas, in neither does anything much blow up good. Spaceships and robots do get smashed – that’s got to count for something, right?

On the novel front: Yikes. On the one, got a ream of references, notes, outlines, characters names and arcs, and descriptions of planets, ships, and so on. But, reviewing this stuff, noticed what I don’t have is any clear outline. What I do have is more or less vague ideas for a story that might take place over 3-4 books, describing the goings-on on a generational starship and the planets the colonists settle. I’m torn between looking stuff up to get the science more or less plausible, and just ladling on the handwavium. The Heinlein vs. Bradbury approach. How does it work? Very well, thank you.

Ex: What’s important for the story is that the ship works, that it can get a 100,00 colonists to strange new worlds to colonize within a couple centuries. How it does so just needs not to take one out of the story. Buuuut: the design of the ship does figure into the story. A lightsail or magsail is appealing, but isn’t plausible for the kind of acceleration needed; having orbital lasers push it is kinda a fun idea – but also doesn’t work in the story for reasons. So I started with the sort of not-quite plausible set up used on the Sparrow – an asteroid hollowed out as a ship, that consumes itself in some sort of fancy ion drive.

Nuclear Salt Water Engine. Like the 50s vibe to this illustration.

Handwavium. But then, read up on nuclear salt-water rockets (NSWR), which I had somehow not heard of before. Very cool, and produce the level of thrust to at least within an order of magnitude or two that one would need to get up to the significant percentage of light speed – which is what you need. So: what I’ve done so far is create a sort of hybrid ship, a nickel-iron cigar a couple kilometers long, with nuclear reactors being used to ionize and accelerate the asteroid itself as fuel. But for near sun work and help braking when they get where they’re going, add a lightsail and maybe a magsail as well. Do I work NSWR drive into the story? So that I and the 1% of potential readers who might appreciate a little plausibility are a little more happy?

If so, this morning after a cup of coffee, I’d probably stick with the hybrid idea: inside the hollowed out ship are nuclear reactors, a million tons of water, tons of salts of enriched uranium and plutonium. Maybe they unfurl the solar sail and mag sail (one or the other? Do more research and decide? AHHHH!!!) while still in the inner system, then, once they have slowly spiraled their way out a bit, fire up the NSWR drive….

And, there you go: HOURS will be spent getting this right – and it doesn’t actually matter to the basis of the story. BUT IT’S COOL!!! Multiply this by some factor for other tech and science I don’t understand (I’m Rocket Maaaan!!) and, um, I could be tied up for a while. Meanwhile, the actual plot is laughable. Stuff happen. In space. To loveable and hateable characters. I think. Probably better figure it out pretty soon.

Anyway, something I didn’t expect: as the political scene spirals deeper into 1984-land to the applause of the bleating sheep, I find writing a great distraction and comfort. When the world gets to be too much, I can retreat (with an inner chuckle) to a world where a hapless engineer finds himself hanging from a wire a thousand meters above a canyon floor on an ice moon named Flee orbiting a gas giant called Tough Nut, because it seemed like a good idea to this woman art critic, who is falling for him but he’s clueless, as a means to help him get his music degree while rubbing the noses of some pompous artists in their own stupidity. Or a world where a beloved mother of 10, who happens to command an army of drones and bots called spiders helping to construct a spaceship, is hiding a dark secret with a deadline. Or where a fat man in his underwear, who happens to be heir to an empire, is exiled by the queen mother to a planet completely covered in a single life-form that tastes like mashed potatoes, and is awaiting his next shipment of butter.

You know, the usual.

To stay sane and not hate anyone, I try to keep in mind the helpful image of sheep without a shepherd. That’s us, me as much as them. I may have a clue or 2, but, still, I’m a dumb sheep like everybody else. Castigating people who have been terrified by their false shepherds for not thinking things through is like blaming panicked sheep for running the flock off a cliff. It’s horrible, but they are (mostly) not to blame. Those false shepherds have a millstone or two in their furfures, however. If they’re lucky to get off that easy.

The thoughts of many hearts are being revealed these days.

“And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary his mother: Behold this child is set for the fall, and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted; 35And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that, out of many hearts, thoughts may be revealed.” Luke 2:34-35

Holy Mother of Mercy, pray for us! Heavenly Father, remember your promise of mercy. For Your Name’s sake, for the glory of your Son, in the Power of Your Spirit, have mercy on us!

* I’ve grabbed key old books that have been scanned into electronic form from some library copy with all sorts of marks, smudges, and stamps on the pages, not mention hard line returns. They are messes. In very bad cases, I will have the pdf and the OCR versions open side by side, in order to better verify my guesses at the text. While trying to read them, I will often start correcting & formatting as I go, because the messiness drives me crazy. This only doubles, at least, the amount of time it takes me to read these books. Obsessive much? Me?

On Protecting Your Emotional & Spiritual Health

Clarissa, a college professor who is immersed in but not of the current academic tribe, is always good to read. She grew up in Eastern Europe and has broad experience of the world, and so her takes on America are priceless. Here is some good advice, from someone whose extensive experience under repressive regimes puts her in a good position to know:

When an aggressive psy-op is being conducted against you, you’ve got to protect yourself. Take measures. I’ve seen people turn into a cowering mess. It’s very sad.

Rule #1: curate your sources of information extremely carefully. Look at the lengths we go to in order to protect our bodies from a virus. We need to do the same to protect our minds.

Rule #2: the philosophy of “I’m such a special cookie” will be your downfall. It’s precisely the people who believe they are too smart to be manipulated who succumb the most easily. I have developed a narrative of “I’m extremely sensitive and impressionable, so I’m high-risk.” It helps you still feel very special yet protect yourself from the onslaught.

Rule #3: dedicate 2-3 days a week to a complete news and media blackout.

I succumbed to the corona-panic back in March, folks. I’m a hypochondriac and an OCD neurotic with a history of late-term pregnancy loss. It could have ended badly. But I used these strategies, blacked out the media, avoided FB, and saved my sanity.

Currently, the second part of this psy-op is being unleashed. So please, stay vigilant, and curate, curate, curate.

On a spiritual level, these are also good first steps. We don’t need to let ourselves get hammered over the head with the glee and flexes of our self-appointed betters. Living well is not just the best revenge, but is also the first steps to recovery. Don’t feed the black dog.

I’m reminded of two passages from C.S. Lewis, another college professor who was immersed in but not of his academic tribe. In That Hideous Strength, Jane, Lewis’s stand in for the relatively harmless modern enlightened and therefore clueless people, visits Dr. and Mrs. Dimble, old friends from her student days. Their home is reminiscent of Tolkien’s Cottage of Lost Play or even the Last Homely House – except the magic is wholesome normalcy:

Cecil Dimble, a Fellow of Northumberland, had been Jane’s tutor for her last year as a student and Mrs. Dimble (one tended to call her Mother Dimble) had been a kind of unofficial aunt to all the girls of her year. A liking for the female pupils of one’s husband is not, perhaps, so common as might be wished among dons’ wives; but Mrs. Dimble appeared to like all Dr. Dimble’s pupils of both sexes and the Dimbles’ house, away on the far side of the river, was a kind of noisy salon all the term. She had been particularly fond of Jane with that kind of affection which a humorous, easy natured and childless woman sometimes feels for a girl whom she thinks pretty and rather absurd. For the last year or so Jane had been somewhat losing sight of the Dimbles and felt rather guilty about it. She accepted the invitation to lunch.

The Dimbles, childless but with a house full of ‘children’ as it were, have a garden famous among those children; the N.I.C.E. is planning to bulldoze it along with their house. An echo of Adam and Eve in Eden, certainly, but with the added New Testament touch of having no natural offspring, but plenty of adopted children, as it were. (I could write a long essay just about this scene – better stop now.)

Normal, happy people and their stuff must get bulldozed by the progressive people – they offend and terrify them. For good reason. For our parts, we should try to be those normal, happy people. And plant spectacular gardens according to our skills and gifts. If it get bulldozed, plant another.

And from Perelandra, the Lady has been listening to the Un-Man as Ransom watches helplessly:

But the Lady did not appear to be listening to him. She stood like one almost dazed with the richness of a day-dream. She did not look in the least like a woman who is thinking about a new dress. The expression of her face was noble. It was a great deal too noble. Greatness, tragedy, high sentiment — these were obviously what occupied her thoughts. Ransom perceived that the affair of the robes and the mirror had been only superficially concerned with what is commonly called female vanity. The image of her beautiful body had been offered to her only as a means to awake the far more perilous image of her great Soul. The external and, as it were, dramatic conception of the self was the enemy’s true aim. He was making her mind a theatre in which that phantom self should hold the stage. He had already written the play.

Our play has likewise already been written, and from the same source. Sadly, we are not unfallen Adams and Eves, but rather fatally crippled souls in need of salvation. So, when we are tempted to see ourselves as noble, heroic, great souls, we grab is with no hesitation. I’m not going to look it up – curate! – but we all remember that speech delivered to SS people, explaining how only truly far-sighted and heroic people could bring themselves to kill all Jews, even the nice ones they had been friends with. Men can make themselves do unspeakable evil when the story they tell themselves is how tragically heroic they are.

And everybody today is repeating the same story.

I suppose I’m required to end with one more Lewis quotation:

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology (Making of Modern Theology)

A clear conscience is only necessary for the useful idiots. A nihilist conscience is a contradiction in terms.

I like Mr. Bultitude, nature in its natural relationship with Man, wiping out lots of evil. One can hope.

The Unknown Unknowns

“For neither good nor evil can last for ever; and so it follows that as evil has lasted a long time, good must now be close at hand.”
― Cervantes, Don Quixote

First, those front row kids? This is their finest hour. This is their payoff. All those years, sitting right up front, hanging on the teacher’s every word, doing exactly as told, regurgitating everything right on cue, never having been troubled by a single independent thought they didn’t promptly hunt down and kill, they are now sure that they, the most intelligent, most enlightened, most *moral* generation the onward march of Progress has ever produced, are helping put those evil, stupid back row kids in their places!

There’s another participation trophy in it for them, after all. Those people whose sense of self are formed by family, faith, community, who appreciate a pat on the back, but don’t need anyone to tell them they’ve done something worthwhile, who live in no fear of the disapproval of the authorities who approval they never wanted – they are sure getting theirs, oh boy! How dare we highlight their empty lives by, you know, acting like grownups and getting on with it. How dare we!

On a more generous note, these poor souls, abandoned by the parents, churches, and communities that should have helped give them an appropriate sense of worth, deprived of any chance to own either their own success or their own failure, getting their only sense of achievement, only sense of belonging, hell, only sense of family they ever got at school, desperately toeing the line, doing as told, fitting in – or else! face a yawning abyss where those of us who have roots and a sense of independent yet interdependent self have a soul. They despise those who reject and mock their world. This is their moment. Their sorry, pathetic moment. May God have mercy on us all.

Aristotle anticipated the whole history-doomed to repeat it thing in the simple statement: Anything that has happened is possible. All sorts of stuff might happen. Some predictable, some not so much; some good, some bad, some neutral; some the true nature of which is not evident for some time, and not evident to all people. Some unknowns out of left field, things that might makes things turn out in, let us say, unanticipated ways. So let’s indulge in wild speculation. More than usual, I mean.

  1. China falls. Way overdue. While a whole boatload of the leadership and their lackies deserve just about anything they might get, I wouldn’t wish a front-row seat to this on anyone. The act refuses to stay on stage. (I indulged in some fiction on this, just to blow off some stream)
  2. With the chaos that would result, a whole lot of fine American patriots (*cough*) would find their loyalties and funding up in the air. Uncertainty of this kind tends to result in some mix of over caution and insane overreaction.
  3. The infighting and purges get out of control before the pacification is sufficiently complete. Our new reptilian overlords then get too busy whacking each other to properly monitor the rest of us, and stuff happens.
  4. This one cracks me up: our new politburo screw up so bad that even the rabbits can’t swallow it. Never mind – ain’t happening. See: When Prophecy Fails (point #4) Holding onto ‘disconfirmed’ beliefs is hard on one’s own, but get a support group together, and – Bam! – people will believe anything, as long as all their buddies believe it.
  5. Some else happens. My money, if I had to be, would be on this.

Technology is different. In Don Quixote, Cervantes laments the introduction of firearms into warfare has made it so any coward can kill a brave man. This, from a man wounded at the Battle of Lepanto. We can hardly imagine how ugly was the close in fighting, even hand to hand, that the battle devolved into as the ships rammed each other and got entangled. Cervantes was a manly man to show up for that fight.

His disgust with those who can kill without themselves facing death would have been off the charts today. It’s only gotten worse since, in the sense that anyone who can work a joystick is now more deadly than Atilla.

MSNBC Remember this? Now, even if the claims of the Yemenis are just propaganda, and all those people were in fact terrorists, the point remains: a man who has probably never been in real physical danger in his life can order the deaths of men 10,000 miles away at no risk. And the tech has only gotten better.

MAY 22, 2013 / 6:21 PM / CBS/AP Again, all these men were enemies and deserved to die, we are assured. But, again – how brave do you have to be to kill them?

The H-Man’s thugs had to at least round up and shoot his enemies and competitors. We’ve moved beyond such primitive lack of intermediation. Our Lightbringer was able to watch people die from the comfort of his home. Our front row kids, who are, need I remind you, the most *moral* people ever, are unencumbered by primitive notions such as honor. Ends, means, whatever – that stuff is hard! Just tell us what to do!

Machiavelli assures his readers that, when the time comes to do dirty deeds, a prince will never lack for men willing to do them. Severian questions whether any have the necessary competence to build and run complex machines for very long. I wish I could agree, but even the Soviets got rocket science right. The Germans were the best of the best on the engineering front. So – I don’t know.

Couple Links & Observations

Apropos of nothing.

First off, SF&F has a long and often even noble tradition of describing dystopian futures. Here’s Zachary Denman, a British guy making short sci-fi videos – that’s what they say they are – on the 2nd Person Tube. Wild speculations that, were they said seriously about right now, instead of a distant made-up future, might get one into trouble. Nonetheless, like all made-up fictional type stuff, they might provide some small insight into how people are thinking and feeling now. For example.

Second, a bit of conventional wisdom, I’ve heard, is that one should fight to the death, if necessary, when first being kidnapped. While in some traditional circumstances, your kidnappers will need you alive, and so you might bet on getting ransomed or released eventually, in other, more pathologically or politically motivated grabs, chances are poor you’ll ever get out alive once you’ve been stuffed in the back of the black SUV. Besides, “The initial phase of a kidnapping provides the best opportunities to escape.”

Third, for some reason this thought from Solzhenitsyn springs to mind:

“And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say good-bye to his family? Or if, during periods of mass arrests, as for example in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang of the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand?… The Organs would very quickly have suffered a shortage of officers and transport and, notwithstanding all of Stalin’s thirst, the cursed machine would have ground to a halt! If…if…We didn’t love freedom enough. And even more – we had no awareness of the real situation…. We purely and simply deserved everything that happened afterward.”

Gulag Archipelago

You’re checking in to see what Sarah Hoyt and William Briggs are on about these days, right? John C. Wright happened to be taking a little walk with some friends on the 6th when some possibly interesting stuff happened.

Funny how unimportant the virus seems at the moment. In and of itself, I mean.

One last thought: although I have not slept well since March, one thought, a feeling, really, I can’t shake: this will all turn out better than we have any right to hope. Watching the Hindenburg go down in slow motion for going on 10 months now, seeing predictions of political, financial, and social doom come true, watching – most depressing of all – a large percentage, probably a majority, of people just go along and get angry with you if you don’t – well, it’s been interesting. But as I mentioned before, I had this vivid dream (I am a Joseph after all) where something utterly unexpected occurs just as all hope is lost. Weird. And, when I can focus enough to really pray, calm settles in. So, make of that what you will. Maybe it’s days, maybe it’s years, but everything is alright in the end. If it’s not alright, it’s not the end.

From Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural Address, inscribed on the Lincoln Memorial:

(From a comment I left at John C. Wright’s blog.)

“If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which in the providence of God must needs come but which having continued through His appointed time He now wills to remove and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him. Fondly do we hope ~ fervently do we pray ~ that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword as was said three thousand years ago so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'”

We are the land of abortion, and of many other sins that cry out to Heaven for vengeance. Let us pray:

Heavenly Father, hallowed be Thy Name. Trembling, we today plead that You remember Your promise of mercy, a promise You made to Abraham and his children forever, a promise fulfilled in Your Son. Do not hold our sins against us, for, then, who could stand? Instead, for the sake of Thy Holy Name, for the glory of Thy Son, in the power of Thy Spirit, send Your heavenly host, lead by Holy Michael, commanded by their Holy Queen, flaming swords drawn, to cast Satan and his foul minions out of our fair and blessed nation, back into the pit. Strengthen us for battle, for whatever part Your Holy Will would have us do.

Thy Will be done. Amen.

Gracchi and the Optimates, Marius and Sulla, and the Reichstag Fire

Today’s dip of the toe in history involves 3 stories:

First up: The Gracchi Brothers, Tiberius and Gaius, each served as Tribune of the Plebs in second century B.C. Rome. They received an excellent Greek education (always a dangerous thing), and, dreaming of democracy, tried to take land and power away from the aristocracy, know as the Optimates. Much land in Republican Rome had been seized as spoils in their victories. To those who have, much is given, it seems: the aristocracy took it all. Roman commoners who had fought to win those wars were left with nothing. Laws were already on the books to give the land to the commoners, but they simply got ignored.

Tiberius made his name as a hero in the Third Punic War, and was elected Tribune of the Plebs in 133 BC. Once it became clear he intended to take ‘their’ land away from them, the Optimates tried every trick in the book to stop him. Finally, the Optimates had him and about 300 of his supporters clubbed to death. This was the first use of murder to ‘solve’ a political problem in centuries, but it set the precedent for the rest of Rome’s life.

Gaius, a somewhat more practical politician, then took up the program, and again had some success. In 122 BC, the Optimates incited a mob to kill him; seeing the writing on the wall he killed himself rather than fall into their hands. Subsequently, several thousand of his followers were arrested and executed.

This ruthless suppression of the Gracchi put a damper on uppity commoners for a while.

Next up, Gaius Marius was a much more sophisticated politician, had few, if any, ideals getting in the way of his desire for power, and was a great general. He was not so intent on actually delivering what he promised to the plebs, except insofar as it furthered his ambitions. He was elected Consul for a record – and tradition-destroying – 7 terms.

He was opposed by another great general, Sulla, and took the ill-fated policy of trying to undermine Sulla’s power from Rome while Sulla was on campaign in Greece. Things got ugly. Following the precedent above, when given the chance, Marius had Sulla’s supporters murdered and their heads put on display.

Unfortunately for him, Sulla also broke tradition and took his army to Rome. While Marius himself lucked out and died of old age in his bed, when Sulla got to Rome, it was a bloodbath. Italians with reason and opportunity to seek revenge are scary.

Now the precedent was changed: you cannot rule in Rome unless you have an army loyal to you.

The escalation from putting out hits, as it were, on your political enemies, to inciting riots and then using the police and courts to having your enemies executed, to waging civil war took under 50 years in Rome. Things were a lot slower back then.

Next up, we have the curious phenomenon of Reichstag Fire. In 1933, Hitler’s Nazi Party had achieved power, but only had a plurality in the German Parliament. Conveniently, somebody (modern historians say: the Nazis themselves) started a fire that burned down the Reichstag, the German Parliament building.

Communists were blamed, a scapegoat found, and marshal law declared. Hitler then used his new power to arrest all the Communists members of Parliament, which – surprise! – then gave the Nazis a simple majority.

The rest is, as they say, History.

Which is largely being repeated. Again.

With that in mind, here’s that timeline:

  • Reichstag Fire: Monday 27 February 1933
  • Night of the Long Knives, when Hitler took out his competitors within his own coalition: June 30 to July 2, 1934. This is the part I’m anticipating with grim appreciation.
  • Took 5 more years to invade Poland.

Or one could use other examples. Perhaps the French Revolution is more apt. But I’m not a real historian, I leave it up to the pros to come up with best fit precedent.

Whistling Past the Graveyard: Writing Update

A lot of important things going on, which I will ignore. Instead, here’s an update.

Celebrated Monday, the first normal day of the New Year, by spending about 18 hours finding and organizing every bit of fiction I’ve written in the last roughly 5 years. About 82,000 words, or 2 short novels worth. This includes:

  • 31 bits of flash fiction you may have seen on this blog: about 30,000 words, or just under 1,000 words average length.
  • 10 short stories, at 35,000 words, or about 3,500 words each – except only 6 are done or close to done. Those closer to being done average about 5,000 words, but the range is extreme: 12K for the longest, 1.5K for the shortest.
  • A couple novels, not counting the attempt to novelize a set of 7 bits of flash fiction (starting with “It will work“): about 7,000 words, and many thousands more in notes & research.
  • Many thousands of words of ideas, research, backstories, not included in the above.

These numbers do not include the similarly sized scraps and drafts for the two non-fiction education history books I’ve also worked on. I’ll get those organized later. Want to do fiction first.

So, while I was beating myself up about my lack of productivity, over the last 5 years, I was cranking out stuff faster than G.R.R. Martin. The key step, what’s missing: FINISH WHAT YOU START. That’s the 2021 resolution.

I tried to resist the desire to revise/rewrite as I read through them while applying a consistent format and putting them each in its own properly nested file with the corresponding research, backstory, etc. when appropriate. But only a little. Now, I’ve picked a short story near completion and the Novel That Shall Not Be Named and have them open, and have spent another 8-10 hours finishing the first and reassessing the 2nd. Then, as time permits, plan is to just stop being an idiot, finish these things up, get an editor, and start a marketing campaign. I’ve got two novels, one of which is stand alone and the other is the first in a universe of, potentially, a bunch of novels & short stories (a couple of which I’ve already started). I could put together two 35-40K word short story collections out of this. In other words, I’m like 6 months of work away from having 4 books ready to publish.

NOTE: many humble thanks to my beta readers for their generosity. I will eventually get back to you all. The timing, emotionally, turned out to be very bad for me. Life, and all that.

In the meantime, here are some excerpts from the works in progress that I kinda liked. Consider them teasers:

An asteroid wrangler talks to his ships’ AI:

“Sweetheart, I’m going to need your help here.”

“Now Jimmy, you know I’ve got to tell you to cut this one loose. I’m supposed to save your life first, help make you rich second. Money’s no good if you’re dead.”

“Don’t talk like that, sweetheart. I’m a soft-hearted man.”

“Soft headed, is what you mean.”

I’d guess more than half the wranglers, even the gals, name their AI some flavor of Bess, Betty, Betsy and so on, with a few Ettas and Mables and such thrown in. I went with Clarisse. Nice name. Besides, my gal’s name is Betsy, and naming your NavSys AI after your gal don’t seem right.

“So you want me to figure a way to get this rock tamed enough to nudge it into intercept, with no juice in the spider, spinning too fast to grab, and leave enough juice in Hoss here to get you home alive?”

“That about sums it up, sweetheart.”

“Spinning this fast, we can’t tug it. Might damage Hoss, and there be almost no chance we’d get it right.”

“Can’t recall, fix and refuel the spider? Take another shot?” I knew the answer, but had to ask.

“Jimmy, dear, we have maybe a few hours to do anything useful here. Rock’s approaching perihelion, and you won’t live long enough to collect once it’s headed back out, even if we manage to nudge it right.”

I knew all this. “So, whatcha got?” I was getting some stupid ideas myself, and was hoping Clarisse had something better.

“Jimmy, I know that look. You’re planning something stupid.”

After a few years, these NavSys AI’s start to getting personal. But she was right.

“Let’s say we play it like a big fish, put enough drag on the line to slow her down some…”

“Equal and opposite reaction, Jimmy. It’s not just a good idea…”

“It’s the law, I know. So we speed up some as we slow the rock. We could offset that with some with microburns. Pulse the drag, pump the gas…”

Here’s a passage from the NTSNBN, where the matriarch of a powerful family, for nefarious reasons revealed later, has arranged for her younger son and family to board a generation ship:

The younger branch of the Westmont-Tokai clan was one of a number of families who were saying emotional goodbyes on the broad plaza before the launch station at that moment. Each self-consciously gave the others privacy. The moment passed, and soon Tony’s family had settled into hugs and tears, and became just another group saying goodbye. Finally, Charlie returned to the long black private transport in which they had all arrived, accompanied by two very discreet members of family security. A klaxon sounded. Tony, Mena and the girls headed for the Sisyphus.

Tony could not believe his mother had given in. It had gotten out, somehow, that he and his family, against very long odds, had had their application to be colonists accepted. Westmont-Tokai damage control had in a million places and ways muted the outrage. Clearly, Tony’s family was fit, healthy, intelligent. Why should they not have been selected? Why should being wealthy and powerful preclude it? The fingers of Westmont-Tokai reached out through the Common Medium, nudging here, insinuating there, causing certain sources to go selectively dark, until the world seem to collectively forget about the heir to the largest fortune in the solar system somehow getting chosen to leave it. At least, people stopped talking about it.

His mother Taki had made arrangements for Tony, his wife and two daughters to be taken to the Vela aboard a Westmont-Tokai Washi VI, but Tony had successfully pointed out that the entire world was already nearly certain he’d gotten his family aboard by pulling strings, so why remove any remaining doubt by taking a Washi? All the other colonists and any crew not critical for construction were taking regularly scheduled loaders to Hotel Rygugu, and then shuttling over to the Vela as space allowed. Sure, it might be nice for the girls to get on board in a couple days rather than a few weeks. But the optics were bad.

His mother had praised his political acuteness, and allowed that he was correct. He scheduled passage on a loader.

He frowned. She had set this up. No way word gets out unless she allowed it. She had probably been the one to leak the news. After getting her way, as she always did, and banishing him and his wife and girls, she needed to get him involved and invested. She had thrown him a bone.

And he fell for it. Just like that. There were some things about the solar system he would not miss.

Later, Morgan Godshall, which is the name I gave to the elite exobiologist who those of you with scary-obsessives memories might recall from a sample I threw up here as a trial balloon a few years back, takes a lifter up to the staging area for passengers on generation ship, meets the two girls who, unbeknownst to her, are heiresses to the largest fortune and political power in the solar system:

There were no sets of four seats together, so the girls sat catty-corner across an aisle from their parents. Liz sat down in a middle seat next to a tall, pretty young woman who seemed absorbed in something on her reader.

Liz eyed the pretty lady. Morgan shifted uncomfortably, noticed the child in the neighboring seat, and turned quickly back to her reading.

Liz was fascinated. The pretty lady wasn’t like the women inside Westmont-Tokai. At 9, she was already well-coached in how a proper young lady her age should act, but there had not been a lesson on meeting a stranger on a transport. The Westmont-Tokai family didn’t meet strangers on transports, except for maybe mommy and grandpa.

Liz felt a poke in her ribs. “Don’t stare at people,” El stage whispered. Liz turned to face forward and nodded obediently, sat up straighter, then immediately looked back at the pretty lady.

Morgan was looking straight at her! “Hi,” said Liz automatically.

Despite herself, Morgan could not help being amused by the tiny, primly dressed girl in glasses who looked up at her from the adjoining seat. “Hello,” she responded, a slight smile forming at the corner of her mouth.

“Who are you?” Liz demanded. El sighed, but Morgan answered “I am Morgan. What’s your name?”

Liz straightened. “I am Michiko Elizabeth Wes… I am Elizabeth.” Morgan looked up at the girl seated next to Elizabeth. “I am Elanor. You may call me El. My sister is often called Liz.”

“Glad to meet you.” Morgan was charmed despite herself by these curious girls, the one tall, lean, fair and sophisticated, the other small, dark and fighting mightily to contain herself. She gave them a small smile.

“But what do you do?” Liz blurted out. Before Morgan could answer, El calmly said to her sister, “Morgan is a scientist or non-essential technician.”

“What?”

“She is here without a family, so she could not be just a colonist, as only families were chosen as colonists.” El looked blandly at Morgan. She turned to her sister. “She could not be an essential technician, because all of them are already on board. Therefore, she is either a scientist or a non-essential technician.”

“Very astute, El.” Morgan looked at this curiosity. She had been wildly precocious herself, but that only entailed math and science. To be as socially aware as this child seemed to be took work for Morgan in a way biochemistry did not. This girl was something different. “I am a scientist. So, how about you two?”

“Oh,” for the first time, El smiled. “We’re just colonists.”