Update to the Update: Moving Plans, etc.

A. Thanks for all the kind thoughts about our upcoming move. We’re not planning on being out of the house before March, 2022 – our youngest needs to get his Eagle Scout stuff done, and I agreed to teach another year of history/literature. The meeting with the realtor was just to help me establish priorities and a to do list. First order of business: get the house tented for termites (minimal damage, but they’re here) – and that’s not until mid-October. Then, exterior paint, some tree trimming, lots of relatively minor repairs, etc. By end of March, we hope to be out of here. Probably rent a house near Sacramento, to get to know the area. Or, if the insanity escalates, go check out Iowa/Midwest.

We’ve got +/- 6 months to pack up the house. Sigh.

B. Have tons to do to prep for classes starting Tuesday, so of course I did a quick but utterly unnecessary woodworking project instead. Behold! A charcuterie board!

I readily admit I had no idea what charcuterie was maybe 2 years ago. But – it’s good!
Made from walnut form the tree we cut down in our front yard maybe 8 years ago. Chose heavily figured pieces. The wood is too warped to make big things out of, but one can wrestle it into small projects like this.

Walnut is not usually used for food tools – cutting boards, rolling pins, that sort of thing – because the grain is too open. But I figure, one, we’ll call it a board, not a cutting board, to reduce the usage and wear, and, two, I don’t care. Still needs last coat of butcher block oil and good buffing. Looks pretty good now.

C. The writing projects ground to a halt this past month and a half. Sigh. BUT! Hope springs eternal! I again find myself thinking about them – the SciFi work and the Science Essentials book – when doing other things. So:

Rather than just being me venting on our rampant scientific illiteracy, I think I’ll rework the science book into something more like Essentials of Science, and aim it at high school and college age people. Tone it down, introduce a bunch of history, focus on the basics that apply to all sciences worthy of our respect. Then maybe pitch it to the homeschooling/ catholic schooling crowd.

The other book just needs work. Have to ram it through.

But, hey, my life is shaping up to be: teach class, pack up the house, get items off the punchlist, read every day, and – write. I’ll need the change of pace. We’ll see how it goes.

D. Weirdly, out of nowhere, I started writing an a capella mass in Latin about 6 weeks ago. When I was in my 20s, I wanted to be a composer. What I liked to compose was a capella pieces, the market for which is small, to say the least. By my late 20s, I also wanted to get married and raise a family, so I consciously set the music aside. Now, after a nearly 40 year gap, I find myself, sitting at the piano pencil in hand, writing out 6-part vocal works in a dead language.

About 2/3rds of the way through the Agnus, maybe half way through the Gloria. My style (I laugh to myself) is basically a poor man’s John Williams meets a homeless man’s Faure, and has an ugly child. This is a pretty intensely inside joke: Williams loves mediant and sub-mediant modulations and horn-call like melodies, and Faure loves odd modes and half-step changes, and intense dissonances within his voice leading. I love all those things, too! I just don’t have anything near the training and talent of either of those guys. To put it very mildly.

Trying to live well, stay sane, and enjoy life. It’s the only way out.

Movin’ On Out – Update

More Classic SciFi Book Reviews to follow soon, as I am retreating into comfort reading as I deal poorly with the stress of living in insane times. But for now:

Met with a realtor today. Walking around the property, it finally became real that we’ll be moving out. Going through rooms and talking over features and issues, I relived some of the 25 years we’ve lived here, and the childhoods of the 5 children we’ve raised here.

Not as bad as it looks – the roof is the only thing really sad, but that’s enough to condemn it.

I found myself getting quieter and more introspective as the tour went on. I’m going to tear down the three story playhouse above that my two younger sons and I built – it’s not in too good a shape, and it would be simpler to destroy than to repair. The trampoline stays, I guess, since the realtor thinks the dedicated trampoline spot would look funny without it. The pizza oven is a feature, I hope. Need to make the front garden look less unfinished, but I don’t think I can bring myself to finish it as originally planned.

Had this for about 20 years. Kids used to sleep on it with their friends. Is it the same trampoline if I’ve replaced the springs once, the bed twice and the netting three times?

We’ll take cuttings from the little fig tree that has become such a delight to us – delicious figs, and the tree is so peaceful. We must see if we can take grafts from the citrus tree grown from a seed by out late son Andrew, that now sits planted in the front orchard. Have to research how to do this. The dead-looking tree below is actually very alive – another Andrew project, he found a buckeye out walking and asked what it was and what would happen if he planted it. It’s been in pots and now a half wine barrel ever since. We must figure out how to take it with us, and then plant it wherever we end up. It loses its leaves very early every year – it wants to be in the ground!

The native chestnut tree, grown from a buckeye Andrew found. This thing is like 20+ years old!
This Mineola tree is likewise 20+ years old, Started in a plastic cup, IIRC, then moved to a succession of larger pots, until we finally stuck it in the ground 5 years ago. Just trimmed it severely yesterday – it has long aspired to be 30′ tall; I insist on about 8′.
My beloved bought this dwarf fig from a neighbor, it lived in a half wine barrel for many years, likewise planted it 5 years ago. It’s been yielding 20-30 nice figs a day for weeks now.

25 years. A lot of water under this bridge. We never planned to live here this long, it was supposed to be our starter home. But that’s how it worked out.

A. Merritt’s The Moon Pool – Classic SciFi Book Review

The Moon Pool is the second Abraham Merritt book I’ve read from John C. Wright’s Essential Sci Fi Library. Published in 1919, the story concerns a first-person narrator Dr. Walter T. Goodwin, a scientist/adventurer traveling about Polynesia. He runs into Throckmorton, an old friend, who is in ragged shape and whose face flashes strange signs of ecstasy mixed with profound horror. He tells Goodwin that his wife and their companions were taken by some eldritch horror while he and his team were exploring some very ancient ruins near Borneo. Classic ‘can’t get the natives to help, they all leave for 3 days around the full moon, great evil lives in those ruins! Run! Ruuuun!’ situation – but of course they don’t. They discover some ancient gateway that only opens when enough moonlight strikes it, and out from which comes the Shining Horror. On three consecutive nights, the Thing grabs a team member until only a desperate and nearly deranged Throckmorton is left.

THE MOON POOL | A. Merritt | Later edition

On board the ship Goodwin and Throckmorton are taking to Australia for supplies to help get Mrs. Throckmorton and friends back, the full moon rises over the ocean. On the first night, Throckmorton is spared by overcast skies. But eventually, the moonlight reaches the ship – and Goodwin sees sees his friend taken before his eyes!

Goodwin thinks the story is too insane to tell the crew, and has no hope of finding Throckmorton alive out in the ocean, so he keeps quiet. He gathers the equipment he needs, then gathers a set of heroes: Larry O’Keefe, the brave, dashing, handsome Irish-American aviator who happens to go down with his plane within sight of Goodwin’s ship, and Olaf, a giant Norwegian sea captain who had his wife and daughter taken by the Shining Horror and is attempting to follow them. They set out for the ruins…

Merritt has a wonderful archaic vocabulary, and loves detailed descriptions of everything. He also has an over-the-top pulp sensibility about adventures and love. Of course, there’s an evil but irresistibly beautiful priestess and a pure and valiant Handmaiden of the Silent Ones, both of whom fall madly for O’Keefe. The love triangle plays out in the most dramatic, swashbuckling way possible. Narrow escapes, betrayal, evil Russian scientist, human sacrifice, mistreated slaves, frogmen, deadly plants, poisonous jellyfish of doom – and the Shining One, a creature of unparalleled beauty – and evil!

I made the mistake of reading other people’s reviews of this book, who modern readers give 3.3 stars, on average. One even said they were repelled by the obvious racism – Merritt commits the unforgivable sins of mentioning the Chinese tend to have slanted eyes, and that Polynesians tend to be short and wide – and other such horrors. That his heroes include frogmen and some of these same Polynesians doesn’t seem to register with woke readers. Pshaw! If you get into the spirit of the thing, this book is loads of fun.

I don’t know enough to say how old or widespread or, indeed, original, the tropes found in this book are, but Merritt is the earliest stuff that I’ve read that includes many of them – anti-gravity, ancient civilizations under the earth, many different intelligent species, panspermia, the whole natives won’t go there, stupid white man thing, disintegrator rays, evil Russian scientist, spring to mind. Goodwin is always making scientific asides and footnotes to make it seem real – Merritt was as up on the ‘modern’ science of 1919 as Verne or Heinlein was on the science of their times.

Merritt had an obvious influence on Lovecraft, seems to me. While the exotic adventure story is certainly nothing unique to Merritt, I don’t recall anyone else who creates such a brooding sense of horror blended with science – until Lovecraft. Edgar Rice Burroughs definitely does the exotic setting in fine detail thing, and the over the top adventure and love story stuff, but not with the science background – at least not to the degree of Merritt. I’m sure there are a number of threads leading to and from Merritt in the world of speculative fiction – I’m not well read enough yet to point them out with any confidence.

Kindle has that wonderful lookup function, with bailed me out a number of times with Merritt’s vocabulary. I recalled ‘lambent’ and ‘ebon’ from The Metal Monster, but he had some new ones here. I like learning new words, bring ’em on!

So, 5 stars. Lots of fun. Indulge your inner Indiana Jones and just go with it, and it’s great.

Cheery Sunday Thoughts

Just kidding. Over on Rotten Chestnuts, Severian references a theory of brain washing/thought control by a Robert Lifton, a psychiatrist of whom I readily admit I’ve never heard. Some of his ideas are familiar, but I did live under the same roof with a cult deprogrammer for a couple years in my youth.

Severian’s take is well worth reading. Here, since I don’t know what I’m talking about, I whittle it down to a few observations on Lifton’s ideas as transmitted via the article linked by Rotten Chestnuts. The following quotations are from the just-linked website. Quotations in italic, my comments in plain text, any highlighting is by me.

1. Milieu Control

Control of communication within the group environment resulting in a significant degree of isolation from the surrounding society. Includes other techniques to restrict members’ contact with outside world and to be able to make critical, rational judgments about information: overwork, busy-ness, multiple lengthy meetings, etc. [First thought: school. We old guys reminisce about the hours of childhood we whiled away unsupervised. Now, kids are never trusted to be alone, and have their every moment filled with school busywork. Age-segregated classrooms = “multiple lengthy meetings” during which individual thought is strictly discouraged. Not to mention, you know, lockdowns & masks.] Lifton: “The most basic feature of the thought reform environment, the psychological current upon which all else depends, is the control of human communication. [If you can lock everybody up, restrict their ability to associate, maybe mask them so as to add a level on anonymity – that would work.] [This includes] not only the individual’s communication with the outside…, but also…his communication with himself... [Questioning the Coof or the elections is badthink. Don’t even go there! ][T]hought reform participants may be in doubt as to who is telling what to whom, but the fact that extensive information about everyone is being conveyed to the authorities is always known… [Let’s have everybody everywhere present papers to do anything outside their own homes. Let’s call out all the deniers and scofflaws.*] Having experienced the impact of what they consider to be an ultimate truth…, they consider it their duty to create an environment containing no more and no less than this ‘truth.’ [The group member] is deprived of the combination of external information and inner reflection which anyone requires to test the realities of his environment and to maintain a measure of identity separate from it…”

Severian points out that this process isn’t just about what we typically think of as cults, but that elites of whatever kind undergo the same processes. This establishing of in-group credos and rules that must be followed to identify who is and isn’t in an elite – the Kool Kids Klub, as I call it – parallels and mutually reinforces the argot and shibboleths used only by the elite. For example, talking about sex differences signals out-group membership. The in-group discusses gendered roles. Some chosen topics can only be discussed using in-group language; other topics simply cannot be discussed at all. See: the automatic preemptive dismissal of any discussion of evidence, either for the Coof or the validity elections.

8. Dispensing of Existence

The group arrogates to itself the prerogative to decide who has the right to exist and who does not. [Antifa leaders have casually stated that they will need to kill 125 million of us to bring about their Marxist utopia. Freire mentions in passing in his Pedagogy of the Oppressed (required reading in our education schools) that rights are contingent upon acceptance of his revolutionary vision, a round about way of saying his properly-educated children can kill us if it advances the revolution. Sometimes, the group’s decision of who gets to live is quite literal.] Usually held non-literally, this means that those outside the group are unspiritual, worldly, satanic, “unconscious,” or whatever, and that they must be converted to the ideas of the group or they will be lost. If they refuse to join the group, then they must be rejected by the group members, even if they are family members. In rare cases this concept gives the group the right to terminate the outsider’s life.[Not nearly as rare as one might imagine. These are the operative principles in all the ideological totalitarian regimes known to man.] Lifton: “The totalist environment always draws a sharp line between those whose right to existence can be recognized, and those who possess no such right… [O]ne underlying assumption makes this arrogance mandatory: the conviction that there is just one path to true existence, just one valid mode of being, and that all others are perforce invalid and false… For the individual, the polar emotional conflict is the ultimate existential one of ‘being versus nothingness.’ [The misalignment between reality and their belief system leads the more aware to simply embrace nihilism. The fanatic is fanatical because, without his fanaticism, he is nothing; the more cynical/realistic recognize their beliefs as being self-contradictory morasses; their murderous rage masks despair and meaninglessness.] He is likely to be drawn to a conversion experience, which he sees as the only means of attaining a path of existence for the future… The totalist environment… thus stimulates in everyone a fear of extinction or annihilation… A person can overcome this fear and find… ‘confirmation,’ not in his individual relationships, but only from the fount of all existence, the totalist Organization. Existence comes to depend upon creed (I believe, therefore I am), upon submission (I obey, therefore I am) and beyond these, upon a sense of total merger with the ideological movement. Ultimately of course one compromises and combines the totalist ‘confirmation’ with independent elements of personal identity; but one is ever made aware that, should he stray too far along this ‘erroneous path,’ his right to existence may be withdrawn.”

Interesting to think, as Severian invites us to think, of this process as characteristic of elites as well as cults. Or is elitism just another cult?

Finally, compare this analysis of elitism to Lewis’s ‘inner rings’. Is there a difference?

* Clarissa, who grew up under the Soviet Union, explains how this works. In fact, her post deserves its own post here.

Thursday Updates, Including Interaction with the Medical Community

A. Another first for me: replaced two dishwashers. No, I’m not hiring manager for a restaurant. Going on 16 years ago now, we went with two dishwashers in our remodeled kitchen – a good choice, very handy, especially with 5 kids at home at the time. But 16 years is like 90 appliance years – these things were failing in their final cause.

Old units awaiting their fate.

On Monday, I made the drive down to the former Sears Outlet in San Leandro to pick up 2 out of box display models of a couple cheapish but well-rated Whirlpool dishwashers, thus saving about $250 over the best retail prices I could find. Bonus: Worked in a side trip to a TLM in Oakland on the way back. Of course, this means I, at 63 years old, am hauling dishwashers in and out of my minivan. Fortunately, these modern units are very light.

Next up: watch a bunch of YouTube videos on how to install dishwashers. Then, spend a couple hours on my knees and back turning water off, unscrewing, unhooking, unwiring, and sliding old units out, then screwing in, hooking up, plugging in, turning water on, and shoving new units in. Only needed 1 (one) trip to Ace for parts! Ickiest part: a lot of gross stuff, including stuff mysteriously glued to the floor, had accumulated under the old dishwashers over the years. Cleaned it all up, so that, in a decade or so, when the next guy replaces the dishwashers, he’ll have a cleaner floor to look at.

Much better. Need to clean those smudges off the front. The important thing: it cleans dishes real good, and doesn’t leak!

Only difficult part: the drain hose hook up for the unit next to the main sink (the 2nd unit is connected to the rinse sink on the kitchen island) is to an air vent located way to the back behind our oversized sink. No way you can even see it; had to lie on my back and disconnect and reconnect the hoses by feel. Let us pray I did a good job – it will be a pain in the back most literally to fix it if it leaks.

Now to load the old units in the minivan and take them to the appliance disposal center, where, last time, it was about $25 a pop for them to take the junkers off my hands. My dad fu is strong. 😉

B. School starts again in a couple weeks. I will be teaching a combined History/Lit class to nine 8th and 9th graders this year. From Greece through the Middle Ages. Should be fun, especially since I will not be creating the class plans and assignments from scratch this year, and also since it’s a combined class, not two classes like last year. Maybe 3 total hours of classroom time per week.

C. Pizza! This Saturday, when it is predicted to be 100F outside, we will be holding a pizza party for the third consecutive weekend – younger daughter’s birthday, little brother’s family visit, and now kickoff for the new school year. I invited the Board, students, and their families – at least 25-30 people, could be much higher.

From the top: Margarita, some Frankenstein abomination, and the house special: smoked salmon, goat cheese, and capers on an Alfredo sauce. These were the last 3 coming out of the oven last Friday.

Should be fun. A pizza party ends up taking about 3-4 hours of prep, then 3-4 hours of standing in front of a blazing hot oven. I enjoy it, but it leaves me pretty worn out by the end.

D. Had to go see my doctor, where we eventually got around to discussing my non-vaccinated status. The discussion went nowhere. He was getting pissed by the end. I kept asking for numbers, he’d show me gross numbers, I’d try to explain what they meant, round and round. He’s convinced 600K+ people have died of the Coof; I point out that 2/3rds of that number don’t show up in the total deaths; I’d say his chance of dying if he caught it is about 1 in 50,000 (young healthy male) while he thinks it’s 1.7% – the gross number you get from the John Hopkins report, which includes all the sick, old people – of which he is not.

It was too rushed. That a doctor would confuse the risk of a population for his personal risk is not inspiring. Let’s say 50,000 Americans die of breast cancer each year (making it up) – his chance of dying of breast cancer remains zero (almost) – because he’s not a woman. I assume he understands that. But then to turn around and accept a ridiculous 1.7% fatality rate as applicable to him, when by far the major risk is to elderly, sickly people? I also asked him if 5 to 10 years of children hospitalization data was available, so that we can rationally judge if COVID has in fact measurably increased juvenile hospitalization rates. He ignored it.

Really nice guy, good doctor and all – but, like 99.9% of everybody, doesn’t understand numbers nor science. Facts do not speak for themselves – they require understanding of the factors that fed into them before they can be understood.

42.

ADDENDUM: Another family ‘tradition’: losing the can opener. Sure, we’ve had plenty of standard manual can openers over the years, but is seems we inevitably lose them until we have only one – and then lose that one, until ut turns up someplace we all swear we already looked for it. Most common use: to open cans of evaporated milk, which several of us prefer in our tea.

So, years ago, when one of our can openers broke, we fixed it. Broke again, fixed it again. Finally, the handle was unsalvageable, but the business end was still good, if unuseable. So we threw it in a drawer, because the next time I had the woodworking tools out, I would just make it another handle, and then we’d have *2* openers to lose.

That was years ago. This morning, I noticed the forlorn opener fragment, and said to myself, I did: why not now? So, I found a suitable scrap of walnut, grabbed a saw, a rasp, drills, sander, clamps, and got to work.

At first, it was going to be strictly functional – just get a handle on it that won’t give anybody splinters, through some tung oil on it, call it a day. Buuuuut…

It started looking good. Walnut is beautiful. So, by the time I had got it all fitted up, it was looking pretty cool. So, last step before oiling: glue in the metal part.

After 15 seconds of looking around, I opted for Super Glue – because, you know, there was a tube in the junk drawer. Checked the fit and alignment one more time, then shot some glue into the cavity, applied a little to the plastic sleeve, and started twisting it in…

And the glue instantly set up about halfway in, with the business end at an odd angle. The amount of force it would take to move it would have broken the wood:

Oh, well. We’ll just lose it anyway.

Olaf Stapledon’s Star Maker: Book Review

Here, I mention that I started reading Olaf Stapledon’s 1937 classic Star Maker. Just finished it up. Stapledon sets for himself the task of imaginatively describing all of creation, all of the possible universes, from, ultimately, God’s perspective. Star Maker was a very influential book – C.S. Lewis almost certainly is thinking of it in his Preface to That Hideous Strength:

I believe that one of the central ideas of this tale came into my head from conversations I had with a scientific colleague, some time before I met a rather similar suggestion in the works of Mr. Olaf Stapledon. If I am mistaken in this, Mr. Stapledon is so rich in invention that he can well afford to lend, and I admire his invention (though not his philosophy) so much that I should feel no shame to borrow

After the fashion of Dante in his Paradiso, Stapledon strives to achieve an effect of awesomeness and wonder by repeated references to how indescribable, how beyond imagination, are the visions he sees. He describes things as indescribable. This devise increases in frequency and vehemence as the book progresses, following the first-person narrator as he mysteriouly tours the universe through both space and time, until he finally meets the Star Maker. The Star Maker turns out to be a catch-all God with features that, by themselves, would be at home in any number of religious imaginations, although Christian and Gnostic sources seem to dominate. In the end, this Star Maker ends up a hideous monster. C.S. Lewis commented that the book descended to mere devil-worship by the end. I agree.

On the plus side, in the latter 2/3rd of the book. Stapledon reveals a profound imagination much harder to see, I think, in the first third. Not that I’m all that well-read in the speculative fiction classics, but this book contains a number of SciFi trope firsts, for me at least:

  • multiverse
  • intelligent stars
  • group minds
  • sentient plant-things

And probably a few more I’m missing.

Alas, Stapledon’s soaring imagination, which incorporate a multiverse, a demiurge, eon-spanning visions, the accretion of multi-species group minds, sentient plant-things, symbiotic intelligences, conscious stars and nebulae, galactic and cosmos-spanning intelligences, intergalactic telepathy, and a host of further wonders, can’t imagine any other political analysis or Utopia than taught by Marx, or a theology much different than Hegel’s. The most outlandish and dazzlingly imagined races still are trapped in capitalistic decadence on the horns of a dialectical dilemma, as it were. His Star Maker is coming to know himself through his unfolding in history, more or less. Worse, his solutions to all problems are a particularly egregious sort of expertise-itis fantasies – the little people are all looking to their glorious leaders to sort things out, meekly following their lead, up to an including suicide or euthanasia, to which they enthusiastically agree.

We noted that the new world-orders were very diverse. This was, of course, to be expected, since biologically, psychologically, culturally, these worlds were very different. The perfected world-order of an Echinoderm race had of course to be different from that of the symbiotic Ichthyoids and Arachnoids; and this from that of a Nautiloid world, and so on. But we noted also in all these victorious worlds a remarkable identity. For instance, in the loosest possible sense, all were communistic; for in all of them the means of production were communally owned, and no individual could control the labor of others for private profit. Again, in a sense all these world-orders were democratic, since the final sanction of policy was world-opinion. But in many cases there was no democratic machinery, no legal channel for the expression of world-opinion. Instead, a highly specialized bureaucracy, or even a world-dictator, might carry out the business of organizing the world’s activity with legally absolute power, but under constant supervision by popular will expressed through the radio. We were amazed to find that in a truly awakened world even a dictatorship could be in essence democratic. We observed with incredulity situations in which the “absolute” world-government, faced with some exceptionally momentous and doubtful matter of policy, had made urgent appeals for a formal democratic decision, only to receive from all regions the reply, “We cannot advise. You must decide as your professional experience suggests. We will abide by your decision.”

Most of the book is concerned with the various challenges the ever-growing and merging group minds face on their Hegelian journey toward ever more enlightenment and self-realization. The goal is always idealized communism, always toward a group identity, unified group thought, and unified group action. The individual, while maybe not nothing as orthodox Marxism demands, certainly ain’t much. Stapledon repeatedly insists collective group identity is the fulfillment of all individual desires, so much so that the individual cells in the group will happily be murdered, die or even kill themselves if the group thinks it right. Only in the early, unenlightened days do individuals buck against the collective’s wisdom.

It’s tedious. Stapledon’s inventive genius is almost interesting enough to carry the reader through the endless barrage of one-note commie-think. This is not helped by this book being the one example I’ve ever read that goes all in on ‘tell, don’t show.’ Not 1% of the book is ‘show’ – it is just the first person narrator telling us about his adventure, with only one other named character in the entire book. That it works as well as it does is food for thought, from a writing perspective.

In the end, The Star Maker creates a series of universes, with a variety of characteristics, just to see how it works out. His multi-verses are interesting, and copied all over the place:

By the end of the story, our narrator is a part of a multi-galaxy telepathically linked group mind, containing all the accumulated wisdom to all the member races. It is in this state, as the most exalted of group minds, that he meets the Star Maker. The Star Maker creates a series of universes, with a variety of characteristics, just to see how it works out. His multi-verses are interesting, and copied all over the place:

In one inconceivably complex cosmos, whenever a creature was faced with several possible courses of action, it took them all, thereby creating many distinct temporal dimensions and distinct histories of the cosmos. Since in every evolutionary sequence of the cosmos there were very many creatures, and each was constantly faced with many possible courses, and the combinations of all their courses were innumerable, an infinity of distinct universes exfoliated from every moment of every temporal sequence in this cosmos.

After his interview with the Star Maker, the narrator finds himself back on earth, back to be an individual Englishman. He pauses to describe the world of 1937, with the perspective gained through his journeys. In case we missed it, he hammers home again how the Soviet Union and communists in general are the good guys. Here, for example:

Further on, the Spanish night was ablaze with the murder of cities. Away to the left lay Germany, with its forests and factories, its music, its steel helmets. In cathedral squares I seemed to see the young men ranked together in thousands, exalted, possessed, saluting the flood-lit Fuhrer. In Italy too, land of memories and illusions, the mob’s idol spell-bound the young.

Far left-wards again, Russia, an appreciably convex segment of our globe, snow-pale in the darkness, spread out under the stars and cloud tracts. Inevitably I saw the spires of the Kremlin, confronting the Red Square. There Lenin lay, victorious. 

Victorious. Right. Then he describes the battle facing the world:

One antagonist appeared as the will to dare for the sake of the new, the longed for, the reasonable and joyful, world, in which every man and woman may have scope to live fully, and live in service of mankind. The other seemed essentially the myopic fear of the unknown; or was it more sinister? Was it the cunning will for private mastery, which fomented for its own ends the archaic, reason-hating, and vindictive, passion of the tribe.

“…in which every man and woman may have scope to live fully, and live in service of mankind.” Propaganda always sounds so kindly, so drenched in sympathy. The key aspect of the story, the climax, is the narrator learning that God is not bound by human ideas of love, that he is free to torture his creations if he feels like it, all in pursuit of a cosmos that adequately expresses his creative. The narrator finds himself repulsed by the evil the Star Maker does, casually and without feeling, in the name of, well, progress. But he confesses he loves him, including his evil aspects. I’m reminded of John Dewey’s defense of Trotsky, where he asserts that the only moral standard is: does it move the Revolution closer? Need to destroy worlds, murder billions, enslave billions, consign billions more to hell, in the search for a better cosmos? Who are we to judge?

Stapledon’s God is a demon, and Stapledon’s urge to worship him is diabolical.

More Family Humor

We were sitting around discussing the possibility of buying some land and building houses for us and the kids on it. I used the term ‘compound’ which didn’t go over well with younger daughter. “That is what it would be called,” I replied, “I won’t be writing a manifesto or anything “ She suggested ‘homestead’ which I objected to because it’s wrong – we’re not going to be homesteading.

Youngest son suggested we call our fantasy future digs a “fun size gated community.”

Touché.

Portents & Omens

We’ll start with the more traditional:

Tonight, the full moon rising over Concord, CA, was large and red: (Phone camera does not do it justice.)

The state is on fire, I hear, which not only makes the moon look red, but is a portent in itself.

Next, and this is a weird one: a possum became roadkill a block up our street. Nothing out of the ordinary in that – except a full on 6′ wingspan freakin’ vulture was pecking at it this afternoon. On a residential street in the middle of California suburbia. Never seen that before.

Blood moons, infernos, vultures. All end-timey and everything.

On a more serious note: Clarissa reports that upon her return to campus, she discovered that her college library had disposed of 80% of their humanities books over the summer – without asking or informing the faculty, not even a department chair such as Clarissa. Didn’t sell them, didn’t give the faculty and students a chance to pick through them, didn’t give them away – destroyed them.

The only thing surprising about this is that it’s surprising. Think of any educational initiative over your lifetime. 10 to 1 you only heard about it either after the fact or as part of some political game. This is no accident. Back in the first half of the 19th century, Horace Mann had a heck of a time getting his program of state-controlled compulsory schools past the voters. Seems the fine people of Massachusetts were slow to see the advantages of taxing themselves in order to be forced to surrender their children to the state for education. New England was already literate and numerate – somebody was buying all those copies of the papers running the Federalist debates and making the Last of the Mohicans a best seller modern publishers could only dream of, and somebody was running all those cottage industries and farms.

Mann got lucky, in the ‘never let a crisis go to waste’ sense, and used the scary influx of poor, dirty, uneducated, and Catholic Irish immigrants to get his program through – while the natives themselves didn’t see the need of schools for themselves, they were much more easily convinced that those papist potato-eaters’ kids needed the right kind of Jesus pounded into their skulls.

The other people who learned from Mann’s experience were the freshly-minted educators – not teachers, no, those had been around for millennia, but certified, Prussian-trained Educators. They saw that the unenlightened masses were nothing but a hinderance to their program, and thereafter sought to cut them out of the process as much as possible. Thus, sympathetic state legislators and governors would set up State Departments of Education with broad and vague powers. These departments all worked together and with the college schools of education – they were the same people, the heads of state education departments and the chairs of university ed schools, educated in Prussia or by Prussian-educated Americans, sharing in Fichte’s vision of using compulsory schooling to turn the population into obedient sheep. From Day 1, the gatekeepers were able to simply shoulder out anyone with any other ideas, thus becoming that which they desired to create: a large body of mindless drones incapable of any independent thought.

The educational ideas and policies created by our educational elite are never honestly debated. They are concocted in the dark and presented as fete accompli. Remember how Common Core was just there one day, with no warning or discussion? That’s typical, and has been for almost 200 years.

So the librarians – educators all – at Clarissa’s university saw no point to consulting anyone. They, and they alone, get to determine which books the students and faculty will have access to. Clarissa mentions how, back in the Soviet Union where she grew up, libraries presented slim pickings unless you were interested in a book by Brezhnev. Now, her university library presents the students with lounge chairs and racism posters instead of books.

From several sources, I’ve seen videos of outraged parents protesting the imposition of Gender Theory and Critical Race Theory in their local grade schools at their local school board meetings. Never discussed, never brought to a vote, just wacko theory imposed against the wills of the parents. Poor fools! I totally support the thinking of these parents, but if they imagine the professional educators on the school board are going to change based on something an ignorant, racist parent says, they are delusional. Those professional educators are absolutely unshakably certain they are right, and that the positions of the parents are exactly the ignorant, racist, sexist, patriarchal, and so on, ideas that they, the educators, have been established to root out and destroy.

Parents are the problem compulsory state schools were founded to solve.

More Micro Book Reviews: John C Wright & Starmaker

This past week, read a couple short books and waded into a SF classic:

1920 was an interesting year: the people of the West, including writers, were just coming out of the horror of WWI. Wells’ Outline of History (which I, so far, have lacked the inner strength to even try to tackle) was serialized over 1919, but published in book form in 1920. Belloc published Europe and the Faith in 1920, as the response of a real historian (and a Christian) to Wells’ rewriting of history to be more in line with his Fabian socialist fantasies. It took Chesterton until 1925 to publish his rebuttal, Everlasting Man. The problem is one still with us: serious scholars accept the validity of the criticism that history as written has the writer’s inescapable cultural and personal biases baked in. Socialists critics then feel free to rewrite history, bake in their own biases, but then reject any criticism. So serious scholars, trying to do their best and well aware of their limitations, feel the sting of criticism to which their opponents assume immunity. Thus, Wells is as insanely biased as any writer, but his history was seen as somehow more valid because it was a ‘response’ to previous writers assumed biases.

It helped that Wells’ take appealed to the fantasies of his social class, which saw the Late Unpleasantness as a repudiation of everything they had believed – God for Harry, England, and St. George, so to speak. The gross biases of the amateur Wells are preferred to the more conscious and defensible biases of a pro like Belloc. The defense deployed by the rewriters of history is to simply dismiss their critics as backwards, and never directly address the criticisms themselves. Sound familiar? The weakness of traditional historians of the time was that they took their critics seriously, more or less – a favor their critics never returned. You lose that battle before it begins.

Speculative fiction was also engaged in the battle of how we tell the story of ourselves. Voyage to Arcturus, published in 1920, is a completely nihilistic work, aiming to show the fraud and inanity of all human efforts – not surprising, given the shattering effect of the First World War.

Lord of World was published in 1907, before WWI and the Russian Revolution. Benson could assume socialism, the fad and infatuation of his age, would work just fine – except for the part about destroying the human soul, which he saw apart from that destructions physical manifestations in totalitarianism and physical suffering. Even as early as 1920, events had contradicted the airy fantasy that socialism could replace decadent capitalism (by which we mean, evidently, Russian feudalism) with a much better, *scientific* rule by experts.

The Lament of Prometheus: An Examination of David Lindsay's A Voyage to Arcturus by [John C. Wright]

Which brings us to today’s mini-reviews: John C. Wright wrote The Lament of Prometheus: An Examination of David Lindsay’s A Voyage to Arcturus, a short book in which he proposes to explain Lindsey’s vivid symbolism, heaps praise on his imagination, yet ultimately calls the book a failure. I suppose I should be more interested in Lindsey’s book, as it was very influential in the decades after its initial release. Voyage to Arcturus itself failed, generally, to hold my full attention – too much pointless violence, too many abrupt and complete changes in motivation, too grim a view of just about everything. It ends in defiance, I suppose, when despair would be a more obvious and truthful response. It’s just you in the void, baby, whatever you may happen to be, doomed to pain and failure, so – rock on? I guess?

Wright’s book was very helpful in getting a grasp on what Lindsey is up to. I was picking up on maybe 25% of what Wright lays out. Lindsey gives everything goofy names – Joiwind is a sort of nature-spirit, pure in love; Tormance is a planet of pain; Maskull is a mask on a skull – a sincere veneer over what is ultimately a dead man walking (I guess Everyman was taken…). And so on, virtually every name for a character or place has an over-the-top meaning, just in case you miss the point being hammered into your brain.

Wright explains that Lindsey is presenting a modernized take on classic Gnosticism, where the spirit is good, the body is evil, and the physical world is a trap and a lie. Maskull’s constant flipping from one set of beliefs and goals to another are what happens to souls that seek enlightenment in a world controlled by the Demiurge. That he’ll hate, love, then hate and murder someone he just met – hey, that’s the way things are, here in this valley of tears.

I appreciated Wright’s authorly analysis of Voyage‘s shortcomings as literature – how set ups must have payoffs, that themes demand a certain kind of resolution, and how Lindsey’s dazzling imagination can mask how thoroughly he fails to deliver as an author. What I experienced as frustration, Wright, as a master of the craft, sees in terms of failure at that craft. Very interesting.

If you want to read Voyage to Arcturus – I don’t regret doing so, but I doubt I’ll go back for more- do so, then read Wright’s book to fully plumb its depths.

From Barsoom to Malacandra: Musings on Things Past and Things to Come by [John C. Wright]

Next, since I was on a Wright kick anyway, and have a small pile of his books already purchased but not yet read, I went on to read a collection of his essays, From Barsoom to Malacandra. They were all good. I particularly enjoyed his two on Lewis’s Space trilogy, The Silent Planet and A Voyage to Venus. Those of us who are regular readers of his blog have come to expect the deep yet charming analysis Wright doles out on books he loves; on books he doesn’t love so much, we get honest praise and a serious breakdown of its flaws. This book is full of both. He owns up to having misunderstood Heinlein all these years, spoofs the insult that is the current round of Star Wars films by all but writing appropriate sequels himself, discusses the intrusion of political messaging in fiction (and how and how not to do it) and laments and otherwise excellent anime series that dies a stupid death right at the finish line.

Good stuff. Check it out.

Finally, a preliminary review – dipped again into the Essential SciFi list, and chose Olaf Stapledon’s Starmaker. About 1/3 the way through. It has been, so far, all but impossible to read this book as anything other than 1937 vintage progressive propaganda. All the fun stuff that Woodrow Wilson supported – eugenics, euthanasia, racism, socialism, all us little people ruled by our mire enlightened brethren – for our own good, of course! – all told in a insufferably sympathetic tone: poor, poor, little people! So doomed! If only enlightenment, insight, and communism could rule them! All would be just swell!

Maybe this is just me projecting my expectations back onto poor Olaf, but: so far, in the first 3rd of the book, you could find more diverse forms of intelligent life in Queens, NY, than he ‘finds’ on a million planets. All are locked in class struggles; all hang suspended beneath inevitable economic dialectics; racism, slavery, the excesses of capitalism – everywhere! From slug-beasts and sentient ships to symbionts, it’s all Marx all the way down!

Blech. Not exactly creative. But praised! Oh, yea, all the right people love them some Starmaker!

Anyway, a more complete review once I’m done.

More Family Sayings:

Continuing one of the items in the last post. Thanks for all the comments about your family sayings, keep ’em coming. Here’s a few more from Casa de Moore:

  1. “Nice haunches he’s gettin’. Beautiful.” From Babe, used whenever something is turning out nicely.
  2. “Anyone else want to negotiate?” From Fifth Element, used whenever the discussion has reached a conclusion, especially if that conclusion was reached via some physical action.
  3. “Right again guys! Group hug.” Galaxy Quest.
  4. “But who cares?” Ruby Rod, Fifth Element. Needs to be said in the insane Ruby Rod voice.
  5. “That’s a good rule. But this is bigger than rules!” Babe.
  6. “Phasers on stun!” Sometimes I will harken back to Bloom County and say “Phasers on deep fat fry!”
  7. “The trees are really quite lovely” Princess Bride. Trying to find the good in a bad situation.
  8. “I shall be very put out.” Princess Bride. Whenever expectations are not likely to be met.
  9. From the distant past: every time I’d change a diaper, I’d say, in my most serious voice, “I can change you. But you have to want to change.” The wide eyed look on the baby’s face always cracked me up.

This is pretty endless. I’m sure I could come up with dozens more if my daughters were still around – they were into musicals (and my eldest has a freakishly-good memory for dialogue) so we’d have a constant stream of bits from Oklahoma and Singing in the Rain and Hairspray.

One of my weirder habits I passed on to them: just breaking out in song at the drop of a hat, most commonly in an over-the-top showtune belting style. Showtunes and jazz standards, for the most part. I bet my kids were looking for a place to hide when their weirdo dad started in singing in the kitchen….