Saturday, January 31, 2015

Saturday links

Cover for new Neal Stephenson book revealed on Boing Boing. I'm sure they meant to leak it to me instead. I guess something went wrong.

"Despite what some people think, hero is not a synonym for competent government-hired killer." Via Elizabeth N. Brown on Twitter.

Jesse Walker's short history of political correctness. On Twitter, Justin Raimondo comments, "Interesting history of "PC"  … altho I disagree with the conclusion. PC Is now the default, so it 'disappears'."

Somebody has finally said it — radio technology is so great and so cheap, everyone takes it for granted. Radio also was one of the first techno-information breakthroughs, predating TV, cable and Internet. (I collect radios.)

Stephen King's top ten books. I'm pleased with the inclusion of Bleak House. I've read four of these.

No, I don't have a plausible excuse for running the "Arian Baptistry ceiling #mosaic, erected by King Theodoric - 5th-6th century AD Ravenna, Italy" in the RAW blog, I just like it. Via frederic lecut. 

Friday, January 30, 2015

Glenn Greenwald

Robert Anton Wilson has some harsh words for feminists late in his life, although it seems to me that his criticism was directed mostly at the language and arguments used by certain feminists, rather than feminism itself. See, for example, my blog post about the feminist musicologist who said that Beethoven's Ninth Symphony was a "musical hymn to rape."

Some feminist writers, when they wrote about men, sounded like Nazis writing about Jews, RAW would point out.

This discussion fits in with the ongoing arguments about "political correctness," and whether accusations of racism, sexism, etc. sometimes are used to make legitimate discussion impossible. Here is a perhaps appropriate quote from RAW about anarchism:

I see anarchism as the theoretical ideal to which we are all gradually evolving to a point where everybody can tell the truth to everybody else and nobody can get punished for it. That can only happen without hierarchy and without people having the authority to punish other people.

That's from Jeremy Weiland's piece on political correctness,  which was published back in 2012,

The debate over political correctness has been revived lately by Jonathan Chait, who wrote a much-discussed piece on political correctness that drawn a great deal of criticism and praise.

My favorite response is from Julian Sanchez. I can't find anything to disagree with (and see the interesting back and forth in the comments). James Taranto weighs in from the right, thoughtfully (if you run into a paywall, try Googling it). From the left, Amanda Taub says that political correctness "doesn't exist."  Glenn Greenwald believes that Chait's complaints reflect a feeling of entitlement from prominent journalists, and that vicious attacks come with the territory these days:

 As is true for everyone, it’s easy to predict that criticizing certain targets – President Obama, Israel, “New Atheists” – will guarantee particularly vitriolic and sustained attacks. Way more times than I can count, I’ve been called a racist for voicing criticisms of Obama that I also voiced of Bush, and an anti-Semite for criticizing militarism and aggression by Israel. All of that can create a disincentive for engaging on those topics: the purpose of it is to impose a psychic cost for doing so, and one is instinctively tempted to avoid that.


But that’s the price one pays for having a platform. And, on balance, it’s good that this price has to be paid. In fact, the larger and more influential platform one has, the more important it is that the person be subjected to aggressive, even harsh, criticisms. Few things are more dangerous than having someone with influence or power hear only praise or agreement. Having people devoted to attacking you – even in unfair, invalid or personal ways – is actually valuable for keeping one honest and self-reflective.

Sounds a little bit like a restatement of the Cosmic Schmuck principle, no?

Thursday, January 29, 2015

'The Social Justice Illuminati is real'

Logo of Crash Override Network 

Via a posting on Supergee (lot of interesting news over there today) comes word of the Crash Override Network, a secret group of online hate group activists who are trying to help victimized by some of the online harassment groups, some of them associated with Gamergate. The piece is headlined, "The Social Justice Illuminati Is Real, And It’s An Anti-Hate Task Force." (Zoe Quinn is one of the founders.) The problem of online harassment is real (with women particularly singled out for vicious treatment), so it's good to hear about the group. You can find out more at the official site. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Robert Heinlein and 'Stranger in a Strange Land'

Robert Heinlein, left, with L. Sprague de Camp and Isaac Asimov at the Philadelphia Navy Yard in 1944. I began reading all three authors as a teenager. 

At this week's Illuminatus! reading group entry, Christian Greer writes in the comments about the game that George Dorn and the others play to guess who the "Martian" is.

Christian asks, "It seems clear to me that Jesus and Emperor Norton were figures who refused to be incorporated into the state and ended up (in their own life times) as creating a new realty for themselves. How does George's incomprehension of this out him as 'the Martian'?"

Perhaps one inspiration for the "Martian" game might have been the book character who was, at the time, arguably the most famous "Martian" in popular culture.

"Once upon a time when the world was young there was a Martian named Smith," begins Robert Heinlein's Stranger in the Strange Land. "Valentine Michael Smith was as real as taxes but he was a race as one."

Smith was human had become a Martian when he grew up on Mars. He was certainly a person who created his own reality for himself and others.

The Wikipedia article on the book says it was so controversial that it was excluded from school reading lists. I actually read it in high school as an assigned novel in my senior year. The book, published in 1961 escaped the science fiction "ghetto" and became a very popular novel in the 1960s, particularly among the counterculture.

Robert Anton Wilson was certainly a huge Heinlein fan. See, for example, the New Libertarian Notes interview. "Heinlein has been an idol to me for more than 20 years. He can do no wrong, no matter how much he loves wars and hates pacifists," Wilson says.

Robert Shea was probably more of a science fiction fan than Wilson, and he certainly knew Heinlein. His son remembers, "Like most authors, he read all the time. He loved his routines. After writing over a long day he'd sit back in our living room in a big chair and read whatever book struck his fancy. I remember seeing the racy cover of FRIDAY by Heinlein and even Robert Jordan's EYE OF THE WORLD in his hand. I only remember those because of how the covers of them struck me."

Monday, January 26, 2015

Week 49, Illuminatus! online reading group

Congressman Charles August Lindbergh Sr., the famous aviator's father.

(This week: "Hate, like molten lead, drips from the wounded sky," page 513, to page 523, "I'll take some more of the medicine when my mind starts crumbling.)

The ten pages this week are a rich and tasty slice of Illuminatus!, but I don't know a convincing way to tie all of the pages together; I will resort to numbered points:

(1) "He said little, but Lepke read a lot in his eyes" page 514. This is part of a nice bit tying together the Dutch Schultz murder.

"Congressman Charles Lindbergh Sr., had been an outspoken critic of the Federal Reserve monopoly" page 514. And the other bit that would tie the Lindbergs to opposition to the Illuminati is that Lindberg Jr., the aviator, was a noninterventionist who opposed U.S. entry into World War II.

(2) "The steady exponential growth of bureaucracy is not due to Parkinson's Law alone. The State, by making itself ever more redundant, incorporate more people into its set and forces them to follow its script." (Quoted excerpt from "Never Whistle While You're Pissing," page 518.)

I just finished reading The Curmudgeon's Guide to Getting Ahead by Charles Murray, and one of the points made in the book is that personal behavior used to be largely regulated by custom rather than by the heavy hand of the law; Sean Gabb made the same point in my recent interview with him.  The advantage of the earlier approach, or at least one of them, was that you can violate norms without being tossed into prison. It was an approach that allowed for more personal liberty.

(3) Mama Sutra and Daniel Pricefixer, pages 518-523.

As in other portions of Illuminatus!, Shea and Wilson invoke Buddhism to demonstrate that they are delivering some serious content and not just having fun with us. A "Sutra" is a discourse by the Buddha, the equivalent of a "sermon" or "homily" in a Christian context. Mama Sutra's waiting room has a Buddha and her consulting room is decorated in the white void of Mahayana Buddhism (page 520).

On the vexing problem of whether the Mama Sutra character is based upon a real person, American anarchist Mary Frohman, see Jesse Walker's piece for Reason magazine.  Frohman, by the way, was onetime the lover of prominent science fiction fandom filker Leslie Fish. I tried to find an image of Mary Frohman for this blog posting but I could not. I wrote to Neil Rest, the "real Simon Moon," if he knows whether Mama Sutra was based upon Frohman. He replied, "No clue. I don't know if Mary was in the Siren collective . . . Arlen was, and several others of the circle, and that would make it likelier, but I really don't know. Les Fish might know." He CC'd Fish; no comment from her by press time.

Daniel Pricefixer is an interesting minor character, an intelligent and conscientious detective. He is, for example, the detective who found the box of memos on the Illuminati.

(Next week: "I'll give it to you raw," Mama Sutra said quietly, page 523, to "What can I do about it?" page 537.)

Sunday, January 25, 2015

More basic income discussion

John Higgs

A couple of articles reinforce the point that a basic income guarantee, once a radical idea discussed only by a few, has entered mainstream discussion.

John Higgs, who has been writing pieces on British politics for UsVsTh3m, has a piece on "Why ‘unconditional basic income for all’ fails the ‘splutter test’ but would liberate the world." John notes, "Variations on the idea have received support from people as different as Thomas Paine, Bertrand Russell and Robert Anton Wilson." Good job of slipping his name in there, John!

Nathan Schneider weighs in with a piece at Vice, "Why the Tech Elite Is Getting Behind Universal Basic Income." Nathan does a good job of naming some of the folks who are interested in the idea and I agree with Nathan that the details matter, although I disagree on whether it is a good idea to take the money from existing welfare programs. I think it is, because it is the only way to have a reasonably generous basic income -- I don't see how it's feasible, in an era of big deficits, to afford a basic income AND the existing welfare system. I do think, though, that a basic income would have to be combined with some sort of national health insurance program.