Thursday, September 19, 2019

The war on vaping

Photo by Itay Kabalo on Unsplash

Vaping seems to be one of those issues in which Democrats and Republicans are equally bad and libertarians are a lonely voice speaking out against the latest version of the "war on some drugs."

"In an article published last month in Expert Review of Respiratory Medicine, a team of Italian, Canadian, and American scientists surveyed the clinical research into e-cigarettes and reported that 'no studies reported serious adverse events' or 'significant changes in pulmonary functions.”

"Their findings jibed with the conclusions by British medical authorities that nicotine itself is no more harmful than caffeine, and that e-cigarettes are at least 95 percent safer than tobacco cigarettes. While the U.S. public-health establishment has been misleading the public—so that a majority of Americans now mistakenly believe that e-cigarettes are as harmful or even more harmful than cigarettes—the Royal Society for Public Health has been urging smokers to switch to vaping, and British hospitals have been promoting e-cigarettes by allowing vape shops to operate on their premises." Source

And here is Jacob Sullum making similar points.

If you want to keep up with this issue, you could do worse than to follow Sullum on Twitter and Jeffrey A. Singer from the Cato Institute.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Orson Welles, talk show host

From Jesse Walker: "Today I learned that Orson Welles recorded an unaired pilot for a TV talk show. He takes audience questions with Burt Reynolds, interviews the Muppets, does a Russian Roulette routine with Angie Dickinson. It's weird & uneven & I wish there was more."

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Empire Day in San Francisco

The Emperor

Today,  you can celebrate Empire Day in San Francisco.

The Emperor's Bridge Campaign explains:

On 17 September 2015, The Emperor's Bridge Campaign launched a new holiday to celebrate the anniversary of this occasion.

We gathered on Clay Street, in the shadow of the Transamerica Pyramid — and across from the former site of the Bulletin, where Joshua Norton hand-delivered his original Proclamation.

Then, we walked over to the nearby Comstock Saloon to raise a glass to Emperor Norton in the shadow of the sculpture of the Emperor that presides over the main bar.

We called it Empire Day.

There's a full schedule of events. 

Monday, September 16, 2019

The rock stars are going away

Illuminatus! was written when rock music was a dominant form of art. I never saw much evidence that Robert Anton Wilson was particularly interested in pop music, but the novel often references rock, and the concluding section takes place at a rock music festival.

Rock stars from the golden age of rock aren't getting any younger, and we are losing many of them. The latest is Ric Ocasek, found dead in New York over the weekend. Ocasek, and his band The Cars, were particular favorites of mine, and I hunted down his solo albums. (I've posted one of my favorite solo album songs, above.)

Tom Petty, George Harrison, Prince, Eddie Money ... look for lots of bad news the next few years.

Here is the New York Times appreciation for Ocasek. 

Interview in the New York Times.

You might be missing out. Have you been on a water slide?

I’ve never been on a water slide in my life.

They’re fun.

I guess they could be fun, and I guess skydiving could be fun, too. But I would never do it. It would be more fun to sit in a room with William Burroughs and listen to him grumble.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

A request from Rasa

The above was posted on Facebook by Rasa, who also writes (excerpts):

"Removing illegal downloads is an ongoing effort and a time-consuming task that just eats into our small income. As an example, we recently we found Scott Beard offering to give away our books illegally. He has not responded to our request to desist. [Beard now says he has removed it -- The Management.] The RAW Trust, Hilaritas Press and the RAW Trust Advisors have spent countless hours working on keeping RAW's books in print. If they are continually stolen like this, we cannot afford to continue.

"If there are any lawyers willing to help pro bono with our efforts at stopping this kind of theft, please contact us. We are reluctant to take from our tiny profits any funds to fight this kind of illegal activity, but we are forced to do so, or Hilaritas Press will no longer be able to exist. It's a Catch-22: we don't make enough in publishing profits to keep up with people stealing our product.

"We are really sorry to have to make this announcement. Some of you know me personally, and you know that I am working more than full time on RAW projects, and the meager profits we make from book sales provides a poverty level income. I am not rich, and so every time I see someone offering a bootlegged RAW title, I know that someone just made my life much more difficult. RAW's daughter, sharing the responsibilities of running the RAW Trust and Hilaritas Press, is in a similar situation. Most of the hours we spend on RAW work is a labor of love because we cannot afford to pay ourselves a normal salary. We are, however, trying to stay afloat. Please help us out!"

More here.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

A Beatlish tribute to Jack Parsons

I don't follow pop music very closely these days, and I've never paid much attention to Beatle progeny, either. But the new album by the Claypool Lennon Delirium, South of Reality, seems quite good. It's a collaboration of Sean Ono Lennon and Les Claypool (from Primus). It sounds like the Beatles and it's fun to listen to. It reminds me a bit of one of the better Paul McCartney albums, Electric Arguments. For many of you who have a library card, you can listen on  Hoopla. 

But an additional point that my interest some of you reading this blog: There's a song called "Block and Rockets" that's about Jack Parsons that also apparently references Aleister Crowley.

Friday, September 13, 2019

The Widow's Son online reading group, Week Four

Duc d’Orleans sans pox scars.

This week:Hilaritas Press edition pg. 51-62, Chapters 7&8 all editions)

By Gregory Arnott
special guest blogger

This week we are introduced to the enigmatic Duc d’Orleans, still the duc de Chartres at this point in history, Louis Phillipe -- twenty years from this point he’ll rename himself Philippe Égalité during the height of the Revolution. This is a more intimate portrait of the man as we see him privately dining, digesting, and casually abusing his power. (Also it is worth pointing out that at this point Fatima, Sigismundo’s favorite prostitute from Algiers, and three joints of beef have been described as formidable.) We’ll get to know more about d’Orleans and his role in Sigismundo’s fate soonish, most of this is in relation to the Duc’s role in the Grand Orient Lodge of Masonry- after the evens of the novel his son went to Austria leading to his father’s  murder during the Reign of Terror. Although d’Orleans would never sit the French throne the son who caused his untimely demise would. Discussing Proofs of a Conspiracy de Selby makes a Johnsonian kick at Robison.

In Chapter 7 the theme of “merde” still runs strong form Chartres “inexorable chemistry,” to the stinking streets of Paris, to the “tough shit for him” reaction the commissaire has to authoring Sigismundo’s warrant. Born and bred betwixt piss and shit. Jeder, the messenger, hails from Rennes-le-Chateau, epicenter of all this Merovingian/Priory of Sion business.

The chapter also contains some more intimate portraits of three other characters- Louis XV and Sartines through the lens of the narrator and the Chevalier d’Eon through the befuddled mind of Sartines. Louis XV continues to remind me of current people in positions of power and seems like a very stable genius. Sartines begins to resemble one of Wilson’s “bad” cop characters; like Otto Waterhouse his role as enforcer is implied to be born of misplaced resentment. Though I would say that Sartines is a more interesting character than Waterhouse’s caricature.

“Everybody thinks somebody else is to blame for all of life’s little problems.”- RAW (pg. 56 Hilaritas edition) “Some people claim that there's a woman to blame/Now I think, hell it could be my fault.”-Jimmy Buffett

I first read about the Chevalier d’Eon in a rather lurid chapbook about the Hellfire Club by a guy named Daniel Mannix. Regrettably my copy is somewhere in my parents’ house so I can’t delve into what I remember to be some great descriptions. d’Eon has proven to be a more popular figure in recent years because anime, I guess?...and because of their appeal to the transgender community. Since I don’t have my sensationalist history on hand, here is a good article about the Chevalier from Atlas Obscura that is worth reading.

An excerpt that gives some context to Sartine’s frustration with Louis’ approach to spycraft and d’Eon’s role:

“This traditional role, however, was just a cover: D’Eon was also tapped for another royal service—le Secret du Roi, or “King’s Secret”. The Secret was a network of spies and diplomatic agents established by Louis XV in the 1740s with the aim of putting his cousin, the Prince de Conti, on the Polish throne and turning the country into a French satellite. The Secret was so secret, it was hidden from and sometimes acted against the official French foreign ministry. D’Eon was charged with fostering good relations with the Russian court of the Empress Elizabeth and getting her behind installing Conti in Poland, as well as promoting France’s interests generally. Though d’Eon was competent, by all accounts hardworking, charming, and clever, the geopolitical reality was grim: That same year, France had entered what would become the Seven Years War with Britain.” (Linda Rodriguez McRobbie)

In Chapter 8 Captain Loup-Garou’s name is of course the French term for “werewolf,” his name and the language describing his six “ogres” make for a nice Gothic flavor. (I might be reaching but is there any chance his middle name “Teppis” is a reference to Vlad Tepes?) Perhaps the true horror of the first scene is Loup-Garou’s blase attitude towards following orders.

While we’re on the subject of Gothic horror I wanted to note last week that Maria thinks about her dark fantasies as something “from a gothic novel by Walpole.” Horace Walpole actually only wrote one Gothic novel, although it was the first, The Castle of Otranto. The novel is a medieval romance that establishes the incestuous themes as well as the sensationalized portrait of Catholicism/Southern Europe that would be found in much of the genre’s later works. Otranto is actually itself in Southern Italy, though on the opposite coast of Napoli. While the novel is turgid at times it is worth checking out. I tried teaching it to my sophomore’s last year at the beginning of our Gothic fiction unit and made a handout of excerpts. I’ve provided a link in case any one wants to dip their toes in.

The sinister Professor Hanfkopt makes another appearance in the footnote on pg. 60-61 having most likely framed a rival professor for terrorist activities in Ireland (no small joke in the 1980s) but the pothead’s English “almost sounded like the Katzenjammer Kids.” I believe his study of de Selby roughly translates as “De Selby’s Stupidity.”

Gabriel Honore de Mirabeau was a real person and as far as I could tell everything Wilson writes about here is historically accurate. I did read in one article that the first lettre de cachet written by Mirabeau’s father might have been to protect him from his debts but the Wikipedia article also linked to multiple sources that indicated the bitter relationship between Mirabeau and his father existing before this incident. Mirabeau would actually die before the tide could turn against him in the aftermath of the Revolution- the wiki article also has a picture of a memorial plate made for Mirabeau. Along with the pendants discussed in Chapter 3, the ones made from fragments of the Bastille, it seems entrepreneurship was alive and well in post-Revolutionary Paris: “Life is hard, but it is harder if you have too many scruples.”

“Let us weep for the loss of Mirebeau.” 

Remembering my World History seminars the lettres de cachet are pointed to as one of the most egregious institutions of the French Royalty that precipitated revolution. A lettre de cachet also plays a large part in Dickens’ Zanoni-inspired A Tale of Two Cities.

I was able to find two books I believe might be Wilson’s The Taking of the Bastille, the first is a historical novel by Alexander Dumas and the second is a history written in 1970 by Jacques Godechot. Which one it is depends on if Wilson was being a smartass or actually had been reading this book at closing time and forgot the author. I couldn’t imagine him truly forgetting Dumas’ name but having read neither book I don’t know which one (perhaps) contains the scene of Chartres tossing coins.

Do be careful today everyone, THEY say that Friday the 13th is bad luck.

From Eric Wagner: “For this week I’ve chosen Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor with Friday the 13th in mind. As a kid I loved this piece. It made me think of Captain Nemo and the Phantom of the Opera.” 

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Latest books read

A few reading notes on books I finished recently:

High Weirdness: Drugs, Esoterica, and Visionary Experiences in the Seventies, Erik Davis. Really good book, see my review. 

Exit Strategy, Martha Wells. Fourth in the "Murderbot" series. Very good series of short science fiction novels -- everyone I know who has read them like them -- but start with the first in the series, All Systems Red. 

The New Right: A Journey to the Fringe of American Politics, Michael Malice. A rather flawed book, but also very interesting and worth reading. I know now more about the "new right" than before, but the book also is about the progressive left, which Malice also criticizes. Many apropos observations, but in the end Malice makes the right wingers sound better and smarter than they actually are. (Are they really all polite and erudite?) Vox Day in particular comes off better than he deserves.

I read this after reading Tyler Cowen's review. 

Grant, Ron Chernow. Very interesting, and I learned a lot about American history and even Ohio history in the course of learning about Grant. A bit wordy, but you'll find out why Grant's reputation is growing, and why Robert E. Lee's has been falling.

Fall, or Dodge in Hell, Neal Stephenson. This book is a sequel of sorts to Reamde, but it is a very different book, a more difficult read than most Stephenson books, a philosophical book more akin to Anathem than Reamde. Maybe Stephenson's most ambitious book. Rewarding, with an ending more satisfying than some Stephenson books.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Eric chooses a soundtrack for us

Gregory Arnott has asked Eric Wagner (author of An Insider's Guide to Robert Anton Wilson, new edition out soon, more about that coming up) to suggest pieces to serve as a soundtrack for our ongoing The Widow's Son discussion group, and Eric has agreed to rise to the challenge.

"For this week (chapters 5 & 6), I have selected Haydn’s String Quartet Op. 20 #4 from 1772. Joseph Kerman frequently refers to the fugal finales from the Op. 20 quartets as Haydn demonstrating he had mastered Baroque counterpoint," Eric says.

Many of you with a library card should also be able to borrow from Hoopla, as I have just done.

Monday, September 9, 2019

How the Prometheus Award began

Michael Grossberg in the early 1980s, when he was founding the Libertarian Futurist Society. Photo courtesy Mr. Grossberg. 

The Prometheus Award is the annual award given by the Libertarian Futurist Society for works of science fiction that are of interest to libertarian science fiction fans. The first award was given out in 1979 as a one-off; it was then institutionalized with the founding of the LFS, and it's been given every year since 1982. It's the only literary award given to Robert Shea and to Robert Anton Wilson, at least that I know of; they got a Prometheus Hall of Fame Award in 1986 for Illuminatus! (in a tie with Cyril Kornbluth's The Syndic. (You can read Shea's acceptance speech and Wilson's thank you letter.)

I have recently completed two long interviews for the Libertarian Futurist Society blog on the two founders of the awards: science fiction writer L. Neil Smith, who gave out the first award in 1979, and writer, critic and  journalist Michael Grossberg, who founded the Libertarian Futurist Society and has been active ever since in keeping the award going. The Smith interview posted June 22; the interview with Grossberg went up Friday. Together, I think the interviews provide a pretty good oral history of how the award began.

I'm active in the Libertarian Futurist Society and serve on the organization's board.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Our new reading group has a logo!

Not too late to join our new reading group for The Widow's Son, and the comments in Week Three are starting to heat up.  And Rasa has  now done a meme for  us! Thanks Rasa! (It seems to me that one of the advantages of RAW fandom is that he inspires some quite good artists, e.g. Bobby Campbell, Rasa, amoeba, all of those folks who do Adam Gorightly's Eris of the Month, etc. etc.)

Saturday, September 7, 2019

RAW reviews 'Junky'

Another interesting find from Martin Wagner: A review by Robert Anton Wilson of William Burroughs' Junky.  Opening sentences: "In 1957, looking at 100 pages of an unpublished book by William S. Burroughs called Naked Lunch, I said, 'This man is the greatest prose stylist since James Joyce.' I believe that my opinions on every other subject in the galaxy have changed in the two decades since I made that judgement, but my opinion of Bill Burroughs hasn’t changed. This man is still the greatest prose stylist since James Joyce.