Monday, March 1, 2021

Prometheus Rising exercise and discussion group, Week 21

By Eric  Wagner
Special guest blogger 

Well, my Joyce experiment for the chapter one exercise in Prometheus Rising went OK. Reading the list of alternative names of Finnegans Wake on pages 104 through 107, I recalled the first time I met Robert Anton Wilson. I had written to him in 1986, and we began corresponding. In 1987 he planned to fly from his home in Ireland to do a speaking tour of the United States, and he sent me his itinerary, which included Dallas. My friend Jai Jeffryes had moved to Dallas the previous year, so I decided I would kill two birds with one stone. I would visit Jai and meet Dr. Wilson. Bob gave a talk on Friday night and then he had a seminar on Saturday. At one point during the seminar he passed a copy of Finnegans Wake around, and he had each of us read one of the alternative names for the Wake on pages 104 through 107. In the book a hen picks a letter out of a dump. The letter corresponds with the Wake. Joyce calls the hen Belinda after the Belinda in Alexander Pope’s “The Rape of the Lock”.  

This week I noticed that few pages later on page 112 Joyce give a nice introduction to Finnegans Wake in this short paragraph:

You is feeling like you was lost in the bush, boy? You says: It is a puling sample   jungle of woods. You most shouts out: Bethicket me for a stump of a beech if I have the  poultriest notions what the farest he all means. Gee up, girly! The quad gospellers may own the targum but any of the Zingari shoolerim may pick a peck of kindlings yet from  the sack of auld hensyne.

Typing this out I notice that Word only underlines nine words in this paragraph with red indicating a misspelling or a “word” unknown to the program. Joyce mostly uses short, ordinary English words in this paragraph. I have certainly felt “lost in the bush” trying to understand Finnegans Wake. It does seem like a simple jungle of words at times. I almost shout out: Bethinket me for a son of a bitch if I have the paltriest notion of what the heck he means. The quad gospellers refers to the authors of the four Gospels in the Bible, who in the Wake correspond to the four old men, the four animals in the Book of Ezekiel, the four bedposts of the sleeper’s bed, four divisions of Ireland, etc. In this paragraph I see the quad gospellers as referring to the professional Joyceans who write learned books and articles on the Wake. I think Joyce means here that anyone (the Zingari schoolerim) can find meaning (pick a peck of kindlings) in the book (the sack of auld hensyne, which combines “Auld Lang Syne” with the letter the hen pulls from the dump). Of course Joyce wanted his readers to devote their whole lives to his works, but as critic Harold Bloom noted, the more one puts into one’s study of Joyce, the more one tends to get out of it.

Note: Shortly after writing the above I unexpectedly got my first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. I don’t say that studying Joyce got me the vaccine magickally; I just note the coincidence.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

RAW was not an anti-vaxxer, his daughter says


[Today's blog post is a "reprint" of a posting by Rasa on Facebook -- The Management.]

I have a weekly meeting with Robert Anton Wilson's daughter, Christina, and today I showed her the meme that uses her dad's quote as anti-vaccine conspiracy propaganda – "The obedient always think of themselves as virtuous rather than cowardly," with a picture of a healthcare worker taking a photo of himself getting the Covid vaccine. She sighed. Her first comment was that RAW was not "against" the medical profession. He was mostly railing against absurd conspiracy theories or pseudo-science, but he had a lot of respect for most of mainstream science, when it was actual science. I mentioned that the focus of The New Inquisition was primarily an attack on scientists who refused to accept or consider new or alternative views. She agreed.

Christina added that he would have loved to have had the polio vaccine, that was developed after he contracted polio, and that because of travel he took in his life, he took many required vaccines without hesitation. Because of the way he generally treated modern medicine throughout his life, she had no doubt that he would be fine with taking the Covid vaccine. A few months ago, she told me that she also thought he would have no problem wearing a mask, and would probably insist on others wearing a mask in his presence. She said he was always very careful with his physical health – one of the few ways he was "conservative" in his life.

RAW was not actually "cured" of polio by the alternative Sister Kenny method, but it did result in him not dying from the disease. He had a limp for his entire life, and in his last 20 years he had progressive pain, and eventually severe muscle failure, from the symptoms of post-polio syndrome. He was happy to take all kinds of patent medicines when needed, although, I have to admit that his favorite "medicines" were cannabis and Jameson Irish whiskey.

A couple months before his death, I took this photo of him and Christina. I didn't want to publish it anywhere, but Christina suggested I do, so I added the WAMM info to make it a meme he would have loved. The last time we talked, about a week before his death, he apologized to me because he didn't like me being inconvenienced by having to strain to understand his garbled speech. The post-polio syndrome made it increasingly difficult for him to talk. That nearly brought me to tears. I really loved that guy.

As I mentioned in another comment about the Covid vaccine meme . . . "the quote stolen for use in this meme was in reference to actual slaves having zero recourse for argument or rebellion. Taken out of context, the meme crassly negates the original intent. That doesn't seem honest to me."

-- Rasa

Saturday, February 27, 2021

New issue of Bodge released

The second issue of Bodge, the Discordian zine put out by the Liverpool Arts Lab, has been released. Go here to download a free PDF or to order a paper copy.

The format is the same as the first issue: Each contributor gets one page. My favorite when I made a first pass through the new issue was by Kate Alderton, the British actress who has been working with dreams. She has a lovely "dream seeding recipe" and I intend to try it. (I keep wondering if she has read either of two wonderful science fiction stories about dreams: The Dream Master by Roger Zelazny, also known as "He Who Shapes," and Brian Aldiss' story "Journey to the Heartland," reprinted in Aldiss' collection Last Orders.) There were other contributions I liked, too. Check it out! 

Friday, February 26, 2021

The FDA, then and now

The FDA building, where dedicated federal bureaucrats work hard to make sure we don't get lifesaving vaccines too quickly. (Public domain government photo.)

The Food and Drug Administration is one of my least favorite federal agencies. It's one of the aspects of the U.S. government which makes me wonder why almost everyone I know who expresses a political preference is a Democrat or Republican, rather than a Libertarian.

Robert Anton Wilson, no fan of the FDA, wrote over and over again about how the agency treated Wilhelm Reich. Here are a few words from the "Taking the Name of the Lord in Pain" chapter of Cosmic Trigger 2: " ... I had read about Dr. Reich, when the Food and Drug Administration invaded his laboratory, smashed his equipment with axes, burned all of his books and threw him in jail."

If you read the rather long entry about Reich on Wikipedia, you can see that while this summary removes a certain amount of nuance (the FDA supposedly only supervised the destruction of Reich's equipment and books, rather than taking part), RAW's summary omits details which makes its actions even worse. Not only Reich but an associate, Dr. Michael Silvert, were sent to prison (Silvert killed himself after being released). And the U.S. Supreme Court -- you know, the tribune of the people, which steps in to protect our constitutional liberties -- declined to hear Reich's appeal.

Only a relatively few people apparently thought any of this was worth making a fuss over. The American Civil Liberties Union (in those days, an organization concerned with civil liberties) did issue a press release criticizing the book burning.

Fast forward to 2020-2021, and with half a million Americans dead from the pandemic, and tens of millions wishing they could get a damn vaccination shot already, the FDA has kept itself busy by trying to impede the testing necessary to track the disease and slow its spread, and by trying to hold up the distribution of vaccines as much as possible.

If you think that's an exaggeration, then I will submit you haven't been following press coverage of the FDA very closely. You can, for example, read a New York Times account of May 15, 2020, relatively early in the pandemic, of how a test backed by Bill Gates was used to learn more about the spread of the virus, until the FDA ordered a halt in testing. 

As for my claim that the FDA is holding up vaccines, feel free to offer your own explanation for why the Oxford AstraZeneca has been authorized by the World Health Organization, the United Kingdom, all of the member nations of the European Union (27 countries such as Germany, France, etc.),  India, Mexico and probably some other countries I have forgotten. But here in the land of the free and the home of the brave, I am not free to take it, even if I am brave enough to take a vaccine that's been in use for weeks around the world.

When the Johnson and Johnson pharmaceutical company applied for an Emergency Use Authorization at the FDA on Feb. 4 to distribute its vaccine, the FDA decided to wait more than three weeks before it convenes a panel to discuss the matter. The meeting, in fact, is being held today. The current seven-day average for COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. is 2,174.  So that's what, 40,000 deaths or so while the FDA considers the matter? The 3,000 deaths from the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack were used as an excuse to turn the U.S. into a police state.

As with all of the Wilhelm Reich stuff, only a relatively small number of apparent oddballs seem to think there is anything wrong with the FDA's actions and lack of actions, libertarians on Twitter and the like. It doesn't seem to bother anyone in the Biden administration or anyone I have heard about in the U.S. Congress. 

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Reasons to be cheerful


In Cosmic Trigger 2, Robert Anton Wilson writes (in the "Barbaric Age Recalled" chapter) about how awful living conditions were as he grew up. (He was born in 1932.)

"When I remember life in Gerritsen Beach in those days, I define it chiefly in negatives," he writes. "Most readers born since 1945 cannot imagine the ignorance and brutality of those days. Many middle-aged women had goiter, a disease causing an ugly lump in the neck, which looked like a cancer. (The cure was found sometime in the 1940s and goiter disappeared from America). People regularly died of tuberculosis, which is now normally cured in its early stages, and children had dozens of diseases now abolished. I myself survives measles, German measles, mumps, flu (still a major killer in those days), rheumatic fever, whooping cough, diphtheria and polio."

The passage has many other details. "The community had no paved roads and nobody had central heating. wall-to-wall carpeting or central bathrooms ... When ecologists like Gary Snyder talk about 'going back to the way things were in the 1920s,' I think they must be a few gallons shy of a full tank. The '20s were even worse for poor people than the '30s ... " 

We all went through a tough year in 2020 because of the pandemic. Most people, regardless of their political persuasion, did not particularly enjoy the U.S. election and other events associated with it, although obviously Democrats preferred the ultimate outcome.

With that noted, perhaps it is useful to point out last year was a good year for technological progress. A couple of recent columns I ran across made that point.

Writing for his column at Bloomberg news, Tyler Cowen wrote in "The Silver Lining of 2020" that the mRNA vaccines for COVID-19, developed in record time, were not the only example of technological advances during the year. 

"Other advances in the biosciences may prove no less stunning. A very promising vaccine candidate against malaria, perhaps the greatest killer in human history, is in the final stages of testing. Advances in vaccine technology have created the real possibility of a universal flu vaccine, and work is proceeding on that front. New CRISPR techniques appear on the verge of vanquishing sickle-cell anemia, and other CRISPR methods have allowed scientists to create a new smartphone-based diagnostic test that would detect viruses and offer diagnoses within half an hour," he wrote.

2020 also saw breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, transportation and green energy, apparently providing a path forward to deal with climate change. The column notes "progress in solar power, which in many settings is as cheap as any relevant alternative. China is opening a new and promising fusion reactor. Despite the absence of a coherent U.S. national energy policy, the notion of a mostly green energy future no longer appears utopian.

"In previous eras, advances in energy and transportation typically have brought further technological advances, by enabling humans to conquer and reshape their physical environments in new and unexpected ways. We can hope that general trend will continue."

David Brooks wrote a column making similar points in the New York Times. Yes, I know the country is largely divided between people who hate Brooks or who hate the Times, but "The Coming Technology Boom" is a good column that mentions many new technologies Cowen did not list. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

My literary synchronicities

George Alec Effinger. I'm having trouble finding a Creative Commons photo of him, so I hope running this is considered fair use. 

When I think about it, it seems odd that although I lived most of my life in Oklahoma, I wound up living in Cleveland. I say this because many of my favorite science fiction writers were from Cleveland. Not all of them; I loved Jack Vance, and he was from California, and I was fond of Philip Jose Farmer, who was from Peoria, Illinois. And I liked Isaac Asimov growing up, and Arthur C. Clarke. 

But Harlan Ellison, George Alec Effinger and Roger Zelazny were all from Cleveland, although all of them had left by the time I moved to the Cleveland area in 2003 after marrying a Cleveland girl. Effinger was a big sports fan who wrote sports SF stories, including one about a Cleveland Browns running back; when I moved here, I wound up becoming a loyal follower of all of the Cleveland sports teams Effinger used to root for, even after he left Cleveland.

Roger Zelazny wound up in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he became close friends with George R.R. Martin. (It was recently announced that Martin will be the executive producer for an HBO adaptation of Zelazny's novel Roadmarks. Read my article about that.

I am well read in all three of those authors, and I still read them, although I am particularly an Effinger specialist; I even did a fan tribute site about Effinger years ago. Google moved my site to a different location and destroyed the formatting, making it look odd and hard to read; when I get a bit of spare time, I need to reconstitute and update it. So in a sense, the Effinger site prefigures this one. (Effinger is probably the least known of the three, but honestly, he was a wonderful writer; he wrote very good short stories and some really good novels, such as What Entropy Needs to Me, The Wolves of Memory and the Marid Audran series that began with When Gravity Fails. At one point, he was married to Barbara Hambly, also a fine writer.

In any event, I became very interested in Effinger before I wound up coming to Cleveland. 

And as I thought about this, I realized something else -- I have an unlikely geographical connection to Robert Anton Wilson.

As far as I know, RAW lived all of his life in four U.S. states -- New York, Ohio, Illinois and California, except for a stint of living in Mexico. I have lived for all of my life in three states -- California, Oklahoma and Ohio -- so two of my states overlap two of RAW's. OK, maybe not the greatest coincidence ever, but there are 50 states. 

RAW had a couple of different connections to Ohio. He lived for awhile in Yellow Springs, Ohio, the home of Antioch College, which of course was Simon Moon's university in Illuminatus! Yellow Springs also is the hometown of Ohio's current governor, Mike DeWine. 

Timothy Leary, Robert Shea, Patricia Monaghan, Jeff Rosenbaum, Gillie Smythe at an Association for Consciousness Expansion event in Cleveland 

As for Cleveland, RAW came to Cleveland for events organized by the Association for Consciousness Expansion, an organization founded by the late Jeff Rosenbaum, who was RAW's lecture agent for six years during the 1980s. RAW and Robert Shea both came to Cleveland for ACE events, and ACE published recordings of both men. (Unfortunately, I had never gotten around to tracking down Rosenbaum by the time he died in 2014). 

I don't know if RAW read most of my other favorites (he did know Clarke's work), but I was delighted when I found out that RAW and Farmer were fans of each other. 

Monday, February 22, 2021

Prometheus Rising discussion/exercise group, Week Twenty


By Gregory Arnott
Special guest blogger

Chapter One: NoboBob

It seems significant to me that Wilson chose to end the first chapter summarizing the wild notions that can become reality amidst the machinations of the Thinker and the Prover, specifically “something as remarkable as the notion that there is a gaseous vertebrate of astronomical heft (“GOD”) who will spend all eternity torturing people who do not believe in his religion.” 

While I’ve talked about the specific article in depth in previous reading groups, it is worth mentioning once more that Wilson began his career with a clever bit of juvenile humor asking just how large is God’s willy. Published in Krassner’s Realist, the article was a clever subversion of the logical arguments made by Catholic scholars to prove the existence of God Almighty. Wilson never seemed to cotton to the idea of the Abrahamic God. 

I think one of the reasons I came so readily to Wilson was his intense dislike of Christianity. I can relate; Wilson was born in the suffocating society of Irish Catholics in Brooklyn during the 1930s and I was born in a small town in the Mid-Ohio Valley amongst a contentious and ever expanding number of Protestant churches during what might have well have been the 1930s. Being curious and being raised in a religious society rarely turn out well. (And, if I may be so bold, I think being decently compassionate didn’t help either of us.) I believe Wilson gives us his approximate age when he finally had it with the religion of his parents but I can’t remember it -- he tells us he went on to Atheism, Marxism before eventually stumbling upon Korzybski which seemed to be his original passport into the life of the mind. I was nine when I committed what I would later learn, and relish, was the sin of apostasy. 

I nursed resentment towards Christians as I grew older, fertilized by being told the books I read were “wicked,” that talking about “-isms” was a sign of blasphemous pretension, the stupidity of their obsession with homosexuality, their polemics against premarital sex, the ignorance spat like poison from one sect towards another, arguing over how much of one’s body must be immersed in water to be saved from eternal damnation… It was fucking awful. So today I still have a problem with Christianity and their sonofabitch Gawd. Now, I realize had I been born in a different religious society I would have likely hated it as well, so I try to be honest and say I hate the Orthodox God. I hate belief. My Thinker thinks that any form of dogmatism is the true sin (which simply means “missing the mark”)- presuming to know is anathema, my Prover has been building the case for years to the point where I can’t see above the brick and mortar of perceived experience. I’d rather die than live in a truly Christian nation. 

The writers who have most shaped my worldview (Moore, Blake, Crowley and Wilson) all possess decidedly anti-Orthodox, if not downright anti-Christian views. The question that remains is did my Thinker draw me towards them or did my Thinker readjust to better emulate their ideas? I’d prefer to think that rather than simply being drawn towards anti-Christian thinkers that the rebellion against Jehovah/Old Nobodaddy is often the first false reality on-hand to break. In this Jehovah still serves his position in the Gnostic cosmology as the false deity that draws a veil between humanity and the Pleroma. By breaking from the Abrahamic monster-god modern day Gnostics are able to better ascertain the Truth- whatever the hell that might be.  And like the historical Gnostics they find themselves in a hostile world full of the servants of the Demiurge. 

As Hagbard says in Illuminatus!: the only thing every crew member aboard the Leif Erickson believes in what the Man with the Horns said to the Man with the Beard: non serviam. Fuck you Jehovah. 

Why darkness & obscurity
In all thy works & laws,
That none dare eat the fruit but from
Thy wily serpent's jaws?
Or is it because Secrecy
Gains females' loud applause?

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Nuclear war -- still the biggest nightmare?

A Russian Tupolev Tu-160 bomber, in flight over Russia. (Creative Commons photo by Alex Beltyukov)

Via Jesse Walker on Twitter, I ran across a scary article at Slate, "Apocalypse Averted," about how "The world came much closer to nuclear war than we realized in 1983."

The piece by Fred Kaplan relates how in 1983, NATO ran a massive training exercise, Able Archer, which at least some Russian military leaders thought was a prelude to the real thing. Newly-declassified documents show that "the commander of the Soviet 4th Army Air Forces in Eastern Europe ordered all of his units to make 'preparations for the immediate use of nuclear weapons.' As part of that order, crewmen loaded actual nuclear bombs onto several combat planes."

As it happens, I am re-reading Cosmic Trigger 2, as I mentioned earlier, which is dedicated, in part, "AGAINST the makers of war in anathema," consistent with Robert Anton Wilson's lifelong opposition to war.

I don't know about you, but reading that the Russian Air Force was loading nuclear bombs onto planes, makes me nervous. Maybe even more than Donald Trump warning he may have to "totally destroy" North Korea  or the Tweet Trump sent threatening that country, (Admittedly, he was provoked by North Korea's leader.) Still, a bit unnerving for the head of what is arguably the most powerful country on Earth threatening to destroy a small country in Asia:

Before my Republican friends get mad, I will stipulate (as RAW points in CT2) that the main wars the U.S, got involved in during the 20th century were begun by Democratic presidents. I hope Joe Biden will be a peace president, but we'll see. The Biden administration moving forward with the prosecution of Julian Assange does not strike me as a good sign. 

Climate change is the "fashionable" threat to Earth and of course I favor moving toward green energy, dialing back carbon emissions, etc. Still, I wonder if the threat of war still looms as the main threat to civilization.  

Saturday, February 20, 2021

New UFO book by Adam Gorightly

 New book announcement from the Daily Grail: "I’m delighted to announce a new book from Daily Grail Publishing: Saucers, Spooks and Kooks: UFO disinformation in the Age of Aquarius by legendary ‘crackpot historian’  Adam Gorightly!" 

"The book looks into a number of the modern mythologies that have come into being since the advent of the UFO era in the 1940s, such as UFO crashes and underground alien bases, asking how much of these myths is real, versus being the invention of either government agencies or deluded conspiracy theorists. It’s a must read in light of the recent buzz about government releases of UFO videos etc."

It's out now as a paperback on Amazon and an ebook is coming soon.

More here. 

Friday, February 19, 2021

RAW Semantics on RAW's 'matrist-patrist' analysis

George Lakoff (Creative Commons photo)

RAW Semantics has a new blog post up that discusses Robert Anton Wilson's use of the matrist/patrist -- oral/anal archetype used in three different books (Ishtar Rising, Coincidance and Prometheus Rising), the work by G. Rattray Taylor that RAW drew on, similar discussion by George Lakoff and how these concepts can be applied to offer contrasting views on the state providing welfare benefits. In this case, there is no one "nut graph" I can quote summarizing all this, so I'll just suggest you read it. 

You can also read Michael Johnson's 2016 blog post that inspired Brian, which now has been updated to link back to Brian. If Michael is updating his old blog posts, maybe we can talk him into writing new ones? 

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Is Beethoven's 'greatness' white male propaganda?


Via a related article in the New York Times, I found this article by Black music critic Philip Ewell. "Beethoven Was an Above Average Composer -- Let's Leave It That" says claims about Beethoven's greatness is a plot by the white male patriarchy:

"Beethoven occupies the place he does because he has been propped up by whiteness and maleness for two hundred years, and we have been told by whiteness and maleness that his greatness has nothing to do with whiteness and maleness, in race-neutral and gender-neutral fashion. Thus music theory’s white-male frame obfuscates race and gender, one of its main goals."

It seems to be that claims that Beethoven wasn't great are refuted by listening to him, although I admit to being a white male.

John McWhorter, a Black writer, apparently also disagrees:

"Above average, for his era, was someone like Carl Stamitz – a typical piece was his Orchestral Quartet in C major. It’s pretty like a tulip, and exemplifies a word often used for his work, 'appealing.' Above average – but there’s a reason you’ve never heard of him unless you’re a music specialist.

"We have to compare something like one of Beethoven’s late string quartets – I’ll go for  the Opus 131 in C# minor. Schubert’s assessment of this one was 'After this, what is left for us to write?' and wanted it played by his deathbed. Robert Schumann placed it 'on the extreme boundary of all that has hitherto been attained by human art and imagination.”'Yes, those two were limited by what they knew and heard as white guys – but I suspect their assessment stands the test of time for all humans today inclined to listen in to the piece."

Possibly related: the feminist college professor who said that Beethoven was a rapist, based on the "evidence" of the Ninth Symphony, a claim RAW wrote about in Cosmic Trigger 3. More on the controversy here. 

Also possibly related: Beethoven's Black friend. 

Via the New York Times and Rob Pugh.