Sunday, July 12, 2020

Cherryh, Fancher win Prometheus Award


C.J. Cherryh in 2006

[The connection with this blog is that the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award is the only literary award, that I am aware of, that Robert Anton Wilson ever received (he and Robert Shea won it in 1986 for Illuminatus!) Robert Shea was a member of the Libertarian Futurist Society, which gives the Prometheus Award and the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award. Disclosure: I am a member of the board of the LFS. By the way, when some friends of mine and I formed a science fiction club at the University of Oklahoma in the 1970s, C. J. Cherryh was our first author guest. She had just published her first novel, Gate of Ivrel.  Below is the official press release on this year's award. -- The Management.]

Prometheus Award for Best Novel

Alliance Rising, by C. J. Cherryh and Jane S. Fancher (DAW), has won the 2020 Prometheus Award for Best Novel for novels published in 2019. Set in C.J. Cherryh's Alliance/Union Universe (before her novel Downbelow Station), Cherryh and Jane S. Fancher's interstellar saga of technological upheaval, intrigue and romance explores the early days of the Merchanter Alliance. Independent spaceship families ally during complex, mult-isided political-economic rivalries to defend established rights and promote the common good through free trade.

In one of the better fictional treatments of a complex economy, characters maneuver to prevent statist regimes from dominating space lanes, resist Earth's centralized governance, and investigate the purpose of a mysterious ship, The Rights of Man, undergoing construction on an isolated space station. Classic libertarian themes emerge about what rights are and where they come from (often to resolve conflicts and avoid the initiation of force) and how commerce and property rights promote peace and prosperity as humanity spreads among the stars.

The other 2020 Best Novel finalists were The Testaments, by Margaret Atwood (Random House; Nan A. Talese); Ruin's Wake, by Patrick Edwards (Titan Books); Luna: Moon Rising, by Ian McDonald (TOR Books): and Ode to Defiance, by Marc Stiegler (LMBPN Publishing).

LFS members also nominated these 2019 works for this year's Best Novel category: They Will Drown in Their Mothers' Tears, by Johannes Anyuru (Two Lines Press); Monster Hunter Guardian, by Larry Correia and Sarah H. Hoyt (Baen Books); The Good Luck Girls, by Charlotte Nicole Davis (TOR Teen); Empire of Lies, by Raymond Khoury (Forge Books/TOR); The Year of Jublio!, by Joseph T. Major (Amazon); Atlas Alone, by Emma Newman (ACE Books/Penguin Group); Stealing Worlds, by Karl Schroeder (TOR Books); Fall, or Dodge in Hell, by Neal Stephenson (William Morrow); and Delta-V, by Daniel Suarez (Dutton).

The Prometheus Hall of Fame for Best Classic Fiction

"Sam Hall," Poul Anderson's short story, won the 2020 Best Classic Fiction award and will be inducted into the Prometheus Hall of Fame.

First published in 1953 in Astounding Science Fiction, Anderson's story is set in a security-obsessed United States, where computerized record-keeping enables the creation of a panopticon society. The insertion of a false record into the system leads to unintended consequences.

Anderson (1926-2001), now a five-time Prometheus Award-winner and the first sf author to be honored with a Special Prometheus Award for Lifetime Achievement (in 2001), explored political implications of computer technology that now, decades later, are widely recognized.

The other Prometheus Hall of Fame finalists were "As Easy as A.B.C.," a 1912 story by Rudyard Kipling; "The Trees," a 1978 song by the rock group Rush; A Time of Changes, a 1971 novel by Robert Silverberg; and "Lipidleggin'," a 1978 story by F. Paul Wilson.

In addition to the finalists, the Hall of Fame Finalist Judging Committee considered four other works: The Winter of the World, by Poul Anderson; The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood; "The Pedestrian," by Ray Bradbury; and The Uplift War, by David Brin.

While the Best Novel category is limited to novels published in English for the first time during the previous calendar year (or so), Hall of Fame nominees may be in any narrative or dramatic form, including novels, novellas, stories, films, television series or episodes, plays, musicals, other video, graphic novels, song lyrics, or epic or narrative verse.

Prometheus Awards History

The Prometheus Awards, sponsored by the Libertarian Futurist Society (LFS), was established and first presented in 1979, making it one of the most enduring awards after the Nebula and Hugo awards, and one of the oldest fan-based awards currently in sf. All LFS members have the right to nominate eligible works for the Prometheus Awards.

The Prometheus Award have, for more than four decades, recognized outstanding works of science fiction and fantasy that dramatize the perennial conflict between Liberty and Power. Such works critique or satirize authoritarian trends, expose abuses of power by the institutionalized coercion of the State, champion cooperation over coercion as the roots of civility and social harmony, and uphold individual rights and freedom for all as the only moral and practical foundation for peace, prosperity, progress, justice, tolerance, mutual respect, universal human flourishing and civilization itself.

After separate judging committees select finalists in each annual awards category, LFS members read and rank the finalists to choose the annual Prometheus Award winners.

As always, the annual Best Novel winner will receive a plaque with a one-ounce gold coin; and the Hall of Fame winner, a plaque with a smaller gold coin.

LFS Prometheus Awards panel at New Zealand Worldcon

In honor of the recent 40th anniversary of the Prometheus Awards, the New Zealand Worldcon (ConZealand) has added to its virtual program a panel discussion on “Freedom in SF: Four Decades of the Prometheus Award.” That panel, with novelist F. Paul Wilson joining LFS board members and awards judges Michael Grossberg and Tom Jackson, is scheduled for 10-11 p.m. Saturday Aug. 1 EDT (i.e., 2 p.m. Sunday Aug. 2 NZST in New Zealand.)

The Worldcon will offer a full virtual convention schedule, available July 30 through Aug. 2 to Worldcon registered members.

LFS at North American Science Fiction Convention

The Prometheus Awards ceremony will take place in an online program via Zoom as part of the Columbus 2020 North American Science Fiction Convention (NASFiC). Because of safety concerns during the pandemic, the NASFIC will offer selected virtual events Aug. 21-22, including the LFS's Prometheus Awards ceremony (set for Saturday Aug. 22 from 1pm to 2:30 EDT), to be immediately followed by a NASFiC/LFS panel discussion with Prometheus-winning writers F. Paul Wilson and Sarah Hoyt on "Visions of SF, Liberty, Human Rights: The Prometheus Awards over Four Decades, from F. Paul Wilson and Robert Heinlein to Today."

Prometheus blog: Awards Appreciation Series

On the 40th anniversary of the first Prometheus Award in 1979, the LFS began celebrating and remembering past winners with a weekly Appreciation series on the LFS's Prometheus Blog. With the initial Best Novel series completed, the Appreciation series is now continuing with review/essays in chronological order of each of the winners of the Hall of Fame category, first presented in 1983. Each review/essay is designed to remind readers of outstanding works of fiction that remain worth reading or rereading today while educating the public about the specific pro-liberty and/or antiauthoritarian themes or story elements that inspired LFS members to select each work as a Prometheus winner.
For a full list of past Prometheus Award winners in all categories, visit www.lfs.org. For reviews, news and commentary on these and other works of interest to the LFS, visit the Prometheus blog via the link at the top of our website (lfs.org/blog).

Membership in the Libertarian Futurist Society is open to any science fiction fan interested in how fiction can promote an appreciation of the value of liberty.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

RAW reviews the 1976 'King Kong'



Another Martin Wagner rediscovery (and I meant to post about this earlier, sorry Martin): A review by Robert Anton Wilson praising the 1976 remake of "King Kong."

The two versions simply are not comparable. It is impossible to say with any fairness that one is better than the other; that would be like comparining Beethoven to strawberry or sex to Picasso.

What we have here is just what the advertisements promise: an astonishingly original motion picture. It is also the most mythic, psychedelic and mind-boggling cinematic extravaganza since 2001.


Friday, July 10, 2020

RAW versus the Acidheads


Home page of the Original Kleptonian Neo-American Church. "Kleptonian" refers to Arthur Kleps, please see below. 

Adam Gorightly has an excellent new post up at Historia Discordia, RAW vs. the Acidheads for… ONE MILLION DOLLARS! which includes a clipping from "National Weed," a newspaper I am unfamiliar with,  “Author Sues Acidheads For Saying Leary Wrote His Book!” The article does not actually announce a court filing, and Adam says, "In essence, this article appears to have been a PR prank Robert Anton Wilson pulled as a pretext to promote Illuminatus! while at the same time taking a pot-shot (pun intended) at members of the Neo-American Church, who — on occasion — RAW was known to tussle with."

Adam's posting also has a possible clue to the contents of the impending publication of The Starseed Signals: Link Between Worlds.  

"This article also mentions a Timothy Leary interview RAW was working on that had yet to be published at the time due to what he referred to as 'perfectionist' editors at PLAYBOY. This “Lost Leary Interview” — which has yet to see the literary light of day — was among content included in the RVP-never-to-be-version of Starseed Signals, although I’ve been informed that our friends at Hilaritas Press may include it in their forthcoming iteration of the book," Adam writes.

His post also includes a letter to the editor written by RAW, involving a feud between RAW and the late Art Kleps. 


Thursday, July 9, 2020

Eric's music listening scheme


Murray Perahia (Creative Commons photo)

Eric Wagner wrote recently to share his new music listening scheme: "My new game: I listen to a Mozart piano concerto based on the date. Today, June 18, I just put on Concerto #18. I have the Perahia set of 27 concertos and two rondos. I plan to listen to a rondo each on the 28th and 29th, and I plan to return to #25, my favorite, on the 30th. I will likely pick another late concerto on July 31 if I keep this up."

Murray Perahia is a very good Mozartean; I need to listen to the 25th to see why Eric likes it so much. I'm partial to #20 and #24, myself. I forgot to ask Eric if he is referring to listening to a CD on the stereo, or to Spotify with a Bluetooth speaker, or what. I need to nail these details down.

But in any event I like this scheme for concentrated listening. One drawback is that while Mozart is never less than pleasant, the early work is not as interesting as the later pieces; Mozart wrote most of the music he's remembered for in the last few years of his life, frantically issuing one masterpiece after another in his waning months. On the other hand, under Eric's scheme, the music is generally going to get better as the month advances.

In any event, I may have to adopt this for myself. It would be a way to finally get through all 27 Nikolai Myaskovsky symphonies; I could also modify the scheme to listen to all of the Shostakovich and Prokofiev symphonies (with a few concertos thrown in) or to listen to all of Beethoven's piano sonatas in a month.

I never seem to get many comments for my classical music postings, but oh well! I like to think RAW would have read them.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

'Haydn, of course, was not mentioned in the prognosis'


Vadim Batitsky, aka Boom. 

My favorite music blogger, the "Boom" of the "Boom's Dungeon" classical music blog, has put up a farewell blog post. Unfortunately, I only noticed it Tuesday; the blog generally is updated every few weeks, so I haven't felt the need to check it daily.

The blog has been written under the "Boom" pseudonym, but in the post Boom reveals he has a fatal illness and also reveals his real identity, philosophy professor Vadim Batitsky.

A team of highly paid doctors has given me good reasons to believe that my days are numbered and the number is unlikely to exceed by much that of Haydn's symphonies.  (Haydn, of course, was not mentioned in the prognosis.)  Which makes now just the right time for a post of this sort.  It is not irrationally premature because an advanced death notice can be written even for a healthy fetus.  (Remember that tired syllogism: All men are mortal ... ?) ... My blog is only my way of having fun by advertising my enthusiasms and venting my frustrations derived from encounters with art music, art criticism, journalism, academia, and a few other subjects I find worthy of my time.  At the risk of flattering myself, I take it that those few people who periodically visit my blog do so because they are interested in, if not always pleased by, what I write about these subjects.  And this makes me feel that such readers deserve to know that this blog will become inactive not because I got bored with it or ran out of things to say, but for a biological reason beyond the reach of today's medicine.

I've learned a great deal about classical music through reading Boom's blog posts over and over again; he apparently loves classical music even more than Eric Wagner or I do. He is a sharp thinker, and expresses himself clearly and with a sometimes biting tone. I invite you to check out his blog.

Here are a couple of blog posts I particularly liked: "Modernism as an attitude problem," one of his defenses of Elliott Carter, and here is his amusing post on a "perfect pianist" although he later found recordings by Till Fellner that he liked.

I'll be spending some of my time this week listening to Roger Sessions, one of the composers Professor Batitsky successfully turned me on to.  (Another Sessions post.)






Monday, July 6, 2020

Get your free 'black opium in a lush and expensive brothel'


Johann Christian Bach, the 'English Bach'

One of the amazing aspects of modern times for an old guy like me is the wealth of free music that can be streamed into your home by anyone with a library card. I take advantage of that quite often, usually but not always to listen to classical music.

Robert Anton Wilson's description of the music of Johann Christian Bach in a recent chapter for the Nature's God reading group as  "black opium in a lush and expensive brothel" (Chapter 7) reminded me that I've meant to explore J.C. Bach's music; surely Wilson meant to strongly recommend him with such a vivid description. I'll use him as an example of how to use the free library services. (I find it comforting to know that if I lost everything, all of my music collection vanished, and I had no money, I could still listen to tons of music.)

The two main digital library music services are Freegal and Hoopla Digital. There is little overlap between them, as they have deals with different record companies. Both have tons of classical music representing all of the major composers (and many minor ones.)

Each service has strengths and weaknesses. Freegal has unlimited streaming and also lets users download and keep five MP3 files a week. It also makes it easy to combine music into playlists. (I quickly put together a four-hour J.C. Bach playlist.) Hoopla operates strictly by letting users check out an album for a week. There's no opportunity to put together playlists, but Hoopla has a very large selection of music, much bigger than Freegal.

It's best to have a library card that offers both services, or to have more than one library card, so you can take advantage of both. It's easy to do this in Ohio, which provides a bigger state subsidy for local libraries than any state and therefore requires each library to accept applications for a library card (for a library, or a library network) from anyone in Ohio.  Other states are apparently not so generous, but see this article on "Libraries with Non-resident Borrowing Privileges!" which explains how you may be able to obtain an additional library card in your own state, or failing that, purchase a library card.  I looked at some of the latter libraries, and the Houston Public Library, in Texas, seems to offer a nice balance of cost and lots of digital goodies.

I spent a lot of time recently listening to Johann Christian Bach on both library services, and indeed, as you might expect from "black opium in a brothel," his music is beautiful and sensuous. The recommendations below are for the library services, but they should also work for Spotify, etc. 

His music can be easily found on Freegal by searching for "Johann Christian Bach" and "J.C. Bach." On Freegal, try the Johann Christian Bach - Quintet in D Major, Op. 22 No.1 recording by Collegium Musicum Fluminense or the J.C. Bach: Sinfoniae Concertante Collegium Aureum album. 

Hoopla's cataloging and annotation of classical music is not exactly a strength, and but the service's treatment of J.C. Bach is particularly slovenly; a search on Hoopla for "J.C. Bach" or "Johann Christian Bach" turns up nothing. I could not accept that Hoopla, with is large stores music, actually did not have any English Bach, so I searched for "Bach" and scrolled through hundreds of albums and bookmarked a number of relevant ones.

I can at least make your search easier. Search for "The English Concert" to find J. Chr. Bach: Quintet Op.22 No.1; Quintet Op.11 Nos. 1 & 6; Sextet Without Op. No.  and search for "Netherlands Chamber Orchestra" for J. Chr. Bach: Sinfonien. 

If classical music is not  your jam, I should mention that Hoopla is particularly good at offering classic rock. No Beatles yet (although lots of solo Beatles albums), but lots of Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, Neil Young, etc. 









Nature's God reading group, Chapter Nine, Part Two


Week Nine and a Half: Chapter Nine “Cherry Valley” Part II pg. 169-184 Hilaritas edition

By Gregory Arnott
Special guest blogger 

I would say with some confidence that I have never read any description of the psychedelic state as enjoyable and heady as Wilson’s crescendos of psyche and soul. They’re a pleasure to read- like being inside a game show booth grabbing at references to Joyce, music, magic, and ribaldry instead of dollar bills. This pleasurable quality does not extend itself to writing as the tempest of erudition leaves far too many footnotes to fill in...too many references that need to be explored. (I am completely lost on the identity of Dr. Cyprus and would love for someone else to clear that up for me.) So, I beg your forgiveness if I am not necessarily thorough.

As Colonel Muadhen experiences PTSD in an army hospital and continues to see the Creation of a Jealous and Vengeful God his consciousness guides the reader into Sigismundo’s flailing attempts to keep reality together. The four guardians have become Diversion, Perversion, Subversion, Diversion. Sigismundo’s consciousness, seemingly led into some fashion of self-referencing bear trap by Miskasquamish, is transported from their encampment in the sweltering, sulphurous brook to the frigid floor of an English forest where Maria Babcock is possessed by Lady Greensleeves.

The dual setting of this iteration of Chapel Perilous is interesting: two men in some sort of magical contest and twelve women passively watch the thirteenth suffer from a deluge of magical energy. The men struggle in an alchemical crucible, the yellow-sulphur imagery is a little strong, while the women are gathered in the cold forest in the dark of night. There is balance between the visionary experiences, however unpleasant it may be. The four guardians tumble throughout both visions, their morphing and unpleasant guises echoing the tumbling down of the world around Sigismundo and Maria Babcock.

Of course, the emphasis on the sulphurous brook near Sigismundo’s dwelling is made explicit when he “hallucinates” into the future and sees the road marker reading DAYTON 20 MILES. Sigismundo has been living in the spot of the future Yellow Springs, where Wilson would later live with his family and experience peyote. (He would also be arrested in a sit-in for desegregation.)

Miskasquamish’s magic strongly resembles that of Don Juan’s when Sigismundo pants that he cannot walk to the brooke, Miskasquamish simply comments “Then you will crawl.” There’s the flavor of Castaneda’s irascible man of power...much like Don Juan, we find out that Miskasquamish is not what he seems. In another manner the transformation of the bear-people into magicians of all ages and nations resembles the accounts of magicians throughout time during the apogee of psychedelic or ritual operations. There is a presence of many minds.

Sigismundo’s trip is more traumatic than those he has experienced earlier in the series and stronger than Sir Babcock the Younger’s spiked-champagne evening chronicles in Part 5 of Masks of the Illuminati. Miskasquamish eventually leaves as the bear-people transfigure themselves into magi to be replaced by old Abraham Orfali.

Maria is Crossing the Abyss, an undertaking not to be taken lightly, without immediate preparation. But, like the Knowledge and Conversation of the Guardian Angel, the process will occur if the aspirant remains on the path of magic, and if well-guided and sincere, the magician will have been prepared. After all, pure folly is the key to initiation. Maria’s blindside-Samadhi is linked to Sigismundo's own abysmal experience. Traditionally, at least in the sense that Crowley’s writings track as “traditional,” the Crossing of the Abyss is very similar to Wilson’s description of Chapel Perilous in Cosmic Trigger: the aspirant will either give up their ego, every last shred of their paltry conception of “myself” and attain another state of being, or they will fail in that endeavor and go mad. (RAW is a bit gentler saying you’ll either come out completely agnostic or raving paranoid.) Orfali, the Initiator, provides Sigismundo with the necessary tool to complete his Crossing.

Our Author is still kind to his creation; Sigismundo is no longer running from anything and has transcended...something.

Before Miskasquamish and Sigismundo “enter eternity,” Sigismundo realises that “the whole of nature was identified as a mongoose.” I believe this is a reference to a joke that is said to contain the whole secret of magic. While the original is found in Crowley’s Magick In Theory and Practice, I first read it in Alan Moore’s Promethea #12 “The Magic Theatre.” I’ll relate it as I have told it on evenings similar to those experienced herein by Balsamo and Maldonado:

There are two men inhabiting the same railroad carriage, sitting directly across from one another. One of the men has a box with a perforated lid sitting on his lap. His fellow passenger’s curiosity is piqued and after some time he inquires what the other man has in the box. 

“Well,” said the other man with a smile of indulgence. “It is a mongoose.” The passenger nods and sits for a moment before asking again: 

“I’m sorry to press, but a mongoose is an awfully exotic creature around these parts- why are you transporting a mongoose? Is it your pet?” 

The other man smiles again and magnanimously says, “My dear fellow, trusting in your discretion, I shall let you know that my brother has a terrible drinking problem. Furthermore whenever he drinks he sees snakes all over. I am bringing him this mongoose to chase away the cobras, as it were.” 

The passenger is surprised at the other man’s sincerity and accepts the matter as it is before remarking: “But, and I’m sorry to press, aren’t those snakes imaginary?” 

The other man smiles again, “Yes,” he gestures at the box, “but this is an imaginary mongoose.” 

There you go, the ultimate secret to magic. I expect payment.

Sigismundo decides to set aside his wilderness onanism and sets out beyond his clearing. There he finds out that Miskasquamish, like Don Juan, Aiwass, Jesus Christ, The Ascended Masters, Cthulhu, the Necronomicon, Hogwarts, Max Headroom, Australia and my parents’ acceptance wasn’t....fucking...real. Okay, at least he existed at one time if one counts being a ghost in a fictional novel any sort of existence.

From Eric: “A musical preview of George Washington knock-knock-knocking next week. https://youtu.be/rnKbImRPhTE




Saturday, July 4, 2020

Roddy Doyle, 'By the Book'


Roddy Doyle in 2006 (public domain photo)

As Robert Anton Wilson was interested in Irish literature, I like to think he would have enjoyed the recent  amusing and interesting"By the Book" interview with the Irish writer Roddy Doyle, published in the New York Times. (Doyle is the author of a number of funny and humane books set in Ireland, among them The Commitments, made into a movie you have have seen. He won the Booker Prize for Paddy Clarke, Ha Ha Ha. )  In the course of the interview, Doyle brags that he took a quiz about his work run by an Irish newspaper and got eight out of ten answers right.) Excerpt from the interview:

What books would you recommend to somebody who wants to learn more about Irish literature?

Read Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” then read “This Hostel Life,” by Melatu Uche Okorie. You’ve just read two fine examples of Irish literature. Stoker was a Dubliner; he grew up a 10-minute walk from where I live. Okorie’s stories capture the language and lives of asylum seekers who live a half-hour drive from Stoker’s house. Ireland is a small island but there’s more than one way to tell an Irish story.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Eric's new 'Insider's Guide' released


The new edition of Eric Wagner's An Insider's Guide to Robert Anton Wilson has been released in paperback and is now available at Amazon. A Kindle of the revised edition is not yet available.

This is an edition that is considerably updated and revised with new material from the original edition. I'll be able to compare the new edition with the older one when I get my hands on the new version (which should be soon.)

Important note: If you plan to purchase the book, note there is a danger a search on Amazon may turn up the old edition. Be sure you get the new one; you can click on this link for it. 

Second important note: As I note above, a Kindle of the new edition isn't out yet. I'll note its availability when everyone can get it.

An Insider's Guide to Robert Anton Wilson is invaluable for all hardcore RAW fans; I have read and re-read it and referred to it over and over again. I am confident the new one will be even better.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Review: The New Inquisition


I recently finished the Hilaritas Press edition of The New Inquisition: Irrational Rationalism and the Citadel of Science by Robert Anton Wilson -- the first time I had read the book -- and I gave it four stars on Goodreads. (Three and a half stars would be a little closer to my opinion, but Goodreads doesn’t permit that much nuance.)

That’s not quite the five stars I would give to many books by Wilson, but it’s still a pretty good rating.. It’s not a perfect book. I have some criticisms I will get to. But the good portions are very good.

I was worried about reading the book and had actually avoided reading it. I feared I wouldn’t like it at all. Supergee’s comments capture what I was worried about when he writes, “To me this is RAW’s worst book: hectoring, clanking with pig irony, unselective in its examples, giving aid & comfort to those who say that when Dr. Fauci discusses viruses, that’s just his eddication talking.”  (Arthur does conclude, “But it finishes with a marvelous discussion of how we perceive.”) So I figured I may as well wait for the Hilaritas edition.

So I did, and I bought it when it came out, and I enjoyed it. New Inquisition is filled with many insightful comments. As many commenters on this blog have mentioned, the first chapter and last chapter are very good.

The book is full of fine passages such as this one:

If we recognize some validity in these observations and try to “wake” ourselves from the hypnotic trance of modeltheism -- if we try to recall, moment by moment, in an ordinary day that The “Real” Universe is only a model we have created and that existential living cannot be compressed into any model -- we enter a new kind of consciousness. What Blake called “Single Vision” begins to expand into multiple vision -- into conscious bet-making. The person then “sees abysses everywhere,” in Nietzche’s deliberately startling metaphor. (Blake says it more soothingly when he speaks of perceiving “infinity in a grain of sand.”) (From Chapter 8).

Here’s another startling passage, a prescient description of today’s media landscape, written long before it took shape. In a section where Wilson describes how people would rather reinforce their own reality tunnels rather than listen to competing ideas, he writes,

“ … most of us are annoyed frequently by the daily newspaper. ‘News’ or alleged news that we don’t want to read gets printed; heathenish or heretical opinions appear on the letters pace, and sometimes in the columnists; politicians (of the opposite camp, of course) tell the most outrageous lies, which also get printed. With modern computer technology, all of this can soon be avoided. Just fill out a simple questionnaire and mail it in. The computer will print a slightly different version of that day’s paper for each reader, and your Personalized copy will come to you in the morning containing absolutely nothing but what you want to know … “ (From Chapter 7)

This passage, which could have been written no later than 1986, when the book was first published, is a good description of where we live now in 2020. With politics replacing religion as people’s main reality tunnel, the country is largely divided between people who worship what they are told by Fox News and Rush, or people who drink from the fountain of MSNBC and CNN. It’s also easy to use  social networks to reinforce what you already believe. Wilson could not foresee the exact technology, but he knew how most people would react to a plethora of information.

So what’s not to like?

Well, I could have done without the pages and pages of Fortean phenomena, rains of frogs and that sort of thing. Other than the fact that it goes on so long that it feels like padding, I worried about the sourcing. One item quotes, without apparent irony, the Weekly World News.

Another passage highlights an account, allegedly from the Dec. 8, 1931 New York Times, about a deckhand on the steamship Brechsee who suddenly had a four-inch-long bloody gash on his forehead. Wilson brags it came from the “usually scrupulous New York Times,” which seems fair, particularly in comparison to the Weekly World News.

But I happen to have a digital subscription to the Times, which is searchable. And a search for “Brechsee” turns up only one story, dating to 1941, which mentions it being sunk by a mine in World War II. Using the search terms “gash” and “deckhand” for that specific date didn’t work, either.

Maybe the search function at the Times’ website doesn’t always  work well. But I wonder how many of the other citations I could trust.

I also couldn’t get behind attacking the main target of Wilson’s book, CSICOP. I was never convinced that CSICOP or the people associated with it, such as Carl Sagan, were worth all of Wilson’s angst. I remained convinced that your average DEA agent was much worse than any of the people Wilson was picking on. (CSICOP stands for “Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal.” The group is now known as “The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.”)

The old Inquisition resulted in very serious consequences, such as executions (including burning at the stake) and confiscations of property. The investigations often included the use of torture.

So, what does the “new” inquisition do? Well, apparently they write mean book reviews and critical articles, and they complain in public about “pseudoscience.” That’s about it. It doesn’t really sound like much in comparison to Twitter mobs, much less the Inquisition of old Europe.

Wilson does give examples in his book of genuine repression. But all of his examples involve government repression.

For example, Wilson discusses the burning of Wilhelm Reich’s books, but admits it was carried out by “the scientists and bureaucrats working for the U.S. government.” He even admits that Martin Gardner “expresses repugnance at the burning of Reich’s works.”

Similarly, Wilson brings up Timothy Leary getting 37  years of imprisonment for one marijuana cigarette. Of course, that’s totally appalling, but Leary wasn’t convicted and imprisoned by Martin Gardner and Carl Sagan. (Sagan, the supposed Grand Inquisitor, was in fact a big marijuana fan and wrote that "The illegality of cannabis is outrageous, an impediment to full utilization of a drug which helps produce the serenity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship so desperately needed in this increasingly mad and dangerous world.")

Sagan’s reply to The New Inquisition (quoted on Wikipedia) is worth reprinting: “"Wilson... describes skeptics as a 'new inquisition.' But to my knowledge no skeptic compels belief. Indeed, on most TV documentaries and talk shows, skeptics get short shrift and almost no air time. All that's happening is that some doctrines and methods are being criticized-at the worst, ridiculed-in magazines like The Skeptical Inquirer with circulations of a few tens of thousands. New Agers are not much, as in earlier times, being called up before criminal tribunals, nor whipped for having visions, and they are certainly not being burned at the stake. Why fear a little criticism? Aren't they interested to see how their beliefs hold up against the best counterarguments skeptics can muster?"

See also this review, which spotted numerous mistakes, such as misspellings of names quietly corrected in the Hilaritas Press edition. It is written by Jim Lippard, who actually is interested in Discordianism and also is a RAW fan. (He wrote once he  “greatly enjoyed” Robert Anton Wilson’s work and owns most of it.)  But criticized Wilson’s scholarship in The New Inquisition and found plenty of problems when he checked out the sources for some of the Fortean incidents Wilson cites.

So, three and a half stars. But the good parts of the book are really good and it’s a book I can recommend every Wilson fan should purchase and read.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

COVID-19 links [NEWLY UPDATED]


CDC illustration of COVID-19 virus

I'm very busy at work this week, so for today's post, let me note that COVID-19 has not gone away and I have continued to update these links. You can use them when you want to check the situation where you happen to live.

The COVID-19 Tracking Project.

New York Times COVID-19 coverage. The New York Times has removed the paywall for its COVID-19 coverage.

CDC on proper handwashing (important, see for example this MIT study).

Wearing a mask also is a good idea. 

Johns Hopkins tracking site.

Statnews.com COVID-19 tracker, very well done.

R0 number tracker, by state (a key metric of how your state is doing.)

Opportunity Insights COVID-19 death rate tracker. (Click "Explore the Data")

Erie County Health Department (lots of additional resources.)

Current national U.S. forecast from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.  Somewhat more optimistic forecast than some projections, from a well-respected organization. You can get the forecast for your state with one click.

Scott Gottlieb on Twitter (good way to get the latest trends from a relatively nonpolitical source.)

A little levity from Scott Adams, to cheer you up!


Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Nature's God, Chapter Nine, Part One



Week Nine: Chapter Nine “Cherry Valley” (Part 1) pg. 159-169 Hilaritas edition

By Gregory Arnott
Special guest blogger

This chapter sees the climax of Sigismundo’s character arc in Nature’s God but before we get to that we’ve got to wade through the gore and confusion that was Cherry Valley.

Cherry Valley should stand, not as a memorial to patriotism, but rather as a reminder of mankind’s inhumanity towards man. Because this chapter deals so much with Miskasquamish, RAW’s main American Indian character, it is worth noting that historians are conflicted on how much the loyalists had to do with the civilian massacre at Cherry Valley on November 11, 1778.

The troop that attacked Cherry Valley consisted of loyalists, British soldiers, members of the Seneca, and Mohawk tribes of the Iroquois Nation under the command of loyalist Walter Butler. According to Butler he had little to no control over the indigenous people who were with his group. Historians seem to agree that it was the Seneca members of the raiding party who turned on the civilians. The Seneca’s anger was caused by the destruction and burning of their settlements by American settlers...an eye for an eye. Butler’s command was undermined by conflicts with Joseph Brant, leader of the Mohawk tribesmen. The division between these two leaders allowed for the massacre of 30 civilians, along with 14 soldiers, and Colonel Alden, the American commander of Cherry Valley. Curiously, one survivor of Cherry Valley, a Lieutenant Colonel Stacy says that he was about to be killed but appealed to Brant, indicating that he was a freemason, and Brant had his life spared. Brant would also capture 70 people from the survivors of the initial attack.

The Colonial forces had been warned up to three days before the raid by Oneida allies; however, the commanding officer Colonel Ichabod Alden didn’t take the reports seriously, keeping his command outside of the central fort. That is probably why his name is on the list of casualties of the initial raid. Indeed, the British and Indigenous forces didn’t have the firepower to breach the fort but swept around it, attacking the nearby settlements.

Cherry Valley did more than drive Colonel Muadhen, who thought he’d seen it all, into Bible-babbling catatonia. The colonists were horrified at the massacre and General Washington commissioned the Sullivan Expedition that spent the next year trying to drive the Iroquois completely out of New York. Eighty villages were attacked and razed over the next year by Colonial forces as a part of the Frontier War that raged along the Revolution. An eye for an eye. Funny how we’re not even good, as a species really, at proportionate response and some still believe in that dreadful equation.

Sigismundo, a colonist of the Northwest Territory, is having his own conflict with a native resident. Miskasquamish has pushed Sigismundo towards something of a breaking point; it is appropriate that during their tense conversations they sit by sulphurous water. Alchemically, sulphur represents the “heating” of the work...the rising action. Sulphur is also used in Afro-American Hoodoo to cross, jinx, or banish enemies and obstacles. “I hope you know...this means war.”

Their conversation also seems to play with European/Indigenous relations as well. Sigismundo tells Miskasquamish the story of Christ without identifying him and in the terms of Miskasquamish’s cosmology. Contrast this to the historical missionary efforts to forcefully convert the American Indians and erase their cultural understanding of the universe. Sigismundo also insists that he has the right to live in Ohio because he took the time to build his house there and hasn’t acted aggressively to his new neighbors. Right now, there is a small movement to rename the capital Columbus to something more suitable, like Flavortown. Many Ohioans and the folks in the peanut gallery are upset by this “erasure of history.” I wonder how many of them know where place names like Chillicothe, Cuyahoga, or Ohio came from and what they mean. We are left with the question, to whom does the land belong?

If we consider Wilson’s The Trick Top Hat, which to me seems to be a pretty earnest depiction of his version of a utopian United States, Miskasquamish is probably going to be disappointed in his property dispute. Neighborhoods in The Trick Top Hat are regulated thusly: if a neighbor annoys you by living eccentrically, loudly, outside the Homeowners Associations rules, etc. you may lodge a complaint. Government officials will try to talk with the neighbor, see if they can find them a more appropriate neighborhood- usually to one of the LaGrange floating cities where eccentrics are flocking during the novel. However, if the neighbor chooses to remain and they’re not directly affecting the rest of the neighborhood, there’s fuck all anyone can do about it. So, while Miskasquamish is worried about the moral depreciation of his neighborhood with a Reverser present, well...let’s just say “there goes the neighborhood.”

Miskasquamish’s confusion upon seeing the gun makes sense only at the end of this chapter. His naivety is almost offensive during the sequence as surely a man who had travelled so far during the pre-Revolutionary period and Revolution would have encountered firearms. Sigismundo’s display of the weapon also parallels the ultimate outcome of many colonial-native relationships and the Cherry Valley massacre. Sigismundo’s display of superior technology is troublesome to this reader and reflects the history of the Americas all too well. That said, RAW gives Sigismundo a moral “out” by having Miskasquamish note he never directly threatened his body with the gun...if that is much of an out. Miskasquamish takes this away from Sigismundo’s stories about the Builders and his interactions with the Neapolitan; all the Europeans are mad. Considering history, I’m not sure is Miskasquamish is truly “paranoid.”

Parallel to Seamus’ sickness as witnessing the maraschino-hued carnage of Cherry Valley runs the miraculous recovery of Paddy the Dog back on the Babcock Estates. Considering how Seamus saw himself through the eyes of the English, it is darkly appropriate that there is now a character dubbed “Paddy the Dog” trotting around his old stomping groups. Little Ursula has inherited her mother’s gift and while we see no evidence in the first part of the chapter, her nigh-resurrection of Paddy, who might also be a reference to Joyce’s departed Paddy Dignam, might have a sympathetic effect on Muadhen across the pond.

Miskasquamish returns to Sigismundo dressed as a woman; a reference to some native Tribe’s gender nonconformity and reminiscent of the gender swapping tradition found in shamanic traditions such as the Nat Pwe of Thailand. After appearing to Sigismundo, who asks no questions, they proceed to smoke and travel to strange new worlds.

From Eric: “Some witch music for this chapter. https://youtu.be/Nz5DLO8fclA