Archives for category: Literature
Karl Marlantes, an all-too-typical comsymp.

Deep River is a novel about the valley over the hill from where I live. My mother grew up in that valley. She and my father built their first home in the valley head. My older siblings spent the early years of their lives there. I have fond memories, for the most part, of that shadowy place not far from home.

The novel is said to be quite good, and its author, Karl Marlantes, a genius.

He does not seem like one.

Not on the basis of the Seattle Times article about the novel, anyway. I got stuck on something he said, a comment about Communism. I raise more than a mere single eyebrow:

Today we have this fear of anyone who has a different political attitude from us. My grandmother was a communist, but her kitchen was clean. She wasn’t scary, but today we gin up the fear.

Oh, is that what we do? Gin up the fear. How thoughtless of us! How bigoted!

Replace one word in his defense of his grandma, though, and would anyone still consider his defense of his grandmother’s radicalism reasonable?

Today we have this fear of anyone who has a different political attitude from us. My grandmother was a Nazi, but her kitchen was clean. She wasn’t scary, but today we gin up the fear.

Karl Marlantes would not write that. He knows that National Socialism was evil. And had one of his relatives been a Nazi who worked as “a political agitator” stirring up “a heap of trouble” in trying to organize for a cause he approved of — like, I bet, a welfare state (which Nazi Germany did indeed establish) — he would rightly be too squeamish to brush aside our abhorrence of the ideology.

But it is worse than that. Communists killed over 100 million of their fellow citizens last century. Hitler, an utterly evil dictator, was a slacker compared to Stalin and Mao.

Oh, and Hitler praised Karl Marx’s economic analysis, too. Leftists cannot hide behind unhistorical platitudes of “anti-fascism” and a witless love for “the left.” The bodies pile up higher the further left you push. And even the “anarchist-communists”/“communist-anarchists” of bygone years have something to answer for, because they promoted ideas that led to revolution that in turn led to tyranny and mass slaughter.

And it is not as if the Wobblies, whom Marlantes’ character Aino — based on his grandmother — “agitated” for, were all sweetness and light. They engaged in quite a number of riots, and several forms of terrorism. Along with the bomb-throwing (and bomb-throwing adjacent) anarchists, they understandably got caught in the anti-terrorist backlash in the early 20th century, and were suppressed.

Marlantes appears to be a typical “progressive” moral moron. He carries on a long leftist tradition of taking sides in the Pick Your Tyranny game that has played for nearly a century. Fascism is bad; communism is . . . well, “communists mean well.”

I am not sure I have ever encountered a leftist willing to plumb the depths of the Totalitarian Ideology Problem, willing to not Pick Your Tyranny. They exist, sure. But once one really comes to grips with the problem, one tends to cease being a leftist.

Leftism is a culturally acceptable Yog-Sothothery, an open flirtation with outrageous moral horror. It is a cult. It corrupts minds. And it is very widespread among moderately bright artistic types. Like Karl Marlantes.


Oh, and for the record: my grandfather hated the Wobblies. Not all Finns were commies.

There were Red Finns, sure, but there were about an equal number of Church Finns — “Whites” — at least in America. My education in politics did not rest upon this divide, but it did haunt the back of my mind. I grew up knowing about the tragedy of “Karelian Fever.” I also knew of the terror of living under Stalin. Socialism of any kind was always a bit suspect.

What made me so lucky, when so many of my culturally “left” artists succumbed? Well, much older relatives of mine, who were Reds, knew it all too well. And told their story. Which was repeated.

Family lore about my great uncle and aunt was this: early in the mad “experiment” of Communism, they had moved, as newlyweds, to the USSR — and within six months became almost afraid of each other. Political correctness under a totalitarian state is one of terror, not mere ill manners and inconvenience. They fled, lucky to escape.

Finnish-Americans who will not honestly confront their history with communist evil don’t do anyone any good.

I will wait to read Marlantes’ latest novel, I think, perhaps pick it up used. Call it my personal boycott of apologists for totalitarianism, “politically correct” fools who make light of mass murder, regimentation, and the philosophy of pushiness and plunder.

twv

Civilization consists in giving something a name that doesn’t belong to it and then dreaming over the result. And the false name joined to the true dream does create a new reality. The object does change into something else, because we make it change. We manufacture realities.

Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet (Penguin Books, 2001), pp. 65–66.
…currently reading…
A typically tendentious bit of fake news.

You may have thought that the purpose of a protest march was to garner publicity for your cause, thereby changing minds and then government. We have been told, since at least the days of Martin Luther King, that the protest march is a noble form of activism. Peaceful. Effective. Important for “democracy.”

What we were told no longer applies, for today’s protesters do not seek publicity. They are up to something else.

Correction: protesters “on the left,” these days, are up to something else. Protesters “on the right” stick a bit closer to the old rationale.

Yet Another Portlandia Protest-cum-Riot

You can glean what is going on if you read between the lines of an appallingly deceptive article about the recent altercations on the streets of Portland, Oregon. Andy Campbell, the propagandist who wrote the article for an ezine that I had thought was called the Huffington Post, but now goes under the banner of HuffPost, works mightily to convince leftists that their side, whose avant-garde is the black-clad thugs who call themselves Antifa, is on the side of the good, while the “far right” groups Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer (hereinafter identified by their initials), are evil. It is all very interesting, sure. But what the reader may not see is what is what is most important.

And what is that missing something?

Any consideration of who initiates violence.

Sure, the author makes much of PB/PP protesters preparing for violence. But violence can be defensive, and defensive violence can be prepared for. The implication of his tendentious, ersatz reportage is that Antifa’s posture is innocent and good and the PB/PP protesters’ is malign. While he lingers on these right-wingers’ armament styles, he does not do the same for Antifa, or draw any conclusions from their style of dress: black, with faces covered.

So he misses the pattern here: the PB/PP protestors arm themselves, sure; they also get permits and walk the streets of the city, shouting their slogans and holding up their gonfalons, as protestors are wont to do — and then the Antifa counter-protesters show up, sans permits, in their masks and makeshift black uniforms, throwing things at the protesters, taunting them, egging them on so that the violence will escalate.

It had preciously been important, in our age’s tradition of protest efforts, to appear the victim — and undoubtedly both sides here are prepared for violence yet wish, to some degree, to be seen as not “starting it.”

We have only two real clues about the justice of the latest City of Roses mêlée, neither made explicit in Campbell’s dreadful Antifa apologia.

  1. Who was there first, who had a right to be there.
  2. The attack upon journalist Andy Ngo.

These two issues deserve separate treatment.

Who’s On First?

In previous altercations between the PB/PP and Antifa, the former groups had bothered to seek (and sometimes obtain) permits to protests on public property.

Permits are good form, at the very least, for public roads and parks and sidewalks are designed and maintained for the use of people in normal transit, going about the normal business of commerce. Appropriating them to protest and publicize a particular cause blocks transit, and public use, and what amounts to a form of privatization — so one would expect the “public” to be somehow compensated and protected from the change in de facto and perhaps de jure property rights.

Mr. Campbell’s narration, such as it is, does not mention any permitting process. But it is clear that the “right-wing” protesters had priority, and that they were taunting Antifa merely by their presence.

In normal civilized contexts, one expects to be able to go about one’s peaceful business without being attacked, compelled, or coerced. In a society where there is freedom of speech, mere expressions of ideas are not considered provocations — only direct threats and incitements are.

So, as near as I can make out — and nothing Mr. Campbell writes indicates otherwise — when the PB/PP protesters take to the street, they are indeed preparing for violence, defensive violence, and they expect their mere words, slogans, and presence to call forth the counter-protesters who, by initiating violence, show themselves to be thugs.

So for one side, publicity and journalistic coverage is all-important. Protesters on the PB/PP “right” play by the old rules of protest, the ones culturally established in the 1960s.

For the other side, the opposite is true. Counter-protesters on the hubristic left do not want careful consideration of what they are doing, they do not want transparency. They need confusion and darkened cameras to allow “journalists” in partisan venues like HuffPost to make halfway plausible apologia for their violent actions.

Which takes us away from Andy Campbell, propagandist, and to Andy Ngo, victim.

Do We Know Ngo?

For an article about a riot and an attack, the HuffPost effort provides few details. Indeed, details are almost non-existent. Most of the screed is about providing a context for the attack upon Andy Ngo. And it is a carefully constructed context — which does not mention other victims, for example.

Also left out is the fact that Mr. Ngo was merely photographing the event. He was attacked for his journalistic work, here and elsewhere. In other accounts online we are told that his attackers were more than aware of who he was. “One woman in the crowd,” The Daily Wire reports, “can be heard yelling, “F*** you, Andy!”

So why attack Mr. Ngo, a photojournalist and sub-editor for Quillette?

He has a long history investigating Antifa and other leftist violence and mobbing activity in Portland, Oregon, and elsewhere. For this he is seen as an enemy — a “fascist,” I gather.

More importantly, it is the new style of leftist protest. We saw it best in the Melissa Click Missou Muscle Moment:

Repeatedly, in recent years, leftists in charge of and participating in public protests have ejected and attacked and . . . muscled . . . photojournalists and bloggers trying to cover public events. It makes no sense for a protest, of course. The whole point is to be seen.

Two likely explanations for this strike me as plausible.

One is that the leftist protesters see any non-major media coverage as likely to be antagonistic. Leftists know, intuitively if not explicitly, that major media is on their side, for the most part. But independent media? Much less likely. So why tolerate bad press? Do as Bush and Obama did in public: marginalize the opposition by pushing protest out beyond the margins.

Today’s leftists know that their protests are not free speech zones.

But another explanation is even more likely: leftist protest today is not protest at all, it is insurrection and repressive mobbing.

Antifa and friends are not aiming to appeal to the masses or the politicians. They aim to subjugate them: shout them down, drown out their voices and, by sheer force of effrontery and threat and mayhem, make them cringe in cowardice and fear.

Leftist protests today are mobocracy in motion. They are inherently violent. Their whole raison d’être is revolution and their modus operandi is force and intimidation.

And why don’t more moderate leftists object? I can only speculate. It sure seems like either because they agree with Antifa goals, or because they are cowards.

“By any means necessary” is a popular slogan amongst these people, and, for some reason most journalists and many politicians fail to see its deep immorality, the uncivilized principle of justifying violent, tyrannical means by the purported goodness of one’s chosen end.

Andy Ngo was peacefully covering the event, and Antifa goons attacked him and stole his camera.

And Mr. Campbell spent most of his effort trying to defend the obvious thugs, in part by denying that the milkshakes thrown at him did not (likely) contain Portland cement.

Ah, Portland cement! How apt in this situation.

How We Know HuffPo Is Propaganda

HuffPost spin dubs Andy Ngo a “conservative,” and Campbell uses words like “extremists” and “far right” quite liberally. Antifa, on the other hand, garners no adjectives, and is usually blessed with the eulogistic “anti-fascist” synonym.

This is how we know HuffPost is a mere propaganda mill, a spinner of what we call, these days, “fake news,” a term previously associated most famously with Jon Stewart (self-identified purveyor) and Donald Trump (accuser and accused).

In situations of conflicting interpretations, if you only take efforts to define your opponents, but just assume an understanding of one’s own side, then you are likely just a partisan. Indeed, it is this trick, of always referring to one side by pejorative adjectives and nouns, and letting one’s own side free of imposed modifiers, that defines a centrist cult. The method is well known. It is called “marginalization.”

The fact that the left has long been the most proficient practitioner of marginalization while making marginalization a grounds for attacking its opponents is just one of the drolleries of our age.

I consider this funny, of course: clueless hypocrisy is often funny.

But it is also part of a malign project, and thus quite serious indeed.

Now, it is possible that Andy Campbell is not the evil liar I think he is. He could be just very stupid, a brainwashed stooge with typical-to-his-class revolutionary, statist sympathies. Perhaps because he is on the side of Antifa, he has disabled himself from applying reason to the reality before him. All he can do is paint pictures that makes his side look good and the side he hates look bad. It is just second nature.

In the spirit of Mencken, we might be tempted to dismiss him, therefore, as a boob, mountebank, or moron. But to succeed in journalism surely means possessing a modicum of intelligence, doesn’t it?

While Mr. Campbell is a reporter manqué, I make no such pretentions to “news journalism.” No one pays me to quote fairly from all sides (which reporters are supposed to do), so I have here taken the liberty merely of arguing a case.

Which is all, really, that our HuffPost tendentitarian does. So, I guess the surest method to handle folks such as he is twofold: mock them as journalists and revile them as base rhetoricians . . . and worse.

twv

The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar,” Hermann Wögel (1884)

A number of Edgar Allan Poe’s stories were first published without the honest frame of fiction, and therefore count as hoax literature. This element of American journalism deserves serious study, especially now that journalism has returned to its roots.

Edgar Allan Poe

Very pertinently it was demanded of Plato, why a picked chicken, which was clearly a ‘biped without feathers,’ was not, according to his definition, a man? But I am not to be bothered by any similar query. Man is an animal that diddles, and there is no animal that diddles but man.”

Edgar Allan Poe, “Raising the Wind; or, Diddling Considered as One of the Exact
Sciences
” (1843)

N. B. The reader is entreated not to search for “diddling” using Google’s image search engine.

I just watched a roomful of men with cigars (one of them being Senator Ted Cruz) talk about the ending to HBO’s Game of Thrones, and though there is much good criticism about what went wrong and why, not one of them gets to what I think of as the weirdest and most astounding error: the fizzle of the Winter, which was all build-up and no pay-off.

Winter should have, by the penultimate episode, put King’s Landing under many feet of snow, and the show’s last scene should have been a montage of people all over Westeros tunneling under strata of snow, eking out the barest holds on existence after the stores of food had been depleted by war after war. In this context the dragon and the Night King would have had their final haunting presences.

An album titled after the first cut, a piece by the great Finnish composer Aulis Sallinen.

High fantasy lives and dies by what Lawrence Durrell called a Sense of Place. Or, to put it in different terms, high fantasy works by conjuring up Faërie. Which is a place as well as a state of mind. In addition to archetypes instantiated, high fantasy gives us weird and strange worlds that are themselves characters of over-arching importance. William Morris in The Water of the Wondrous Isles, The Well at the World’s End and The Sundering Flood; Lord Dunsany in “The Sword of Welleran” and “Charon” and The King of Elfland’s Daughter; J.R.R. Tolkien in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings; Mervyn Peake in Titus Groan and Gormenghast; Peter S. Beagle in The Last Unicorn — all of these succeed by making place as important as plot and character.

In the end, it is the place that is Westeros that was betrayed in the final season of Game of Thrones. The showrunners and writers got too caught up in plot and (to a lesser extent, character) to not realize that their great mission was to be true to an imagined world. A world that George R. R, Martin imagined, in his as-yet-unfinished series of books, and as he built into the very structure of his story.

And the great truth about his world was uttered often, and which served as the motto of House Stark: “Winter Is Coming.”

It barely arrived at all. In the final scene Jon Snow and his wildlings head north of the Wall with barely a flake falling from the sky and a mere dusting on the ground.

No wonder the ending lacked fire. It had too little ice.

twv

William Morris’s last romance, and probably his best.

Samuel Johnson, when asked about what he thought of a certain woman preacher, famously responded, “Sir, a woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.” I wonder what he would have thought of Soph, the YouTube sensation who recently had her best video removed from the popular video-sharing platform.

The truth, contra Johnson, is that there have been more-than-adequate female preachers, few so ungainly or risible as a hound on hind legs. And the truth about Soph is that she is, well, more astounding than an 18th century English female preacher.

And what astounds is not her sex, but her age and her success. And I mean that in a good way. Joseph Bernstein, a Buzzfeed hack whom I had previously known only for his Tweet about murdering heterosexual white men, apparently objects to both her age and her success, so he wrote a story about the girl entertainer and commentator, predictably portraying her as some sort of avatar of awfulness. In “YouTube’s Newest Far-Right, Foul-Mouthed, Red-Pilling Star Is A 14-Year-Old Girl,” he does not allow his readers to make their own judgments about either her talents or moral status but, instead, spoon-feeds it like you would expect from a far-left “senior technology reporter”:

Yes, if you want a vision of the future YouTube is midwifing, imagine a cherubic white girl mocking Islamic dress while lecturing her hundreds of thousands of followers about Muslim “rape gangs,” social justice “homos,” and the evils wrought by George Soros — under the thin guise of edgy internet comedy, forever.

Actually, don’t imagine it. Watch it. It’s already here.

Note the tone of moral panic. Note the crack about how gossamer is her “guise” as a Net comedienne. And note the accusatory finger pointed at YouTube, as if a platform should somehow be held responsible for the free activities of its users. Would he say that telephone companies “widwifed” phone sex, crank calls, and the JFK assassination?

Alas, Bernstein’s tone and tack served as a contagion, memetically engineered to its target. That is, his article spurred YouTube to panic and take down the very video that offended him.

Now, I saw that video. I may have watched it twice. It was hilarious. It was indeed outrageous. And it very much did mock Islam. Alas, for reasons too obvious to state, Bernstein characterizes this in his piece as “hatred toward Muslims” and not criticism of a memeplex.

It is impossible to believe that Bernstein would have marshaled the full force of his SJW chivalry had Soph been mocking the Amish, the Southern Baptist Convention, or the monastic Order of Saint Benedict.

Now, skipping the bulk of Bernstein’s string of calumnies, innuendos, and tortured readings, I wish to focus on one charge, embedded in this bizarre passage:

Soph’s scripts, which she says she writes with a collaborator, are familiar: a mix of hatred toward Muslims, anti-black racism, Byzantine fearmongering about pedophilia, tissue-thin incel evolutionary psychology, and reflexive misanthropy that could have been copied and pasted from a thousand different 4chan posts. Of course, it’s all presented in the terminally ironic style popularized by boundary-pushing comedy groups like the influential Million Dollar Extreme and adopted of late by white supremacist mass shooters in Christchurch and San Diego.

Look at the first claim: “she says she writes with a collaborator.” In olden times, Bernstein would have done a little reporting to verify or falsify Soph’s claim. But we live in a time of post-reportorial journalism, and Bernstein isn’t doing research here, he is writing a screed with a political purpose: to whip up hysteria to nudge YouTube to take down opinions of which he does not approve. This is of no great matter, but I just want to make a point: Bernstein and I are both engaged in ideological contest, neither of us is engaged in reporting — but only he calls himself a “reporter.”

The second claim is the aforementioned “hatred towards Muslims” characterization, which carefully elides any possibility that her critique of Islam might have some merit. It must be “hatred,” not criticism. The Social Justice imperative has it that never must any mention be made of the mad memeplex that is Islam. Leftists need their fellow-anti-west jihadist allies. And they are more than happy to besmirch a YouTuber, no matter how young, to do it.

That being said, Soph is reported to have ejaculated the startlingly evil request “Please kill Muslims” and to have publicly wished for a “Hitler for Muslims” to “gas them all.” That is neither funny nor defensible.

Except, of course, on free speech grounds.

And after all, if Joe Bernstein can blithely jump on the currently acceptable form of racism, against whites — “KILL a straight white man on your way to work tomorrow” — perhaps we can cut a 14-year-old some slack in the Genocidal Wish-Mongering department. Such sentiments are hard to walk back, though. Those remarks are anti-Muslim and not just anti-Islam; they cross a very disturbing line.

Which, to repeat, Bernstein himself has already crossed and apparently been absolved of. Did he convince his critics his tweet was satire? What has Soph said about her statements? Perhaps Bernstein can help us out here by doing some actual reporting.

Of course, context is always important, and we are always tempted to forget context. As I just did, above. Soph’s offending-and-removed-from-YouTube vid was a response to blowback from her comment — on another platform. Watch the vid on BitChute.

But it is his third charge that interests me most, for here we kick at the leftist crutch subject, racism. Whereas those on the left used to ridicule right-wingers for “seeing a commie behind every bush,” nowadays leftists espy racists on every barstool. Bernstein asserts that Soph engages “anti-black racism,” and helpfully provides a link to back up his charge. 

The vid in question is called “Multiracial White Supremacy,” in which the girl dons a black t-shirt and an FBI cap to portray agent “Clide Colon,” concerned about the “Social Harmony of the United States Hegemony” as it pertains to “white supremacy.” Like in most of Soph’s more elaborate satires, at some point she drops the satire to talk straight. Settling on when that shift happens might serve as a drinking game. 

At the beginning, however, the satire is clear. The agent worries about the white supremacy of the type presented by “head Negro operative and designated KKK spokesman Treasure Richards” placing in jeopardy “the welfare of the black community we thoroughly sold cocaine to a few decades ago.” Spot on. Funnier than Samantha Bee, anyway.

Now, this Miss Treasure Richards is an African-American girl a few years older than Soph who appeared on “Dr. Phil” claiming not mere alienation from black inner-city culture, but also to despise her fellow black folk, even going so far as to think of herself as white. Dr. Phil took up her case as a “teachable moment,” and Miss Richards appears to have been in earnest — though there are folks online who say it was all a typical daytime TV show hoax. I would not know since I could not watch Treasure’s apology video. (I don’t know if she was sincere or her tears faked, because I don’t watch crying girls if I can at all help it. Dr. Phil insists that she was for real.) Soph shows some cuts from Dr. Phil’s show, after the first of which she makes a Blazing Saddles-variety n-word jape (“that man is a Nih-!” becomes “she’s clearly not an African-American, she’s a Nih-”), placing her (I surmise, not drinking my whiskey yet) squarely in satire mode as “Clide Colon.” This followed some droll jabs at the FBI, obviously satirical.

Her next jest is also standard-brand racist, doubling down on Treasure’s variant. Still satire. I trust.

Then she moves on to comment on Treasure’s mother, whom she refers to, sarcastically, as “a reliable source” — sarcastic because the mother had lied to her children about their parentage, making them think (incorrectly?!?!?) that her now-departed white husband was their father. At 2:17 Soph’s criticism of the mother wanders away from satire and from her role as Agent Colon. “It’s interesting how a 16-year-old girl who hasn’t endangered a single human being so far is considered the bad person, not the single mother who had to move in with her two kids to the ghetto thanks to her financial irresponsibility.”

This sort of judgmentalism can be found throughout the Soph oeuvre that I have screened. It is funny, to the extent it is, because its like is so rarely stated in polite society. This is precisely how late night TV operates these day, with rash statements standing in for jokes. In Soph’s case, though, because her judgments rub against the grain of dominant left culture, it is funny. A bit. Well, at least more than Seth Meyers.

But Soph earns her nom de plume, immediately after this, by getting philosophical. She states her basic case vis-à-vis Treasure’s dislike of her new African-American neighbors as a thesis that could be profitably defended: 

When it’s claimed that racial identity is constituted by a set of behaviors instead of genetic composition, this is what inevitably follows. Those of that ethnicity who don’t conform will be denounced, as if they owe allegiance to their racial group because they have some sort of abstractly defined “shared experience.” When all they truly share is limited to haplogroups. Ironically, they are treated as belongings because of their race. This, in turn, makes them revolt against the people denouncing them, and since the denouncers purport to represent the racial group, that’s what ends up getting attacked. 

This is all very reasonable and not delivered as satire . . . other than that Soph hasn’t changed out of her Colon costume.

But what do we make of the following?

That isn’t to say I support the things being said by Treasure, but it’s preferrable to adopting the reprehensible behavior being displayed in her environment.

Here Soph carefully (and for all to see) repudiates the race-hatred of Treasure, who apparently developed a positive fixation on the KKK. Soph’s comments on that are back to funny:

Let me just say this: there’s probably not one organization with worse p.r. than the Ku Klux Klan. Planned Parenthood is responsible for the Negro Baby Holocaust, and it’s still considerably less despised than the KKK. If your black daughter is entranced by the Klan, it isn’t because of their cunning marketing tactics, it’s because of your monumental failure as a parent. 

So, for whom would this be the ideal type of “anti-black racism”? Not me. That a complex and not unfamiliar mix of satire and moralizing strikes Mr. Bernstein as worth characterizing as “anti-black” says more about BuzzFeed and its project to direct sniper fire at its main competition, alt-media videos by amateurs, than it does about Soph.

Whose next step in development may be to write the next great Menippean satire.

Unless Bernstein can get enough nutball leftists to direct actual sniper fire in her direction. That would be a triumph for the left that leftists might understand . . . without taxing their hermeneutician chops.

Soph strikes me as brilliant, if rough not merely around the edges but also at the seams. Bernstein, on the other hand, is the kind of writer who, in times past, demanded that Jurgen and Ulysses be suppressed and who lambasted Mencken as a scandal to a Christian republic. Today, as a century ago, such moralistic scolds inhabit key positions in major media and headline online clickbait outfits, now defending not Christendom but Democratic pols and . . . the “intelligence community.”

O, how the mighty have fallen splat into the muck of petty tyranny.

Sad to see a “reporter” getting his licks in, desperately, before BuzzFeed implodes under competition from upstart competitors.

Like Soph.


Your humble TWV.
Morning Oregonian, 1901

As proof of the degradation of literacy and journalism in America, compare any recent paper — or news website, for that matter — with these three articles from page six of a newspaper near me 118 years ago:



I share these not to argue with them. I could. No problem. But note the quality. Does journalism anything like this exist in America today?

I have not seen it.

twv

echo of a Goodreads review (2/14/2019)

Originally publishd as Lady Killer.

It seems apt to have finished reading this novel as Valentine’s Day begins in the wee hours. For this is not romantic comedy, it is romantic noir.

I am not really an avid reader of “pulp fiction,” though I did recently read an early Jack Vance crime novel — The Flesh Mask, originally published under the pseudonymous signal “Peter Held.” Oh, and I am a Charles Willeford enthusiast, favorite novels including his tough guy/Stirnerite spins on Ayn Rand themes, Burnt Orange Heresy, Cockfighter, and The Woman Chaser. I would not be surprised to learn that Willeford studied not only Woodford’s writing manuals, but also pulp novels such as this one, originally called Lady Killer and published under a pseudonym (Howard Kennedy) in the 1930s, the decade in which he produced his largest fictional output.

This book is less a novel of ideas than the author’s Illegitimate and Unmoral, which I have reviewed here; it is much more like Willeford’s work. It is less talky, and does not elaborate Woodford’s “selfism”; it is more along the lines of a standard love triangle — except that Woodford’s method is more aptly termed a “love tangle.” Here we have a revenge scenario worked out. The plan fails, and, after a few twists and a murder, we have a happy ending. As usually with Woodford, the opening chapter is brilliant, while the happy ending will probably please today’s readers least.

I have a theory about the value of this author’s fiction. Woodford considered his work in this field — which he called “sex novels” — to be junk. He thought of himself a manipulator of readers for whom he had little respect. (But he showed much more disrespect for publishers. I recommend his Loud Literary Lamas of New York as a fun book-length rant against his bêtes noir. Woodford made his living as a self-publisher, and recommended to would-be authors that very publishing method — though he had to give it up in his final decade.) The nature of his “sex writing” method was the ramping-up of sexual excitement. It worked back in his day, when there were multiple taboos against “prurience” in speech and in literature. And Woodford found the perfect way to navigate through the Comstockian minefield: by never mentioning a sex organ, in either technical or vulgar wording, euphemistic or dysphemistic. This book is no exception. But nowadays all that sexual frustration has dissipated. Vanished. Nothing sexual is hidden from us, free on the Internet — even Network TV is far, far more explicit than Woodford was. So we are left with the strength of his prose, the ingenuity of his characterization and plots, and the charm of his cynicism.

It is rather like Greek statuary: their true greatness was revealed eons later, and in no small part because the original gaudy painting had worn off. The sexual repression and titillation constitute the ancient Greeks’ paint.

This is one of his better efforts. I am pretty sure he despised it, or at least pretended to. But I don’t. I think it has merit. I enjoyed it, and studied how it was constructed. Many a literary “masterpiece” of his era is no longer worth reading. This “trash” is.

Here is an oddity, though. Twice in the novel he used the word “strengthy.” I had never encountered that word before. Why not, simply, “strong”? I am pretty sure Woodford did not choose the word lightly. And I was almost taken aback at discovering that it was a once-common word. I am a bit surprised I had not noticed it before. Checking Google’s Ngram viewer, I see it has dropped out of the language. The word’s heyday was the 1840s, a century before this paperback hit the racks.

There is an advertisement for his line of books from “The Woodford Press” — including two of the novels I mentioned above — and was undoubtedly a provision Woodford insisted upon adding to The Hard-Boiled Virgin’s publishing contract.

The title of this novel is, of course, classic — and was cribbed from Frances Newman’s modernist monstrosity made infamous in the Twenties.

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My copy has seen better days.

Explaining religion is not necessarily a simple matter.

I grew up taught to believe that the stories of my religion were true. But as I grew older, certain inconsistencies and antinomies weighed upon my mind, and I found myself incredulous about the whole matter, so I gave up on the beliefs and the rites.

But, if not literally true, is religion — or all religions, or some — figuratively true? Supremely useful? Something else?

The various modes of worship which prevailed in the Roman world were all considered by the people as equally true; by the philosopher as equally false; and by the magistrate as equally useful.

Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. I, Ch. II

I was taught to regard the religion I was born into as true, literally so, and all others as false, with a faint chance that shadow meaning sometimes figuratively refracting the truth — but more likely “of the Devil.” Converting out of the religion, it was easy to treat my youthful theological stance as Atheism With One Exception, making actual atheism merely a final step.

But I did understand a discordant note to this secular triumphalism: henotheism. It was clear that Judaism began with a polytheism-in-fact but monotheism-in-practice: “thou shalt have no other gods before Me” more than implied a multiplicity of deities. Yahweh was good, all others were bad — or, even less strong a position: Yahweh was ours and all others were theirs. The Chosen People idea seemed to imply one of many gods choosing and nurturing a bloodline of people to serve His agenda. But this idea, while clear in my head, I somehow never took all that seriously.

What did I take seriously? The “ghost theory” and exaptation. These ideas can be found in the sociology of Herbert Spencer, and the latter has been greatly expanded by contemporary evolutionary psychology. Beliefs in the gods arose from memories of dead leaders echoing in human brains and showing up in dreams. And hallucinations. That is the irritant that starts the pearl that is religion. But then something else happens: religious belief and practice is discovered to be useful.

To all sorts of people. For good and ill.

But one use we fell into. It turns out that when we less-than-well-tempered hominids — Hominoids — even contemplate a putatively divine being or concept, or even any “transcendent object” or priniple, we think and behave less like selfish, short-sighted apes. We begin to behave morally.

And thus the transcendent notion, whatever it is, can serve as a social signal that can encourage others to see our intent to coöperate, not engage in harm. Whatever religious idea we hold can gain a lot of traction when folks come to rely on such signalling.

Thus, the gods.

A simple story, this secular account, and it can be filed under the heading Exaptation — a thing that originated for one reason surviving for other reasons. It was as if adapted for a new purpose, but as naturally selected, sort of adapting itself.

A meme — a replicable habit — spread for reasons independent of its explicit rationale.

Great story.

It may even be true.

Almost certainly it is true.

But it is not the whole story: we still have that initial irritant. The “ghosts.” Which though inconvenient after the religion becomes a memetic hit, still persist.

And there is an outside possibility that some of those irritants in the oyster of our imaginations are, themselves, Not What They Seem.

They may be neither dreams nor hallucinations nor memories.

They might be aliens.

In a fascinating dcumentary about a man who paints his alleged encounters with aliens, some of whom with which he engages in sexual acts, Love and Saucers, we learn about an odd variety of religious experience, the sexual extraterrestrial encounter. Philosopher Jeffrey Kripal, quoted in the movie, tells us that religious experiences with a sexual component are common in the literature. He also sees alien encounter and abduction stories as not dissimilar from past religious tales. What they interpreted as angels we, in a more scientific age, interpret as extraterrestrials.

And such experiences are not uncommon.

So, do we have these experiences because of some quirk of our psychologies, as evolved from the distant past?

Or is it something more direct?

I do not know.

I have never had an encounter as described by the painter in Love and Saucers. It would be easy to mock him. That is something I am sure my “skeptic” friends online would be inclined to do.

But I no longer do such things. If David Huggins, the subject of the documentary, is conjuring these “memories” by confabulation, that is almost as astounding as the events he describes.

And then there is the wider context. Do we have certainty that encounters with “aliens” do not happen? I do not have that certainty of conviction, of dismissive incredulity. I do not have enough faith to dismiss out of hand the UFO context.

Now, I understand, that wider context and the evidence for it may be peculiar in the extreme, sure — but it is vast. The number of documents leaked from governments, and the hundreds — the thousands — of seemingly earnest testimonies from military personnel and government contractors, airline passengers, and workers about encounters with bizarre flying and submersible crafts is huge. And these crafts — in government documents and reports as well as in reams of testimony, apparently run according to principles nothing like the technology we know, which is based on aerodynamics and hydrodynamics, and on the many types of internal combustion engines . . . well, the number and weight of the testimony is almost disturbing.

Further, there appears to be an ongoing government disclosure of information about these encounters, around the world, and even — belatedly, with a great lag — from the biggest, most UFOey government of them all, the United States of Military Industrial Complex.

I do not know what to make of all this. Not with anything approaching certainty. And were it not for the Cato Institute, I might not be thinking about it at all.

A number of years ago the libertaran think tank fired one of its consulting scholars, economist Dom Armentano — removed him from their honor roll, so to speak. Why? Because he had come out for UFO disclosure.

Think about this. The retired professor merely expressed a support for transparency in government on an issue of public interest. But the “heroic” Cato management could not even be associated with something as tame as that.

When I heard this, I experienced something like shock. I had thought I understood the cultism of the cultural center, its proneness to shaming and shunning and marginalization . . . perpetrated to keep the hierarchy of the in-group secure against all comers. But Cato is libertarian. Do Cato-ites think their propinquity to power, geographically, makes them in the in-group? If any tribe on the planet has reason to understand the corrosive nature of in-group intellectual regimentation, it would be libertarians. And if any group should be prone to resist such nonsense, then it must be libertarians, right?

Apparently not. Cato was so eager for respectability, and so unimaginative that an illustrious economist had to be purged.

This is when I realized the astounding extent of ideological cultism in America, and its corrupting powers. And, once you realize how powerful that propensity is, then you can see how it could be manipulated.

By a conspiracy. At a power center.

For, alas, it seems likely that some conspiracy is involved. Either a cabal within the Deep State is conspiring to keep some dread secret from the world and from the citizens that the government putatively serves, or a big if ragtag group of military personel, domestic pilots, seamen, and a great number of civilians are perpetrating and perhaps coördinating a huge fraud.

About two years ago, I began to think the latter the less likely.

Further, I surmise, if I were in the Deep State and saw all these rumors swirl around me, I would regard them as a destabilizing force, as undermining governance by decreasing trust in basic institutions. I would earnestly support public research into and educational efforts about the phenomena, the better to thoroughly explain and debunk paranormal accounts and tall tales about UFOs and “aliens.” But, on the other hand, had I a secret to keep, a big one, letting the testimonies and photographs and rumors and urban legends spread while giving lukewarm and even preposterous counter-explanations might just work — to keep the secret. After all, I could count on all the little Catos out there, doing my work for me, keeping “the nuts” marginalized.

This does not mean that painter David Huggins is not some kind of a nut. There is room for psychological confabulation along the margins. But it sure looks like something strange is going on. The planet and its history may be stranger than we thought.

Indeed, “the gods” at the start of religions may not have been mere mirages and dreams and “visions.” Perhaps the Anunnaki and Quinametzin and Viracocha and that crowd really did help start our civilization, and that they seemed “gods” to us barely higher apes. And maybe they had some connection to the phenomena that we call “religious” — and maybe they have something to do with “aliens.”

In any case, Love and Saucers is a fascinating documentary.

And religion remains something of a mystery.

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