“Glad to see [Trump’s] new communications director has things under control. The stream of consciousness strategy never fails, right?”

–Congressman Adam Schiff on Donald Trump’s latest incoherent tweet storm following Trump’s appointment of Anthony Scaramucci as his communications director


The Rise and Fall of Dodo front cover

(The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O, by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland. William Morrow, 2017, 752 pp., $35.00)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon

Well, from Stephenson, this is something completely different: a light, comic, genre-bending (sci-fi & fantasy) novel that mixes quantum physics with computer science, magic, witchcraft, time travel, and parallel universes. If this sounds more than a bit like the set-up of Charles Stross’s “Laundry” novels, it is. (Stross’s latest such novel is just out, and I’ll review it shortly.)

Another similarity is that both the protagonists in both the Laundry Files novels and The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.  are employed by a super-secret government agencies dealing with the occult. There are, however, major differences between the Stross and Stephenson/Gallard novels. One is that the “Laundry” stories feature first-person narration from a single point of view, and The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. has first-person narration from eight p.ov. characters (four male, four female), and the story is told via journal entries, memos, historical documents, transcripted conversations, and e-mail exchanges. This sounds like it could be a mess, but it’s not: the story is quite easy to follow, which given the narrative complexity is no mean feat.

All of the characters are well drawn, with distinctive behaviors, physical appearance, dress, speech patterns, writing styles, and personality quirks. Those characters range from the very sympathetic (Melisande, the primary character, and Tristan, the primary male character), to the utterly loathsome (Blevins, an abusive, puffed up hypocrite).

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. begins with a time-lock device: we learn from Melisande’s first journal entry that something has gone horribly wrong, and she’ll be stranded in 1851 unless she’s rescued within a few weeks.

From there, the story unwinds detailing the development of D.O.D.O. (Department of Diachronic Operations) from its humble beginnings with Tristan, who works for the Department of Defense, recruiting Melisande, an ancient language expert, to work on a nascent time travel project. Following that, D.O.D.O mushrooms, with Tristan and Melisande quickly recruiting Frank, a physicist working in the area of (what else?) quantum physics, who creates a time travel machine in which witches can practice magic and send people back in time.

Shortly, the DOD begins using the time machine to alter the past, and shortly after that the DOD official overseeing the project, General Frink, appoints a slimy, incompetent crony as its administrator in place of the competent Tristan. From there, several disasters ensue, ending with the time-lock situation (Melisande stranded in 1851) described at the beginning of the book.

There’s no point in detailing the plot further, except to say that it makes sense as much as any time travel plot can make sense (ultimately, they don’t — they’re inescapably paradoxical). So, time travel is one of the book’s two “gimmes”; the other is the existence of magic and witchcraft.

One very attractive feature of the book is that it has many genuinely funny moments, including a wonderful three-page passage on the reactions of surveillance personnel forced to watch the virtually nonstop sexual antics of two of the characters. This is the high, or at least the funniest, point in the interplay between the male and female characters, which is both amusing and believable throughout the book.

If there’s any lesson to be drawn from The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O., it’s that hierarchical institutions are inherently dangerous, in part because incompetents in command positions can and do make terrible decisions, overriding the concerns of the competent people beneath them.

Other than that, The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. has no redeeming social value other than being for the most part — it’s a bit on the long side — highly entertaining.

That’s more than enough to justify picking it up.

Recommended.

* * *

Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia (pdf sample here). He’s currently working on the sequel and on an unrelated sci-fi novel in his copious free time.

Free Radicals, by Zeke Teflon front cover


(Yesterday we published the Spanish-language version of this piece detailing the beating of Venezuelan anarchist Gianni Humberto Scovino by would-be Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro’s militarized national police. Here’s the translation.

As you can see from the attached video, the beating was deliberate and entirely unprovoked. Our Venezuelan comrades promise another piece on the arrest and torture of Venezuelan anarchists by the “revolutionary” Maduro regime; we’ll publish it as soon as we receive it, first in Spanish and then in English after we translate it.)

Gianni Humberto Scovino being beaten by Venezuelan police

Gianni Scovino is a young man of 33 with Asperger’s syndrome and a member of the Turtle Foundation (Fundación La Tortuga [http://www.fundacionlatortuga.org/]), a participant in the punk scene, and an anarchist media activist using materials from El Libertario [Venezuela’s primary anarchist periodical] on his Youtube channel (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCt5E7TuSaxrHPyoXF07LlZg/videos), where he puts up videos in both Spanish and English.

On July 13, he was savagely assaulted by members of the Bolivarian National Police (Policía Nacional Bolivariana [PNB]) and the Bolivarian National Guard (Guardia Nacional Bolivariana [GNB]) in the parking lot of the Grand Central Commercial Dairy Plaza (Centro Comercial Plaza Mayor de Lecherías) in the state of Anzoátegui while he was on a recycling run for the Turtle Foundation. A video of the attack is available on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p5e5NDx7Ues

[Translator’s note: The Chávez regime and now its successor, the Maduro regime, refer to themselves as “Bolivarian,” in an attempt to paint themselves as the successors of Simon Bolivar, the leader of the 19th-century uprising against Spanish colonialism.]

Gianni Humberto Scovino in hospital after being beaten by Venezuelan police

After being brutally beaten by the PNB and GNB with nightsticks and with  shields used as battering rams, he was held for 36 hours at Detachment 521 of the Command of Zone 521 of the GNB, before being transferred to a medical facility for treatment. At present he’s recovering in the Hospital of the Venezuelan Institute of Social Insurance.

Those responsible for the attack on Gianni are GNB first sergeants Osmel Zambrano Márquez and Joel José Díaz Carreño, and second sergeants Julio César Gómez Mata and José Gregorio Trébol Pinto, as well as the PNB attaché Luis Ramón Cova León and PNB officials Xavier Alexander Díaz Salazar, Elio Antonio Díaz Maigua and José Alejandro Villegas Olivero.

The violent assault suffered by Gianni is symptomatic of the constant violence in Venezuela for the last 100 days, in which, since April 1, more than 3,500 people have been detained, an incalculable number have been injured, and there have been police raids on civil and residential sites. Thus far 303 Venezuelan civilians have gone before military tribunals. And more than 100 people have been killed.

We’re making an international call to our overseas anarchist comrades for solidarity in the face of the attacks on the people of Venezuela during this uprising of the people. Silence is complicity with a dictatorship that oppresses, tortures, and jails anarchists.

Let indignation become rage against the oppressor!

With Gianni and all of the Venezuelans rising against the regime, we remain the anarchists in the popular uprising.

 

Some of the Youtube videos from Gianni Scovino:


Within the last two or three months, after decades of playing guitar, I’ve begun playing bass in one of my musical projects (Borrowed Time).

Until then, my attitude toward bassists was, “fine, play the damn root on the one, after that, whatever.”

I had no idea.

The Bassist's Bible by Tim Boomer front coverI thought it absolutely pathetic that the most popular part of The Bassist’s Bible was the appendix in the back listing the bassists in various bands over the last few decades.

Who could give a shit?

Bassists. That’s who.

Everyone else should, too.

As I’ve discovered recently, while learning to play bass, there’s a reason for that: bassists usually get no credit  at all, and they can be incredibly creative and vital to the success of a band.

How many bassists can you name right now? I’ll bet you can count them on the fingers of one hand. The really good ones you’ll probably name are Paul McCartney, John Entwistle and, if you’re a jazz freak, Ron Carter, Charlie Mingus, and Jaco Pastorious . . . and beyond that? Probably few if any.

Why are they so important? They anchor a song and more importantly drive it and can provide counterpoint to the lines above.

Check this tune out from the last Pinche Blues Band CD: Life Is Good. My pal Michael Zubay drives the hell out of it. It would be nowhere near as compelling without his driving bass line.

On this song, people tend to just listen to the vocals (Abe), my (guitar) solo, and Fred’s (organ) solo. NOT the bass line which drives the whole thing.

How does he do it? Rhythm. It’s one . . . AND (of 2nd beat — hammering it) . . . and four and one . . . AND . . . etc.

It’s only since I began playing bass myself, after decades of playing only guitar, that I really began to appreciate bass players.

Thanks guys. Over the decades, I’ve never properly appreciated you. I’m proud to join your ranks. It’s the most musical fun I’ve had in a long time.


(Our Venezuelan compañeros just sent me the following e-mail detailing the beating of Venezuelan anarchist Gianni Humberto Scovino by Maduro’s Bolivarian National Police. As you can see from the attached video, the beating was deliberate and entirely unprovoked. For now, this post is in Spanish. I’ll translate it to English and put that up tonight or tomorrow. )

Gianni Humberto Scovino being beaten by Venezuelan police

Gianni Scovino (33 años) es un joven asperger, colaborador de la Fundación La Tortuga (http://www.fundacionlatortuga.org/), participe de la escena punk y difusor de artículos sobre el anarquismo publicados en El Libertario a través de su canal S3 7 (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCt5E7TuSaxrHPyoXF07LlZg/videos) donde suele postear videos en inglés y español.

El pasado 13 de julio de 2017 fue salvajemente agredido por funcionarios de la  Policía Nacional Bolivariana (PNB) y Guardia Nacional Bolivariana (GNB) mientras reciclaba desechos para la Fundación Tortuga en las inmediaciones del estacionamiento del Centro Comercial Plaza Mayor de Lecherías en el estado Anzoátegui. La golpiza que recibió quedo registrado en el siguiente video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p5e5NDx7Ues

Gianni Humberto Scovino in hospital after being beaten by Venezuelan police

Después de ser  golpeado por la PNB y GNB con el escudo, patada y golpes fue retenido por 36 horas en el Destacamento 521 del Comando de Zona Número 51 de la GNB antes de ser trasladado a un centro asistencial; actualmente su estado de salud está mejorando y se encuentra en el Hospital del Instituto Venezolano de los Seguros Sociales “Doctor Domingo Guzmán Lander” de Barcelona.

Los responsables de las agresiones sufridas por el compañero Gianni Scovino son los sargentos primeros de la GNB, Osmel Zambrano Márquez y Joel José Díaz Carreño, y los sargentos segundos Julio César Gómez Mata y José Gregorio Trébol Pinto. Así como el oficial agregado de la PNB,  Luis Ramón Cova León y los oficiales del mismo cuerpo de seguridad, Xavier Alexander Díaz Salazar, Elio Antonio Díaz Maigua y José Alejandro Villegas Olivero.

La violencia que sufrió Gianni Scovino es una constante desde hace 100 días en  Venezuela, la cual desde el 01 de abril van más de 3500 personas detenidas, un número incalculable de heridos, allanamientos a sectores populares y residenciales; 303 venezolanos juzgados en tribunales militares y más de 100 víctimas fatales.

Desde Venezuela, hacemos un llamado internacional a los compañeros y compañeras anarquistas a no ser indiferentes ante las agresiones que está sufriendo la población venezolana en esta Rebelión Popular, el silencio es complicidad con una dictadura que oprime, tortura y detiene a libertarios.

Que la indignación se transforme en rabia contra el opresor

¡Con Gianni y todas las venezolanos alzados!

–Anarquistas en la rebelión popular.

 

Algunos de los videos de youtube de Gianni Scovino:


Here’s the latest installment in our ever-popular Internet Crap series, which mixes links to sick and absurd but amusing crap with links to useful crap. Enjoy!

  • Skeptic Magazine has a great piece on a new successful hoax of a postmodernist academic journal. The piece begins:

    The androcentric scientific and meta-scientific evidence that the penis is the male reproductive organ is considered overwhelming and largely uncontroversial.

    “. . .We used this preposterous sentence to open a ‘paper’ consisting of 3,000 words of utter nonsense posing as academic scholarship. Then a peer-reviewed academic journal in the social sciences accepted and published it.”

  • Walking disease vector Milo Yiannopoulos’s publicists claimed, to Publishers Weekly, that his new self-published book Dangerous sold 100,000 copies during its first week. It turns out, according to industry reporting firm Nielsen BookScan, that it was only about 18,000. (To avoid misunderstanding, please understand that when we refer to Yiannopoulos as a “walking disease vector,” we’re referring to emotional, not physical, illness.)

  • Raw Story reports that “Conservative Christian reality TV star Toby Willis gets 40 years in prison after pleading guilty to child rape.” What channel was carrying the Willis program? You guessed it! TLC.  Raw Story further reports that “Willis’ rape case is the third sex scandal that plagued TLC. In 2014, the network first canceled ‘Here Comes Honey Boo Boo’ after Mama June rekindled a romance with a convicted sex offender. In 2015, it axed ’19 Kids and Counting’ following Josh Duggar’s molestation scandal.”
  • Well, this is a first. The Saudi government is usually in the news for persecuting atheists, committing judicial mass murder, forbidding women to drive (among other worse affronts), and committing war crimes in Yemen, but it’s come up with a new, amusing, and amazing offense it can use to hammer its citizens: excessive butt kissing.
  • If you’ve been listening to right-wing misrepresentation of Black Lives Matter,  please give a close listen to Dr. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, a found of Black Lives Matter, who presents a very insightful analysis of current political conditions in the United States, and how we can improve them.
  • Finally, the headline here (almost) says it all: “Juggalo March on Washington: Insane Clown Posse fans to demand end to ‘gang’ designation.”

For now, that’s all folks.


H.L. Mencken

“The cosmos is a gigantic fly wheel making 1,000 revolutions a minute. Man is a sick fly taking a dizzy ride on it. Religion is the theory that the wheel was designed and set spinning to give him the ride.”

–H.L. Mencken, A Mencken Chrestomathy

* * *

Decades ago, I picked up a copy of the Bible published by The Way International (a prominent evangelical group). They used the above quotation in place of a dedication at the beginning of the book–but they omitted the final sentence, thus providing yet another example of the fine character traits (in this case honesty) routinely exhibited by Christianity’s most fervent proponents. Mencken would almost certainly have been, in equal parts, delighted and disgusted by this.

The only reason I recognized The Way International’s deliberate misrepresentation of Mencken’s quote was that I had recently read A Mencken Chrestomathy while compiling The Heretic’s Handbook of Quotations; at least 99.999% of other readers would never have spotted The Way’s dishonesty, which is undoubtedly what they were counting on.