BOOTLICKING, ger.  A popular American mass participation sport which is rapidly displacing baseball as the national pastime.

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– definition (not photo) from the revised and expanded edition of The American Heretic’s Dictionary, by Chaz Bufe, the best modern successor to Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary

American Heretic's Dictionary revised and expanded by Chaz Bufe, front cover

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(For the last few months we’ve been running the best posts from years past, posts that will be new to most of our subscribers. This one is from 2015. We’ll be posting more blasts from the past for the next several months, and will intersperse them with new material.)

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There’s a story in today’s Guardian on a dispute in Denver over volunteers handing out informational flyers about jury nullification in front of the courthouse. The district attorney has charged two activists with felony jury tampering (!) for handing out the flyers, while the city attorney has directed the cops to stop arresting people for handing out flyers, because such arrests are an obvious violation of the right of free speech.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, jury nullification consists of juries refusing to convict defendants either because they believe that the law in question is unjust or because they believe that defendants had good reason for breaking the law in question.

Most people believe that juries are bound to follow judges’ instructions and convict defendants regardless of whether jurors consider a law unjust or that defendants are justified in breaking it. There is no such obligation. Juries can find defendants not guilty in such circumstances, and there’s not a thing judges or prosecutors can do to them because of it.

Over the years, there have been many horrendous miscarriages of justice resulting from juries being unaware of this, and prosecutors want to keep it that way.

So, what the activists handing out flyers at the Denver courthouse were and are doing is not only courageous, but important. If enough people become aware that jury nullification is possible, it would put a brake on the power of the state to steamroller political activists.

The best source of information on jury nullification is the Fully Informed Jury Association. Check ’em out, please.


Artemis, by Andy Weir front cover(Artemis, by Andy Weir. Crown, 2017, $27.00, 305 pp.)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon

Three years ago, Andy Weir’s debut sci-fi novel, The Martian, arose out of the morass of self-published books, the vast majority of which never go anywhere. (Over 800,000 self-published books appeared last year alone; typical lifetime sales figures for such books are in the range of 100 to 200 copies.)

The Martian, a near-future novel about a stranded astronaut, was the best hard sci-fi novel to appear in ages. So, like many other readers, I’ve been eagerly awaiting Weir’s next book.

Like The Martian, Artemis is a near-future hard sci-fi novel that features a plucky, oftentimes funny protagonist who overcomes difficulty after difficulty, often of a technical nature. (The difficulties in The Martian are almost exclusively of a technical nature.) Also, as in The Martian, Weir gets the science right, weaving it into the story without ever condescending to the reader; and both novels take place in familiar near-space settings: Mars and the moon, respectively. Another similarity is the quality of the writing: it’s concise and flows in large part due to Weir’s consistent use of active voice, his avoidance of adjectives and adverbs, and his avoidance of taking off on tangents.

The Martian, by Andy WeirThe differences between the two books lie primarily in their protagonists, the difficulties they face, and their goals. In The Martian, the protagonist is Matt Watley, who uses his ingenuity and scientific knowledge to solve one after another seemingly intractable technical problems in order to survive; in Artemis, the protagonist is Jasmine (“Jazz”) Bashara, a markedly immature, young lapsed Muslim and petty smuggler who uses her wits and technical knowledge in order to survive and to pursue wealth. On the surface, she seems an unlikely, unlikable protagonist, but Weir manages to make her into one through exploration of her rough background and through her having a consistent moral code.

Shortly after Artemis begins, Jazz finds herself hired by a smuggling client to take part in a major criminal operation, and quickly finds herself in way over her head. At that point, the string of seemingly intractable problems and ingenious solutions begin, and continue nonstop through the rest of the book.

As for weaknesses in Artemis, there are a few. The primary one is that the outcomes at the end of the book are just a little too neat, and that on reflection one of the most important (involving an ownership transfer) seems possible but far from inevitable. Weir presents this outcome so smoothly, though, that it’s easy to let it slide by; only when you think about it a bit will you realize, “Hey! That doesn’t necessarily follow.”

I’d have enjoyed Artemis more if I hadn’t previously read The Martian — the similarities are just too great: a plucky, wise-cracking protagonist facing and overcoming technical problem after technical problem. Because of that, Artemis wasn’t as fresh and surprising as The Martian. But it’s still a very good book.

Recommended.

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Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia (pdf sample here). He’s currently working on the sequel, two translations, a nonfiction book, two compilations, and an unrelated sci-fi novel in his copious free time. He hopes to complete at least two of those projects over the next year.

Free Radicals, by Zeke Teflon front cover

 

 

 


Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey are here in Arizona, up in Wickenburg at The Meadows, a very expensive ($58,000 for 45 days) 12-step treatment program.

This is ridiculous on more than one count, most importantly that Spacey and Weinstein are not afflicted with “sex addiction.” Rather, they’ afflicted with power-over-others “addiction,” and the abusive behavior that results from it. Give people power over others, and it’s a safe bet that a great many of them will abuse it.

Second, “sex addiction” is not a recognized disorder in the standard handbook on mental disorders, the American Psychological Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (5th ed.). It’s a pop culture term dating from the 1980s, whose roots seem to lie in the anti-sexual attitudes of conservative Christians and in the authoritarian, prudish feminism of figures such as Andrea Dworkin. It’s more of the “same old same old” pathologizing of sex that’s been such a dreary part of American life for centuries.

Third, the type of “treatment” Spacey and Weinstein are receiving for this trumped up malady is 12-step treatment, which is ineffective across the board. (See “Alcoholics Anonymous is Not Effective” for info on the granddaddy of and model for all subsequent 12-step programs; see also the authoritative Handbook of Alcoholism Treatment Approaches, by Reid Hester and William Miller.)

So, Spacey and Weinstein are receiving (insofar as it’s 12-step based) ineffective treatment for an imaginary addiction, while their real problem — their willingness to use their positions of power to exploit and abuse others — goes unaddressed.

In the end, it seems that all they’ve done is find a convenient way to remove themselves from the spotlight, while giving the appearance of doing something about their awful behavior. They’ll emerge from rehab in January, their PR flacks will proclaim them rehabilitated — and they’ll quite probably go back to business as usual, insofar as they can get away with it.

That’s a shame for both Spacey, Weinstein, and their victims, and for the rest of us, because sexual abuse by the powerful has wider than individual implications. It’s a symptom of the sickness at the heart of our current authoritarian, hierarchical political and economic organization that gives some vast power over others. This whole affair could have spurred much needed discussion about that sickness. But it hasn’t, and likely won’t, especially as it’s being addressed as a matter of individual failure rather than pervasive sociopolitical failure.


 

Seattle Propane's Wallingford Sign

–from Seattle Propane’s Wallingford Sign

 


One of the main mocking points of the right is the language of the left, especially PC terms such as the mandatory “people of.”

Here’s a hint as to why using such language is a really dumb thing to do: It’s artificial. In real life — at least around here — No one talks like that.

My neighborhood is about 80% nonwhite, and over the last quarter century while talking with my Mexican, black, and poor white neighbors, I have never heard the words “people of color.”  Never. The black people refer to themselves as black people or African-Americans. The Mexicans refer to themselves as Mexicans or Mexican-Americans, very occasionally chicanos. Not “people of color” — that’s a term for guilty white folks and identity-politics types of any color, who care more about using the correct PC terms than about reaching the people around them (more accurately, reaching the people in poor and working class neighborhoods).

After that disastrous usage and similar off-putting PC terms, things get even worse — totally divorced from reality, totally divorced from daily life.

Let’s take a prime example: “Smash US Imperialism.” What the hell does that mean? “Smash”? Does it have any concrete meaning? No. It’s just metaphorical.

What about “U.S. Imperialism”? That might have some meaning (varying) in hardcore leftist circles, though one suspects it’s close to a ritual incantation. Most of my neighbors would have at best a foggy idea of what that term means.

The point is that “Smash U.S. Imperialism” is just empty political sloganeering. It has nothing to do with daily life.

After such empty rhetoric, incredibly enough, things get even worse.

Condescending identity-politics types will happily lecture people about how they’re woman-haters for refusing to vote for authoritarian warmonger and corporate lapdog Hillary Clinton, and how having a woman in charge will be a huge step forward. (Yep, having Margaret Thatcher and Indira Gandhi at the top of the heap in the UK and India changed everything, didn’t it?)

Even more obnoxiously, holier-than-thou identity politics types will lecture people about how they’re racists just because they’re white. Some of the more dishonest, disrespectful PC types even have the nerve to ask other white people “Are you a racist” in order to manipulate them into being lectured about how all white people are racists.

This type of patronizing PC b.s. does far more harm than good. It unnecessarily alienates people and plays into the stereotype that everyone on the left side of the political spectrum is a condescending jerk.

So, what to do?

If you want to talk with people and actually move them, talk to them about their daily lives. Talk with them about how lacking healthcare means they might die, how their kids might die; talk to them about the shitty schools in the neighborhood; talk to them about the insane cost of higher education; talk to them about how the 1% pay lower taxes than they do, and how they’ll never get ahead as long as that continues.

Talk about daily life, what we’re all going through, and we might even get to hardcore Trump worshippers. When we point out how government and corporate policies play out in daily life, how they affect all of our families, we might get through to people.

Let’s point out why, in concrete terms, our shared pain exists, and we might get somewhere.

Using abstract, PC language and slogans almost guarantees that we won’t.

Talking about daily life is the best, and arguably the only, way to reach people.

 

 

 


“Pity Canada. Its citizens watch the stages of U.S. decline and then, a few years later, inflict on themselves the same cruelties. . . .

“Canada is currently in the Barack Obama phase of self-immolation. Its prime minister, Justin Trudeau, is—as Obama was—a fresh face with no real political past or established beliefs, a brand. Trudeau excels, like Obama, French President Emmanuel Macron, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in empty symbolism. These ‘moderates’ spew progressive and inclusive rhetoric while facilitating social inequality, a loss of rights and the degradation of the environment by global corporations. They are actors in skillfully crafted corporate advertisements. . . .

“Lifestyle choices and expressions of personal identity are respected, even championed, while we are politically disempowered. The focus on multiculturalism and identity politics is anti-politics. It is accompanied by sterile reforms—such as more professionalized policing—that never challenge the underlying structures of corporate power . . .”

–Chris Hedges, “Behind the Mask of the ‘Moderates‘” on Truthdig