Head On, by John Scalzi. TOR, 2018, $25.99 335 pp.)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon

 

I ran out of reading matter a couple of days ago, so I picked up a copy of one of John Scalzi’s new ones. He’s almost always reliable for a good read, so here we go:

This is a very enjoyable near-future techno-thriller. I liked it a lot better than its much-praised prequel, Lock In.

This book is near-pure escapist sci-fi, with utterly unrealistic, hero, incorruptible FBI agents — not the guys who infiltrate and entrap environmental activists, shoot and frame Native American activists for murder and then send them to the hole, forever. Oh no. These are the good guys.

Despite this loathsome set up, lauding the forces of repression, this is a good book. The primary character is much more than a cipher, and the primary secondary character (Vann) is well drawn.

Following the set-up, Scalzi follows with a beautifully complicated, detailed plot, with all details clicking into place, regarding professional sports leagues and their criminal financial manipulations. Scalzi skillfully guides the reader through the labyrinth.

Writing skill is not the problem here. Political reality is.

Recommended with serious reservations (Scalzi’s butt kissing of the powers that be). Enjoyable as long as you’re aware of it.


PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, n. 1) A pathological liar suffering delusions of grandeur; 2) An office which confers upon its holder vast coercive power as well as the means to commit mass murder—an opportunity of which all recent U.S. presidents have taken advantage. Because of this, some observers have concluded that only the worst type of individuals seek the office of president. This unkind assessment is, however, incorrect. It is more realistic to conclude that only the worst type of individuals are elected to the office.

 * * *

—from The American Heretic’s Dictionary (revised & expanded)

ahd-144-a

(Note: When I wrote these definitions decades ago, Bill Clinton was in office, and the first definition was shocking. It made you think. And it was funny. No more. Now it simply states the obvious. I hope you still get a chuckle out of the second definition.)


At long last we have enough suitable material for another one of these “interesting and marginally useful” posts. This one is fairly heavy on the interesting (and funny) side, so we’ll start off with the most marginally useful sites we’ve stumbled across recently.

  • If you’ve ever tried to explain to an imbecile that there’s a difference between correlation and causation, you can relax; you can forego such exercises in frustration from now on: just point imbeciles at the Spurious Correlations site. No matter how dim people are, there’s at least a chance that a 25-watt bulb will flicker to life in their craniums once they see the near-exact correlation between — my favorite — Per capita cheese consumption and The number of people who died by becoming entangled in their bedsheets in the years 2000 through 2009 (statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). The Spurious Correlations site features many other such correlations; a good one is that between US spending on science, space, and technology and Suicides by hanging, strangulation, and suffocation in the years 1999 through 2009.
  • You’ve probably heard of the Dunning-Kruger effect, which is essentially the maddening phenomenon — currently on spectacular display in American politics — in which the more ignorant a person is about damn near anything, the more convinced they are that they’re knowledgeable. Psychologist David Dunning, who supplied half of the name for the effect, was recently interviewed by Vox reporter Brian Resnick. The interview bears the promising subtitle, “How to fight the Dunning-Kruger effect . . .” Unfortunately, Dunning’s advice does seem only marginally useful (those who need it most won’t take it), but it’s worth reading nonetheless.
  • We put up a post about this a month ago, but can’t resist plugging Nihilanand once again. It’s a gag/serious site concerning the criminal activity known as parenthood, and features over 100 memes, some outright hilarious. We put up one of them last month, and here’s another. (But before we go on, do check out the BBC article, “Indian man to sue parents for giving birth to him.” It’s almost as funny as the memes.)

Nihilanand meme

  • Banksy’s Dismaland is long gone, but if you missed its very limited five-week run in 2015 at an “abandoned lido” (whatever the hell that is), there are still two great photo tours of the “bemusement park”: Colossal’s “Welcome to Dismaland” and (yes) Business Insider’s “29 Photos from Banksy’s Twisted Dismaland.” (Note: “Welcome to Dismaland” is slow in loading.) Here’s one of the tour photos:

  • Finally, the Miami Herald just published (and kudos to them for not hiding behind a paywall) a piece titled “Florida is just full of weirdos,” which is a list of the supposedly ten best Florida Man Twitter posts, a Twitter feed that has over 400,000 followers, and which concerns weird news in Florida. We’d strongly disagree that these are the ten best Florida Man posts — it looks like they selected ten at random and labeled them the “best” —  though we do like the one about the dimwit who was “released from jail on an auto theft charge” and was immediately rearrested after trying to break “into another car in the jail’s parking lot . . . with a deputy behind the wheel.” If you like this sort of thing, we’d urge you to check out the Florida Man Twitter feed, which almost always has something to rival the above. The one in the current batch of tweets that caught our eye was a headline from the Florida Times-Union (in Jacksonville) reading, “Florida man kidnaps neighbor’s dog, has sex with it in his trailer,” which brings up the always pertinent question, how is it possible to kidnap a dog?

And as we’ve said before . . . Th . . . Th . . . Th . . . Th . . . Th . . . Th . . . Th . . . That’s all folks!

Porky Pig


Astounding front cover(Astounding, by Tim Nevala-Lee. New York, Dey St., 2018, $28.99, 532 pp.)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon

While the subtitle mentions Heinlein, Hubbard, and Asimov along with John W. Campbell, this is primarily a biography of Campbell centering on his activities as editor of Astounding Science Fiction (later Analog), the largest-circulation and most influential science fiction magazine in the 1940s through the 1960s; the book has a special focus on Campbell’s relationships with the authors he published, his influence on their work, and on the authors’ relationships with each other.

The level of detail in this exceedingly well documented 500-plus-page book is, well, astounding, and the amount of work Nevala-Lee did to produce it must have been equally astounding. The dust jacket copy notes that the author drew on “unexplored archives, thousands of unpublished letters, and dozens of interviews.” It shows.

This is not, however, a dry academic history. Nevala-Lee does a fine job of bringing to life the decidedly oddball quartet listed in the subtitle, along with their wives and girlfriends (some of whom did much uncredited work) and many other sci-fi authors of the time. Nevala-Lee has not, however, produced a hagiography: the portraits of all of these figures are nuanced, bringing out both their attractive and unattractive traits. The attractive traits include. in all but Hubbard, dedication to work and writing, the authors’ and Campbell’s mutual support, and in Campbell’s case a messianic belief in the transformative power of science fiction. The unattractive traits include spousal abuse and pathological lying (Hubbard), right-wing authoritarian politics (Hubbard, Campbell, and Heinlein) and denunciations of associates to the FBI as “communists” (Hubbard). (For a good dissection of Heinlein’s most authoritarian work, see Michael Moorcock’s famous takedown of Starship Troopers, “Starship Stormtroopers.”) Even Asimov, who comes off as by far the most sympathetic of the quartet, had a serious flaw: engaging in serial sexual harassment.

For those interested in cults, there’s also a great deal of material on Hubbard’s and Campbell’s formulation of dianetics — basically a rehashing of Alfred Korzybski’s tedious and trivial “general semantics” concepts along with (though they wouldn’t have known the term) abreaction therapy (which can be quite dangerous), all with a “cybernetics” overlay — and their subsequent falling out prior to Hubbard’s coming up with the term Scientology, founding of that “church,” and installation of himself as that money-making machine’s glorious leader.

This brief summation only scratches the surface, and anyone interested in science fiction and its history should have a great time delving into this well researched, well written book.

Highly 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, a nonfiction book on the seamier sides of Christianity, two compilations, and an unrelated sci-fi novel.

Free Radicals, by Zeke Teflon front cover


There’s a standard psychological list to assess psychopathic tendencies, The Hare Psychopathology Checklist. It’s a list of 20 traits common to psychopaths.

The traits are ranked on a scale of 0 to 2, with 0 being entirely absent, 1 being somewhat present, and 2 being strongly present. The Checklist ranks someone as a psychopath if their score is 30 or above out of a possible score of 40.

One of the points on the Checklist “revocation of conditional release” is entirely dependent on class status (doesn’t apply to the rich — they’re never in the system in the first place) — and another is almost entirely so, “juvenile delinquency” is almost entirely class-dependent (the rich get “diverted” and their records erased), so let’s disallow those two criteria. That leaves 18 checkpoints. Let’s see how Trump does, taking a score of 27 (75%) as indicative of psychopathy:

  • glib and superficial charm
  • grandiose (exaggeratedly high) estimation of self
  • need for stimulation
  • pathological lying
  • cunning and manipulativeness
  • lack of remorse or guilt
  • shallow affect (superficial emotional responsiveness)
  • callousness and lack of empathy
  • parasitic lifestyle
  • poor behavioral controls
  • sexual promiscuity
  • early behavior problems
  • lack of realistic long-term goals
  • impulsivity
  • irresponsibility
  • failure to accept responsibility for own actions
  • many short-term marital relationships
  • criminal versatility

My best estimate, based on abundant public evidence, is that Trump scores 33 out of 36, well up into the psychopathy range.

What’s your estimate? Why? (Please leave a comment.)

And why isn’t the press addressing the urgent matter that we have an apparent raving psychopath with his finger on the nuclear button?

 


Da Pope

“All feminism ends up being [a type of] machismo with a skirt.”

–Pope Francis, speaking to the Vatican’s conference on pederasty, quoted by Daniel Verdú on the El País site

(Note: The quote in Spanish is “Todo feminismo acaba siendo un machismo con falda.”)


Chris Mato Nunpaby Chris Mato Nunpa, PhD
retired Associate Professor of History at Southwest Minnesota State University and author of the upcoming (Sept. 2019) The Great Evil: Christianity, the Bible, and the Native American Genocide

 

Who is a hero? Who decides? Well, in practice, the victor decides. What happens if a descendant of the vanquished, perhaps, a person whose ancestors were enslaved, says, “No, So-And-So is not a hero. He owned slaves!” For example, George Washington is a hero in the eyes of most Euro-Americans. But Washington was a white supremacist, a racist, a murderer, a destroyer of entire Indigenous towns, and an owner of hundreds of slaves.

What is to be done? For the past 527 years, since the arrival of the western Europeans, the ancestors of U.S. Euro-Americans, nothing good has been done. For the past 243 years, the United States has been in existence, and nothing good has been done. The old saying applies: “After all is said and done, more is usually said than done.”

Indigenous Peoples have a lot of questions about who is now considered a “hero” in U.S. history. There are reasons for these questions. For example, white conquerors stole 3 billion acres of land, land which now comprises the continental U.S., from Indigenous peoples. Are these land-stealers  “heroes”? The Indigenous Peoples of the U.S. made 400-plus treaties with the conquerors, and the conquerors broke all of them. Are these treaty-breakers “heroes”? There were approximately 16 million people in what-was-to-become the U.S. around 1492. In 1900, four centuries later, there were only about 250,000 Native People left alive to be counted by the U.S. Bureau of Census, a 98.5% extermination rate. Who perpetrated this “extermination”? Who perpetrated this Genocide of the First Nations Peoples of the U.S.? Are these perpetrators of Genocide “heroes”?

The Great Evil front coverNow, we come to the question of Abraham Lincoln, “Honest Abe.” Why is Lincoln considered a hero by most U.S. Euro-Americans? Why is this man’s face on Mount Rushmore, degrading land sacred to not only the Dakota/Lakota/Nakota People, but also to other Native peoples? Why is there a Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC? Lincoln was the U.S President who guided the United States through the Civil War, a war fought primarily over the issue “Is it wrong to own human beings as slaves?”

A contributing possible reason is that Lincoln was kind and considerate to the soldiers of the Confederacy after the South was defeated. They were not punished, let alone hung, for being traitors. Another possible reason is that Lincoln made a great speech, the Gettysburg Address, a speech that has stood the test of time. Still another possible reason is that Lincoln was president as the nation, the U.S., was expanding, and he facilitated this process of expansion.

All of this explains why most Americans consider Lincoln a hero. But not all Americans do.

The Dakota People do not consider Abraham Lincoln a “hero”; they do not consider him an admirable man. One reason is that Lincoln was an “Indian fighter.” Whether he killed a lot of Native People, or whether he killed only a few, or whether he killed no Indigenous people makes no difference. It is the fact that he was complicit in massive land theft, an eventual three billion acres worth.

Right from the beginning, 527 years ago, what I call the “Great Evil,” began. Massive land theft was part of this “Great Evil.” The formation of the United States was part and parcel of this Evil. The original 13 colonies were formed from stolen lands and the killing of Natives. George Washington, and the other “founding fathers,” were already thinking of empire, which meant that they were intent on stealing Indigenous lands for their imperialistic agendas – land theft, land speculation, personal wealth, and power.

Richard Drinnon has a book titled Facing West: The Metaphysics of Indian-Hating & Empire Building, which is about this dynamic of land stealing, hatred, and murder —  or, to put it more bluntly, the Genocide of the First Nations Peoples. The first, of the “Four Common Motives of Genocide,” developed by Frank Chalk and Kurt Johnassohn, in their History and Sociology of Genocide, is: “to eliminate groups of people who the perpetrators imagine are threats.” The “groups” to be “eliminated,” in this case, were the Indigenous Nations who were “imagined” to be “threats.” The “perpetrators” were the United States of America and its Euro-American citizenry.

One truth that seems to be extremely difficult for Euro-Americans to grasp is that the “settlers” weren’t “settling” anything: they were stealing Indigenous lands. Further, the Native Peoples who resisted this land-theft were fighting just as anyone would do to defend their land against thieves. I think if white people would put themselves in the same position as the Indigenous Peoples were, perhaps they might understand this basic truth. And they might also understand that Abraham Lincoln was in league with the land thieves.

Another reason why many Dakota/Lakota/Nakota, and other Indigenous Peoples, may not consider Abraham Lincoln a hero is the fact that his face, among others, desecrates lands considered sacred by First Nations Peoples. Most Native Peoples, if not all, believe in the concept of “Mother Earth.” For the Oyate, the “People” (Dakota/Lakota/Nakota), this would be Ina Maka, “Mother Earth,” and/or “Unci Maka,” Grandmother Earth.” The physical land represents the spiritual being, Ina Maka, and is, therefore, sacred. Yet, the faces of Lincoln, along with George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Theodore Roosevelt, deface and desecrate what is called Mt. Rushmore, the Shrine to Democracy. For most Native Peoples, this “shrine” is a farce. The men whose faces desecrate Mt. Rushmore are murderers of First Nations Peoples.

The third, and last, reason (at least, for this writing) why Dakota People do not consider Abraham Lincoln a hero is that he signed the order for the largest mass hanging in U.S. history: the hanging of 38 Dakota patriots on December 26, 1862 in Mankato, Minnesota. These men ought to have been treated as prisoners of war, not as war criminals. The Dakota had declared war, and had given their declaration to Alexander Ramsey and Henry Sibley, respectively the Minnesota territorial governor and the territory’s delegate to the U.S. Congress. The Dakota had intended to drive the conquerors out of the Minnesota River Valley, and out of Dakota homelands. This is what the Dakota were faced with: on September 8, 1862, Ramsey had said, “Our course then is plain. The Sioux Indians of Minnesota must be exterminated or driven forever beyond the borders of Minnesota.” (“Sioux” not incidentally is a disrespectful term that means “snake.”)

What transpired on the fateful day, December 26, 1862, was “legalized murder,” according to Roy Meyer (a white man), and a “military injustice,” according to a female law professor (also, white) at the University of Minnesota, Carol Chomsky. However, because of the blood lust and racial hatred of the Euro-Minnesotans, Lincoln made a political decision: instead of hanging all of the captured Dakota men, who had been tried in a military kangaroo court, he decided to hang only 38 of them.

This is why the Dakota People of Minnesota consider Lincoln “The Dakota Executioner.” Lincoln is on the U.S. five-dollar Bill. Every time a Dakota person spends a five-dollar bill, s/he is reminded of what happened 157 years ago in Mankato, Minnesota, a site of Genocide. Lincoln is a hero neither to the Dakota People of Minnesota, nor to those Dakota People who were forcibly removed, “ethnically cleansed,” from Dakota homelands on May 4, 1863 and who now reside in other states and in several provinces of Canada.

Some remember Lincoln as the Great Emancipator. He should also be remembered as the Dakota Executioner.