A clump o’ reviews, because I’m house/dog/pool-sitting sans PC

I am in town for Father’s Day and thus taking a moment to scribble on my computer, having spent the past few days happily bobbing in a pool. Taking care of friends’ houses in their absence is such a chore, let me tell you. Working backwards!

John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men is a novella about the bond between two men, Lennie and George, who are traveling throughout the west in search of work. George is a smaller, cunning, and ambitious while Lenny is….not. He’s a huge fellow, slow of thought, who has a fondness for small creatures which inevitably die under his petting because he doesn’t know his own strength. Lenny’s lack of understanding and abundance of strength have gotten the pair into trouble time and again, but they stick to one another because they’re the only person the other has — and that makes them unique in a world of wandering workers who slave away for a boss and then lose everything in the lotto halls and whorehouses. Unfortunately for both, the events of Of Mice and Men will sunder that bond. Given that East of Eden also played with the bonds between men (brothers, in that case), I wonder if it wasn’t a special interest for Steinbeck. The story is tragic in its ending.

J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye was a revisit for me. I read it in high school as a class assignment, but couldn’t remember a thing about it other than a hooker in an elevator. For those who have somehow not heard of it, Catcher is a first-person novel following a troubled young man whose mental issues have seen him kicked out of school after school, who is lonely and jaded by the world, contemptuous of its many ‘phonies’. I found Holden far more sympathetic now than I did as a teenager, interestingly, perhaps because then I’d yet to encounter any dark nights of the soul. Holden’s teacher’s remarks to him were particularly insightful now, I thought.

Possum Living is a book like few others, written by a teenage girl who dropped out of school after seventh grade and lived with her father in a house outside of Philadelphia. “Dolly” and her father have more or less adopted out of society entirely, raising most of their own food (through their garden and kept chickens/rabbits). They participate in the money economy only rarely, Dolly’s father taking odd jobs in the winter to have something to do and take care of unavoidable expenses like property taxes and supplies that are too expensive or cumbersome for them to produce on their own. The book is replete with advice on how to live frugally, either by cutting out expenses (automobiles, insurance) entirely or choosing foodstuffs/supplies that offer more bang for the buck. Although information on costs and such is of course badly dated at this point (it was written in the 1970s), the book is wildly entertaining because Dolly is basically Idgie Threadgoode, with a lot of sass.

Related to this was Low Cost Living Notes, created by Jim Stumm, which had data then relevant for the 1980s. Unlike Dolly’s, it has no narrative (or attitude), and exists purely of advice and data on minimizing household expenses. I found both of these in connection to vonu.

Still unreviewed: Return of the Primitive by Ayn Rand, which I’d rather not short-change.

Currently readingEverything I Want to Do is Illegal, Joel Salatin; Solzhenitsyn: A Soul in Exile, Joseph Pearce; and D-Day Girls, allegedly. (This one is somewhere in my travel bag…)

Posted in Classics and Literary, Reviews | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Never a Dull Moment

Never a Dull Moment: A Libertarian Looks at the Sixties
© 2016 Murray Rothbard, ed. Justin Raimondo
168 pages

I first encountered Murray Rothbard in 2013, when reading Radicals for Capitalism, a history of market libertarianism. As I was someone who had come into libertarianism from the left, Rothbard struck me as particularly interesting because of his attempts to communicate with the student left in the 1960s, to forge an alliance between the anti-war protestors, the Civil Rights movement, and the then-nascent libertarians through a new journal, Left and Right. Although I’ve never properly read Rothbard in the years which have followed, that’s mostly owed to competition: I’ve had plenty of interest in his work, and have in fact acquired three titles during various sales. Never a Dull Moment focuses on that work which first brought Rothbard to my attention, collecting some of his articles from the LBJ years, responding to events both foreign and domestic — for ’67 and ’68 were tumultuous years across the globe.

The title of this collection may refer to period that inspired their writing, what with the Vietnam war, student protests, and the riots of ’68 happening in the background, but such a description is equally apt for Rothbard’s writing itself. Few people would agree with him on every point throughout the book, for he turns a few sacred cows into medium-rare meals for the mind. One of his series included here is on “Anti-Slavery”, and addresses not only the draft, but the operations of the military itself, regulatory burdens, and jury duty. There are a couple of economic pieces, but much of the content is taken up with the rising tide of dissent that swept across the United States in these years. Although the unrest of the sixties is a huge topic, here Rothbard concentrates on the racial and student fronts — the latter particularly interesting because protests against the draft, and the war, fomented into a general contempt for authority and the state in general. It was that hope that drove Rothbard to begin traveling in their circles to begin with.

Rothbard is very charitable toward the left, defending even the Viet Cong on the basis that they were an alliance of various interests groups, and not all Communists: he also excuses student idolization of the ilk of Mao and Guevara on the grounds that they were celebrating not communism, or mass murder, but rather the hope that revolution was possible — that the oppressive order, the police brutality and conscription and the rest of the War State’s deep shadow — could be overcome. It was on those grounds that Rothbard hoped to foster an alliance, to use outrage against obvious abuses of power to build a broader grassroots alliance against the state’s more subtle abuses. Despite his common-cause status with many on the student left, Rothbard isn’t blind to their excesses and does have some sharp words for protestors, particularly the environmentalists who hold, he writes, an anti-human social philosophy. (Given that the enviro movement is invariably tied to expanding the state’s control over behavior, businesses, and resources, wielding restrictions and throwing around taxpayer money as subsidies, it’s not surprising that Rothbard has little use for them.) One of his articles is an extensive evaluation of then-current environmental doomsday predictions, all of which have evaporated to be replaced by new doomsday predictions in our own age.

The shortness of this collection belies its immense interest, for I was fairly spellbound by Murray — not always in agreement, but almost always engaged. Some of the contents here were later developed into full books: in one article, he discusses the post-WW2 merger of the Republican and Democratic parties into one “Corporate State” party, and particularly the warping of the ‘right’ into the neo-cons, what he’d later call The Betrayal of the American Right. Rothbard writes that there wasn’t a wit of difference between Nixon and Humphrey, and his analysis of Nixon and Agnew bore a depressing similarity to critiques of Romney and Clinton — the recycling of old tired elites. There’s little in this book, in fact, that renders it too dated to apply to our own age. Replace the president’s names, make Rothbard’s essay on inflation concern the dollar rather than the pound, and every word throws light onto the present. As introductions to authors go, Never a Dull Moment was an extremely effective first Rothbard read for me, ensuring that I’ll continue in his works – -beginning with The Betrayal of the American Right or The Progressive Era.

Next up: The New Left (Return of the Primitive), a collection of Ayn Rand’s responses to the student movement with some additional essays by Peter Schwartz. She was not as….charitable, to say the least, despite the links between Rothbard and Rand’s individualist philosophies, though this is partly explained by her writing at a later date (early seventies) in which she was responding to pro-state rather than anti-state urgings of those movements.

Learn More:
The Mises Institute hosts free-to-read copies of much of Rothbard’s work. (I prefer buying them for the Kindle highlights, but hey!)

Tom Woods’ podcast, which covers history, economics, culture, and current events, frequently mentions Rothbard and has done quite a few Rothbard-specific shows. It’s how I found quite a few superb authors, including Brad Birzer, who frequently appears there to discuss political themes in literature.

Posted in Politics and Civic Interest, Reviews, World Affairs | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Wednesday Warning

I saw an excerpt of this quote in Never a Dull Moment, and when I looked for the full article online, I was amused to find it posted on what was once a big anti-Bush forum:

Jim Garrison, Playboy Interview, October, 1967
“What worries me deeply, and I have seen it exemplified in this case, is that we in America are in great danger of slowly evolving into a proto-fascist state. It will be a different kind of fascist state from the one of the Germans evolved; theirs grew out of depression and promised bread and work, while ours, curiously enough, seems to be emerging from prosperity. But in the final analysis, it’s based on power and on the inability to put human goals and human conscience above the dictates of the state. Its origins can be traced in the tremendous war machine we’ve built since 1945, the “military-industrial complex” that Eisenhower vainly warned us about, which now dominates every aspect of our life. The power of the states and Congress has gradually been abandoned to the Executive Department, because of war conditions; and we’ve seen the creation of an arrogant, swollen bureaucratic complex totally unfettered by the checks and balances of the Constitution.

In a very real and terrifying sense, our Government is the CIA and the Pentagon, with Congress reduced to a debating society. Of course, you can’t spot this trend to fascism by casually looking around. You can’t look for such familiar signs as the swastika, because they won’t be there. We won’t build Dachaus and Auschwitzes; the clever manipulation of the mass media is creating a concentration camp of the mind that promises to be far more effective in keeping the populace in line. We’re not going to wake up one morning and suddenly find ourselves in gray uniforms goose-stepping off to work. But this isn’t the test. The test is: What happens to the individual who dissents? In Nazi Germany, he was physically destroyed; here, the process is more subtle, but the end results can be the same.

I’ve learned enough about the machinations of the CIA in the past year to know that this is no longer the dreamworld America I once believed in. The imperatives of the population explosion, which almost inevitably will lessen our belief in the sanctity of the individual human life, combined with the awesome power of the CIA and the defense establishment, seem destined to seal the fate of the America I knew as a child and bring us into a new Orwellian world where the citizen exists for the state and where raw power justifies any and every immoral act. I’ve always had a kind of knee-jerk trust in my Government’s basic integrity, whatever political blunders it may make. But I’ve come to realize that in Washington, deceiving and manipulating the public are viewed by some as the natural prerogatives of office. Huey Long once said, “Fascism will come to America in the name of anti-fascism.” I’m afraid, based on my own experience, that fascism will come to America in the name of national security.”
Posted in quotations | 8 Comments

Steal this Book

pub. 1971 Abbie Hoffman
308 pages

At some point in the early 2000s, I stumbled onto a digital copy of Steal this Book and was appropriately scandalized. Because of the unique religious subculture in which I was raised, most of the TV I’d seen had been 1950s comedies, and the music ranged from the Crew Cuts to the Youngbloods and the Rolling Stones — with the curious effect that I admired both the cozy wholesomeness of the one, and the earnest ideals of the other. Nevermind that the hippies and rockers were in rebellion against the squares! It was Abbie Hoffman’s book that split the veil and made me realize how real, raw, and problematic the unrest really was.

Every time I read this book (and I’ve returned to it at least thrice in the last twenty years), I come away liking its author and his message less and less. My most recent, and probably last return to Hoffman, came from my recent encounter with counter-economics: I wanted to revisit Steal this Book to check it for possible connections to countereconomic thought. There are practically none, because Hoffman isn’t trying to drop out of society to do his own thing; instead, he seeks to take from it and offer nothing to it save his ranting condemnation of the people sustaining him. Perhaps a quarter of what Hoffman advocates is tolerable, in offering advice and resources for people wanting to unplug from the rat race and pursue a life of authenticity and value; there’s information on how to eat frugally, for instance, advice on potential hazards in communal living, and so forth. (There’s also a list of addresses to be sent the strangest things for free, like pictures of the Astrodome.) Most of the book, however, advocates self-righteous parasitism and aggression, with tricks used to steal food, clothing, goods alongside the promotion of outright violence (protests attacking people, destruction of property, how to best attack police, skyjacking, etc). Hoffman asserts and assumes the worst of his designated enemies and declares that not stealing, etc. from them is wrong. He has such a contempt for meaningful labor that even drug dealing is too much like work for him. He appears, from his own writings, to be inwardly bankrupt. and contemptible.

There is historical interest in this title, however, from the mood of the years its captures — the enormous unrest of the late sixties and early seventies — and the hints of what’s to come. Hoffman mentions that he’s heard of little machines that can be use with your phone to allow for free calls, but he doesn’t know a source for them. “The Secrets of the Little Blue Box” wouldn’t be published for a few months yet, and phone phreaking was still very covert. Hoffman’s philosophy of life has its quirks; he repeatedly advocates that his followers be armed and know how to shoot responsibly, and urges them to avoid hard drugs like speed and heroin. He’s mostly predictable, though, and at this point it sounds like he’s just throwing out meaningless cliches and rebelling for the sake of it.

This will be first of three titles in a series on the sixties: coming up are two opposing perspectives on the upheaval.

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Project Hail Mary | #agora

Ryland Grace just woke up strapped to a medical bed with two dead roommates. That’s not the least of his problem, though: he’s in space, and he doesn’t know why. Eventually, he’ll figure that out; his memory will return. But it won’t help….because he’s years away from Earth, and the fate of the entire planet rests in his hands. And he’s not even supposed to be be there today.

Andy Weir’s novels have yet to let me down, for their winsome mix of hard science writing and energetic humor. The plot-problem of Project Hail Mary is that the Sun’s energy is being leached away by space algae, apparently a common problem in the Local Group. It would figure that as soon as we discover other life in the cosmos, we discover it’s about to kill us. Grace and his colleagues were to investigate, and hopefully find a solution before Earth relived its Snowball years. When Grace arrives at the target location, he discovers that Elton John was wrong: it’s not so lonely out in space. Weir repeats the constant-stream-of-technical-challenges that worked so well in The Martian, and adds to it Grace’s need to figure out a way to communicate with…..well, someone else. Perhaps in response to criticisms that his last two protagonists have sounded like identical sarcastic pottymouths, Weir takes care to give Grace a distinct voice, and a secondary character who appears later is even more unique. Grace is arguably even more sympathetic than Mark Watney, in that rather than being an accomplished and cocky astronaut, Grace has to combat first his induced amnesia, and then his self-doubt when certain last-day-before-launch memories surface. Project Hail Mary was for me an absolute win of a book, SF that puts the science big and proud back into science fiction.

Some quotes:

‘I penetrated the outer cell membrane with a nanosyringe.”‘
‘You poked it with a stick?’
‘No!’ I said. “Well. Yes. But it was a scientific poke with a very scientific stick.’

There are many more dialogue funnies, but they’d give away a lot of the fun of the book.

Get it, loser, we’re going shopping. We’re going to use cryptocurrency and smash the state! #agora is a quickie novel about a young man named Daniel, who is dragged out of bed by his roommate Tom, too excited about the prospects of bitcoin to let him sleep. Daniel’s attempts to learn more lead him onto the dark web, there to be seduced by .pdfs of subversive texts and a growing IRC community dedicated to countereconomics. It’s arguably an unexpected romance that really leads Daniel into the heart of Berlin’s anarchist community, though, as he meets a gal with a Harley Quinn-esque energy. All of the websites, files, and films that Daniel is reccommended as he embraces agorism are all active links, and to my amusement some were books (Alongside Night) I’d already encountered. Although the novel is mostly a running how-to for modern agorism/countereconomics, there’s also fair bit of humor – -especially when Daniel debates two economists, Bob Murphy and Walter Block, so his co-conspirator can attempt to seduce Jeffrey Tucker. The book’s characters range from those who believe we can build a better society through voluntaryism, to those who regard coercive power struggles as inevitable as death, and choose instead to live the vonu way.

Some quotes:

“One thing you have to learn, young Daniel, is that it’s all in the details. They train you to obey the little things so you’ll obey the big things later.”

“But you can’t let other people define you. They will define you in such a way that you must serve them.”

“‘That’s not the point. Even if [Ron Paul] got 100% of the votes, it wouldn’t make a difference. You can’t do the right thing – that’s the point of the system. It doesn’t help to be principled or to know Austrian Economics or to wave the magic constitution. Until you show me bullet proof paper, I’m not counting on it for my safety.'”

“‘Thank you’, Block says, ‘I didn’t know we had such.. interesting readers.’ ‘Oh, Mises.org is the rave in Germany’, I say.”

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D-Day: Remembering Those who Perished for Us

“This is New York, NBC newsroom again. Men and women of the United States, this is a momentous hour in world history: this is the invasion of Hitler’s Europe, the zero hour of the Second Front. The men of General Dwight Eisenhower are leaving their landing barges , fighting their way up the beaches, into the fortress of Nazi Europe. They are moving in from the sea to attack the enemy under a mammoth cloud of fighter planes, under a ceiling of screaming shells from Allied warships. The first new flashes do not say, but a large portion of this assault is believed to be in the hands of American men. They are making this attack side by side with the British Tommies who were bombed and blasted out of Europe at Dunkirk. Now, at this hour, they are bombing and blasting their way back again. This is the EUROPEAN FRONT, once again being established in fire and blood.”

FDR’s war prayer:

“Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.

They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest-until the Victory is won. […..]

With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogancies. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister Nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.

Thy will be done, Almighty God.”

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Do you Vonu?

Vonu: A Strategy for Self-Liberation
© 2018 Shane Radliff
127 pages

In 1968, a frustrated man named Tom Marshall ventured into the woods along with his wife to conduct a living experiment. Was it possible, he wondered, to create a life for one’s self largely immune to coercion?    Disappearing into the wilderness,   he would occasionally send in articles under the name of El Ray or Rayo reporting his results and detailing the growth of his thinking, until he dropped off the radar entirely in 1974.  And yet, there are those who know of his works, and it is thanks to them (the Vonu Podcast) that I was able to read their introduction to Rayo’s thinking, and to consider two collections of his extant articles.  

 “Vonu” leapt out to me as alien, a word I’d never seen the likes of before — and yet the core ideas aren’t so strange.  Rayo coined vonu  as an abbreviation of “Voluntary Not Vulnerable”,  to describe the life that he and his ‘freemate’ wanted to create for themselves.   He scorned political activism, which he dismissed as ‘crusading’, on the grounds that states were inherently unstable, that they all tilted toward coercion in the end and would corrupt those who attempted to play by their rules.  His approach instead was to become ungovernable: to disappear, except when he needed to interact with society for income and supplies.   

The author, Shane Radliff, here provide a precise of Rayo’s living philosophy, and then attempt to update its application to our modern day life. Although Rayo thought living in camper-trucks, vans, and busses had some promise, the focus of his research was on wilderness living, and to the like-minded he offered training in creating concealed shelters and basic survival skills. Radliff examines wilderness-dwelling’s prospects in the 21st century, but settlement patterns and technology are such that they believe van living is more practical and adaptable.  Both Rayo and his updaters also ponder the possibility of cooperative vonuism,   perhaps even scaling up to the size of a small city,  but these are merely speculative.  Radcliff appears to be far more optimistic about the future prospects than Rayo, who declared that most people are content to be serfs, so long as conditions are comfortable.

Vonuism is not a political philosophy: it is instead anti-political, shunning collective action and collective thinking. Although Rayo was in connection with many in the 1960s who shared his contempt for coercion (the agorists and Objectivists, for instance), he regarded any political action as crusading utopianism;  Rayo himself  scorned anything that smacked of mysticism, dismissing even the golden rule.  He practiced the non-aggression principle not as a ideal, but as a pragmatic measure: aggressive behavior tends to provoke aggressive behavior in return. 

Although I had never encountered Vonu proper before finding Samuel Konkin’s making a dismissive reference to Rayo over the weekend,  I have seen shades of its aims before,   from various flavors of worldviews:  hippies, eco-primitivists, and survivalists, the latter most of all. Jack Spirko,   a permaculture guide and practicioner who has also hosted a survival podcast for nigh on twenty years,   has a worldview that is very  to Vonu. To Spirko,    preparedness and liberty run hand in hand. The more systematically dependent one is on outside help, the less liberty one has.  He advocates for off-grid homesteads, multiple streams of independent income,  and constantly improving one’s resilience and ability to adapt and overcome adversity and challenges, just as Rayo does.  The critical difference between Spirko’s libertarian survivalism and Rayo’s vonu is that Spirko generally emphasizes that however prepared an individual is, allies are still crucial for sharing information and working together to overcome larger problems.   

This is a fascinating rabbit hole to explore, and I’m halfway through reading Rayo’s extant works. I anticipate finishing early next week and will offer some follow-up thoughts on those. Although I understand the attraction of Rayo’s way, I don’t know that I’m so disaffected with society that I’d start doing a nonviolent Ted Kaczynski impression. (I’m really curious if Kaczynski ever read Rayo during the sixties when he was at Harvard/Uni. Michigan and becoming hostile toward the Machine-society.) After 2020, though, I’m definitely considering that Rayo wasn’t on to something after all.

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Three cheers for anarchy — three reads, anyway

While everyone else was honoring dead soldiers by buying things, shooting off fireworks (dear neighbors: why?), and grilling out, I was in bed all weekend with a case of food poisoning. Naturally, I wound up reading books about anarchism and watching documentaries about Chernobyl.

It was accident, really. I was planning on reading Lysander Spooner’s No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority for Independence Day, in honor of the American tradition of telling the state to go boil its head. But when I began sampling Spooner, I found I couldn’t stop. The man’s a menace. A Boston abolitionist, writing two years after the War Between the States, he begins by announcing that the North had not freed the slaves; in contrast, it had made slaves of us all, by declaring that consent is not necessary for political authority; only brute force. Spooner is a marvel, condemning both the North and South in the same breath with the same arguments; he will go on to dismantle claims that Southerners were guilty of treason before arguing against the Constitution as an active contract. He gets a bit into the weeds on what constitutes an active contract, but as a pro-secession anti-Confederate pro-Union anti-Lincoln southerner, I was delighted to find an abolitionist pointing out that the moral horror of compelling men to obey tainted both sides. He gets in a bit of economic argument, too, suggesting that the North went to war more to protect their financial assets than out for moral principle. Definitely going to be reading more Spooner, particularly The Unconstitutionality of Slavery.

What happens when men don’t consent to their government, but they live in a place that would imprison or shoot them if they actively resisted it? Well…they could begin subverting it, denying its control over their lives by shifting economic activity out of its realm Enter counter-economics. Anything outside the state’s purview is countereconomics: if it’s untaxed, black market, illicit, whatever. (‘Aggressive’ activity, like stealing and murder, are not countereconomic.) Bartering, using an unlicensed barber, and buying verboten goods are all counter-economic, and nearly everyone engages in it to some degree throughout the world: the more intrusive the state, the healthier its counter-economy. The command economy, through its own inadequacies, creates the demand for the counter-economy. In Counter-Economics, Samuel Konkin III begins to explore the promise of countereconomics, proposing that if enough people moved enough activity outside the state’s realm, that we could effectively starve the state to death through want of funds and political relevance. Unfortunately, Konkin died not halfway through writing this volume (which was dismissed by six publishers as too dangerous for public consumption), so all that we get is the basic idea, a review of countereconomic activity in states like Soviet Russia and Red China, a chapter on the promise of cryptography, and then an outline of what would have been one of the most interesting books I’ve ever read, ever. Alas, mortality.

Konkin’s ideas live, though — and in 1979 , they inspired Alongside Night, a SF title from an author who was a fellow traveler of Konkin. J. Neil Schulman here presents us a vision of an actively failing United States, one beset by crippling inflation, so much so that police and the military are on strike. Konkin’s counter-economy is booming, as people, regardless of political convictions, covertly begin dealing in gold, swapping services, etc. The story begins when a young man’s father disappears, presumably kidnapped or killed by the state for his outspoken criticism of their tyranny and fiscal stupidity, and the teenager is forced to seek the help of ‘the revolutionary agorist cadre’, an underground movement of anarchists/agorists/libertarians who are actively building a counter-society based on free exchange and voluntaryism, who are counting the minutes until DC collapses under its own weight. It’s a thriller doubling as an ideological novel, a bit like The Iron Heel but for a very different audience, given that that dystopia was London’s argument for socialism, using corporatism as his foil. The movie, which I saw before falling into a Chernobyl rabbit hole, had…limitations. A low-budget production, definitely, but with a curious lack of consistency in that regard: there were recognizable actors in it, and the film itself was in high-definition. The editing and writing were weaker, though, and the quality of props was hit and miss. The novel was fun, though, and I’ve got a few more like coming up. It helps that agorists, wanting to spread the word, have made a lot of their reading materials free-to-read online. I also have some…normal (for me) stuff coming up. War, classics, the science of poop…the usual.

“Ensign Kim, I do not understand you and Lieutenant Paris’ obsession with holonovels set in Old Earth. Why are we wearing these black turtlenecks to ‘smash the state’, as you said? These uniforms are most illogical.”

Posted in Politics and Civic Interest, Reflection, Religion and Philosophy, science fiction | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

May 2021

May has been a…weird month in my life, that’s all I can say. I’ve obsessively studying for the CompTIA A+ exams, and I started a part-time job driving for the railroad to expedite the whole “buy land and become an eccentric recluse” lifegoal. The month ended with a lot of anarcho-agorist reading. Who knows what June will bring?

Challenge Progress:

Science Survey:

6/12 categories now filled, with Drug Use for Grown Ups and Clean now filling the Wildcard slot.

Spying on Whales: The Past, Present, and Future of Earth’s Most Awesome Animals.
Drug Use for Grown Ups, Carl Hart. Er…sort of.
Clean: The New Science of Skin, James Hamblin

Classics Club Strikes Back:

1 new, bringing us to 6/50 in total.

A Gathering of Old Men, Ernest Gaines

Climbing Mount Doom:

Enemies: A History of the FBI, Tim Weiner
Broke, USA: How the Working Poor Became Big Business, Gary Rivlin
Gambling with Other People’s Money: How Perverse Incentives Caused the Financial Crisis, Russ Roberts

Southern History/Literature:

A Gathering of Old Men, Ernest Gaines

The Unreviewed

She Come By it Natural, Sarah Smersh. Less a biography and more of a feminist appraisal of Dolly.

Clean: The New Science of Skin. A brief book that combines a history of soap and skincare with some of what I was looking for, science writing on how our skin is a little ecosystem and that barraging it with harsh chemicals all the time is not a great idea.

No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority, Lysander Spooner. I was planning this for a celebration of rebellion and sedition aimed around Independence Day, but from the opening page I could not stop reading. Comments to come.

Enemies: A History of the FBI, Tim Weiner. A history of the FBI that highlights its role as secret police, more obsessed with watching and arresting political dissidents than functioning as genuine law enforcement. I’ll possibly give it fuller comments.

Alongside Night, J. Neil Schulman. Dystopian novel with an anarchist bent. Heard of this while listening to a podcast over the weekend; began reading it and couldn’t stop. Review to come, possibly along with comments on the movie adaptation. The latter had….limitations.

The Newly Bought:

NONE! I was tempted, dear readers, boy I was tempted….but I looked at the pile of books behind me and said “Nope”.

June Goals

Continue reading only what I already own, supplemented with the odd library book. Read more — I’ve been eliminating competing timesinks. Right now I am in a serious SF mood, so don’t be surprised to see a little of that popping up. Toward the end of June we’ll be shifting to The American Summer, which will feature American classics, American history, etc. It’ll be an expanded version of my annual tribute to the American Revolution.

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While poking around on Amazon for new releases by Weir, Scalzi, and Doctorow, I encountered the Forward collection, a series of short stories by various authors (most new to me) on near-future SF. They are very short stories, the two longest being 70 and 60 pages, and several are short enough to knock off in a single sitting. The strength of the collection may see me looking for more of some of the authors! All of them are near-future stories, with varied themes: quantum computing, genetic modification, and artificial intelligence marked three of my favorite tales. While they’re so short I don’t want to say too much for spoiling them, I will leave little summaries below.

Randomized, Andy Weir, sees a quantum physicist and her techie husband attempt a casino heist by taking advantage of quantum computing. A very quick future-crime read.

Ark, Veronica Roth. More thoughtful, this takes us to an Earth about to be devoid of all organized life: over the last few decades, humans have fled the planet in the advance of an asteroid impact, and the last ship (loaded with native Earth plants) is preparing to launch. In these last hours, a scientist makes a bittersweet discovery.

Summer Frost, Blake Crouch. Easily my favorite among the lot, it’s also the longest. A video game programmer unwittingly becomes the creator of the world’s first emergent artificial intelligence. It reminded me strongly of both Her and Ex Machina — I hope that doesn’t spoil things too much.

Emergency Skin, N.K. Jemison. And easily my least favorite, Emergency Skin starts off with a very interesting premise: a scout from a colony of human refugees has returned to Earth, to investigate the ruins of the old home planet of the Founders. Not only are there survivors of Earth’s environmental and civilization ‘collapse’, but there’s a twist waiting for the scout — several, in fact. Unfortunately, the interesting concept and worldbuilding is ruined by sanctimonious lecturing; I’ve heard sermons that were less preachy.

The Last Conversation by Paul Tremblay opens with a man waking alone in a recovery room, sans memories and sight and dependent on a comfortingly familiar female voice to guide him back to life. We learn of a pandemic that has swept their community, and which may yet kill him — but there’s a “Ooooooooooooh” twist at the end. My second favorite.

You Have Arrived At Your Destination, Amor Towles. Towles’ is the most thoughtful of the lot, following a dissatisfied man in his middle age as he visits a fertility clinic to finish up his and his wife’s pregnancy planning. The clinic alleges to be able to not only manipulate the expressed genes of their future child, but to predict their future along broad lines. This piece touches on the perennial argument over free will and determination, but it raised the question of man’s agency in a technologically-dominated world to prominence as well.


“Why, she had once asked her mother, do you bother to keep anything alive when it’ll all be wiped out by Finis? Her mother had shrugged. Why take a shower when you’re just going to get dirty? Why eat when you’re just going to get hungry? Every flower dies eventually, Sam. But not yet.” – Ark

“She wished she could have told him that life was already full of dread, no matter who you were. That there was nothing you could have that you couldn’t one day lose. That autumn always gave way to winter, but it was her favorite time of year—those fleeting bursts of beauty before the branches went bare.” – Ark

“Well, you can’t love everything equally,” she said. “You just can’t—and if you did, then it’s the same as loving nothing at all. So you have to hold just a few things dear, because that’s what love is. Particular. Specific.” – Ark

“There’s no point in pushing our personalities uphill.” – You Have Arrived at Your Destination

“Okay, we should be ready to power it on,” said Prashant. He looked up at the ceiling. “Kind of a strange room. Were these blue lights always here?” Chen didn’t take his eyes off the computer. “I installed them yesterday. Cool stuff needs cool lighting.” – Randomize

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