“Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents’ strife.”
- William Shakespeare, “Romeo and Juliet,” Prologue
“Star-Crossed” (a.k.a. “Romeo and Juliet meet Alien Nation”) is a science fiction romance created by Meredith Averill which premiered on The CW last month.
It’s a great pleasure to write this review, because after it’s filed I’ll never have to watch another episode of this dreck again.
In case you missed the “star-crossed lovers” reference, it’s yet another iteration of “Romeo and Juliet,” by… oh heck you know who it’s by.
It’s not that it’s unoriginal, Shakespeare wasn’t original. “Romeo and Juliet” was based on “The Tragicall History of Romeus and Juliet” (1562) by Arthur Brooke, and many earlier works.
“Romeo and Juliet has been done as a ballet by by Sergei Prokofiev (1935), no less than 27 operas, uncounted popular song references, and movies.
“West Side Story” (1961) made it into a musical with an ethnic gang theme. “China Girl” (1987) did the same but grittier with a mafia versus triads theme.
“Star-Crossed” is an attempt to do it as science fiction.
There are good reasons to try it as SF. Most Americans don’t believe in ghosts, destiny in the stars, or the fact that our families might detest each other as an insurmountable barrier to True Love.
When I was doing my anthropology masters fieldwork among immigrant Filipinos one of my informants told me how meaningful “Romeo and Juliet” is for them.
“In the Philippines if a couple’s families are against each other, they have no chance,” he said. “In America kids just say, ‘Oh they’ll come around when we have children.’”
Not even different races provide enough tension anymore.
But aliens… now that might present some problems.
The first “Alien Nation” film (1988) made alien refugees the ultimate immigrant story. The spin-off series added the subtext of an inter-species romance. “Star-Crossed” tries to take it from there.
In brief, later this year aliens called Atrians arrive on Earth and are immediately attacked, because they are different I guess. Six-year-old Emery Whitehill (Aimee Teegarden) finds an Atrian boy Roman (Matt Lanter) in a shed and protects him.
The Atrians are rounded up and kept in a detention camp for ten years until the government decides to integrate them into our society by sending a group including Roman and his sister to high school in a move reminiscent of Little Rock 1957.
There Roman and Emily reconnect but of course the path of true love never runs smooth, particularly after Emily’s father accidentally shoots Roman’s father dead.
It could have been good. It’s difficult to see why they didn’t choose to make it good, considering that Averill has some solid writing credits in SF (“Life on Mars”) and fantasy (“Happy Town”).
One, the Atrians look like Anglo-Saxons with some tattoos. Could they have considered making them look well, alien? Could they have spent as much as Star Trek used to on makeup, or been daring enough to find some exotic-looking mixed-race actors?
Two, there is nothing convincing about the Atrians’ culture presented so far. Just some tacked-together customs with nothing to indicate a coherent whole. And by the way do you think it likely technologically advanced aliens would have a basically tribal political structure?
Three, there isn’t even a hint of a backstory. How come these aliens from another world seem to be human enough to be sexually attractive – and can we interbreed. And if so why? Are we long-lost kin?
But what really grates is the offensive way we, as in 21st century Americans are portrayed. As if there has been no social progress since Little Rock. Except now the bigotry is a charmingly multi-racial us against the new minority.
Why does the series assume we’d immediately attack aliens who had not attacked first, rather than react with awe and wonder?
Why do they assume our alien classmates would be pariahs rather than rock stars?
Why would the government be so stupid as not to check the local community for organized and dangerous bigots? Even I don’t buy that.
Why do they dismiss legitimate fears we might have as racism?
Are the Atrians the vanguard of an invasion force? Might they carry alien pathogens like those European diseases that decimated native populations? Would contact with a superior civilization destroy or damage ours even without any ill will on their part?
And most offensive is the stereotypical pickup-driving, tobacco-chewing redneck using phrases like “race traitor.”
Go back and try again Averill.
Note: This appeared in the print-only TV Guide of the Marshall Independent.
Because I’m still on the mailing list of the U.S. embassy in Warsaw, I still get their travel advisories, warnings of demonstrations that might turn lively etc.
On Monday I got one with a link to the site of U.S. Passports and International Travel, Bureau of Consular Affairs, Department of State.
“The Department of State warns U.S. citizens to defer all non-essential travel to Ukraine, and particularly the Crimean Peninsula, due to the potential for instability following the departure of former President Yanukovych and the establishment of a new government.”
Ukraine is the largest country that lies entirely within Europe, a fact that comes as a surprise to most folks who don’t think much about it until something like this happens. The population is about 78 percent ethnic Ukrainian and 17 percent Russian – well above the dangerous number for a disaffected minority, particularly one with a larger state next door.
The remainder are a collection of small minorities such as Belorussians, Tartars and Romanians.
As of the time of writing Russian forces have occupied and established control of the Crimea, a peninsula in the Black Sea that is historically Russian but was included as part of the Ukrainian SSR in the old Soviet Union by Nikita Krushchev for reasons now obscure. An old rumor has it he was drunk at the time but never mind.
President Obama spent 90 minutes on the phone with Vladimir Putin, a call he called the toughest of his administration.
Whew! Hope Vlad appreciated that.
Secretary of State John Kerry denounced Russia’s action and called it, “an act of weakness, not of strength.”
No it’s not. Invading and occupying someone else’s territory who doesn’t dare immediately respond with all the force at their command takes strength for sure, it’s just not very nice.
“There are very serious repercussions that can flow out of this. There are a broad array of options that are available, not just to the United States but to our allies,” Kerry warned.
No there aren’t. There’s not a damn thing we can do that Putin cares a fig about. Everything Kerry mentioned we might do is purely symbolic or economic pin pricks to be finessed away as soon as the furor dies down.
Sarah Palin is crowing though. Palin warned in 2008 after Russia threw it’s weight around in Georgia that they might very well invade Ukraine if Obama was re-elected.
To be sure it doesn’t take a psychic to predict “Russia will invade Ukraine, sometime,” but Palin was ridiculed by a fair number of oh-so-wise “foreign policy experts” so she’s got some comeback coming.
I haven’t been to Ukraine but I’ve lived within spitting distance of it and I have friends there. So it pains me to say that the reality is, Ukraine is too close to Russia and isn’t important enough to our interests to risk war over.
Come on, does anybody seriously think the U.S. with it’s NATO allies, who between them cannot put a combat division into the field and don’t have a strategic air force to their name, are going to move east in force even absent the possibility of a nuclear exchange? Let’s get real.
So it’s not entirely fair to blame this on Obama’s administration. Nevertheless it does not help matters to invite the contempt of Putin and the world by bluffing with a bad hand. We can “condemn in the strongest terms” without making empty threats.
And how did Palin know that Russia might do that when wiser heads poo-pooed her as an intellectual lightweight?
Because she knew something they don’t. Something Putin knows very well. Something Thucydides knew 2,500 years ago when he wrote the history of the Peloponesian War.
That human nature does not change in spite of pious moralizing. That it certainly hasn’t changed from Thucydides’ time until now.
That in a world with no power great enough to impose laws on nations, “The strong do what they will, and the weak suffer what they must.”
It snowed again in Minnesota and North Dakota Sunday night. Not enough to get excited about, just a couple of inches. We’ve had more this winter and might have more again. We might even cancel a school day or two again before it’s over.
It’s been an pretty cold winter over much of the country, with snow down as far as Georgia and South Carolina, which is unusual but not unheard of.
However down south it has a different effect. Atlanta has been basically paralyzed for two out of the past three weeks and there are power outages over huge areas of both states. Major highways became disaster areas.
So what gives?
Well we all know Southerners don’t know how to drive on ice and snow. Trust me, I am one. I know how to handle it because I’ve lived in the North long enough.
When you’re driving down a clear road and hit an unexpected wind drift and do a 180 to 360, your average Northerner shrugs and says, “Well that could have been worse.”
If you haven’t plowed into deep snow you restart your car and continue. If you have, you call a tow truck to pull you out. If you have AAA, it’s likely free. (Unsolicited product endorsement.)
I’ve known Southerners who’ve moved up here and haven’t gotten used to it yet. Maybe you have too. The first time it happens for them, they may get the shakes so bad they have to call someone to drive them home and can’t bear to get behind the wheel for a couple of days.
Now imagine a highway full of people with the same reaction…
Try and be compassionate toward them. Not too long ago I was reminded of how terrifying it can be when I drove a grain truck for harvest.
There’s nothing that takes the romance out of trucking like losing all visual contact with the road surface during a ground blizzard, or feeling 40 tons slip on the ice at 45 mph…
Back in Oklahoma I had a journalism teacher from North Dakota, who had a very strict attendance policy. Being from NoDak he was entirely unsympathetic when a few inches of snow had students pleading with him to relax his policy.
Nope, not going to happen.
“I’ll tell you the secret though,” he said compassionately. “Drive slow.”
In places where years pass without a flake of the white stuff all winter it’s just not worthwhile for cities to invest in a lot of snow removal equipment. It’s just easier and cheaper to shut everything down – it’ll be gone tomorrow.
But what about the power? How come that doesn’t happen up here where we always have snow and ice?
I can tell you exactly what happens, because I’ve seen it.
One year in Oklahoma we had freezing rain over a lot of the state. All night long I heard the loud CRACK of limbs breaking off trees laden with the burden of ice.
It’s not like that doesn’t happen up here, though because of our winters the trees get regularly pruned by the weather.
Down where they don’t have this kind of weather but once in several years, they forget you have to keep tree branches trimmed back from the power lines.
After that storm in Oklahoma about two-thirds of the state was without power, in some places for weeks.
So please, don’t make fun of us Southerners and the next time you get a heat wave of 90-odd degrees, or as us Okies say, “kinda warm,” we won’t make fun of all the Yankees dropping like flies.
The Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Barometer for 2013 is out.
A crucial way of measuring press freedom is of course, how dangerous it is to be a journalist.
Last year 75 journalists, 4 media assistants and 8 netizens and citizen journalists were killed, down 20 percent from last year.
Looking at the list of countries where journalists are known to have been killed as a result of their activities as a journalist, there are some surprises.
As in surprisingly low: Afghanistan, Columbia and Libya only one apiece, Russia and Mexico only two apiece.
Surprisingly high: Brazil, 5, the Philippines and India eight apiece. Who knew?
Unsurprisingly high: Egypt, 6, Pakistan, 7, Somalia, 7, Syria, 10.
It’s worth noting these figures do not include cases in which a journalist’s work has not been confirmed to be linked to their murders. Nor are they clear as to whether journalists in war zones were specifically targeted or just in the wrong place at the wrong time like a lot of civilian casualties.
The last American journalist murdered on American soil was Chauncy Baily of the Oakland Post (California) in 2007, by the target of his reporting.
Wikipedia has a list of American journalists killed in the line of duty going back to 1837.
The first noted was Elijah Parrish Lovejoy, editor of the Alton Observer, lynched by a pro-slavery mob. This Okie who has rankled a bit at jibes from self-righteous Yankees takes some satisfaction in pointing out this was in Alton, Illinois.
Then there’s a run of three journalists between 1843 and 1848 who all worked for the Vicksburg Sentinel (Mississippi). But since two of them died in fights or duels I don’t think it’s fair to count them as murdered.
Irving Carson, reporter for the New York Tribune, made history by being the first journalist killed in the Civil War on April 6, 1862, while covering the Battle of Shiloh.
Mark Kellogg became the first Associated Press reporter killed on the job – at the Battle of the Little Big Horn on June 25, 1876.
In 1934, 1935 and 1945 three journalists in a row were murdered in Minneapolis. All for investigating corruption and organized crime.
The 1945 murder of Arthur Kasherman of the alternative Public Press is said to have figured in the election of one anti-corruption crusader named Hubert Humphrey as mayor of Minneapolis.
What’s ironic about that is the next journalist on the list is W.H. “Bill” Mason of KBKI radio in Alice, Texas, killed by Deputy Sheriff Sam Smithwick, who Mason had exposed as the owner of a strip club.
Former Governor Coke Stevenson who had just lost the Democratic senatorial primary to Lyndon B. Johnson, thought Smithwick could prove Johnson had won the primary by voter fraud. Unfortunately Smithwick was hanged before Stevenson could talk to him. Since then it’s been pretty conclusively proven Johnson did indeed steal that election. Among other reasons because Johnson used to boast about it when he was going large, and had a picture to prove it.
Looking down the list it seems that considering the sheer number of them, being a journalist isn’t very dangerous in this fortunate country of ours. I’ve made people mad enough to complain about me, but it’s never occurred to me that anyone would want to murder me. (Of course the day is still young…)
Ironically the only times I’ve been in danger on the job was when I was still a part-time amateur in Eastern Europe. My editor felt it prudent to keep my name off an article once. His judgment was confirmed when a couple of so-called “mafia” type came to the office demanding to know who wrote that article about taxis. (Taxis? Another time.)
But of course there’s always the possibility of danger while chasing a story a bit too enthusiastically.
From the 2013 Darwin Awards:
“(31 March 2013, Newcastle, England) The UK homeless population’s numbers are difficult to gauge; the website Crisis.co.uk sets a low estimate at 2,300 homeless people per night.
Intending to advance his career, investigative journalist Lee Halpin, 26, decided to acquire background in the problem by pretending to be homeless. He borrowed a sleeping bag and, waving aside the concerns of friends and family, he set off into the streets alone. “I will sleep rough, scrounge for my food, interact with as many homeless people as possible, and immerse myself in that lifestyle as deeply as I can,” said the journalist–three days before freezing to death in a boarded up hostel.”
The part of a journalist’s life we don’t like to talk about involves making phone calls and spending a lot of time sitting at our desks waiting for someone to return them.
For those of us raised with a work ethic, this is profoundly uncomfortable. You feel like you ought to be doing something for the time you are after all getting paid for.
You could go the self-improvement route and read a book, but unless you are pouring over the AP Style Handbook at your desk you look like a slacker. And believe me, a little of the AP goes a long way.
Fortunately we have a productive spare time activity available, and you’re looking at it. We can blog. Furthermore we can cheerfully surf the Internet looking for something to blog about.
Antana-what? You well may ask.
Antanaclasis is from the Greek anti meaning “against” or “back,” ana “up,” and klasis “breaking.” In Latin it’s called refractio “rebounding” and it’s a figure of speech in classical rhetoric.
Those things that us writers do are called “figures of speech” and they have names in rhetoric. You can find them over at the Silva Rhetoricae “The Forrest of Rhetoric,” a site maintained by Professor Gideon Burton at Brigham Young University.
I try to spend some time over there every now and again because the subject is fascinating and I like to think it makes me a better writer.
Antanaclasis is defined as, “The repetition of a word or phrase whose meaning changes in the second instance.”
That’s a bit misleading, the second instance in the examples given below are not the same word, but homonyms. A homonym (grammar term) or homophone (same thing to a linguist) sounds the same, but it’s a different word.
“Your argument is sound…all sound.” —Benjamin Franklin (Sound as in “reasonable” versus sound as in “air” or “wind.”)
“In thy youth learn some craft that in thy age thou mayest get thy living without craft.” (“Skill” versus “cunning” or “fraud.”)
In this example the antanaclasis is on the phrase level.
“If you aren’t fired with enthusiasm, you will be fired with enthusiasm.” —Vince Lombardi
Now as I was pondering these delightful examples something occurred to me. There was an exchange in the British Parliament between renowned wit Benjamin D’israeli and his verbal sparring partner William Gladstone. The two of them passed the office of Prime Minister between them for a long time during the 19th century.
Gladstone once said, “Mr. D’israeli will either end his days on the gallows, or of venereal disease.”
“That depends Sir, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress,” D’israeli replied. (Gladstone never got the better of D’israeli in these exchanges.)
Embrace is used only once in the first part of the sentence and only implied in the second. Furthermore, it’s not a homonym in the first part but a metaphorical or figurative use of the same word used literally in the second part. Embrace meaning “to adopt a position with passionate conviction” versus “to hold in your arms.”
So I thought, is this an antanaclasis?
I got so curious I emailed Professor Burton with the question.
Watch this space for further developments.
Legendary musician Pete Seeger died January 27 at the age of 94.
By all accounts Seeger lived a rich and rewarding life. He died just six months after the death of his wife of 70 years, Toshi-Aline Ota. Their marriage produced three surviving children, all artists in their own right, and six grandchildren.
Seeger grew up in a world full of art and music. Scion of a family with centuries-old roots in New England, his father was a Harvard-trained musicologist his mother was a concert violinist trained at the Paris Conservatory of Music and later a teacher at the Julliard School. His stepmother was Ruth Crawford Seeger, considered one of the most important modernist composers of the 20th century.
His brother Mike Seeger, and sister Margaret “Peggy” Seeger (who survives) were also prominent folk singers. Seeger’s uncle was the poet Alan Seeger, who gained posthumous fame for “I Have a Rendezvous’ with Death” after he was killed in the Battle of the Somme, 1916, while fighting with the French Foreign Legion.
In 1936 at the age of 17, Seeger discovered what was to be the driving passion of his life when he visited the Mountain Dance and folk Festival in North Carolina, organized by his father and folklorist Bascom Lamar Lunsford under the auspices of the WPA Farm Resettlement music projects.
There Seeger heard the five-string banjo for the first time and the rest, as they say, is history.
It was also the year Seeger joined the Young Communists League. He became a member of the Communist Party USA in 1942.
Seeger’s importance to music is something scholars are going to be investigating and arguing about for generations. Sometime back then musicologists realized the vast majority of music produced by the human race had left no record, as if vast empires had arisen and fallen without leaving a trace.
Seeger and others sought out folk music and recorded it so that it might never be lost. But more than that he composed original music based in the folk tradition.
And of course what Seeger is remembered for is putting his music to work in service to the causes dear to his heart. When we are forgotten people will still be singing his adaptation of the old spiritual, “We Shall Overcome.”
Seeger stood up to be counted from the very beginning of the Civil Rights era, against the Vietnam War, and at the very end was marching – or hobbling, on two canes with the Occupy Movement.
He raised public awareness of the pollution of the Hudson River, defied network censorship of controversial views, and took a stand for the First Amendment before the House Un-American Activities Committee, earning a year jail sentence, overturned on appeal.
During the Second World War he joined the Army and entertained troops in the South Pacific with Special Services.
But before that he spoke of Adolph Hitler as a benign leader who only wanted peace while Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia were pals.
“Franklin D, Franklin D, you ain’t a gonna send me across the sea,” he sang.
He turned on a dime when Hitler attacked the Soviet Union and beat the drums of war.
Most biographies say he “drifted away” from the Communist Party in the late ‘40s to early ‘50s. It’s also possible he was ordered to distance himself from them as spies and prominent people the Soviets found useful often were. So far none have been uncharitable enough to suggest that.
He identified himself as a “communist with a small ‘c’” after that.
He once said, “I like to say I’m more conservative than Goldwater. He just wanted to turn the clock back to when there was no income tax. I want to turn the clock back to when people lived in small villages and took care of each other.”
Well you could describe the program of the Khmer Rouge that way too. We don’t know what Seeger thought about that because he never condemned the Killing Fields of Cambodia, or at least not loudly enough that anyone remembers.
Seeger’s affection for the Soviet Union lasted through revelations of Stalin’s crimes against humanity, the Hungarian Uprising of 1956 and the suppression of the Prague Spring in 1968. He remained an admirer of Mao Tse Tung and Ho Chi Min.
He did ultimately express some regret for slavishly following Stalin, after the fall of the Soviet Union. But when he did it was tepid and self-serving.
Seeger was by all accounts a sweet and gentle man who wouldn’t hurt a fly. Supremely gifted, generous, loving husband and father, and apologist for mass murderers.
How can one person reconcile those ghastly contradictions within himself?
I don’t know how. I don’t know that I ever will.
“Lone Survivor,” written and directed by Peter Berg, is based on the 2007 book, “Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of Seal Team 10,” Marcus Luttrell’s account of the doomed mission Operation Red Wings, as told to novelist Patrick Robinson.
In June, 2005, four Navy SEALs embarked on a mission to capture or kill Taliban leader Ahmad Shah in a village deep within the Hindu Kush mountains of Afghanistan. The mission went horribly wrong, Luttrell was the only survivor. Sixteen more Americans would die in the rescue attempt when the Chinook helicopter they were riding in was shot down.
The movie starts with archive footage of Navy SEAL training. Men are immersed in the cold sea shivering, exhausted beyond the limits of endurance while relief is just steps away. Ring a bell three times and put your helmet on the ground beneath is. The line of helmets grows longer, but a few endure to become SEALs.
Cut to Afghanistan and scenes of the daily life of elite troops in between missions. Men email home, joke, plan a wedding and haze newbies.
Then the briefing for the mission, identification of the target, and insertion into the mountains by helicopter.
The team: Lieutenant Michael P. “Murph” Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), team leader; Hospital Corpsman First Class Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), medic and sniper; Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch), radio operator; Sonar Technician (Surface) 2nd Class Matthew “Axe” Axelson (Ben Foster), sniper.
The team reach a point in the mountains above the village and find out there are more Taliban than expected. Then an old man and two teenage boys herding goats stumble upon them.
The team realize there are only three alternatives for them, and two of them amount to killing the three Afghans. They elect to release them and abort the mission. The movie doesn’t attempt to sugarcoat the decision. It’s not only humanity, but fear of the consequences of violating the military’s rules of engagement.
The team attempts to retreat to high ground and radio for extraction, but quickly find communications equipment unreliable in the mountains. Worse, they find a deep ravine between them and the peak. Worst, within an hour the Taliban is on them.
After action reports, citations for the Navy Crosses awarded, and investigation by skeptical journalists arrive at different figures for the number of Taliban. Suffice it to say, there were more Taliban than SEALs on the mountain, and they were more heavily armed.
The rest of the film is an agonizing portrayal of the team making a fighting retreat, falling down the mountain and being shot to pieces.
Luttrell arrives alone at a water hole where he is found by Afghan villagers who persuade him with some difficulty to trust them, take him in, shelter him and protect him from the Taliban until help arrives.
To this day Mohammad Gulab (Ali Suliman) the Afghan who found and sheltered him according to the tribal code of Pushtunwali and Luttrell are fast friends. Gulab was brought to America to see the premier of “Lone Survivor.”
Berg put in a lot of work to make this movie as real as possible, and it shows, both on the screen and the unusual silence of the audience.
Luttrell moved in with Berg for a while to work on the script. Berg himself became the first civilian to embed with a SEAL team in Iraq and interviewed families of the dead SEALs.
Berg took the minimum salary allowed under Directors Guild of America rules and convinced a lot of the cast to lower their asking price to keep production costs down. Making this film meant a lot to a lot of people.
It’s doing well at the box office and has generally been a critical success.
But it’s also been called violence porn and light on character development,
Kyle Smith of the New York Times called it “a movie about an irrelevant skirmish that ended in near-total catastrophe, during a war we are not winning.”
Amy Nicholson of LA Weekly, evidently didn’t bother to stay till the end and distilled the message to “Brown people bad, American people good.”
No it’s violence, portrayed accurately. “Violence porn” is Hollywood sanitized violence where people shot just drop and go to sleep.
No, it’s an action driven movie where character is shown by how men act under extreme stress.
Yes, it ended in near-total catastrophe and we are not winning the war. Does it follow we have nothing to learn from why military operations end catastrophically in the Hindu Kush, “the graveyard of empires”?
Whatever you think of the war, the Taliban murder women who dress “immodestly” and shoot little girls in the head who want to go to school. The SEALs are the good guys. Enjoy the movie.
Note: This was published in the print-only TV Guide of the Marshall Independent.
There is some good news and bad news about employment.
The good news is, that although employers created only an anemic 74,000 jobs in December, nevertheless the unemployment rate fell from 7 percent to 6.7 percent.
The bad news is, the reason unemployment has dropped appears to be because two-thirds of the adult, able-bodied unemployed aren’t looking for work at all.
That’s the lowest labor force participation since 1978.
There’s an expression that’s been gaining currency in the last few years, “Going Galt.”
The phrase comes from the book “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand. Also know as “Atlas Shrugged and Shrugged and Shrugged…” by those who don’t fancy three-hour speeches dropped into the middle of the plot.
The theme of the book is that fed-up with an intrusive government destroying the economy the “men of the mind” go on strike. Some run off to a hidden valley in Colorado, while others take jobs that make them just enough to keep body and soul together.
One character goes off and becomes a pirate on the high seas, but we get to see disappointingly little of him.
In the course of the novel the economy grinds to a halt.
The durn thing is long, it’s annoyingly didactic and in some spots just downright weird. It’s also sold about seven million copies in English alone since its publication in 1957. Not counting foreign editions. I’ve met Ayn Rand fans from Russia, India, Bulgaria and Iran.
Part of the appeal is the gripping descriptive writing. From the first page you can see the palpable decay of society in the crumbling infrastructure and endless frustrating difficulties of bureaucracy strangling a civilization.
When I uprooted my life and moved to the former Soviet bloc shortly after the fall of communism I felt like everything I saw in the grim, grey, filthy cities was somehow familiar.
For another, Rand gave disaffected youth permission to be themselves, to seek out a destiny of their own choice. That’s considered more-or-less normal in these days of “follow your bliss” but back then it was heady stuff with a whiff of brimstone about it.
Ironically in her personal life Rand was a powerful and dominating personality who considered her personal tastes the norm of the universe. A circle of acolytes that gathered around her lived in mortal dread of not fitting in. Some people who knew her say it was best to admire her from a distance.
Rand grew up Jewish in Russia, and survived the revolution, the civil war, and the Great Terror just getting out and coming to America in 1925. Here she found intellectuals hailing the horror she’d escaped from as the first steps towards the utopian future.
Among conservative anti-communists National Review read her out of the movement entirely in a review by Whittaker Chambers.
Chambers called it a “remarkably silly book” and said, “From almost any page of Atlas Shrugged, a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding: ‘To the gas chambers — go!’”
Still it continues to sell, with sales doubling and tripling in recent years. A few conservatives have actually recommended it in public, causing great glee among Democrats who charge Republicans with being the party of Ayn Rand.
No such thing of course. Among other things, Rand was an outspoken atheist and not what you’d call a family values sort of person.
What she has given contemporary culture is that notion of “Going Galt.”
For me Rand’s central premise, that progress is the result of a few lonely geniuses dragging the world into the future kicking and screaming, just doesn’t work.
Even a cursory study of the history of industry and technology shows that while there are figures of towering genius, progress is driven by the efforts of a lot of people, mostly obscure.
But what happens when taxes and inflation grow to the point that the effort versus profit curve is so steep it just isn’t worth the bother?
What happens when running a business means all your decisions are subject to arbitrary review by bureaucrats who have to justify their salaries by sticking it to somebody every now and again?
What happens when expressing the wrong opinion, or just telling a tasteless joke can mean your job, your career?
What happens when you realize success depends on political connections, or promotion on being the right demographic regardless of merit?
What happens when you realize you could collect benefits equal to twice the entry-level salary in your job?
Could it be that a lot of people are just going to say, “The heck with it, I’m going to chuck it and spend time with my friends/children/books.”
And I hate to say it, but it’s looking better to me all the time.
Amy Chua, the famous or infamous “Tiger Mother” has a new book out, this time co-authored with her husband Jed Rubenfeld.
The book is titled “The Triple Package: Why Groups Rise and Fall in America” for the three characteristics that Chua claims makes some groups more successful on average than others.
The three are: a group superiority complex, combined with a sense of insecurity, and impulse control.
Chua and Rubenfeld name eight groups in America they deem most successful as measured by income, occupational status, and test scores among other factors. The groups are: Jews, Chinese, Indians, Lebanese-Americans, Iranians, Nigerians, Cuban exiles and Mormons.
Not surprisingly, and in spite of specific disavowal by the authors of hereditary factors, they’re being called racists. A fair amount of scornful note has been taken that they represent two of the groups in their own persons.
The fact is, what they’re saying is not all that controversial. But perhaps they have themselves to blame for a bit of the controversy.
Chua’s first book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” advocated disciplined child rearing rather than a permissive “follow your bliss” approach. Which shouldn’t have been too shocking except it was kind of over-the-top.
Some claim a lot of that was tongue-in-cheek shock-jock talk. And it’s hard to argue with success. Chua and her husband are Ivy League academics and their daughters won early admissions to Yale.
“But she threatened to give away her daughter’s beloved doll house!”
Well yes, and that does sound cruel. On the other hand I just threatened to sell my son’s Wii, so I’m not in a position to criticize.
I suppose I’m going to have to read the book. In the interim I have a few quibbles of my own.
China and India cover a lot of territory with many, many different cultures and language groups. Could we be more specific than “Indians” and “Chinese”?
Lebanese-Americans? Do they mean Christian Lebanese (like Danny Thomas) or Muslim Lebanese or both?
Same for Nigerians, lots of tribes there. Do they mean the often-persecuted Ibo tribe, sometimes referred to as “the Jews of West Africa”?
Cuban exiles, hard to argue with. They built the economy of Miami. Same with Mormons, they built a whole state in the desert.
The relative success of Jews is well-known, and my old Medieval Hebrew Civ professor was not shy about the reason. They teach their children to work hard and study. They value scholars, not athletes. They realized a long time ago that education is something they can’t take from you at the border when they kick you out of their country (that “insecurity” thing).
Same with Chinese. Strong work ethic and admiration of scholars.
Add to this that immigrants willing to settle in a radically different culture in search of opportunity are already a self-selected group.
Hard work, saving, investment, education and a strong belief in yourself as an individual or member of a group. There shouldn’t be anything controversial about that.
At least a mild anxiety about falling behind probably doesn’t hurt either. And need we point out that impulse control is probably going to have something to do with how often people get arrested?
The fact that some cultures inculcate these values in their children more than others is what’s making people nervous. But again, Chua and Rubenfeld are talking about culture, not heredity. And there are any number of examples of peoples with the same ethnic heritage going in different directions with different results for their future success.
The nation of Poland was partitioned by three occupying powers at the end of the 18th century: Prussia, Russia and Austro-Hungary. Poland ceased to exist as a nation for 135 years.
The results are still visible in Poland today. The former Russian lands are visibly poorer than the Prussian and Austro-Hungarian parts. And this was reflected in the relative success of Polish immigrants to America. Immigrants from the Russian partition arrived with less education and tended to remain poor, while immigrants from the Prussian and Austro-Hungarian partitions achieved much higher rates of success.
Three groups with vastly different rates of success, and in the case of the Prussian and Austro-Hungarian Poles, success in different fields. But still the same ethnicity.
Chua and Rubenfeld have raised some hackles with their talk of superior groups and market-dominant minorities, but they’re not saying anything that hasn’t been noticed a long time ago by anthropologists. And as they point out, there’s no need to bring in entirely unnecessary explanations of why some groups are more successful than others, when we already have perfectly adequate explanations.
What if you could read minds, move objects with your mind, and move yourself anywhere you wanted to go in an instant.
These are the “three Ts”: telepathy, telekinesis and teleportation, of “The Tomorrow People,” a series which premiered last October on The CW Television Network.
Stephen Jameson (Robbie Amell) lives with his widowed mother (Sarah Clarke) and seems a normal enough teenager. Except he keeps waking up in places he didn’t go to sleep. Such as a neighbor’s bed in a locked apartment. The neighbors are perturbed.
A young woman Cara Coburn (Peyton List) contacts him telepathically and tells him he’s one of the Tomorrow People or Homo Superior, a genetically advanced human who is presumably the next step in evolution. To emphasize the point she and some friends teleport him to their secret HQ.
But all is not well for the new people. A secret organization Ultra wants to find them and neutralize their powers, or kill them if necessary. Stephen meets Jedikiah Price (Mark Pellegrino) who runs the organization who explains the people with the power are dangerous to humanity.
Oh yes, and Jedikiah is his uncle, the non-super powered brother of his father, who may be dead or may be in hiding. In spite of Jedikiah’s single-minded determination to find and neutralize all Homo Superior, Stephen agrees to work for Ultra in order to find his father.
The Tomorrow People would appear to have all the advantages except for one thing, they can’t kill. Well, except for some…
“The Tomorrow People” thus falls within the sub-genre of superman science fiction, and borrows liberally from its predecessors. It is a remake of a British series that ran from 1973 to 1979. The term homo superior was coined by Olaf Stapelton in “Odd John” (1935), one of the earliest superman novels.
A crucial plot element that showed up in episode 5, “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” that the founder of Ultra is himself a Tomorrow Person, is lifted right out of A.E. Van Vogt’s novel “Slan” (1940), considered the benchmark of the genre.
The social implications of teleportation a a psychic ability (rather than a technology) was first explored in Alfred Bester’s “The Stars My Destination” (1956). Teleporting humans hunted by an organization dedicated to their extermination was the theme of the movie “Jumper” (2008).
When Darwin published “The Origin of Species” in 1859, the question inevitably arose, “If we are the culmination of a long process of evolution, what might come after us? And if we gave rise to a new and superior species, would they dominate or destroy us?”
Consider that in the 19th century, many thought it was already happening. That the superior races of Europe were dominating the inferior races of the world, and that it was right a good this should be so.
Others took the history of colonialism as a cautionary tale and wondered if another race might do to Europeans what they were doing to others.
The culmination of this kind of thinking came during the 12-year reign of National Socialist Germany and their doctrine of the right of the master race to exterminate races of “untermenschen.”
However, novels such as “Slan” were parables of an advanced people persecuted for their superiority, a kind of uber-Jews.
There are a lot of really interesting and important questions here, but because of the history of eugenics ideologies such as Nazism, you can get called nasty names for bringing them up.
Today there are two broadly defined positions on the current state of human evolution. One holds that evolution basically stops with civilization. Because civilization makes life easy and eliminates selection pressure.
The other position holds that human evolution has continued and even accelerated. (See: “The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution” (2009) by Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending.)
This makes people uneasy because it follows that evolution does not occur evenly across the human race because not everybody has been civilized for the same length of time. And because Europeans are not the oldest civilized people.
There is also a hot discussion on whether or not humans should take charge of their own evolution through selective breeding or genetic engineering.
These are hot button, career wrecking issues. The kind that can only be safely discussed in the context of science fiction.
The powers are silly. Telepathy is only barely possible, telekinesis and teleportation violate some pretty fundamental laws of physics.
The idea however is not.
So what if there were really superior humans? Would they be persecuted? Enslaved? Or would they dominate humanity?
It’s not that “The Tomorrow People” sets out to examine these issues, it’s not that high brow. It’s that it can’t help but make you think of them in the course of a reasonably entertaining action series.
Note: This appeared in the print-only TV Guide of the Marshall Independent.