Quotulatiousness

January 11, 2018

William Gibson: The Gernsback Continuum – Semiotic Ghosts – #8

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 18:51

Extra Credits
Published on Jan 9, 2018

Ways that we dream about the world sometimes create a shared vision that we start to believe is real. When William Gibson first explored these “semiotic ghosts” of a pristine American future in the Gernsback Continuum, he showed how these visions of modern technology can separate us from our own reality and the personal meaning our world should hold for us.

QotD: Regime uncertainty

Filed under: Books, Economics, Government, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Washington’s destructive policies have been dubbed “regime uncertainty” in a strand of innovative analyses pioneered by Robert Higgs of the Independent Institute. Regime uncertainty relates to the likelihood that an investor’s private property — namely, the flows of income and services it yields — will be attenuated by government action. As regime uncertainty is elevated, private investment is notched down from where it would have been. This can result in a business-cycle bust and even economic stagnation. I recommend Higgs’ most recent book for evidence on the negative effects of regime uncertainty: Robert Higgs. Taking a Stand: Reflections on Life Liberty, and the Economy. Oakland, CA: The Independent Institute, 2015.

Steve Hanke, “What’s Killing U.S. Growth?”, Huffington Post, 2016-04-12.

January 2, 2018

What I was reading in 2017

Filed under: Books, Personal — Nicholas @ 03:00

I read a fair number of books, magazines, and other printed publications, but I read far more online these days than “dead tree” stuff. These were the new (or new-to-me) books I got through last year:

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December 28, 2017

QotD: The 1960s cultural revolution

Filed under: Books, Liberty, Media, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The entire political and cultural trajectory of the decades following World War II in the U.S. was a movement away from the repressions of the Cold War standoff with the Soviet Union, when the House Un-American Activities Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives searched for signs of Communist subversion in every area of American life. A conspicuous target was the Hollywood film industry, where many liberals had indeed been drawn to the Communist Party in the 1930s, before the atrocities of the Stalinist regime were known. To fend off further federal investigation, the major studios blacklisted many actors, screenwriters, and directors, some of whom, like a favorite director of mine, Joseph Losey, fled the country to find work in Europe. Pete Seeger, the leader of the politicized folk music movement whose roots were in the social activism of Appalachian coal-miners in the 1930s, was banned from performing on network TV in the U.S. in the 1950s and ‘60s.

There were sporadic landmark victories for free speech in the literary realm. In 1957, local police raided the City Lights Bookshop in San Francisco and arrested the manager and owner, Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, for selling an obscene book, Allen Ginsberg’s epic protest poem, Howl. After a long, highly publicized trial, Howl was declared not obscene, and the charges were dropped. The Grove Press publishing house, owned by Barney Rosset, played a heroic role in the battle against censorship in the U.S. In 1953, Grove Press began publishing affordable, accessible paperbacks of the voluminous banned works of the Marquis de Sade, a major thinker about sex and society at the close of the Enlightenment. In 1959, the Grove Press edition of D.H. Lawrence’s 1928 novel, Lady Chatterly’s Lover, then banned in the U.S., was confiscated as obscene by the U.S. Postal Service. Rosset sued and won the case on federal appeal. In 1961, the publication by Grove Press of another banned book, Henry Miller’s 1934 novel, Tropic of Cancer, led to 60 obscenity trials in the U.S. until in 1964 it was declared not obscene and its publication permitted.

One of the supreme symbols of newly militant free speech was Lenny Bruce, who with Mort Sahl transformed stand-up comedy from its innocuous vaudevillian roots into a medium of biting social and political commentary. Bruce’s flaunting of profanity and scatology in his improvisational onstage act led to his arrest for obscenity in San Francisco in 1961, in Chicago in 1962, and in New York in 1964, where he and Howard Solomon, owner of the Café Au Go Go in Greenwich Village, were found guilty of obscenity and sentenced to jail. Two years later, while his conviction was still under appeal, Bruce died of a drug overdose at age 40.

This steady liberalizing trend was given huge impetus by the sexual revolution, which was launched in 1959 by the marketing of the first birth control pill. In Hollywood, the puritanical studio production code, which had been adopted in the early 1930s under pressure from conservative groups like the Legion of Decency and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, was gradually breaking down and was finally abandoned by the late 1960s. The new standard of sexual expression was defined by European art films, with their sophisticated scripts and frank nudity. Pop music pushed against community norms: in 1956, Elvis Presley’s hip-swiveling gyrations were cut off by the TV camera as too sexual for the Ed Sullivan Show, which was then a national institution. As late as 1967, the Ed Sullivan Show was trying to censor the song lyrics of major bands like the Doors and the Rolling Stones, who were imitating the sexual explicitness of rural and urban African-American blues. (The Stones capitulated to Sullivan, but the Doors fought back — and were never invited on his show again.) Middle-class college students in the 1960s, including women, began freely using four-letter words that had rarely been heard in polite company, except briefly during the flapper fad of the 1920s. In the early 1970s, women for the first time boldly entered theaters showing pornography and helped make huge hits out of X-rated films like Deep Throat, Behind the Green Door, and The Devil in Miss Jones.

In short, free speech and free expression, no matter how offensive or shocking, were at the heart of the 1960s cultural revolution. Free speech was a primary weapon of the Left against the moralism and conformism of the Right.

Camille Paglia, “The Modern Campus Has Declared War on Free Speech”, Heat Street, 2016-05-09.

December 23, 2017

QotD: Charles Dickens’ ability to portray happiness

Filed under: Books, Britain, History, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The thought of Christmas raises almost automatically the thought of Charles Dickens, and for two very good reasons. To begin with, Dickens is one of the few English writers who have actually written about Christmas. Christmas is the most popular of English festivals, and yet it has produced astonishingly little literature. There are the carols, mostly medieval in origin; there is a tiny handful of poems by Robert Bridges, T.S. Eliot, and some others, and there is Dickens; but there is very little else. Secondly, Dickens is remarkable, indeed almost unique, among modern writers in being able to give a convincing picture of happiness.

Dickens dealt successfully with Christmas twice in a chapter of The Pickwick Papers and in A Christmas Carol. The latter story was read to Lenin on his deathbed and according to his wife, he found its ‘bourgeois sentimentality’ completely intolerable. Now in a sense Lenin was right: but if he had been in better health he would perhaps have noticed that the story has interesting sociological implications. To begin with, however thick Dickens may lay on the paint, however disgusting the ‘pathos’ of Tiny Tim may be, the Cratchit family give the impression of enjoying themselves. They sound happy as, for instance, the citizens of William Morris’s News From Nowhere don’t sound happy. Moreover and Dickens’s understanding of this is one of the secrets of his power their happiness derives mainly from contrast. They are in high spirits because for once in a way they have enough to eat. The wolf is at the door, but he is wagging his tail. The steam of the Christmas pudding drifts across a background of pawnshops and sweated labour, and in a double sense the ghost of Scrooge stands beside the dinner table. Bob Cratchit even wants to drink to Scrooge’s health, which Mrs Cratchit rightly refuses. The Cratchits are able to enjoy Christmas precisely because it only comes once a year. Their happiness is convincing just because Christmas only comes once a year. Their happiness is convincing just because it is described as incomplete.

George Orwell (writing as “John Freeman”), “Can Socialists Be Happy?”, Tribune, 1943-12-20.

December 21, 2017

William Gibson: The 80s Revolution – Extra Sci Fi – #7

Filed under: Books, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Extra Credits
Published on 19 Dec 2017

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After Star Wars, the science fiction genre suddenly became a pop culture darling, and a flood of schlocky imitations followed. William Gibson led the charge to reclaim space in the genre for his concept of future history – one that, in turn, eventually launched cyberpunk.

December 14, 2017

The Last Closet: the Dark Side of Avalon

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Just saw this on Facebook:

Marion Zimmer Bradley was a bestselling science fiction author, a feminist icon, and was awarded the World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement. She was best known for the Arthurian fiction novel The Mists of Avalon and for her very popular Darkover series.

She was also a monster.

The Last Closet: The Dark Side of Avalon is a brutal tale of a harrowing childhood. It is the true story of predatory adults preying on the innocence of children without shame, guilt, or remorse. It is an eyewitness account of how high-minded utopian intellectuals, unchecked by law, tradition, religion, or morality, can create a literal Hell on Earth.

The Last Closet is also an inspiring story of survival. It is a powerful testimony to courage, to hope, and to faith. It is the story of Moira Greyland, the only daughter of Marion Zimmer Bradley and convicted child molester Walter Breen, told in her own words.

While I was never a fan of MZB, I was still shocked to hear about her private life. I haven’t read the book, but I have no reason to believe it’s not completely true.

December 7, 2017

Frankenstein: Radical Alienation – Extra Sci Fi – #6

Filed under: Books, History, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Extra Credits
Published on 5 Dec 2017

What draws us to Frankenstein, and to sci fi as a whole? As the novel wraps up and our time with its characters draws to an end, Mary Shelley lays out the final theme which shaped the identity of science fiction as a genre: radical alienation and the search for a place to belong.

November 29, 2017

Frankenstein: Paradise Lost – Extra Sci Fi – #5

Filed under: Books, History, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Extra Credits
Published on 28 Nov 2017

Paradise Lost told the story of Satan, a creation who rejected his creator just like Frankenstein’s monster did. But even Satan had a loving creator, beauty, and friends. The monster had nothing, and his life in Mary Shelley’s eyes was not a horror story, but a tragedy.

November 25, 2017

Paul Kidby’s Discworld Imaginarium

Filed under: Books, Britain, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Jessica Brisbane linked to this Guardian overview of a new book by Paul Kidby, collecting his art to accompany Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series:

Terry Pratchett’s ‘artist of choice’ Paul Kidby introduces some of the images he produced during their decades-long collaboration

QotD: Reading

Filed under: Books, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Reading is inherently ephemeral, but it feels less so when you’re making your way through a physical book, which persists when you’ve finished it. It is a monument to the activity of reading. It makes this imaginary activity entirely substantial. But the quiddity of e-reading is that it effaces itself. […] There is a disproportionate magic in the way black marks on white paper — or their pixilated facsimiles — stir us into reverie and revise our consciousness. Still, we require proof that it has happened. And that proof is what the books on my shelves continue to offer.

Verlyn Klinkenborg, “Books to Have and to Hold”, New York Times, 2013-08-10.

November 23, 2017

Frankenstein: Plutarch’s Lives – Extra Sci Fi – #4

Filed under: Books, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Extra Credits
Published on 21 Nov 2017

Mary Shelley drew heavily from the style of biography first pioneered by Plutarch, creating characters like Victor Frankenstein and the monster whose lives parallel each other, but whose differing circumstances lead them to embody very different values.

November 16, 2017

Frankenstein: The Sorrows of Young Werther – Extra Sci Fi – #3

Filed under: Books, History — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Extra Credits
Published on 14 Nov 2017

Frankenstein’s monster discovered three books that shaped his understanding of the world, including the Sorrows of Young Werther. Werther’s unrequited love for a woman eventually leads him to commit suicide. Frankenstein’s monster wants to experience love as well, but Mary Shelley has her own critique of this idea of love.

November 14, 2017

QotD: Depressive writing leads to depressed readers

Filed under: Books, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Agatha Christie gave her characters foibles, sure, and often there was a tight intrigue and not just the murderer but two or three other people would be no good. BUT the propensity of the characters gave you the impression of being good sort of people. Perhaps muddled, confused, or driven by circumstances to the less than honorable, but in general driven by principles of honor or love (even sometimes the murderer) and wanting to do the right thing for those they cared about.

You emerge from a Christie memory with the idea, sure, that of course there was unpleasantness, but most of the people are not horrors.

How did we get from there to now, where the characters aren’t even evil? They’re just dingy and grey and tainted, all of them equally. The victim, the detectives, the witnesses, will be vile and contorted, grotesque shapes walking in the world of men.

If this is a reflection of the psyches of most authors, I suddenly understand a lot about the self-hatred of western intellectuals.

But I wonder if it’s a fashion absorbed and perpetuated, communicated like the flu, a low grade dingy patina of … not even evil, just discontent and depression and a feeling that everyone in the world is similarly tainted.

I realized that was part of what was depressing me, partly because I’m a depressive, so I monitor my mood fairly regularly. BUT what about normal people? What if they just absorb this world view — and the idea that it’s smart and sophisticated, too — through popular entertainment, through movies and books and shows and then spew it out into the world, because it stands like a veil between them and reality, changing the way they perceive everything.

[…] such despairing stuff, such low grade despair and unpleasantness change us, particularly when they’re unremitting. You internalize these thoughts, they become part of you. If humanity is a plague, who will have children? If humanity is a plague, why not encourage the criminals and terrorists? If humanity is a plague who is clean?

You. Me. Most human beings. Oh, sure, we’re not perfect — I often think people who write this lack the ability to distinguish between not being perfect and being corrupt and evil — and we often have unlovely characteristics. But, with very few exceptions, most people I know TRY to be decent by their lights, try to raise their kids, help their friends and generally leave the world a little better.

Now, are we representative of everyone? Of course not. A lot of people are raised in cultures (here and abroad) that simply don’t give their best selves a chance. But why enshrine those people and not the vast majority who are decent and well… human?

Even in a mystery there should be innocent and well-intentioned people. It gives contrast to the darker and more evil people and events.

Painting only in dark tints is no more accurate than painting only in pale tints. It doesn’t denote greater artistry. It just hangs a grey, blotched veil between your reader and reality, a veil that hides what is worthwhile in humans and events.

Make yourself aware of the veil and remove it. It’s time the low-grade depression of western civilization were defeated. No, it’s not perfect, but with all its failings it has secured the most benefits to the greatest number of people in the long and convoluted history of mankind. Self-criticism might be appropriate, but not to the exclusion of everything else.

Say no to the dingy-grey-patina. Wash your eyes and look at the world anew. And then paint in all the tints not just grey or black.

Sarah Hoyt, “A Dingy Patina”, According To Hoyt, 2015-10-22.

November 9, 2017

Frankenstein: The New Romantics – Extra Sci Fi – #2

Filed under: Books, Europe, History, Science — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Extra Credits
Published on 7 Nov 2017

Industrialization and the Age of Reason benefitted society in many ways, but also created an atmosphere of dehumanizing mass production. The Romantic literary movement rose up to assert the value of emotion in a modern world, and praised science as a marvel whose discoveries bounded on magic made real.

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