Quotulatiousness

March 18, 2017

Camille Paglia on her latest book and other issues

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

In Vice, Mitchell Sunderland talks to Camille Paglia about her latest book and other topics near to her heart:

BROADLY: Your book is called Free Women, Free Men. Why do you believe men need to be free for women to be free?
Camille Paglia: My primary inspiration since adolescence has been the thrilling decades of the 1920s and 30s, following American women gaining the right to vote in 1920. There were so many major women figures entering the professions—like my idols Amelia Earhart and Katharine Hepburn, who were determined to show that women could achieve at the same level as men. The bold new women of that period did not insult or denigrate men. They admired what men had done and simply demanded the opportunity to show that women could match or surpass it. One of my persistent quarrels with second-wave feminism is how male-bashing became its default mode from the start. Movements often attract fanatics or borderline personalities, and that’s exactly what happened. Too many damaged women with bitter gripes against men took over feminist discourse. Kate Millett was a prime example — her life has been an endless series of mental breakdowns and hospitalizations.

What I’m saying in Free Women, Free Men is that women can never be truly free until they let men too be free — which means that men have every right to determine their own identities, interests, and passions without intrusive surveillance and censorship by women with their own political agenda. For example, if there is an official Women’s Center on the Yale University campus (which there is), then there should be a Men’s Center too — and Yale men should be free to carry on and carouse there and say whatever the hell they want to each other, without snoops outside the door ready to report them to the totalitarian sexual harassment office.

The book argues that construction workers and other working class men’s work have gone unnoticed. How has society ignored their contributions to society?
It is an absolute outrage how so many pampered, affluent, upper-middle-class professional women chronically spout snide anti-male feminist rhetoric, while they remain completely blind to the constant labor and sacrifices going on all around them as working-class men create and maintain the fabulous infrastructure that makes modern life possible in the Western world. Only a tiny number of women want to enter the trades where most of the nitty-gritty physical work is actually going on — plumbing, electricity, construction. Women have played virtually no role in the erection of those magnificent towers in every major city in the world. It’s men who operate the cranes or set the foundations or wash windows on the 85th floor. It’s men who troop out at 2:00 AM during an ice storm to restore power to neighborhoods where falling trees have brought down live wires. It’s men who mix the stinking, toxic cauldrons to spread steaming hot tar on city roofs. Last year in a nearby town, I drove by a huge, chaotic scene where emergency workers in hazmat suits were struggling with a giant pipe break, as raw sewage was pouring into the street. Of course all those workers up to their knees in a torrent of thick brown water were men! I’ve seen figures indicating that 92 per cent of people killed on the job are men — and it’s precisely because men are heroically doing most of the dangerous jobs in modern society. The bourgeois blindness of feminist leaders to low-status working-class labor by men is morally corrupt! Gay men, on the other hand, have always shown their awed admiration of working-class masculinity and fortitude. It’s no coincidence that a buff construction worker in a hard hat was one of the iconic personae of the gay disco group, the Village People, during the Studio 54 era!

[…]

How should young people preserve free speech?
Stand up, speak out, and refuse to be silenced! But identify the real source of oppression, which is embedded in the increasingly byzantine structure of higher education. Push back against the nanny-state college administrators who subject you to authoritarian surveillance and undemocratic thought control! I sent up a prophetic warning shot about this in my 1992 article, “The Corruption of the Humanities in the US,” which was published in London and is reprinted in my new book. The rapid, uncontrolled spread of overpaid administrators on college campuses over the past 30 years has marginalized the faculty, downgraded education, and converted students into marketing tools. Administrators are locked in a mercenary commercial relationship with tuition-paying parents and in a coercive symbiosis with intrusive regulators of the federal government. Young people have been far too passive about the degree to which their lives are being controlled by commissars of social engineering who pay lip service to liberalism but who are at root Stalinist autocrats who despise and suppress individualism. There is no excuse whatever for the grotesque rise in tuition costs, which has bankrupted families and imposed crippling debt on students trying to start their lives. When will young people wake up to the connection between rampant student debt and the administrator-sanctioned suppression of free speech on campus? Follow the money — the yellow brick road leads to the new administrator master class.

March 8, 2017

Soonish, coming later this year from Kelly & Zach Weinersmith

Filed under: Books, Humour, Science — Nicholas @ 05:00

I’ve been reading (and occasionally linking to) Zach Weinersmith’s Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal webcomic for years. It combines a Far Side sense of the zany with actual science (well, sometimes). Zach and Kelly have combined their talents (she’s a scientist who “studies parasites that manipulate the behavior of their hosts”) to produce a book that will be published in October that I’m eager to read as soon as it’s available:

You can click the image to go to the Amazon.ca pre-order page. More information on the book here.

March 7, 2017

Lois McMaster Bujold’s ongoing series of novellas in “World of the Five Gods”

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

I’ve been remiss in mentioning some recent works of Lois McMaster Bujold … partly because they’ve been released in ebook format before eventually making it to print, which means I’m already two books behind the current one, because I wait for the hardcover to become available (I’m really not much of a fan of ebooks, except for “emergency” reading on my phone when I’m caught without a dead-tree book to read).

If you’re not averse to ebooks, the first in the series is called Penric’s Demon:

Part of the blurb from the Amazon.ca description:

On his way to his betrothal, young Lord Penric comes upon a riding accident with an elderly lady on the ground, her maidservant and guardsmen distraught. As he approaches to help, he discovers that the lady is a Temple divine, servant to the five gods of this world. Her avowed god is The Bastard, “master of all disasters out of season”, and with her dying breath she bequeaths her mysterious powers to Penric. From that moment on, Penric’s life is irreversibly changed, and his life is in danger from those who envy or fear him.

Set in the fantasy world of the author’s acclaimed novels The Curse Of Chalion, Paladin Of Souls and The Hallowed Hunt, this novella has the depth of characterization and emotional complexity that distinguishes all Bujold’s work.

A limited edition hardcover was published by Subterranean Press, and I believe either a trade or mass-market paperback will be released at some point in the future (perhaps as an omnibus edition).

The second book in the series (and the one I just finished reading last week) is called Penric and the Shaman:

Amazon’s description:

In this NOVELLA set in The World of the Five Gods and four years after the events in Penric’s Demon, Penric is a divine of the Bastard’s Order as well as a sorcerer and scholar, living in the palace where the Princess-Archdivine holds court. His scholarly work is interrupted when the Archdivine agrees to send Penric, in his role as sorcerer, to accompany a “Locator” of the Father’s Order, assigned to capture Inglis, a runaway shaman charged with the murder of his best friend. However, the situation they discover in the mountains is far more complex than expected. Penric’s roles as sorcerer, strategist, and counselor are all called upon before the end.

The third novella is called Penric’s Mission and I haven’t read it yet, as the limited edition hardcover has not been announced (but I anticipate it will be coming out later this year). The latest in the series is Mira’s Last Dance, which went live online just a few days ago.

February 28, 2017

QotD: “Mr. Keynes’ excellent little book”

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

Interestingly, Mussolini found much of John Maynard Keynes’s economic theories consistent with fascism, writing: “Fascism entirely agrees with Mr. Maynard Keynes, despite the latter’s prominent position as a Liberal. In fact, Mr. Keynes’ excellent little book, The End of Laissez-Faire (l926) might, so far as it goes, serve as a useful introduction to fascist economics. There is scarcely anything to object to in it and there is much to applaud.”

After the worldwide Great Depression, Mussolini became more vocal in his claims that fascism explicitly rejected the capitalist elements of economic individualism and laissez-faire liberalism. In his “Doctrine of Fascism,” Mussolini wrote: “The Fascist conception of life accepts the individual only in so far as his interests coincide with the State. . . . Fascism reasserts the rights of the state. If classical liberalism spells individualism, Fascism spells government.” In his 1928 autobiography, Mussolini made clear his dislike for liberal capitalism: “The citizen in the Fascist State is no longer a selfish individual who has the anti-social right of rebelling against any law of the Collectivity.”

Lawrence K. Samuels, The Socialist Economics of Italian Fascism, quoted by Perry de Havilland in “Mussolini admired ‘Mr. Keynes’ excellent little book'” at Samizdata, 2015-07-08.

February 26, 2017

Julie Burchill on Harriet Harman’s memoir

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

In The Spectator, Julie Burchill isn’t a fan of Harriet Harman’s recent political tell-all, A Woman’s Work:

Like the awful Diane Abbott, Harman is one of those thoughtful, serious-minded Labour women who seems to come alive when saying silly, thoughtless things. She even has the Voice — that more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger Sunday-school drone which remains convinced that if it keeps repeating itself in ever slower permutations, opposition will do the decent thing and crumble. Brexit, of course, was the ripest raspberry ever blown in the face of such wheedling arrogance. Still, it’s hard not to warm to her sharp-nosed, clear-eyed young face on the front cover, peering bravely into a future of policy reviews and quangos galore. Sadly her writing style is so dull it makes ditchwater look like a dry martini — if you had to guess the MP author, you might hazard John Major in his pedantic pomp — and this is rendered comical by the three dynamically named sections of the book: ‘Upheaval’, ‘Transformation’ and ‘Challenge’.

With almost three decades on the front bench, twice acting deputy leader and the first Labour woman to feature at Prime Minister’s Questions, Harman is the definitive Nearly Woman — as are all capable Labour women, trapped in a party which having signed up to the brotherhood of man seems quite happy to ride roughshod over their sisters, forever promising them jam tomorrow so long as they themselves pick the fruit, boil the berries and write the labels. At a time when the Conservatives are on their second female leader and Labour are led by a man who seems as impervious to sexism as any other weirdy beardy from Real Ale Society to mosque, Harman’s book seems especially poignant. But I must say that any sympathy I had for her went out of the window in the first 40 pages when, having already suffered physical and verbal gropings from lecturers, employers and comrades without complaining about it, she gets stalked by a nutter whose case she has been bothering the poor police about through her job with the National Council for Civil Liberties. ‘He was menacing and angry. Having been his solicitor, I was fully aware of every detail of his record of violent crime. I knew that he didn’t just threaten violence, he carried it out’ — and yet she doesn’t tell the coppers for years, until he actually threatens to kill her. ‘As I tipped out the carrier bags full of just some of the letters I’d kept, the police were aghast that I’d done nothing about it before.’

Here is the masochistic madness of do-gooding socialist feminism laid bare — and Labour wonder why women vote Tory! While we’re on the subject of perverts, instead of unreservedly presenting the NCCL as a heroic ‘thorn in the side of government’ forever fighting for the rights of the little man, Harman might have seen fit to mention that, during her time there, they also granted the Paedophile Information Exchange formal affiliate status at a time when this vile lobby group was suggesting that the age of consent be lowered to ten. A little mea culpa might not have gone amiss. Still, it’s in the nature of the great and the good not to admit to anything which might reveal them as the entitled, woolly-minded mediocrities they generally are, and Harman — despite her admirable work for women’s rights — is no exception.

H/T to Kathy Shaidle for the link.

February 20, 2017

Terry Pratchett Back in Black

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

No embedding allowed, so you’ll have to click here.

H/T to Jerrie Adkins for the link.

February 15, 2017

From the Golden Age of SF to the Chalk Age of today

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Here’s an interesting contrarian take on the history of SF: that the “Golden Age” of Campbellian SF was actually the end of the true Golden Age … the era of the pulps:

Here’s the Great Myth of the Golden Age of Science Fiction:

“Science Fiction sucked until the coming of John W. Campbell and the Big Three — Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein. Together they swept away the puerile garbage of the Pulps and brought about Science Fiction’s Golden Age.”

This is, not to put too fine a point on it, utter tosh. Bunk. Hokum.

It’s horseshit.

The coming of Campbell and co. did not save or elevate the Fantasy and Science Fiction genre. Before them, it was already popular and widely read. In addition to the Pulps, there were novels, radio serials, and (eventually) cinema serials.

Nor was F&SF at that time a literary ghetto, a genre thought fit only for teenage boys and pencil-necked geeks. Men and women, adults and children — all read the Pulps. Some F&SF magazines were aimed solely at the adult audience.

It took the twin assaults of Campbell and the Socialist-Libertine wing of the Futurians to turn the mainstream off of SF. And, despite periodic attempts to revive SF, it remains a ghetto today.

February 14, 2017

Fanfic – from grubby, subversive literary backwater to big bucks and recognition

Filed under: Books, Business, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In Forbes, Hayley C. Cuccinello traces the early beginnings of the fan fiction community from Kirk-slash-Spock to Fifty Shades and beyond:

For the uninitiated, fanfiction is fiction written by a fan that features characters from a particular mythical universe such as a TV show or book. Its cousin, real person fiction (RPF), portrays actual individuals — typically celebrities — such as Harry Styles from One Direction.

Though the Fifty Shades itself has been dismissed by many as “mommy porn” and “the Great Idiot American Novel,” James is the most commercially successful fanfiction author of all time. After removing references to Twilight from Master of the Universe, a practice known as “filing off the serial numbers,” E.L. James published the renamed Fifty Shades of Grey with Writer’s Coffee Shop, an independent Australian publisher that was created by fans to commercially publish their work.

The results were astonishing. To date, James has sold over 70 million copies worldwide, including print, e-books and audiobooks. In 2013, Forbes named E.L. James the highest-paid author in the world, with $95 million in earnings, thanks to her massive book sales and a seven-figure paycheck for the first movie adaptation. In 2016, E.L. James was the eighth highest-paid author in the world, earning $14 million in 12 months, which brings her four-year total earnings to a whopping $131 million. With Fifty Shades Darker now showing in U.S. theaters – and hitting the international box office on Valentine’s Day – James’ fortunes will only continue to grow.

[…]

“Kirk and Spock are the granddaddies of slash fanfic, which goes all the way back to when fans were writing it out and handing it to each other at conventions,” says Andi VanderKolk, co-host of the Women At Warp podcast. Some authors collected their works into fanzines that were typically sold at cost.

Many fanzine authors would later find professional careers. Lois McMaster Bujold, writer of sci-fi series the Vorkosian Saga, contributed to numerous Star Trek fanzines in the late 1960s. Sci-fi and fantasy author Diane Duane, who has authored over 10 Star Trek novels, previously wrote fanfiction.

There are many other examples outside the Star Trek universe. Darkover author Marion Zimmer Bradley not only allowed fanworks but published a few of them in official Darkover anthologies. Television writer and producer Stephen Moffat, a former Doctor Who showrunner and current showrunner for Sherlock, previously wrote fanfiction. “I refuse to mock [fanfiction], because I’m a man who writes Sherlock Holmes fanfiction for a living,” Moffat told Entertainment Weekly last year.

February 13, 2017

Lessons from repeat bestseller Nineteen Eighty-Four

Filed under: Books, Liberty, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Brendan O’Neill hopes that some of the folks just encountering George Orwell’s novel for the first time are able to draw the correct lessons from the text:

It’s great to see that leftists and millennials and others are snapping up George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four in a bid to make some sense of Trump’s presidency. Because when they get deep into this dystopian tale — into the Newspeaking, sex-fearing, history-rewriting meat of it — they might realize that it describes their authoritarianism better than Trump’s. I can picture their faces now: “Guys… is this novel about us?”

The book shot to the top of Amazon’s bestseller list after Kellyanne Conway used the phrase “alternative facts” to describe the Trump administration’s belief that the crowds at his inauguration were larger than the media had let on. People pointed out that “alternative facts” sounds creepily like something the Party in Orwell’s story would say. Trump seems to believe he can fashion facts from thin air, to boost his own political standing.

“Alternative facts is a George Orwell phrase,” said Washington Post reporter Karen Tumulty. MSNBC correspondent Joy Reid tweeted the following lines from the novel: “The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.” Within hours Nineteen Eighty-Four was a bestseller again, people buying it as a map to the liberty-challenging Trump era.

But the novel is a better guide to what preceded Trump, to the nannying, nudging, speech-policing, sex-panicking, P.C. culture that Trumpism is in some ways a reaction against.

Consider the Junior Anti-Sex League, the prudish youths in Orwell’s story who think the “sex impulse” is dangerous and devote themselves to spying on interactions between the sexes. “Eroticism was the enemy,” they believed. “Desire was thoughtcrime.” If this prissiness finds its echo in anyone today, it isn’t in the creepily oversexed, pussy-grabbing Trump — it’s in the stiff buzz-killers of the campus feminist movement.

February 10, 2017

QotD: “First world problems” used to be just “very rich people’s problems”

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

… my bathroom book (bathroom books are essays or short stories, because if you have never gotten trapped by a novel someone had forgotten in the bathroom and lost the entire morning as well as all circulation in your legs, I can’t explain it to you) is a Daily Life In Medieval England thing. And most of the time I read something that I’m sure the authors thought was new and exotic and think “Well, heck, it was like that in the village.”

[…]

Which brings us back, through back roads to the main point of this post. I was (being evil) reading some of the entries in the medieval life book to older son (having brought the book out of the bathroom to pontificate) and I said “bah, it was like that for us, too. It wasn’t that bad.” And son said “mom, it sounds horrific.” And I said “that’s because you grew up in a superabundant society, overflowing at both property and entertainment, which is why the problems we suffer from are problems that only affected the very rich in the past” (Crisis of identity, extreme sensitivity to suffering, etc.)

Which is also true. And note kindly, that though we’re overflowing at the seams with material goods, property crimes we still have with us, not counting on anything else.

But for my child this is the normal world and it doesn’t occur to him to think of it as superabundant. He just thinks of the conditions I grew up under (I think it was the “most people only had one change of clothes, including underwear” that got him) as barbaric and horrible.

I’ve long since realized that I grew up somewhere between medieval England and Victorian England. Tudor England feels about as familiar to me as the present day which is why I like visiting now and then.

Sarah A. Hoyt, “Time Zones”, According to Hoyt, 2015-06-23.

January 31, 2017

QotD: Parts of the “Wild West” we won’t see on TV or in the movies

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

In the Nineties, a change began to take place. Reviewers and interviewers started describing Flashman (and me) as politically incorrect, which we are, though by no means in the same way.

This is fine by me. Flashman is my bread and butter, and if he wasn’t an elitist, racist, sexist swine, I’d be selling bootlaces at street corners instead of being a successful popular writer.

But what I notice with amusement is that many commentators now draw attention to Flashy’s (and my) political incorrectness in order to make a point of distancing themselves from it.

It’s not that they dislike the books. But where once the non-PC thing could pass unremarked, they now feel they must warn readers that some may find Flashman offensive, and that his views are certainly not those of the interviewer or reviewer, God forbid.

I find the disclaimers alarming. They are almost a knee-jerk reaction and often rather a nervous one, as if the writer were saying: “Look, I’m not a racist or sexist. I hold the right views and I’m in line with modern enlightened thought, honestly.”

They won’t risk saying anything to which the PC lobby could take exception. And it is this that alarms me – the fear evident in so many sincere and honest folk of being thought out of step.

I first came across this in the United States, where the cancer has gone much deeper. As a screenwriter [at which Fraser was almost as successful as he was with the 12 Flashman novels; his best-known work was scripting the Three Musketeers films] I once put forward a script for a film called The Lone Ranger, in which I used a piece of Western history which had never been shown on screen and was as spectacular as it was shocking – and true.

The whisky traders of the American plains used to build little stockades, from which they passed out their ghastly rot-gut liquor through a small hatch to the Indians, who paid by shoving furs back though the hatch.

The result was that frenzied, drunken Indians who had run out of furs were besieging the stockade, while the traders sat snug inside and did not emerge until the Indians had either gone away or passed out.

Political correctness stormed onto the scene, red in tooth and claw. The word came down from on high that the scene would offend “Native Americans”.

Their ancestors may have got pie-eyed on moonshine but they didn’t want to know it, and it must not be shown on screen. Damn history. Let’s pretend it didn’t happen because we don’t like the look of it.

I think little of people who will deny their history because it doesn’t present the picture they would like.

My forebears from the Highlands of Scotland were a fairly primitive, treacherous, blood-thirsty bunch and, as Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote, would have been none the worse for washing. Fine, let them be so depicted, if any film maker feels like it; better that than insulting, inaccurate drivel like Braveheart.

The philosophy of political correctness is now firmly entrenched over here, too, and at its core is a refusal to look the truth squarely in the face, unpalatable as it may be.

George MacDonald Fraser, “The last testament of Flashman’s creator: How Britain has destroyed itself”, Daily Mail, 2008-01-05.

January 29, 2017

The pundits only seem to know two Orwell books…

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

As Colby Cosh rightly says, you can find cheap “we’re now living in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four” pieces everywhere. On the evidence, you’d have to say that the majority of editorial writers working today know of Orwell for only two of his (admittedly brilliant) novels. I’m not an Orwell scholar (I’m actually no kind of scholar at all), but I’ve read much more of Orwell’s work — spoiler: he really was a socialist — and we sell the man’s message very far short if it can only be used as a quick literary check-off that the current president of the United States is bad:

I’ll start by admitting that I have a hipster’s childish, proprietary feeling toward the works of George Orwell. It’s a common disorder. Being an admirer of the man’s work I ought, reasonably, to be delighted by anything that makes it more popular. But, dammit, all anybody ever buys are the hits.

Donald Trump’s election to the U.S. presidency has set off such a mighty public hunger for Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four that the novel shot to the top of Amazon’s fiction charts. That, in turn, has created a land rush in Orwell-Trump thinkpieces. The Guardian even did a full workup of “Orwell experts” who all assure us that the parallels between the 1949 book and the current situation are strong and undeniable, with claims like “Trump takes doublethink to a new extreme” and “Trump is not O’Brien. He is more like a cut-price version of Big Brother himself.”

You can find “Are we living in Orwell’s 1984 (yet)?” articles printed in any year of the last 40 or so. But 2017 has already seen dozens, maybe hundreds. And the great majority of them seem to answer: “Yes, definitely. Here we are. Enjoy your Victory Gin.”

This is not a healthy or sensible reaction to the election of a bold, chauvinistic liar. That, after all, may be a good description most of the heads of government that have ever existed — the leaders under which most modern humans have lived. You’re allowed be afraid of or discouraged by Trump without losing your mind altogether. He displays a great deal of the style and technique of a classic caudillo, a Juan Peron or a Ferdinand Marcos; no sane liberal can be happy to see these things brought to the American scene. Trump has terrible power and may abuse it. He may be awful for the world, may even initiate wars.

In interests of full disclosure, this article triggered me enough to buy another couple of volumes of The Complete Works of George Orwell, these being from the post-WW2 era. I don’t yet have the full set, but I’m working on it (the full Orwell bibliography can be found here). I found A Patriot After All: 1940-1941 and Keeping Our Little Corner Clean: 1942-1943 to be absolutely fascinating, not only as informal war chronology, but also as a view into Orwell’s reasons for simultaneously fighting against totalitarianism in both Fascist and Communist forms.

January 28, 2017

The “fantasy of addiction”

Filed under: Books, Health, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Peter Hitchens explains how he started an argument that “will probably still be going on when I die”.

I never meant to start an argument about addiction. I had carried my private doubts on the subject around in my head for years, in the “heresy” section where I keep my really risky thoughts. And I don’t recommend disagreeing in public with Hollywood royalty, either, which is how it happened. In such a clash, most people will think you are wrong and Hollywood is right, especially if your opponent is Chandler Bing, the beloved character from Friends. Of course, he wasn’t really Chandler Bing, just an actor called Matthew Perry — but an actor with an entourage so big it filled an entire elevator at the BBC’s new studios in central London where we quarreled.

Our debate wasn’t even supposed to be about addiction. I’d been asked onto the corporation’s grand but faded late-night current affairs show Newsnight to talk about drug courts, one of many stupid ideas suggested by the idea of addiction. I reckoned my main opponent would be the other guest, Baroness (Molly) Meacher, whose name sounds like something out of The Beggar’s Opera. While she looks like the sort of harmless, kindly housewife who knits next to you on the bus, she is in fact a campaigner for the wilder sorts of drug liberalization. If this Chandler Perry wanted to horn in, well and good. Who cared? Yet when I began to sense sarcasm mingled with unearned superiority oozing from the character from Friends, I decided to let my impatience show.

Hence my rash, irreversible plunge into an argument which has been going on ever since, consuming billions of electrons on social media, and which will probably still be going on when I die. I heard myself using the words “the fantasy of addiction.” There. I’d done it. Let the heavens fall.

Chandler Bing called me various names and was even more sarcastic than before. He is extremely good at sarcasm, even if he understands very little about the drug problem. I have never heard the words “your book” pronounced with such eloquent contempt. The final “k” seemed to contain two whole syllables. Is this a Canadian thing? He was referring to my modest volume on the topic The War We Never Fought, so energetically ignored by reviewers and booksellers that it is known among London publishers as The Book They Never Bought.

January 18, 2017

Charles Stross on his latest novel

Filed under: Books — Tags: — Nicholas @ 02:00

Empire Games was released in North America yesterday, and will be released in the UK next week. Charles Stross explains a bit about the book:

So what’s it all about?

Back in 2009, when The Trade of Queens came out, I was so burned out with the Merchant Princes series that I basically set fire to the universe. Here’s a useful tip when writing epic SF sagas; if you ever need to keep the readers on their toes, and thin out the cast of millions so you can get a handle on the survivors again, you can totally forget going stabby at a wedding reception a la “Game of Thrones”; what you really need is a brisk thermonuclear holocaust.

And lo, I was so done with that setting that it took three whole years, a “director’s cut” re-release of the first six slim fantasy-branded books as three slightly slimmer (and heavily edited) big fat technothriller omnibus volumes, and a fit of insanity before I stopped saying “no” and grunted, “well, maybe …” when my editor, David Hartwell, nudged me again.

You can read Empire Games as a stand-alone, a new thing in its own right, but if you read the previous series, it builds on top of it: you’ll find it easier to work out what’s going on, and possibly get more out of it, if you read the earlier books.

Empire Games reintroduces some of the characters from the first Merchant Princes series, but it’s set 17 years later, in the 2020 of an unimaginably different sheath of parallel universes, and there are a bunch of new protagonists, too. (For quite some time, the working title was Merchant Princes: The Next Generation.) The horrible consequences of the ending of The Trade of Queens have played out at length, with echoes everywhere the world-walkers of the Clan have been.

In the United States, DHS has responsibility for securing the homeland from threats from every possible time line; domestic security is, shall we say, draconian. (And in the wake of the nuking of the White House, who’s to say they’re wrong?) Meanwhile, they’re prospecting for oil (and handy carbon capture repositories) in uninhabited time lines, and have stumbled across a certain valley with an ancient dome in a neighboring time line.

The world of the New British Empire has undergone even greater upheavals, though. A new expansionist revolutionary entity, the New American Commonwealth, has emerged from the wreckage of the ancien regime, and is engaged in a desperate nuclear-armed cold war stand-off with the rival French empire. And one Miriam is prominent in the Commonwealth government, running a ministry for intertemporal technological industrial espionage. Because unlike the Clan, the Commonwealth government wants an industrial revolution — and Miriam’s warning cry, “The Americans are coming”, does not go unheeded.

January 13, 2017

That demon sugar

Filed under: Books, Health, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Last week, Ronald Bailey reviewed a new book on whether the rise in obesity in western society can be blamed on our collective sweet-tooth: The Case Against Sugar, by Gary Taubes.

Less than 1 percent of Americans — 1.6 million people — were diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 1958. As of 2014, that figure had risen to 9.3 percent, or 29.1 million. If current trends continue, the figure could rise to more than 33 percent by 2050. Something has clearly gone wrong with American health.

The rising rate of diabetes is associated with the rising prevalence of obesity. Since the early 1960s, the percent of Americans who are obese — that is, whose body mass index is greater than 30 — has increased from 13 percent to 35.7 percent today. (Nearly 70 percent of Americans are overweight, meaning their BMIs are over 25.) Roughly put, the prevailing theory is that rising fatness causes rising diabetes.

But what if both are caused by something else? That is the intriguing and ultimately persuasive argument that Gary Taubes, author Why We Get Fat (2011) and cofounder of the Nutrition Science Initiative, makes in his new book, The Case Against Sugar.

For Taubes, sugar — be it sucrose or high-fructose corn syrup — is “the principal cause of the chronic diseases that are most likely to kill us, or at least accelerate our demise,” explains Taubes at the outset. “If this were a criminal case, The Case Against Sugar would be the argument for the prosecution.” In making his case, Taubes explores the “claim that sugar is uniquely toxic — perhaps having prematurely killed more people than cigarettes or ‘all wars combined,’ as [diabetes epidemiologist] Kelly West put it.”

Taubes surveys the admittedly sparse research on sugar’s psychoactive effects. For example, researchers have found that eating sugar stimulates the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is also released when consuming nicotine, cocaine, heroin, or alcohol. Researchers are still debating the question of whether or not sugar is, in some sense, addictive.

Interestingly, in my most recent discussion with a doctor earlier this week, he specifically said that the dietary information we’ve been depending on for generations is incorrect and that we should avoid excess sugar in our diet rather than fat (keeping in mind total calorie count, of course).

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