09 November 2016

Quotation of the Day


E
vidently, if “futurology” had existed in Imperial Rome, where, as we are told, people were already erecting six-story buildings and children’s merry-go-rounds were driven by steam, the fifth-century “futurologists” would have predicted for the following century the construction of twenty-story buildings and the industrial utilization of steam power.
As we now know, however, in the sixth century goats were grazing in the Forum just as they are doing now, beneath my window in this village.—Andrei Amalrik
[from Will the Soviet Union Survive to 1984?]

The Love Songs of J. Donald Trump


D
umpy, overweight, orange-skinned, he burst on the music scene with a verve unequalled since the debut of the Velvet Underground. Three parts attitude and one part sheer gall, singing the blues as only a spoiled rich kid could, Trump soon made a name for himself in a world in which talent is distinctly subordinate to style. A punk sensibility clothed in a lounge lizard’s scales, hit after hit rolled from the caverns of his gold-plated mind. Nothing like it had been seen before—or since.
Where song-crafters like Paul Simon and Gary Osborne wrote of the importance of breaking down barriers in relationships, Trump boldly advocated them. In “We’re Gonna Build a Wall” he celebrated the virtue of separation, of building obstacles to communication and understanding, and making the other party pay. In “You Can Do Anything” he celebrated the endless possibilities that life offers the wealthy, the approach being to “grab ’em by the pussy” (a deliberate evocation of the famous line from The Plumbers, “get ’em by the balls and their hearts and minds will follow”). He boldly explored the mysteries of forbidden love in ballads like “Can You Believe It” and “If She Wasn’t My Daughter.” And of course there was his much-covered theme song, “You’re Fired.” Probably no one has ever so hauntingly evoked the myriad dazzling facets and features of the life of the ultra-rich.
The recent accolade granted this crazy-haired troubadour should not blind us to his multifaceted genius. Something more than a mere prize-winning laureate, The Donald is also something less than the classic composers of days gone by. Their day is passed, but his—dare we say it?—is only beginning.

30 October 2016

Matters of Religion and Conscience (guest post by John Fell)


T
here are but two ways by which we know the authority of any thing to be divine; the one is by the common light of nature, the other, by a supernatural and express revelation from Heaven. All first principles and self-evident truths are considered as divine, because inseparable, as far as we know, from the nature and existence of God. They are the basis and rule of all just reasoning; they are the origin and standard of all just laws; The holy scriptures are an express revelation of the mercy and will of God from heaven, and are in all things consistent with the former; and at the same time they discover blessings of the most exalted kind, which never could have been known by the common light of nature. The scriptures therefore reveal the only foundation of our hope towards God; the only solid ground of expectation as to a future life; and they are the only authentic rule of our faith and practice in all things which relate to divine worship.
Now whatever is of divine authority, must for that very reason, be above all human power, and superior to the authority of every creature; and therefore incapable of being inforced by human laws. Not ten thousand acts of parliament can either enable or oblige any man to believe, even that truth and falshood are different things; that contradictions can never be the same and alike; or that no part can be equal to its whole; for if he see not these things independent of all human laws, not all the divines or legislators on earth, can make him understand; nor have they any right to ordain punishments for his folly; because his incapacity and error in this respect, are not a subject of human judicature.
Not all the laws that have been framed in Europe since the days of Constantine, could ever produce one additional evidence for the truth of holy writ; or make one Christian; or beget true faith in any one infidel; or kindle in the breast of any one individual a genuine love to the peculiar precepts of Christ. Neither is it possible in the nature of things, because these events depend on circumstances not in the power of any civil government to controul. Nay, the utmost that human laws can effect even in those instances which properly come under the cognizance of men, is only to refrain by the fear of punishment, from the commission of such actions as are injurious to the state, and inconsistent with the rights of society: but they can never change the heart, nor can any thing in human nature be more foreign from the real principles of morality, or of true religion, than compulsive measures.
It is not my intention to represent those as innocent who deny the truth of the Gospel; by no means. Unbelief, in opposition to the clearest and strongest evidences from heaven that the nature of man is capable of receiving; must beyond all doubt, be a very great sin: while at the same time, it clearly proves the influence and power of vice over the human heart, according to that declaration of Christ himself, “This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men have loved darkness rather than light, for their deeds were evil.” But neither is this sin ever left to the cognizance and decision of human laws, nor this condemnation any where committed to the prudence and management, to the suspension or execution of men. Nor indeed is it possible, for in that case criminals would become judges, and very often too over those who are less guilty; men who never thoroughly knew themselves, would determine what degrees of light and conviction were in the minds of others; how far an inclination to vice, overbalanced the dictates of conscience, and outweighed the force of evidences acknowledged in the heart, how far in every case, truth was resisted from vicious principles only, and not from ignorance; and how far that ignorance itself, is excusable or punishable: that is, sinful men would usurp the prerogatives of God alone, over those not more defective than themselves, which would be absolutely one of the greatest crimes that can be committed. And such will be the unavoidable consequences that must always follow from every attempt to inforce, by human laws, what is of divine authority. How can we then allow the magistrate a right to demand, in any case, under penalties, our belief in the Holy Scripture, whose authority is divine, and to determine what degrees of faith are requisite for every preacher of the gospel?
The examination, the sentence, and punishment of all unbelievers, and of those who disobey the scripture, Christ hath reserved to himself; and these are the unalienable rights of him alone, who searcheth the heart, and trieth the reins of men. No state therefore can have any just and lawful authority to impose this, or that, system of religion upon their subjects; because no religion ought to bind the conscience unless divine, and if divine, for that very reason, it must be superior to all human laws, and incapable of receiving any additional sanction from men: every attempt therefore of this kind, must be an invasion upon the natural rights of conscience, an attack upon the principles of divine truth, injurious to every system of religion, which is thus imposed; and a crime against that authority which is equally binding on all, and before which is no respect of persons. We cannot therefore declare, under any penalties, our belief of what is divine, at the command of a civil magistrate, and be innocent; because so far we should encourage what is derogatory from the honour of God, and destructive of our common and divine rights in matters of religion and conscience.
Besides, there can be no greater folly in the world, than for men to enact laws and statutes pronouncing those things to be either true, or false, which can have no dependence on any creature. All obligations to be of this or of that religion, and to provide for our future and eternal happiness, under the sanction of penal laws, are just as absurd, as an act of parliament would be, which should doom every man to death, who did not live as long as he could. To force every preacher of the gospel to subscribe on oath to the truth of the gospel; to oblige every teacher of arithmetic to swear that there are such things as addition and subtraction; and to compel every professor of mathematics, to declare in the most solemn manner, under severe penalties, that he believes a right line to be some thing different from a curve, are absurdities equally great, for which no terms can be found sufficiently expressive and strong; because the things sworn to, can receive no possible sanction from human nature; they must remain everlasting truths, independent of all human judgment, or the will of man; neither can their validity derive any strength from the oaths and subscription of the whole world.
Thus, Sir, the scriptures, because of divine authority, can never receive any additional evidence or support from human laws. Their contents relate to God, and to every man’s own conscience; no one therefore can have any right to inforce their authority, more than another. They relate to things equally important to all, and wherein no man can have any pre-eminence over others; concerning which no body of men can have any right to determine for the rest; and with respect to which, every individual must answer for himself before that righteous judge, in whose presence all distinctions will be laid aside, except those of truth and error, of holiness and vice. If we submit therefore, to the resolutions and decisions of a civil magistrate, concerning this divine and interesting subject, we act an unfaithful part, both with respect to God, and to the sufficiency of his word; and set our seal to that usurpation which is in the highest degree criminal, injurious and profane.
—John Fell, Genuine Protestantism, 1773

30 September 2016

Survival (Had Robert Sheckley, rather than Tom Godwin, written “The Cold Equations”)


M
elvin Blaire paused in the act of placing a red queen on a black king. Angry buzzers were sounding throughout his small spacecraft, and half a dozen lights on his control panel were blinking alarmingly. He fumbled for the Emergency Spacecraft Instructions disk, knocking the cards onto the floor, found it, and dropped it into a slot in his Information Decoder.
This was the first emergency he had ever faced in his eight years on the necessary but undemanding job as pilot of an emergency spacecraft for Interspace Transport. He had had the usual run of accidents, of course—planetary collisions, novas, spacewarp entanglements—but real emergencies had hitherto passed him by.
Actually, Melvin thought, survival had become largely a pushbutton affair in the twenty-second century. In case of trouble all he had to do was to follow the instructions on the disk and it would be taken care of automatically by a host of busy, efficient mechanisms. The old days, when survival depended on individual initiative and luck, were gone. Now survival depended only on luck.
“What do you want?” demanded the decoder.
“I have an emergency,” Melvin explained diffidently.
“So you have,” agreed the decoder. “Your ship’s weight does not match the specifications, there is insufficient fuel to land, an unauthorized person is aboard—”
“Unauthorized person?” exclaimed Melvin. “Who? Where?” He wondered briefly if the decoder had blown a fuse. It was an Acme, and guaranteed for the lifetime of the user, plus or minus seven years, but still—
“You have a stowaway,” elucidated the decoder. “Human or humanoid, blond, blue-eyed, female, standing about two yards behind you—”
Melvin spun around. The decoder was right. He had a stowaway, a remarkably pretty light-haired girl. “What are you doing here?” he said weakly. “This is an emergency vessel, not a passenger liner. I’m carrying vitally needed serum to some god-forsaken outpost—”
“Omega 6,” the girl said. “That’s why I came aboard. My brother’s stationed there.”
“But it’s against the rules,” protested Melvin.
“Rules,” she shrugged, “What are rules anyway, but man’s futile attempt to impose order on the indeterminate universe?”
Melvin recognized this as a creedal statement from this year’s best-selling cult, the Heisenbergian Rites, but he was not to be put off. “Interspace won’t see it that way,” he said.
“So okay,” she said, “I broke a rule. So what?”
“Procedure for dealing with unauthorized lifeform or lifeforms in flight,” spoke the decoder, “first, ascertain that there is in fact an unauthorized lifeform or lifeforms aboard.”
“Check,” said Melvin instantly.
“Determine the lifeform’s identity or identities.”
“Check,” said Melvin. He turned to the girl. “Who are you?”
“Janet Morgan,” she said. “I’m an industrial saboteur on Mebla 3.” She offered Melvin her identity tape.
Melvin ran the tape through the data accumulator. “What next?” he asked.
“Within a period of fifteen minutes following the discovery,” said the decoder, “eject the unauthorized lifeform from the craft.”
“Eject!” exclaimed Janet. “Why?”
“To conserve fuel,” replied the decoder, “The presence of sufficient fuel is necessary to land successfully and to maintain the morale of the crew at the optimum level required by law.”
“You mean they give spacecraft controllers the right to kill people?” she said incredulously. “That doesn’t make sense.”
Melvin smiled apologetically.
“It may not make sense,” said the decoder, “but it’s efficient, which is more important.”
“But this is an ES Class IV,” she said. “It could hold more fuel. Why don’t they put enough in?”
“This way,” intoned the machine, “we sharpen the pilot’s reflexes, discourage ineptitude, and promote the virtues of conservation and thrift. Allowing the pilot to remove unauthorized lifeforms himself gives him confidence and an opportunity to discharge his aggressions.”
“I have no choice,” said Melvin. “You see how it is.”
“I see how it is,” said Janet. “Look, why don’t you forget your peculiar friends at Interspace? We have enough fuel to reach Epsilon 4. We could go there, sell the ship, and have a good time? Why not?”
Melvin stared at her, wondering how such a pretty girl could propose so antisocial an act. Disconcertingly he became aware of the scent of her perfume. He shook his head to clear it. “I couldn’t rob my employers,” he said.
“But you could push me out the airlock,” said Janet.
“That’s different,” he said. He was finding it difficult to think. Something about her presence was disturbing him, clouding his mind and numbing his senses. “It’s not against the rules,” he mumbled.
Why couldn’t he think? There was something in the atmosphere—the perfume. Perfume? Perfume hell—it was Lethalex-27, one of the many products designed for saboteurs and spies, guaranteed to knock out any humanoid within twenty feet of the user. The room spun as he slipped to the floor.
“Is that a standard airlock?” he heard her ask the decoder. Why hadn’t he seen it? Survival is a full-time occupation, not something to be delegated to machines. One moment of inattention, one mistake, and out the airlock you go, into the vast reaches of space.
At least, he thought, they could have let him finish his game.

28 August 2016

They Are Coming to Take Me Away


T
hings are not going well here, and whatever I try to write about ends up as a desperate plea for money. Hope springs eternal and all that, but I can’t seem to get out of cliché country, no matter how much rope I give myself. The light at the end of the tunnel turns out to be some kind of flickering june bug spelling out arcane messages, and all my yesterdays are benighted fools. Life’s but a walking candle, as one of my nieces once observed, and the grave is but the goal.
I can see the long-gone goblins looming ahead—the ones that will get you if you don’t watch out, as little orphant Allie used to threaten the Riley kids, till they sent her to live somewhere else. What I wouldn’t give for a magic ring like the one Princess Irene got from her great-grandmother! Maybe home isn’t at the end of the thread, but it’s got to be somewhere. I can’t find my way, damn it. The words come, but they don’t mean a goddamn thing.

24 July 2016

Lights Out


W
ell, my connection has snapped; my laptop is out except for emergencies, and I’m writing this on a strange word processor on a borrowed machine, with no telling whether or if the thing will work or go up the chimney like sparklers on Halloween. Or whatever I actually meant to say.
I’m hoping that this makes sense, and that I can still contact the outside world. I am not happy with the situation, but it should be temporary, Allah willing.
We’ll see what happens, I guess, using dummy text for a dummy entry. If all works out, then it’s hip hip hooray for Mowgli and the Seven Dwarfs and all God’s chillen that live in a shoe. Otherwise, well, selah.

21 July 2016

Absurdist Political Theatre


S
capegoat Ted Cruz played his appointed role on the political stage by heaping the sins of the Republican party on his own head and ritually expelling himself into the desert. It was a remarkable performance, and the party appears all the stronger for it. Mind you, it has something of the “Songe d’Automne” or “Nearer, My God, to Thee” quality to it, given that the iceberg has been struck, the crew has abandoned the ship, and the oblivious captain is passing out toy boats and candy lifesavers on the sharply-tilted deck.
Somebody isn’t thinking straight here, and I’m pretty sure it’s not me.
Inviting the Corruptor himself to take the wheel seems like an odd way to protest corruption in government, but I suppose the body politic, like the hidden hand, knows what it’s doing. Who knows more about sin than El Diablo, after all? It’s like fighting fire with fire. There are those that think one of the other elemental forces might be more effective—earth, say, or water, maybe—but what worth are such notions when the will of the people has expressed itself?
So was Ted Cruz’s self-immolation entirely in vain? Or will he, like the phœnix, rise from the ashes of his humiliation? Will Trump soar like an eagle tonight? Or will he sputter like the Thunderbolt Grease-Slapper before conversion? These questions, and many others, will be answered in the next episodes of As the World Burns.

17 July 2016

Breitbarting the News, Conservative Treehouse Style


W
ell, I finally took a look at that idiotic Conservative tree house site that Snopes mentioned as the source of that inept hatchet-job on Philando Castile I commented on the other day. It was about as inane as I figured it would be. I mean, it’s always a good idea to take a look at things for yourself if possible, and every once in awhile it pays off, but this wasn’t one of those times.
No, the article there is every bit as idiotic as advertised. The site turns out to be devoted to breitbarting the news, meaning that anything there would have to be checked against authentic sources before being considered, and a lot of disinformation is being passed on. For example it is stated as a fact (now disproved by the family’s release of the document) that Castile had no permit for his gun, and that it is a fact (now disproved by the officer’s own lawyer’s statement) that the car was not stopped for a broken taillight. I didn't bother with going any further; when a source gets things this elementary wrong it’s not worth my time and attention. Or yours either, I imagine.
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