"But war, in a good cause, is not the greatest evil which a nation can suffer. War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse. When a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service and for the selfish purposes of a master, such war degrades a people. A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice – a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their free choice – is often the means of their regeneration. A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other."

Monday, September 22, 2008

Bleh

Yuck. I'm tired and dehydrated this morning and my arms are mildly carpal-tunnely from playing Medieval II for hours and hours while sitting on a cramped bar stool in my kitchen all weekend. I stayed up way too late last night watching the Emmys just so I could spend time with Bree, even though I have little vested interest in any of the shows and haven't even heard of half of them. I enjoyed hearing the John Adams soundtrack played every time the show won an award (because the opening music and credits for that show were great) but that enjoyment was dampened by every swinging ding-dong from it who celebrated their win by bemoaning the inferiority of our current political culture. When the night started, I was ready to shell out the cash and buy the DVD set since I'd really enjoyed John Adams in Iraq; now, I think I'm gonna buy used off eBay or Amazon so those pretentious blowhards don't get my money. Oh, and if I hear one more celebrity rail about "speaking truth to power", I'm going to vomit on my new but distinctly middle-class carpeting. There are people in this world who, at great risk to themselves, challenge those in authority to bring about change; celebrities insulated from life's harsh realities are not among them. I'll give you my money if you just make your damn shows and stop acting like fame magically bestows incisive sociopolitical insight.

Just got reminded of another stunningly fatuous comment thanks to NR's Media Blog. Laura Linney a.k.a. Abigail Adams reminded us that "our founding fathers were community organizers." Um, not quite. According to Wikipedia, of our "Founding Fathers" (the 'fathers' who signed the Declaration of Independence and the 'framers' of the Constitutional Convention eleven years later) virtually all had experience in colonial or state government; many were merchants, land speculators, or otherwise involved in mercantile occupations; some, like Franklin, were scientists; others, like Jefferson, were philosophers, educators, and architects. Nearly half wore a uniform and served as officers in the Continental Army. All made a hard choice in joining the Revolution, and genuinely risked their "lives, fortunes, and sacred honor" in taking on the mighty British Empire. I'm sorry, but describing these men as mere 'community organizers' belittles the depth and greatness of their intellects, their convictions, their courage, their choices, their vision. Contemporary America has no one like them.

OK, I need to take a break from this horse race before I go insane. Let's talk music...you like the Elton John song "Rocketman"-

Brain fart. Let's talk books. I just finished re-reading Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game, which is a fun escape from a world of war and convoluted politics into...another world of war and convoluted politics. But they have flash suits and the really cool Battle Room. And you just might pick up a few tid-bits about true leadership as well. It's well worth reading for its own sake, but in my case I needed a refresher before launching into the rest of Card's books. Unbeknownst to me until recently, he not only wrote several sequels to Ender's Game, but also a 'parallel' series focusing on some of the other children from Ender's army in the Battle School, and the post-Bugger War war on Earth that's only briefly mentioned at the end of Game. I'm working on the first sequel right now - Speaker for the Dead - that features another alien encounter three thousand years after the first one in Game. Ender gets a chance to redeem himself for his unintentional xenocide of the buggers (yes, he's still around; thanks to spaceflight at speeds close to light, he's only thirty-something relative years old) and the reader gets more of Card's imaginative and entertaining political, religious, and scientific interplay.

This is a breath of fresh air compared to the last sci-fi series I started and finally stopped before finishing; namely, Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy. Now, I like most anything to do with Mars, and I gave it a chance; I dutifully plowed through Red Mars while waiting to come home from Iraq, and started Green Mars shortly after out return. But about a third of the way through the second book, I came to a sad realization: after six hundred-odd pages, I just don't care. None of the characters interested me. It wasn't due to lack of flaws - sci-fi deals with little but flawed characters - but the fact that all their flaws were fundamentally the same. Each of the colonists was a self-centered, narcissistic scientist convinced only of the importance of their ideas and caring not at all about anything or anyone else. I could handle one or two of these stereotypes; Robinson fills the book with them. Perhaps I'd have forgiven even this if the sci-fantastical parts of the series were mind-blowing, but they weren't. It's not like the science was lacking; if anything, there was too much. Robinson devotes a great amount of detail to fleshing out the colonization and terraforming of Mars, so much, in fact, that it's like all the characters are simply placeholders written to carry out different parts of the terraforming project. And so what could have been an interesting work of scientific speculation was turned into a very boring work of fiction. With all the great science fiction waiting on my bookshelf, I couldn't justify spending another six hundred pages on a story truly great authors - Bradbury, Heinlein - have done better in other places. As much as it pained me, I actually sold Robinson's series; and I almost never part with any book I've bought.

Speaking of truly great sci-fi authors, I'm also working on Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle right now, an 'alternate history' that has the Axis winning World War II and splitting the globe between them. The Nazis get Europe, Africa, South America, and the Atlantic coast of America; Japan gets its Co-Prosperity Sphere, the Pacific Coast, and parts of Russia. The twist in this story revolves around a subversive book called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, secretly distributed across occupied America, which details an 'alternate alternate history' that has the Allies winning the war (though not exactly the way it happened in our history-books). Dick's vision of this possible future is filled with fascinating details, big and small. Japanese culture so floods the West Coast that even ordinary Americans turn to the I Ching for spiritual guidance; in return, the Japanese are so enthralled with antebellum American artifacts and knick-knacks (from baseball cards to Civil War pistols) that feeding this thirst for collectibles becomes a main source of industry (and crime). In some ways, Japan seems stagnant in the postbellum world compared to Germany, which uses rocket travel to move quickly around the world, has colonized various moons and planets throughout the solar system, and even dams up and drains the Mediterranean to create a massive new farming plot. But we also see that the veneer of success and advancement covers up a political structure that rewards madmen drunk on their vicious ideology. With party loyalists like Goering and Heydrich calling the shots, it's only a matter of time before Nazism eats itself from the inside out; I haven't got to the part where that happens yet, but there have been some ominous signs that this future is about to be engulfed in more horrible violence. Anyway, Dick's been a favorite of mine for awhile, though I like his stories more than I do the movies and TV shows that have been made out of them (Blade Runner, Screamers, and episodes on shows like The Outer Limits have been adapted from his works). Second Variety is on my all-time top ten list of sci-fi tales, with a twist at the end that's satisfyingly devious and depressing. Kudos to AJG for recommending High Castle to me; along with BSG, that's two I owe you, junior.

AJG, BTW: I've been having issues getting xBox Live set up on my 360. I plug the cable into my modem but it tells me it can't find an IP. I've done all the troubleshooting recommended, doing the 'modem dance' of turning everything off and then plugging it in again in the right order while jumping into a pool of sharks singing 'Hit Me With Your Best Shot' by Pat Benetar backwards, and it still doesn't work. I really don't want to buy the wireless adapter for the 360 if I can avoid it. Help me, Andrew J. Kenobi; you're my only hope.

4 comments:

Meghan said...

what exactly is middle class carpeting? I'm intrigued. Can I get some? I'm thinking my stained beyond repair, distisguting fuzz that at one point (20 years ago) might have been carpteting, but no longer is doesn't fall into that category.

And also, if you are waiting for him to first read your blog then respond - you may be waiting until you are about a million years old. I'd call him. You've got a 50/50 chance he'll hear his phone and answer it, but only a 10% chance he's going to read your blog. But don't feel bad, he won't read anyone's blog.

Cincinnatus said...

It's that carpeting that you do your best to keep clean, by shampooing regularly and taking your shoes off when you remember to before walking on it; but it's still functional, you still walk on it and let your kids play on it, and sometimes you spill things on it but that's ok because it's a working carpet, real work takes place on it. You get things done. It starts off life with all those fuzzy little caterpillars that get vacuumed off by the bucket-load, and ends life dingy and fuzzy all over. But you don't seal it in a hyperbaric chamber and double-deadbolt the room it's in because you dropped so much dough on it. That's middle-class carpeting. At least that's the definition I made up for it.

Winefred said...

Food for thought: the Founding Fathers also "organized" their "community" under one condition that is most certainly NOT shared by metrosexual Harvard boys lately from Chicago: the threat of being captured during the revolution they fomented, and being HUNG for treason. We're talking DEAD. Every one of them risked their lives, whether or not they were ever in an army or militia. Moreover, their new post-revolutionary American "community" had been substantially against the war of rebellion which the political leadership had undertaken in their name. The community could be brought on board only if this leadership could stand up and pool their energies, intelligence, personal gifts, and firm principles, and craft a national identity and government worthy of the risks and sacrifices endured by all first patriots.

Bree said...

oh, so you DO see those little fuzzballs all over the place?! funny, since i have yet to see you do anything about them, and would be willing to bet that you would have to ask me where the vacuum cleaner was should you ever decide to do anything about it. right before you tripped over it, of course. :P