News about another case of child abuse has brought the Anti-Spanking crusaders out of the woodwork again. Now they're quoting all sorts of studies which claim that spanking causes everything from poor impulse control to poor brain development, and of course leads to child abuse. I notice that they carefully tiptoe around the fact that spanking is mostly practiced in working-class and poor families, while Other Methods are practiced by middle-class and rich families. Nobody mentions that the supposed ill effects of spanking just might be the results of poverty itself.
And, of course, the people conducting the studies are middle-class or above themselves. The few exceptions that I know of were writers. G. B. Shaw once commented: "Never strike a child except in anger, even at the risk of maiming it. A blow in cold blood must never be tolerated." R. A. Heinlein spent half a chapter of his novel "Starship Troopers" explaining why spanking is healthy and realistic, and anti-spanking is subtly dangerous. Interesting, considering that it's writers who usually turn a keen eye on class differences, class prejudices and class assumptions.
I've noticed myself that an awful lot of social science is affected by the class prejudices -- "ethnocentricities" is the official term -- of the social scientists themselves. I don't think anybody needs to be reminded of the piously proper medical researchers of a century ago who claimed that the "Negro brain" was "less developed" than the proper Caucasian brain. Looking back from today we can readily see the blatant errors in logic of those Terribly Proper studies, but nobody has noted the glaring logical errors of our modern social scientists whose findings support and agree with the prejudices of our current middle and upper classes. Here's one: when people protest "Hey, I was spanked as a kid, and I did all right", the anti-spanking pundits reliably answer "If you think spanking is acceptable, then you're not all right". That's a classic example of circular logic. They might as well say outright "If you disagree with me you're insane." Uhuh.
Well, I was not spanked as a child, and I was not all right until I got away from my parents. The reason is that, as I've noticed elsewhere, parents who don't spank use nasty psychological torments instead to enforce their will. My brother and I learned to be actually relieved on the rare occasions when we could provoke our parents to lose control and physically smack -- partly because, not having practiced spanking, they didn't know how to do it right and would miss as often as they hit, and partly because afterward they would feel attacks of Liberal Guilt and would refrain from the psychological punishments. Honest spanking would have been kinder. Pain is only pain, and the memory of it fades quickly, while psychological scars can take years to heal. ...Needless to add, I grew up to be a rebel -- and learned martial arts.
Here's another case, which the anti-spanking crowd will no doubt call "merely anecdotal" (that's what bigots call evidence contrary to their prejudices, until the number of "anecdotes" drown them). Back in post-revolutionary Russia there lived a middle-class Jewish family -- safe from Soviet government harassment because the father worked for a government bureaucracy -- who earnestly believed in all the "progressive" biases. Among other children, they had two daughters: call the elder Katya and the younger Anya. Katya was a practical cynic while Anya was an idealist. Being middle-class Liberals, the parents did not spank; instead, they used psychological punishments -- while telling the children they should be grateful for such treatment. For example, whenever their cousins came to mooch a meal, the parents would hand over the babysitting of the cousins' retarded child to their daughters, telling them they should be grateful for a chance to display their virtue by "caring for the unfortunate". As soon as the adults were out of sight, Katya would foist off the job on Anya.
One day the girls disobeyed an order -- making beds, IIRC -- and their mama decided this required severe punishment. She ordered the girls to each bring her their favorite toy, and she said they wouldn't get the toys back for a full year. Katya handed over her least-favorite toy, a worn-out doll, on the theory that she wasn't going to do without her favorite for a year, and mama wouldn't know the difference. Anya handed over her favorite toy, a mechanical bird, on the theory that after anticipating it for a year, regaining the toy would be that much sweeter. Well, the year passed and the day came. Instead of giving back the toys, mama admitted that she'd given them, the very day she got them, to the local orphanage -- and the girls should be grateful that they were able to give joy to the "disadvantaged". Katya gave a dutiful smile to her mother, and a knowing smirk to her sister, and went off to play with her favorite toys. Anya decided that she hated her mother, and hypocrisy, and self-sacrifice, and the "disadvantaged".
Katya went on with her family-planned life, but Anya concentrated on her schoolwork. She specialized in techniques of film, and eventually got herself a scholarship -- and government permission -- to leave Russia, go to America and go to Hollywood to study filmmaking. As soon as she got there, she renounced her Russian citizenship, applied for American citizenship, got a job as a script-girl and worked up to script-writer. She also changed her name -- to Ayn Rand.
Yes, that Ayn Rand. She spent the rest of her life writing scripts and influential books in which she denounced progressivism, and self-sacrifice, and hypocrisy, and altruism. We don't know what happened to her family back in Russia when World War Two broke out, or after, but none of them wound up with Ayn Rand in America. She also took care never to have children of her own.
Sure, all this is "anecdotal", but the moral is clear: don't spank your kids, and you'll wind up with extremists and rebels. Then again, seeing the "ethnocentricities" of the middle and upper classes, maybe this is a good thing.
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Tuesday, October 7, 2014
Note: "virus" is the proper plural spelling of "virus". It's a Latin word of the Third Declension, which is where the Romans stuffed all their "irregular" nouns -- which meant oddball spelling. So what I'm talking about here is killing more than one virus. Keep that in mind.
With my odd fandom connections, I'd heard about this long before Rasty told me the story of the zookeepers and the giraffes, but that tale confirmed what I'd heard. It seems that Rasty was visiting the zoo with his kids one day, and he noticed a zookeeper feeding onions to the giraffes. Being a curious sort, he bothered to ask why. The zookeeper explained that when a creature has a neck over six feet long a sore throat is a serious health problem, so the zookeepers took special care to keep the giraffes from catching colds. Onions? Yes, onions. They'd found that fresh, raw onions in the diet prevent colds. There's something about onions that kills cold virus and keeps the giraffes healthy.
This is interesting, because I'd also heard of some folk remedies for colds that likewise include onions. I'd heard of others that include fresh, raw garlic. I'd also heard of a French doctor who cured gangrene by filling the wounds with shredded, lightly blanched cabbage. On doing a bit of research on cabbage, I learned that fresh, raw cabbage is also good for curing colds. It seems that there's an organic poison in cabbage, fierce enough to kill the mold that causes gangrene and quite capable of killing virus too. The amount of poison in eight cabbages is enough to kill a human being -- if a human were capable of ingesting eight cabbages all at once.
Well, put 'em together and what have ya got? A virus-killer, I do believe. The last time I had a cold I tried chopping up equal amounts of fresh, raw garlic, onion, and cabbage in a blender, and swallowing the odorous throat-stinging mess. It stung my belly for awhile, but when I woke up the next morning, the cold was gone. Guessing I was onto something here, I made a point of eating garlic, onion and cabbage whenever I could. I haven't had a cold since.
I've spread the word to friends, who report similar results. Between me, them, and the giraffes, I think we've got some conclusive evidence that a mixture of (fresh, raw, chopped) onions, garlic, and cabbage creates an effective broad-spectrum virus-killer.
Given the current panic being spread about Ebola and the new virus that paralyzes children, I think we'd best spread this story too.
In fact, I have to wonder why this folk-remedy hasn't been talked about before. I know that the big pharmaceutical industry -- and its lobbyists, and therefore its media-flaks -- hate the very idea of effective medicines found in cheap natural foods, but seriously, shouldn't the medical business be willing to give up a little money to save lives, and maybe stop a spreading panic?
...Unless fanning the panic is the point. So long as the public's attention is absorbed by Ebola and the new entero-virus, it might not focus too closely on the war with ISIL. Having worked in the media a bit, I know how easily their attention can be manipulated, and there are a lot of people who regularly do such manipulation -- usually big industries and governments. Now the latest reports that we've heard about the ISIL problem are solemn pronouncements that the war can't be won without participation by other Arab countries, and lots of "boots on the ground" (i.e. infantry). Just about every "expert" we've seen on the news has claimed that the war can't be won with air-strikes alone.
...But what if it can? As I mentioned in an earlier post, thanks to the development of small disguised spy-drones, it now is possible to identify and locate individual enemy troops -- and then take them out with pin-point bombing by larger and more lethal drones. Don't you think the military would want to keep that fact out of public -- and therefore enemy -- knowledge as long a possible? Well, since the media are manipulable, get them to distract the public (and therefore the enemy) with passing tales of how inadequate air-strikes are and how important and dangerous the two viral plagues are.
Well, goody for them. Keep the foaming Jihadists in the dark until the drones can kill them all -- and for the sake of the public peace, do kill them all -- but there's no need to stampede the public with virus-panic. Since the mainstream media can't be counted on, really, to serve the public good, let's spread this part of the story ourselves, folks.
Equal parts by volume of fresh, raw onion, garlic, and cabbage, eaten twice daily, is an effective broad-spectrum virus-killer. Pass it on.
--Leslie <;)))>< )O(
Sunday, September 28, 2014
I promised to give a fair critique of this second book in the series, even though the author is a friend, so I'll start with technicalities. First, the cover painting is disappointing; Impressionism and Fauvism are all very well, but they do require that the artist draw well -- and I've seen talented 10-year-olds do better. On the other hand, the book being a Trade-sized paperback like its predecessors, the Perfect (hot-glue) binding is both sturdy and flexible enough to last indefinitely. The printing, even the Antiqued chapter-heading fonts, is good-sized, very crisp and clear -- wonderfully easy on the eyes.
The story itself is a continuation of the fictionalized biography of Aaron Burr's daughter, and her theorized lifelong romance with Jean Lafitte the Privateer -- not pirate, as he insists. This volume takes us through Lafitte's founding of Galveston, and the embarrassment this caused the fledgling American government. Besides having to play a delicate balancing act between the empires of Britain, France, and Spain -- not to mention the new South and Central American republics that sprang up in the footsteps of Simon Bolivar-- the United States government still hadn't worked all the bugs out of the democratic-governing business. Despite the ideals of the founders, the people staffing the new government were still affected by the feudal and corrupt assumptions of the earlier British government, complete with its class arrogance. They were acutely embarrassed by having had to rely on independent privateers for their early navy, and tried to blot out that shame by turning on their former allies -- including Lafitte -- as soon as they could build enough ships to do it. The novel is an account of Lafitte's slow retreat, under pressure from the US government, from the city he saved, the settlements he founded, and the countries he helped liberate, until he's obliged to fake his death and forsake the sea altogether, to settle down as a respectable gunpowder-merchant in a suburb of St. Louis.
Of course there are plenty of lively and romantic details: Lafitte's daughter and her disastrous first marriage, the vengeance Lafitte takes on her brutal husband, the routing of the nasty Inquisitor by Theodosia and her children and neighbors, and the cunning escapes by the Lafitte brothers from the embarrassed governments that keep trying to hang them. There are also surprising viewpoints and pithy comments on the politics of the early republic, and foreshadowings of their future course. For instance, Lafitte's veneration of property rights offers an alternative to the slavery problem that could have avoided the Civil War -- if only the federal government and the Abolitionist movement had chosen to take it. Revelations of Alexander Hamilton's shady character and practices, and the financial disaster of his national bank, prophesy the economic woes of the present day. The barely-excused thievery of tax and customs officials foretells two centuries of scandals and petty -- or not so petty -- injustices. And through all this Theodosia struggles to keep her family alive, keep her husband's love, and keep her philosophical integrity.
Despite all this intricacy and intrigue, "Theodosia and the Pirates" is a smooth, fast read. The inclusions of actual letters and announcements from the period don't slow the action but illuminate it, and the brief but colorful physical descriptions likewise move the action along. I particularly liked the historical question-and-answer session at the end of the book, just ahead of the respectable bibliography.
Altogether, "Theodosia and the Pirates" -- both volumes -- illustrate a little-known but fascinating and formative period in American history while telling a lively and original love story. Look for it on Amazon soon.
Friday, September 19, 2014
How do you make a movie with a cause, without being preachy? There are ways.
First, you heat up the love-story angle. In the first third of the film, where John Galt is showing off his little free-market haven hidden in the mountains and trying to persuade Dagny to stay there, it's obvious that he's madly in love with her and wants her to stay with him for more reasons than just philosophical ideals. It's also clear that the feeling is reciprocated. The sexual tension between them sizzles, all through the film, augmented by the really brilliant camera-work.
It doesn't hurt that Galt is played by Kris Polaha, who comes across as a hunky, cheerful, Working Class Hero: a brilliant electrical engineer with solid ideals, but also playful enough to toss gold coins around to impress his girl, or sneak up on her in a crowd just so he can grin at the look on her face when she recognizes him. It's a tribute to his acting – as well as the screenwriting and direction – that he projects an irrepressible sense of humor that Ayn Rand herself never possessed. He's the kind of guy who can laugh at his captors when they offer to make him head of the government-controlled economy, or tell his torturers, when their torture-machine breaks down, that all they need to do is replace a fuse – and then laugh, either because they're too incompetent to repair their own invention or because he knows that their running it has overloaded the system and started a city-wide blackout.
Indeed, there are sly little flashes of humor all through the film, nice contrasts to the grim subject and theme. Ron Paul has a ten-second cameo, in which he stands alone and points out that compelled compliance is always less competent than willing compliance – but Sean Hannity's and Glenn Beck's ten-second cameos are together, and they argue with each other. That's a neat little comparison of Libertarianism with Conservatism – in twenty seconds flat.
Second, the film has a tight, fast-paced, dense and multi-layered script that does a fine job of showing, more than telling, its arguments – often with parallel scenes that evolve into their own symbolism. For example, Dagny's reason for refusing to stay in Galt's Gulch is that she loves and means to save her railroad – built by her grandfather, who also built the great Taggart railroad bridge over the Mississippi. On her return to New York, as she discovers just how much the corrupt government is ruining her railroad – along with the rest of the economy – her growing disillusionment is paired with shots reporting the steady deterioration of the Taggart Bridge. As in the first two films, this speed and density is necessary in order to pack all the plot threads and information into less than two hours' running-time.
As for the infamous John Galt's Speech – originally a 50-page white elephant that kept the film from being made while Rand was alive – it's been brilliantly boiled down to a clear and concise five-minute denunciation of the decayed-Socialist philosophy of dependence and sacrifice. It's not played on an empty screen, either; Galt boldly shows his face to the national audience, a tactic which pays off later when sympathizers recognize him. In parallel shots, we see the reactions of citizens on the street and the dismayed politicians whose broadcast Galt hijacked – a three-layered approach that packs in a density of information and plot-development.
This is especially needed to make AS3 an effective stand-alone film while relating it to the first two. The only weakness in the script is a minor comment, that Reardon Steel was forced into compliance with government policies by attacks from "government unions"; anyone who's studied the history of labor unions, or observed the altercations in Wisconsin last year, knows that governments are not and never have been any friend to the unions, or vice-versa.
Third, the camera-work is totally brilliant – in composition, range, speed, color and texture. The sex-scene where Galt and Dagny finally get it on – on the desk in a tunnel office of the railroad terminal – is actually brief and shows nothing to keep the film from a PG-13 rating, but is hotter than many an outright X-rater I've seen. Not least of the technical brilliance is the seamless matting with stock footage, as likewise was done in the first two films. Nearly all the establishing shots are stock footage, which is understandable given the tight budget of all three films, yet they're blended perfectly with the action shots. The final shot, of a blackout spreading across all of New York City except for the Statue of Liberty – which in fact has its own generator – was done with minimal special effects, possibly no more than simple matting, but it's wonderfully effective. Despite Hollywood's enmity to Rand and Libertarianism in general, the film deserves at least an Oscar nomination for cinematography – and editing.
Altogether, AS3 is a fitting companion and completion to the previous two films, despite its unavoidable changes of cast. Its technical solutions to its restricted budget, as with the first two films, in themselves support Rand's theme of the value of the unrestricted mind. In fact, I have to claim that the Atlas Shrugged movies are better than the book they sprang from. Simply as film, they invite repeated viewing to appreciate their technical brilliance. Whatever your politics, you really should see this film – and its predecessors.
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Ever since Moondancer died, his son Furrocious has been the undisputed top tomcat of the family. Since we got the fence completed, his tomcatly duties have been a lot easier: patrolling the 'territory', chasing small game (small lizards and the occasional pigeons), and driving off interlopers. He's become a lot more tolerant of Roderick's big dog, Jake, since Jake chased off an invading tomcat whom Furrocious would otherwise have had to deal with personally (Jake has a very keen sense of who belongs on the 'territory' and who doesn't). It's not surprising that he spends most of his time outdoors, even in this weather (there's good shade on the back porch and under the trailer), only coming in for dinner and during rain-storms or dust-storms.
When he does come in, of course, he has to make sure that there's at least a trace of his, ahem, scent-marks in the house, just to remind the indoor cats who's the top tom around here. He keeps me busy cleaning up after him with Lysol and Urine-B-Gone.
And then there's his young nephew, Silverfrost (because he got the rare silverdust-color coat), whom I've earmarked to be the next breeding tom. Rasty's nicknamed him "Trouble" because he's so good at getting into it; any closed door is a mystery he just has to explore, which is why we've had to put a hook-and-eye latch on the kitchen cabinet. He's about eight months old, which makes him the equivalent of a young teenager, and he's beginning to feel his oats. He has better sense than to challenge Furrocious to a duel; Furrocious is so muscular that we've nicknamed him "Gladiator" or "Spartacus", and he's half again Silverfrost's size. When Furrocious is out of the house, little Frosty does his best to mount the queen-cats, but they're lamentably uninterested -- because they're still nursing their new litters of kittens, but he doesn't know that. He seems to assume that the problem is with his approach; he just isn't impressing the females enough.
It's what he decided to do about that that's interesting. When I let Furrocious in last night, after he'd eaten his fill he strolled about the house, checking it out, and he found a good spot for leaving his "mark". He let fly, and made a fine puddle on the carpet. I saw, and yelled and grabbed for the water-spray bottle, and he took off for safety. I stomped off to get the Lysol and Urine-B-Gone and paper towels, and barely noticed Frosty flitting past me. 'Twas when I got back with the supplies that I saw Frosty deliberately rolling in the puddle, rubbing his fur in it from head to tail. I shooed him off and started pulling paper towels off the roll, but I wondered why on Earth little Frosty had done that, so I followed him and watched.
What Frosty did was to trot into the kitchen where the females were taking a break from kitten-tending and parade himself past them, head and tail high, ears and whiskers spread, rolling his shoulders like a lion, casting sidelong glances at the queens. You could almost see him thinking: "Do you like me now that I smell like a real grown-up tomcat?" He made three passes, just to make sure they didn't miss anything
Well, the females noticed, all right, but they weren't impressed. Comet got up and pointedly walked away. Nascar visibly sneered, and hissed. Dejected at his failure, Frosty ran off into the bedroom.
Well, I let Furrocious out the front door, finished cleaning up his "signature", then took up some baby-wipes and went after Frosty. I found him hiding in the laundry-basket, looking miserable. I petted him, picked him up (noticing that, yes, he smelled of adult tomcat pee), petted him much, cleaned him off with the baby-wipes, then petted him some more until he started purring. He's a very people-oriented cat, and petting will usually cheer him up.
Later I caught him consoling himself by trying to hunch a kitten (no luck) and then a shaggy small pillow -- which at least didn't hiss and run away. I can understand his frustration, but he'll just have to wait until one of the queens comes into heat again -- and then try his luck by himself.
Sunday, September 7, 2014
I get extremely tired of professionally outraged "spokesmen" -- like Rev. Al "Mighty Mouth" Sharpton, for example -- reliably harping on any "racial" aspect of crime or political troubles. Most people have recognized that the trouble in Ferguson, Missouri happened more because of the militarization of the cops than the usual racial troubles. Indeed, there are several political movements afoot to stop the army's practice of dumping old tanks, rocket-launchers, grenades, etc. on local police departments, which should do a helluva lot more to prevent cop excesses than all the "racism" speeches that reliably get on the 6 o' clock news -- speeches that usually end on a theme of "you owe me, Whitey" (and imply "gimme the money").
Look, what we call "race" is 90% illusion and 10% culture. Yes, different bloodlines of humans have slight physical differences -- skin and hair and eye color, height, allergies, details of bone structure, weaknesses or immunities to different diseases, etc. -- but in fact there are fewer differences between "races" of humans than between breeds of dogs, or cats, or horses. There's less difference between an African Pygmy and an African Watusi than between a Shetland pony and a Clydesdale draft-horse, less difference between a "white" man and a "black" one than between a Persian cat and a Siamese, or between a Chihuahua and a St. Bernard. Any geneticist or biologist could tell you as much.
Certainly minor physical differences -- skin color, eye shape, even length of ear-lobes -- have been used throughout history as excuses for one group of people to dominate and exploit others, but (as Aesop pointed out nearly 3000 years ago) evil will take any excuse: "race", religion, land of origin, language, last name, or any other human characteristic you can think of. Why? Because it's fun -- and profitable. It's very flattering to believe that you're naturally and automatically superior to a whole slew of other people, without any effort on your part. (If you've ever seen pictures of a modern neo-Nazi rally, you'd have noticed how stupid and ugly most of them look; one has to be a pretty nowhere human being to have nothing to be proud of but the color of one's skin.) It's also wonderfully useful to have an identifiable bunch of people whom one can order around at will, and use for cheap labor and unpopular jobs. So long as humans indulge in arrogance and thoughtless greed, we'll continue to see eruptions of niggerization -- under any excuse. We'll also see opportunists making political and financial hay out of the resistance -- likewise, under any excuse.
The real irony to this story is that the modern "races" are no more than 15,000 years old, and that the breeds of humans have diverged and converged once before this. Thanks to DNA and archeology, we now know that Neanderthals, Cro-Magnons, Java Man and Denisovan Man were not different species of human but different breeds -- races -- and Neanderthal was probably the oldest of the lot. Just when they diverged is difficult to tell, but they eventually re-encountered each other -- and interbred -- somewhere around 30,000 years ago. So, for at least 10,000 years there was just one "race" -- human -- wandering around the world, slowly improving their survival techniques, always looking for better hunting-grounds, until their wanderings took groups of them far enough apart that they began genetically diverging again. In other words, we're all the result of "race mixing", "mongrelization", and all that.
Yes, different bloodlines can have various genetic strengths and weaknesses, culture exacerbates the differences, and politicking makes it worse, but "race" itself is a joke -- a joke that's outworn and overdue to be forgotten.
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Hi, friends and fellow-fen. I haven't reported in for awhile because I was at, and then recovering from, CopperCon -- this year nicknamed FANtasm. CopperCon was the original Arizona regional Science Fiction convention -- since joined by LepreCon, TusCon, and a couple of specialized gamer and costumer conventions. It's currently suffering, like all of them since the present Depression hit, from a shrinkage of membership, but still carrying on faithfully.
CopperCon has always been a particularly imaginative and intelligent convention; where else would you find panels on Tax Planning for the Coming Zombie Apocalypse, or the science of sound, or leatherworking shortcuts for costumers (did you know that you can set snaps and grommets with a Phillips screwdriver?), as well as the standard ongoing filking, gaming, video/film rooms, and well-stocked convention-suite? The dealers' room was small but intense, with plenty of hard-copy books, magazines, CDs, DVDs, models, jewelry, gorgeous Steampunk and Fantasy weapons for sale. Definitely, there are things you can find at a SciFi con that you'll find nowhere else on Earth! And that's not even counting the ongoing autograph sessions and readings.
I confess that I didn't get to many of the panels, but then -- as the Music Guest of Honor -- I spent most of my time singing. There were open-ended filksings on Friday night, Saturday night, and Sunday afternoon, along with my hour-long concert on Saturday, right after Mark Horning's concert. The audiences, as seemed to be the case with all the other events, were small but intense. We never did manage to sing all night and end with opening the coffee-shop for breakfast, but the filks did last for hours and hours. So I sang and played, and I sang and played, and wore out my old guitar strings to the point where they absolutely refused to stay tuned, and I'll have to buy new ones. That'll mean finding a music store somewhere out here in the westernmost outpost of the Phoenix valley, or else ordering via the Internet. *Sigh*
And of course, as usually happens at conventions, we all swapped viruses and I came home with a brief but annoying cold. That, my fellow-fen, is why I haven't reported in since before Friday. Nonetheless, it was a delightful convention, I hope to get there again next year, and I invite everyone in fandom to come as well. CopperCon is a little gem of a SciFi convention.