Wednesday, December 27, 2006


I am still down here in the Keys wandering around after the sun goes down some. While on one journey, I found this boat that must belong to science fiction writer, John Scalzi. He must really be doing well with his books, Old Man's War, The Ghost Brigades, and The Android's Dream. I guess this NYT's article was right; maybe the blogosphere can promote books and lead to success.


Blogger tomcal said...

Dr. Helen:

Many of the reasons I was never able to gear myself up for the task of obtaining an advanced degree are demonstrated by the NYT article.

First of all it took me 25 minutes to read it. Then, I realized that to understand it, I would have to go back and read the Heinlein and Melville novels I was supposed to have read in high school but never did. I would have to re-watch old Benny Hill shows and then pull out all the Kipling novels that I never read either; and read them until I understood the humor of “It’s as if Rudyard Kipling woke up one morning and decided he wanted to be Benny Hill".

I would have to look up a dozen words whose definition I thought I knew, but are completely incomprehensible to me in the context in which Mr. Itzkoff (of whom I have never heard) uses them. Then I would have to look up a few more which I have never heard of at all. I had no idea that there was a World Science Fiction Society, or that it had an award named after John W. Campbell (I thought he made canned soup). I’ve actually never heard of Mr. Scalzi either, or of any of his works; but since he describes himself as a “Rockefeller Republican”, I would have to do enough research to differentiate one from regular Republicans.

The one thing I really find interesting is that the only link the article provides is to “John F. Kennedy”, as if anyone who could understand all that other baloney wouldn’t know who Kennedy was.

12:14 AM, December 28, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Strange article ... I honestly can't tell whethere he's complimenting or condemning Scalzi's work (both, perhaps?) However, given his mischaracterization of Starship Troopers and such (which you're expected to swallow whole without actually looking at the quotes and realizing, "Hey, that's not what Heinlein said at all!"), if I were Scalzi, I'd prefer it to be an inept criticism.

Tomcal, your dilemma is one of the reasons I recommend notable books, movies, etc. to my foreign friends moving to this country. Embodiments of principles, abstractions, metaphors, etc. are pulled extensively from each culture for everything from humor to demagoguery (either to clarify or obfuscate). Without that shared context, it's difficult to respond to a metaphor-rich argument, apprehend derivative works, or even appreciate the occasional referential joke.

1:39 AM, December 28, 2006  
Blogger tomcal said...

The front page and all of pages 8 and 9 of the Travel section of Sunday the 17th’s NYT are devoted to Nicaragua. The pictures are great. If you took off from the camera position of the center spread picture and flew directly over the volcano (Mombacho, extinct) and landed on the other side, you would be in Granada, established in 1524, the city on the shore of the lake, where my 450 year old home is. I have been to every place shown in the photos.

I keep picking up the paper to read the article but the NYT style of writing, like the New Yorker, is so verbose that I still haven’t gotten through it. I guess that’s the difference between sophisticated New Yorkers and adventuresome Californians.

Back to the Article for a minute, if this guy Scalzi writes thought provoking books that include “adolescent jokes about bodily functions”, and if his notoriety has been created by the blogosphere, I’m in. I’ll buy a copy this afternoon.

3:11 AM, December 28, 2006  
Blogger tomcal said...

I'll have my sister and her husband read the article tomorrow. She has a PhD in Italian Literature from Yale; but was 9/10ths of the way to her Doctorate in English literature when she decided she liked Italian better. Her husband is also a Yale PhD, English Lit, and he is from New York.

I'm hoping they won't understand it, so I don't have to go around feeling like an ignoramus; but they'll probably say they already read it and laugh at me.

3:34 AM, December 28, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What you have to understand, I believe, is the current "I hate Daddy" meme in American Society. That is, it is important to snottily tear down anything accomplished in earlier times. At the same time, you must never, ever apply that same level of criticism to people and institutions you see currently (or more importantly, that you like).

It's very much the attitude of the teenager hating Daddy who provides the teenager with food, shelter, clothes, and general support.

Thus, Abraham Lincoln wasn't all that wonderful, FDR knew about Pearl Harbor ahead of time, George Washington was a terrible person, and so on.

It runs from history to modern times, this meme. We don't talk about blood sacrifice among the Aztecs (we focus instead on how awful the European invaders were). We don't attack Robert Byrd for using the "N" word on national television, but George Allen is a horrible person because of the word "macacca.". We defend perjury from politicians we like, since it was "just about sex" and "everybody does it."

Thus, it is simple to read Heinlein from the point of view of a person of the 1960s (as is the NYT article's author) instead of remembering that Heinlein was born in 1907, and was in the military. And since Heinlein's novel says good things about the military, it must be "fascist."

I always urge people that call Heinlein or this novel fascist to look up the word. I suspect they mean SOB, instead. But "fascist" has been co-opted by the American Left to mean "anyone with whom I disagree."

There isn't anything new about the NYT's authors article. It is written in a style I would call smug or precious.

Most of all, I would keep in mind that many, many more people know Heinlein's name than this smirking columnist, who cannot conceive that self sacrifice or honor mean anything.

He hates Daddy, because Daddy made his sweet life possible.

9:25 AM, December 28, 2006  
Blogger Helen said...

Eric Blair,

I think you hit the nail on the head. Heinlein fascist? That is not how I read his work.

9:53 AM, December 28, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Dr. Helen:

Thanks for your comment, and I apologize for the diatribe. I just detest the hypocrisy I see in politics today. Why, a good friend of mine won't teach Shakespeare to her students because he was anti-Semitic.

Hmmm. Compared to whom, in Shakespeare's time?

And that same academic, incidentally, keeps defending Iran to me, and ignores all the anti-Semitic comments coming from there (and from our various Islamicist friends).

Oh, my.

I was fortunate enough to have a "pen pal" friendship with Heinlein's widow before she passed away a few years ago. Heinlein was anything but fascist. But he never bothered to defend himself. He used to say (and this appeared in one of his books): "An insult is like a compliment or a drink; it only effects you if you take it."

I hope you are continuing to have a great holiday (and I hope you continue to make money from impolite commenters). Is this the logic of all the encouragement of rabid posters at the Huffington Post?

I'm just glad that you still have plenty of kind, interesting posters here.

1:01 PM, December 28, 2006  
Blogger tomcal said...

Eric Blair,

I must have looked up the word Fascist a hundred times after hearing someone with a left-wing agenda use it.

I like this statement (found in the current Wikipedia definition) written by George Orwell in 1944:

"...the word ‘Fascism’ is almost entirely meaningless. In conversation, of course, it is used even more wildly than in print. I have heard it applied to farmers, shopkeepers, Social Credit, corporal punishment, fox-hunting, bull-fighting, the 1922 Committee, the 1941 Committee, Kipling, Gandhi, Chiang Kai-Shek, homosexuality, Priestley's broadcasts, Youth Hostels, astrology, women, dogs and I do not know what else ... almost any English person would accept ‘bully’ as a synonym for ‘Fascist’."

4:19 PM, December 28, 2006  
Blogger tomcal said...

See y'all later, I'm off to a meeting with our fascist City Manager who is trying to hold development of a piece of land I own.

4:28 PM, December 28, 2006  
Blogger David Foster said...

During the Dark Ages and Middle Ages, military service was generally a requirement for ownership of any significant property. While the social structures in place in these periods may have had many unattractive features, they certainly weren't "fascist."

Need a little more of that "nuance" we keep hearing about...

4:31 PM, December 28, 2006  
Blogger tomcal said...

Correction: "all y'all".

4:32 PM, December 28, 2006  
Blogger David Foster said...

eric blair--re your comment about disrespect for the past, see my post about temporal bigotry. (Discussed here and here.)

4:48 PM, December 28, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear David:

Much appreciated post. The business of how much more people learn NOW instead of THEN is based on temporal bigotry (a term I will use and credit to you--it's quite apt)...but also on a trick.

In the Old Days many people did not finish high school. That is what is driving part of the bigotry, I think. But good Lord above, try talking to a high school senior today. I teach college students, and I am appalled. Here are some sample questions I give to the students with whom I work in my lab:

1. In what decade was the Civil War fought?

2. Name the sides in World War I?

3. Describe the following historical people: Mao Tse-tung, Stalin, Lenin, Trotsky, Churchill, Woodrow Wilson, and so forth.

4. Ask them what Richard Nixon actually did that could have resulted in his impeachment. Then try it with Bill Clinton.

5. What is the name of their Representative, and Senators?

6, Name the last six Presidents of the US.

You get the picture.

I don't mind all the socialist tripe that the students parrot. What I mind is that they don't know how Marcuse was, and his role in that mess.

Heck, I took some students to see the old movie CASABLANCA, and they didn't get why Louis kicked the bottle of Vichy water at the end.

Remember the beginning of BRAVE NEW WORLD, where the administrator quoted "Our Ford" that "History is bunk."

We teach many things in school nowadays. History and perspective are not on the curriculum. Santayana said it best...

Thanks again...

11:05 PM, December 28, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Tomcal:

Thanks for quoting Orwell, who I pretty obviously respect a lot. I have the quote you mention on my computer, to read over whenever I listen to all the far left histrionics in the media.

Christopher Hitchens is a complicated fellow, but he wrote a truly great book, called WHY ORWELL MATTERS. I recommend it very highly.

Best wishes....

11:09 PM, December 28, 2006  
Blogger tomcal said...

Well after my meeting with the fascist City Manager, I went over to show the NYT article to my ultra-liberal Yale PhD sister and her ultra-liberal Yale PhD husband. They read it in about 2 minutes, chuckling all the while as though to an inside joke.

So then Tom the Ignoramus asked "What's a Fascist?"; and they simultaneoulsly answered "You know, like Bush"!!

I still love them though.

12:04 AM, December 29, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Tru dat," as the students say, tomcal.

But I still believe that using the term "fascist" in that fashion---in place of "I don't like that person"---trivializes the deaths of twenty million or so people at the hands of real fascists.

I also think it desensitizes people to the concept.

Mostly, it is a failure of teaching history (and no, I do not teach history). History gives perspective.

Happy Early New Year to all...

9:59 AM, December 29, 2006  
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