Rants and Raves

Opinion, commentary, reviews of books, movies, cultural trends, and raising kids in this day and age.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Dear Mexico

This was posted as a comment on Larry Elder's article, 'Illegal Immigrant to America' which you can read here: http://jewishworldreview.com/cols/elder072607.php3

Dear Mexico,

After many years of having you dump your potential troublemakers and revolutionaries on the US, so that your corrupt oligarchy can continue lording it over a society stuck somewhere between socialism and feudalism, we have had enough.

We are going to take the following actions:

1) We are going to get serious about border security.

2) We are going to round up all illegals and send them back to Mexico. If you think this isn't practical - you might remember that this was in fact done once before during the Eisenhower administration.

But to show that there's no hard feelings, every illegal upon exit will be given several weeks rations in the form of surplus Army MREs - and an AK-47 rifle with a thousand rounds of ammunition.

Have a nice day!
Stephen W. Browne

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

How my son got his name

Well I promised I'd tell the story of how my son got his name, and here it is. I wrote this shortly after the event and published it in Liberty magazine.

Since then I've noticed something about the reactions to this story. Americans tend to be incredulous and indignant - Poles laugh themselves sick.


Our baby now officially has a name. Of course he's had a name since before he was born but today we went down to the Wola (a part of Warsaw) district registry office to register his name officially and get his birth certificate so that he can get his Polish citizen's number and his American passport.

Monika had wanted to name him Jerzy (George) ever since we found out he would be a boy, because she has relatives she likes who bear that name. I suggested as a joke that he should be Jerzy Washington Browne, two in the eye for PC (she didn't want Robert E Lee Browne, maybe next time). However, Monika liked it. Then came the 9/11 attack on New York and Washington and it was no longer a joke. I vowed that my son would be named for a man of rigid honor and inflexible purpose who led his country through its greatest crises and to hell with historical revisionism and PC.

So we went down to the office; driver's licenses on the ground floor, kid licenses on the second. Well, there was a slight problem. It turns out that Polish law has an official list of approved names. Names must come from the list unless you are a foreigner. Well, I am but Monika isn't. Furthermore, they insisted that Washington is not a given name but a surname. The director of the bureau had to be called in.

So I held the baby while Monika did nice/stubborn - an accomplishment I mightily admire, I do hostile/stubborn. The director pointed out that Washington is a city, a state and a surname - not a given name. Monika mentioned George Washington Carver, whom the director had never heard of. I contributed that he invented peanut butter. (At this point I recalled that my sister Liz had predicted that even Poles would think he's Black with a name like Jerzy Washington Browne.) The director says, “Why if we let everybody pick just any name somebody might name their child “Srubka” (“Screw” – as in the tool.) Monika replies, “I’m not naming my child Screw, I’m naming him Washington.”

The director then discovers something wrong with my name: Stephen Wayne Browne. He said, “Wayne isn’t a first name, it’s a last name, like John Wayne.” Monika assures him it is a first name and anyway I’d been wearing it for fifty years and there is nothing he could do about it.

The director says that we are on the banks of the Vistula, not the Potomac, and that if he has a name like Washington he’ll have problems later in life. Monika replies that America will be his other home and there he may have problems with Jerzy. (BTW, that’s pronounced Yeh-zhay, not “Jersey”.) Furthermore, she says, who uses their second name anyway? It’s supposed to be symbolic.

Monika succeeded with the stubbornness without offending the director; something I would never have been able to - I was going to snatch the baby and head for the Embassy. We were allowed to register the name, subject to review by higher authorities who may yet try to overrule us. Diplomatic incident here we come! However the director had his way in one thing, the name is registered with the Polish spelling, Waszyngton. So of course, that's how it appears on his passport.

My sister in London tells me that she told the story to a Polish friend who has lived in England since before the fall of communism. She laughed herself sick. “Nothing has changed with the bureaucracy!” she said.

Monika tells me that she knows a family of actors; the mother's name is Oksana and she named her son Saniwoj and her daughter Juranda. She actually had to get historians from Jagiellonian University to testify that these names existed in Polish history before she was allowed to register them.

Epilogue: Jerzy Waszyngton Browne is now almost six years old and has a sister, Judyta Ilona Browne, the first Browne baby born in Oklahoma in many years. She was named for Jerzy's English godmother and a dear friend in Lithuania who died in the rash of mushroom poisonings across northern Europe and Russia a few years back.

My mother has finally learned to pronounce her grandson's name fairly well, as have a number of his friends. Most folks just make it "Jersey" though.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Fritz the Cat, his own personal 60s

Last night I watched Ralph Bakshi's Fritz the Cat for the first time in... a long time.

Fritz was Bakshi's first feature film, and the most commercially successful. The fate of Bakshi's subsequent works seems to have been to flop at the box office, or achieve only moderate success insufficient to cover costs of production, and re-emerge as cult classics. The character is the creation of cartoonist R. Crumb - who hated the movie.

Fritz was released in 1972 and set in the 1960's. Since Fritz is shown to be a drop-out college student, I figure that has to make him mid to late-sixties now.

Historically Fritz the Cat has minor significance as the first feature-length animated film to be given an 'X' rating, which is why I had to wait until the kids were asleep to watch it.

I wanted to watch it again because I only vaguely recollected the details. (A common occurrance, most people saw it back then while psychopharmacologically enchanted.) Given its place in pop culture, I thought it might provide some insight into the cultural milieu of that time, and the consequences thereof.

Boy did it ever.

I recommend that you try watching this sometime. But most definitely, not with young children.

Bakshi captures that time perfectly, and it's pretty ugly. I'm referring to the sheer pretentious phoniness of it all, and the viciousness that was beginning to emerge from it. Every cultural pathology and all the PC idiocy we're experiencing right now, can be seen at its beginnings then.

Fritz isn't a bad cat, basically he just wants to get laid. In pursuit of that end, he adopts all the hollow intellectual garbage that impresses the chicks (his handicap being that he's not an oppressed-but-cool Crow) and ultimately winds up with some truly vicious "revolutionary" junkies.

Fritz passes through this all, blithely unaware of the damage he's doing until the very last, when it's pretty much too late. But he does survive, though injured, and continues his quest though this time he really does have some of the experience he'd only pretended to have.

I'm still digesting this, but some questions that occur to me are, us hippy types loved this movie back then, did we just not get it? Did we see the phoniness and viciousness in others but not ourselves? Or hopefully, was this the beginning of maturity for some of us?

If you're unfamiliar with Bakshi's work, head over here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ralph_Bakshi

There are lots of surprises such as, Bakshi was born in Haifa (then Palestine) and is of Krymchak descent. (They'll tell you what that is.)

Peter Jackson loved Bakshi's attempt at Lord of the Rings and was inspired by it to read Tolkien and ultimately make his movie series.

And what about Fritz? Well, he reappeared in a sequel The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat which I may try and get ahold of sometime. I remember almost nothing about it, so it can't have made much of an impression.

R. Crumb disliked the movie so much that he killed Fritz off. Me, I like to think that Fritz grew up and is living quietly somewhere, a bit embarrassed by his callow youth, but thinking with a smile from time to time about some of the chicks he consorted with.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Finally saw Apocalypto

We finally watched Apocalypto last night. It was unfortunately a marred library DVD so we periodically had to fiddle with the controls and change players when the scene froze, and missed some seconds of the action, of course right at the cliffhanger scenes.

Nonetheless, it was bleeping brilliant. Mel Gibson may be a tortured genius, but this proves he's a genius for sure.

Gibson used a cast of actors totally unknown in the States, many with no previous movie credits, and did the whole thing in Mayan with subtitles. That took huevos. (We will forego to quibble with the assumption that everyone in the culture area speaks the same language.)

Briefly, it's the story of a pre-Columbian Indian village in the jungle that is raided by a Mayan war party seeking captives, some for slaves but mostly strong young men for sacrifice on the top of a pyramid.

One young warrior named Jaguar Paw manages to hide his pregnant wife and young son in a hole in the ground, from which they cannot escape without help.

However, he is captured and taken for sacrifice. Due to an eclipse, plans change and he is instead used for cruel sport. Captives are released to run while being pelted with arrows, slingstones and atalatl darts. Jaguar Paw manages to escape, killing one Maya warrior in the process. A war band led by the dead warrior's father chases him through the jungle as he attempts to reach his family before they starve.

(This is a bit reminiscent of a classic Cornel Wilde film, The Naked Prey.)

The movie works well on many levels. It's visually beautiful, the action is heart-stopping, the human relationships are very well-portrayed in the time available, the costume and technology are accurate and the fight scenes are excellent. It's a bloody son-of-a-gun, but then, tell me how to make a movie about the Mayan culture at that point in history that isn't?

Apocalypto was nominated for Oscars in four areas, none of them for acting or directing. It was also nominated for a Golden Globe and a few other prestigious critics awards.

It actually won awards from the Central Ohio Film Critics Association and the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association Awards.

What the heck gives? This was easily the best movie of all this year's nominees.

Well, that was the subject of discussion between my wife and I after the movie. She thinks it's because of Gibson's meltdown, with attendant disgraceful anti-Semitic tirade.

I think that while that certainly didn't help, a lot probably had to do with the fact that the film showed pre-Columbian Mayan culture as savagely brutal on a massive scale. Hollywood PC has it that only Western culture is irretrievably base and indigenous cultures live in idyllic harmony with nature.

Remember John Boorman's The Emerald Forrest? I actually liked it a lot, but the cloying screen message at the end "They know what we have forgotten" made me want to barf.

Gibson dared to remind audiences that history is that proverbial "nightmare from which we are only beginning to awake"* and that the history of the West (which intrudes into the scene at the very last minute), for all its brutality is actually an improvement on the normal state of the world throughout history. Now that's a frightening thought!

* That quote is attributed to James Joyce by one source I consulted. Another Irishman counter-commented, "History is a long nightmare during which I am trying to get some sleep."

Monday, July 16, 2007

A man out of time - or ahead of it

"The act of defending any of the cardinal virtues has today all the exhilaration of a vice."
- G.K. Chesterton

After perusing this post, go here: http://www.chesterton.org/acs/quotes.htm

It's a page of G.K. Chesterton quotes, with source identified for each.

I must confess, I've read very little Chesterton, only The Man Who Was Thursday and a collection of his short Father Brown mysteries - and I found the latter almost unreadable.

The former however, was surreal. It's the story of a man who is simultaneously recruited by a cabal of anarchists and an undercover police branch dedicated to spying on them. I can't tell you more without giving it away, but it's surprisingly avant-garde for an author known (if known at all) as a rather stuffy conservative.

For example, consider this:

"The reformer is always right about what is wrong. He is generally wrong about what is right."

But now consider this:

"The free man owns himself. He can damage himself with either eating or drinking; he can ruin himself with gambling. If he does he is certainly a damn fool, and he might possibly be a damned soul; but if he may not, he is not a free man any more than a dog."

Now he sounds like a libertarian. Especially when you consider this:

"All government is an ugly necessity."

And this:

"It is terrible to contemplete how few politicians are hanged."

Sometimes he sounds like a militarist:

"War is not 'the best way of settling differences; it is the only way of preventing their being settled for you."

"The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him."

But then there's this:

"The only defensible war is a war of defense."

Like de Tocqueville and unlike a lot of clever British and European intellectuals, he seems to have seen pretty deeply in America and appreciated what he saw.

"The unconscious democracy of America is a very fine thing. It is a true and deep and instinctive assumption of the equality of citizens, which even voting and elections have not destroyed."

Chesterton became a Catholic convert - something considered rather cult-like in England at the time, and perhaps still to a large extent. It did not however, make him a joyless prude.

"The first two facts which a healthy boy or girl feels about sex are these: first that it is beautiful and then that it is dangerous."

"The truth is, of course, that the curtness of the Ten Commandments is an evidence, not of the gloom and narrowness of a religion, but, on the contrary, of its liberality and humanity. It is shorter to state the things forbidden than the things permitted: precisely because most things are permitted, and only a few things are forbidden."

I could go on, but why don't you head on over their yourselves and have a look. It's part of a site dedicated to Chesterton studies - there is even a journal, called Gilbert.

They even explain why Chesterton is so little known these days, and why that's a shame.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

How I got married in Poland

A version of this was originally published in Liberty magazine, around the time of the events described.

We wanted to get married. We’d been heading in that direction but we hadn’t been in any hurry.

It was Monika that first brought up the subject of having children. I said that that was a suggestion that could only be honored by taking it seriously. So I said to mark the date and a year to the day, we'd make a decision. My motives were honorable, I wanted to give her every chance to get bored with me and come to her senses.

Then three months later the morning sickness started. This didn’t totally take us by surprise, Monika had been having real problems with the birth control pills, so we decided to just take our chances while waiting out that year. And in my case it was getting a little late in the game to put off the decision whether to be a father or not.

Since I am a foreigner in Poland, our first stop was the regional court in Warsaw. OK so we walk over one fine spring morning and find that we have to pass through a magnetometer manned by police. No problem, we retreat to the foyer and empty pockets and purse of everything with a sharp edge, stash it on top of a revolving door cabinet and walk in.

There they told us what documents I needed to marry a Polish citizen in Poland. I was told to get: my original birth certificate, a copy of the first page of my passport with required visa, my meldunek tymczasowy, or registration of my address with the local government (by the way, not just a feature of the ex-communist world but a common practice in Western Europe as well) and my divorce decree, if applicable. In addition I needed to bring a translation of all the above by a sworn and licensed translator.

I am helpless without Monika in this situation. I speak Polish well enough for all normal purposes but I just don’t have the specialized vocabulary to deal with this stuff in Polish.

Nowadays dealing with Polish bureaucrats is not nearly as unpleasant as in the communist times and for a while after. Junking communism in Poland was a true “social revolution” in that it resulted in a permanent change in attitude for the better. Now that there is a healthy private sector that bureaucrats themselves spend most of their time in, they seem to feel held up to the standard set by service personnel in shops and restaurants. Or perhaps it’s just the salutary example. However it remains an often-frustrating experience carried out in offices and corridors that bring the adjective “Kafkaesque” to mind.

Monika leaves steaming when a clerk tells her to come back “with your father” (nodding in my direction) when we have the documentation.

OK, not too difficult, though getting the divorce decree was a bit of a problem. There was also a little thing that I’d let my original meldunek lapse – no problem, just go and get another one. The funny thing is that in Poland it is a lot easier to ignore the bureaucracy than in the States. They technically have a more intrusive bureaucracy but they don’t have the resources to enforce every little rule and as a rule, bureaucrats don’t have the zeal to. For example, I’ve ignored work permit regulations for a long time. However marriage is another thing. There you really do need to get everything in order.

So bring them all back. Now wait for a month and a half to come back for the next step. The next step is basically securing permission to go on to the next step after that.

At one point I asked, “Isn’t there a fast-track permission for couples who’re pregnant?” “Steve, that’s an awful lot of girls in Poland who are getting married.” It turns out that there is a fast track wedding for pregnant couples – but only for church weddings. Since we’re having a civil ceremony this does us no good at all.

We were headed to Minsk for the American Studies Conference at the European Humanities University so we asked Monika’s mother to drop off and pick up some of the documents needed. Hence it was that I missed seeing a Polish guy losing it in the office. Apparently he was trying to get married to a German national and had just been told that he had to go back to Germany to get a certain document. That’s when he picked up a chair and smashed it against the wall.

Something inside me screamed “Yes!” when I heard this. However the bureaucrat took it out on the next customer – my future mother-in-law.

So OK, a week after we get back to Warsaw we have a hearing with a judge. We show up that morning with a bit of trepidation on my part. We’d decided just to ignore the divorce papers because it was just too damn complicated and they might require some proofs I just couldn’t come up with any time soon. The fact is that I had absolutely no idea of how to get in touch with my ex-wife, I didn’t even know for sure if she was still alive or not.

So the worry on my part was, if they ask me if I’m divorced would I have to perjure myself? Lying under oath means something to me and I’d been awfully holy about Bill Clinton’s perjury a short while back.

Pani Sedzia (Madame Judge) was a rather attractive middle-aged lady in her black robes with the traditional elaborate chain of office around her neck. We go in and take turns standing at a podium to get quizzed. Madame Judge asks all the questions about any legal impediments and then asks Monika, “Do you mind marrying a man fifty years old?” Monika denies that it bothers her. Madame Judge looks at her belly and smiles.

My turn. I get up and answer standard questions about citizenship, how long I’d lived there, what I did for a living etc. in Polish with occasional help from Monika. Then comes a question I don’t quite get but I believe is about a previous marriage. I answer, “Nie.” No. We hadn’t been placed under oath but I’m wrenched inside. Had I lied under something like an oath or affirmation?

We leave and I pour out my troubled heart to Monika. “No sweat, she just asked you if you were married somewhere else.” Great! I’m not.

So Madame Judge has told us to come back in three weeks to pick up the documents that meant that I was relieved of the duty of providing a document from my government stating that I was eligible to get married and that there were no impediments to that end. (You had to read that twice didn’t you?)

The reason that we need a document granting such an exemption is that the United States government has no provisions for providing such documentary proof – which everybody in the world pretty much knows.

It theoretically shouldn’t have been this complicated but… We had been given an information sheet that detailed every document we’d need. Typically, it turned out that we needed a few that were never mentioned.

We come back to the appropriate office and ask for the documents. We are asked to show the written request for the documents. Monika tells them that the judge said nothing about such a written request and simply told us to show up and ask for the documents. She is told, “The judge is not the information office.”

However the clerk is then kind enough to type out the request for us as there is no queue that day. She complains constantly and bitterly but she does it.

OK so now we can reserve a day at the Palac Slubow (Palace of Weddings) in the Old Town. We can also reserve a hall for toasts and conviviality for about thirty minutes after the ceremony. Simple. Well maybe not. We do have to get another document but we only have to make two (or was it three?) trips to the office and we have a date. If there are dates available. And not less than a month and a day from the day you register for the wedding.

We get lucky getting a date in late July as the summer season is popular for weddings. However in Poland months spelled with an “r” are thought to be lucky and in Polish, July is Lipiec. So perhaps…

By this time Monika was probably getting tired of me pointing out that in America, even if we were both foreigners, we could have gotten married within a single day. This astounded a couple of Chinese students I had once helped defect, and get married, after Tien An Min Square. They had told me that step one in China would have to get permission from your work unit leader. Nor is it much better in Western Europe for foreigners, we had looked into whether marrying abroad would have been simpler.

What else? Ah yes, we go to the Hala Toastow (The Hall of Toasts) in the basement of the Palace to register for a half-hour in the room and champagne for thirty-odd people.

So now we’re set! Well, in the next two weeks we have to get invitations out, start childbirth classes, buy me a suit and arrange a dinner at a restaurant for thirty-odd people, but we’ve done it! We’re out of the public sector.


In case you're wondering, we've been together seven years now. The boy is nearly six and has a baby sister nearly one.

However, ignoring that divorce thing came back to bite us in the ass. When my wife was applying for a visa to the States (I had gone on ahead) it showed up and delayed things at least another month.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The order of succession

With all the focus on Iran and the possibility of an "Islamic bomb" these days, the fact that there already is one seems to have slipped between the cracks of our collective conscious.

Pakistan is a nuclear power. At present Pervez Musharraf is the autocrat/president, but he sits on an uneasy throne. Remember how many of his predecessors have been deposed or assassinated and you've got to wonder how long it'll be before he's replaced, probably by someone a lot less friendly to the US than he is.

Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, North Korea, "?". Sooner or later rogue nukes are going to be let loose on the world and into the hands of terrorists crazy enough to use them.

If we don't know when and where they are coming from, we can be reasonably sure where they'll be going, New York and Washington D.C. The political and commercial capitols of the Great Satan.

We can make it more difficult for terrorists, but we cannot make it impossible. As the IRA pointed out to Maggie Thatcher, they only have to get lucky once - we have to be lucky forever.

This situation is actually not so bad, in comparison with the Cold War scenario I grew up with. Back then we were looking at the destruction of civilization on Earth and the prospect of having to survive in the new wilderness with radioactive winds sweeping across the country. These days we can avoid being casualties just by not living in D.C. or Manhattan.

Back then we had a Civil Defense program that was comprised of some disaster preparation plus a lot of wishful thinking - but at least we had one.

There was a system of shelters built to house the federal government in the event of total nuclear war. In hindsight it looks really naive to think that they'd have time to move the whole shebang to these shelters, but at least it was a plan.

So what are we doing now about the possibility of a terrorist nuke on Washington? As far as I can tell, nothing.

There really ought to be some preparation, and what I have in mind is nothing so costly as a system of shelters. In fact, it wouldn't cost anything at all.

We should extend the line of succession.

The order of succession is currently:

1Vice President of the United States and President of the Senate
2Speaker of the House of Representatives
3President of the Senate pro tempore
4Secretary of State
5Secretary of the Treasury
6Secretary of Defense
7Attorney General
8Secretary of the Interior
9Secretary of Agriculture
10Secretary of Commerce
11Secretary of Labor
12Secretary of Health and Human Services
13Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
14Secretary of Transportation
15Secretary of Energy
16Secretary of Education
17Secretary of Veterans Affairs
18Secretary of Homeland Security

Currently two of the above office holders are ineligible by reason of not being native-born citizens.

The first thing that comes to mind about this is that it is quite possible that a nuke in Washington at just the right time might very likely get all of them, plus congress.

Is it asking too much to take some time to consider who'll be in charge if and when that happens?

And while we're at it, are the records of the New York Stock Exchange duplicated anywhere outside of the Big Apple?

Saturday, July 07, 2007

7/7/7 Happy 100th Bob

Today, Saturday 7/7/7 is the hundredth anniversary of SF author Robert Anson Heinlein's birth.

It's actually difficult to write anything about Heinlein that wouldn't lengthen into a book by way of digressions, qualifications and defenses against some of the more egregiously idiotic criticisms he's been subjected to*. He led a long and interesting life, absorbed with the exploration of ideas.

Man of contradictions, libertine and libertarian. Simultaneously condemned as a "militarist" and "facist", mostly for Starship Troopers**, he also wrote the hippy free-love counter-culture Bible Stranger in a Strange Land.

Apostle of reason and the scientific method, he also apparently believed in reincarnation and dabbled in fringe science such as Korzybski's General Semantics and was briefly enamored of the pseudo-science of Dianetics.

Heinlein was a ardent patriot, strong supporter of the military, and a just as passionate anti-authoritarian. One of the few absolute dogmatic positions he took was an unbending opposition to conscription in any form. He once wrote that a society that needed to resort to conscription to save itself was already lost and did not deserve to survive.

Reading Heinlein was one of the things that got me through childhood. (The other being Kipling's poetry and stories - people who like the one will almost certainly like the other.) His specialty in the novels for juveniles he penned for Charles Scribner & Sons was the coming-of-age story.

Heinlein's prose and story tellling has been condemned by literary types, but novels published under his own name - even some pretty bad ones (Rocket Ship Galileo, I Will Fear No Evil) have never gone out of print since they first saw the light of day.

Heinlein tossed off ideas like sparks from a blacksmith's hammer. The term Waldo (remote-control robot arms for handling dangerous materials) came from a story of the same name. During a period of convalescence from his chronic health problems, he invented the idea of the waterbed. The first man to build and market them sent him one - which he never assembled.

The acronym he coined in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress TANSTAAFL ("There ain't no such thing as a free lunch") has been used in libertarian circles as a summation of the essence of free market economics.

But Heinlein makes even libertarians uncomfortable, because though passionately committed to freedom, he was equally committed to the ideal of duty. They should look again. "Never confuse duty with anything you owe anyone else. Duty is something you owe only to yourself."

I reformulated this as a guide for my own conduct: "Duty is the price you must pay for the privilege of thinking of yourself as the kind of person you wish to be" i.e. if you wish to think of yourself as brave, you must act with courage when the occasion demands.

Heinlein makes doctrinaire feminists uncomfortable - this in spite of, or perhaps because of the fact that every one of his female characters without exception is strong-willed, intelligent, competent and courageous.

My brother once mentioned to me that a female friend of his loathes Heinlein. "Why?" I asked. "She said something about how he shows women who like to have babies." Oh whatever will this poor old world be FORCED to endure next!

Heinlein is the man who defined love: "Love is when another's happiness is essential to your own" and a short elaboration, "Love is what goes on when you're not horney."

Has love every been so succinctly defined in any language?

In The Moon is a Harsh Mistress Heinlein tossed off in one paragraph the only original constitutional idea since, well perhaps since the Constitution. The idea (which I call Petition Proportional Representation) was that almost everybody could have the representative of his choice if, instead of a winner-take-all election in a geographic area, a candidate would gather petition signatures until a he/she gathered a certain minimum x. One x signatures got you a seat and one vote in the representative body. Two x got you a seat and two votes, etc.

I will confess that my favorite Heinlein novels are still the juveniles he wrote under contract for Scribner's, plus Starship Troopers, which they rejected. Citizen of the Galaxy still moves me to tears at the end, "To be willing to live a slave, or to die, that freedom might live."

His later works were more experimental and seem to miss as much as they hit. However, I'm willing to entertain the notion that Heinlien was ahead of his time and we just haven't gotten it yet.

Heinlein's effect on our culture is something that social scientists will be trying to evaluate for centuries to come - once they get that a popular writer of genre fiction had a greater effect than probably any academic of this century. I read him and my children will - and perhaps theirs as well.

* Spider Robinson's essay 'Rah, rah RAH' is the best point-by-point "defense of a man who doesn't need it".

** Those offended by Heinlein's notion that the privilege of voting should be restricted to those who accept some responsibility for supporting and defending society (via military service among other ways) have never to my knowledge, realized that this was institutionalized in some of the states at the beginning of our history. Voting qualifications included paying taxes on a freehold of a certain value - or by being registered for the militia.

Nor do critics ever seem to note that Federal Service in Starship Troopers was completely voluntary and a soldier could resign at any time up to the start of a battle.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Happy Fourth of July

"Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof."
Leviticus 25:10

The last letter from Thomas Jefferson's pen.

To Roger C. Weightman June 24, 1826


The kind invitation I receive from you, on the part of the citizens of the city of Washington, to be present with them at their celebration on the fiftieth anniversary of American Independence, as one of the surviving signers of an instrument pregnant with our own, and the fate of the world, is most flattering to myself, and heightened by the honorable accompaniment proposed for the comfort of such a journey. It adds sensibly to the sufferings of sickness, to be deprived by it of a personal participation in the rejoicings of that day. But acquiescence is a duty, under circumstances not placed among those we are permitted to control. I should, indeed, with particular delight, have met and exchanged there congratulations personally with the small band, the remnant of that host of worthies, who joined with us on that day, in the bold and doubtful election we were to make for our country, between submission or the sword; and to have enjoyed with them the consolatory fact, that our fellow citizens, after half a century of experience and prosperity, continue to approve the choice we made. May it be for the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government. That form which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science had already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God. These are grounds of hope for others. For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them...

Thomas Jefferson died July 4, 1826, just hours before his old colleague John Adams. His last words were, "Is it the fourth yet?"

Adam’s last words were, “Thomas Jefferson lives.”

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Lessons from history

"It's not so much that History repeats herself, it's that sometimes she screams "Won't you ever listen to what I'm trying to tell you?" and lets fly with a club." -John W. Campbell

Over at Ilana Mercer's blog http://www.ilanamercer.com/ there is a short account of what happened to the waifs and strays from Sudan taken in by the compassionate in America. Four thousand of these former boy soldiers were rescued from horrifying conditions and resettled in the US. A number were also taken in by Australia.

The results have been ugly. Many have descended into violent crime, alcohol and drug addiction - and in certain neighborhoods in Australia have formed organized militias on the Sudanese pattern.

My comment was: "One might call it The Haight-Ashbury Lesson. "Any society that renounces violence, even in self-defense, becomes a magnet for those willing to use violence to get what they want."

This refers (for those too young to remember) to the "Summer of love" when hippies congregated on the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood in San Francisco to build a new world based on peace and love.

Of course, right behind them came every con man, rip-off artist and thug who could get themselves there to feast on the buffet of naiveté.

Some years ago I started naming my pithy observations of human nature based on specific incidents from history that I thought illustrated Eternal Truths. I called them Lessons.

The John Wesley Hardin Lesson.

John Wesley Hardin was a western outlaw and one of le premier badasses of western history with at least 44 confirmed kills. He was eventually caught and served 14 years in prison. (And our generation though we invented coddling criminals?)

In prison he studied law, eventually got out and apparently determined to go straight. We'll never know for sure, because shortly after he got into an argument with a young man in a saloon over a dice game.

The young fellow left and shortly thereafter met his father and said something about "that so-and-so John Wesley Hardin."

The father freaked, "You got crosswise with JOHN WESLEY HARDIN!" got his pistol, went to the saloon and shot Wes Hardin in the back of the head as he was leaning over a dice table.

The Lesson: "A reputation as a badass can get you killed."

The Heinlein observation: No matter how badass you are, you still don't have eyes in the back of your head.

The Diane Fossey Lesson: Diane Fossey was the woman who studied mountain gorillas in Rwanda, whose life was the subject of the movie "Gorillas in the Mist". She was murdered, hacked to death, for her activities against the native gorilla poachers.*

The Lesson: "One should beware of declaring war against people who kill things for a living."

Now I'd like to make this a game and ask for contributions.

P.S. Update; ideally it should be one sentence long for stylistic reasons.

*When I was an Anthro major in grad school, one of the grad students in our department Wayne McGuire, was working with her. After her murder he kept bugging the Rwandan government to do something about her murder. So they did - they arrested and charged him for it.

Being no fool, when he was let out on bail he high-tailed it back to the States. The Rwandan government then tried and condemned him to death in absentia. Afterwards when the State Department would ask what they were doing about the murder they'd just say, "We tried him. Send him back and we'll kill him for you."