Choosing Leaders

Choose your leaders with wisdom and forethought.
To be led by a coward is to be controlled by all that the coward fears.
To be led by a fool is to be led by the opportunists who control the fool.
To be led by a thief is to offer up your most precious treasures to be stolen.
To be led by a liar is to ask to be told lies.
To be led by a tyrant is to sell yourself and those you love into slavery.

Octavia E. Butler, Parable of the Talents (Earthseed, #2)

Happy Independence Day!

The second day of July, 1776 will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.

John Adams

That the signing of the Declaration of independence is celebrated on 4 July is one of American history’s more singular mistakes. America did not declare independence on 4 July 1776. That had happened two days earlier, when the proposal was adopted. The proceedings on 4 July were a mere formality endorsing the form of words that were to be used to announce this breach. Most people had no doubt that 2 July was the day that would ring through the ages. … Still less was the Declaration signed on 4 July, except by the president of the proceedings, John Hancock, and the secretary, Charles Thomson. (Though John Hancock became immediately famous for his cockily outsize signature on the Declaration, the expression ‘Put your John Hancock here’ for a signature didn’t apparently occur to anyone until 1903.) It was not signed on 4 July because it had first to be transcribed on to parchment. The official signing didn’t begin until 2 August and wasn’t concluded until 1781 when Thomas McKean of Delaware, the last of the fifty-six signatories, finally put his name to it. Such was the fear of reprisal that the names of the signers were not released until January 1777, six months after the Declaration’s adoption.

Equally mistaken is the idea that the adoption of the Declaration of Independence was announced to a breathless Philadelphia on 4 July by the ringing of the Liberty Bell. For one thing, the Declaration was not read out in Philadelphia until 8 July, and there is no record of any bells being rung. Indeed, though the Liberty Bell was there, it was not so called until 1847 when the whole inspiring episode was recounted in a book titled Washington and His Generals, written by one George Lippard, whose previous literary efforts had been confined almost exclusively to producing mildly pornographic novels. He made the whole thing up.

John Dunlap, a Philadelphia printer, hastily ran off an apparently unknown number of copies. (Until recently only twenty-four were thought to have survived – two in private hands and the rest lodged with institutions. But in 1992 a shopper at a flea market in Philadelphia found a copy folded into the back of a picture frame, apparently as padding. It was estimated to be worth up to $3 million.) Dunlap’s version was dated 4 July and it was this, evidently, that persuaded the nation to make that the day of revelry. The next year, at any rate, the great event was being celebrated on the fourth, and so it has stayed ever since.

Bill Bryson “Made in America” (1994)

h/t to the Merbrat for the book recommendation. Very enjoyable.

It’s About the Process

For her as for him, there was no end. There was process: process was all. You could go in a promising direction or you could go wrong, but you did not set out with the expectation of ever stopping anywhere. All responsibilities, all commitments thus understood took on substance and duration.

Ursula K. Le Guin – The Dispossessed

…it was joy they were both after – the completeness of being. If you evade suffering you also evade the chance of joy. Pleasure you may get, or pleasures, but you will not be fulfilled. You will not know what it is to come home.

Ursula K. Le Guin – The Dispossessed

Hainish Cycle

Featured image: sffaudio.com

Cyrillic Searches

So today I check the website for traffic, just like I always do when I log on the desktop. Usually there isn’t much. In fact, sometimes there is no traffic at all. There are various tools you can install that will track all kinds of website metrics, most of them wasted on a guy who runs a public diary and really doesn’t have anything to sell. WordPress has their own native set of tools, and there are plugins that will duplicate what WordPress does and then some.

You can track articles being read, who goes to the homepage, even the search strings that had hits for your website. Like I said though, usually not much to see. Today was no exception. Pretty low traffic. An astronomical number of attempts to break into the website, like most sites suffer from, but not a lot of readers.

Then I look at search strings that sent people to the website. It is a pretty puzzle sometimes to figure out how a particular string gets you hits on your website. People looking for all kinds of obscure stuff show up as getting hits on the blog articles. Lately there have been a lot of hits for the Die Hard Christmas articles. Well, it is that time of year again. Our Lord John McClain will be gracing the television screens in our home very soon.

Then I notice this character string:

айзек азимов автобиография

Isaac Asimov autobiography? I’ve barely even mentioned Asimov on the blog. He was one of my favorite writers when I first discovered speculative fiction. After I had read all the Hardy Boys pulp that there was to be found back in 1974, I ran across Asimov’s mystery The Caves of Steel. I then went on to read some of his other works like I, Robot and his Foundation series. I’m currently watching the series on Apple TV. I think that the most impactful of his stories though is the short story Nightfall which was later adapted into a novel. I’ve never read his autobiography.

Having run across the search string I just had to look up his autobiographies. It is a three volume set. He wrote the first one at the age of 34. 34? I have some catching up to do. The second one was titled It’s Been a Good Life. The last volume was published near the end of his life and is titled simply I, Asimov. I think that title is fitting, a nice tongue in cheek reference to his most famous (if wholly misunderstood by filmmakers) book. I have some reading to do as well.

Seeing the Forest for the Trees

I was briefly infatuated with Richard Powers listening to this interview:

spotify.com – Ezra Klein – This Conversation With Richard Powers Is a Gift

I was so infatuated that I started looking for the transcript of the show and noting the parts of the interview that struck me as I was out on a walk listening to it. I mistakenly published my notes at some point during the walk, and then just left them published because it was too much work to figure out how to unpublish it from the mobile interface. It’s been sitting at the top of the blog for days now, still only partially finished. My apologies.

Capitalism

Commodity mediated, individualist, market driven human exceptionalism…

…I had this sense that to become a better person and to get ahead and to really make more of myself, I had to be as productive as possible. And that meant waking up every morning and getting 1,000 words that I was proud of. And it’s interesting that I would even settle on a quantitative target. That’s very typical for that kind of mindset that I’m talking about — 1,000 words and then you’re free, and then you can do what you want with the day.

Richard Powers

Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden
Finding the Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard

I had heard of Suzanne Simard long before this episode of Ezra’s show. Way back when I first started listening to podcasts. During my binging of the back catalog of Radiolab, I ran across this episode:

Radiolab -From Tree to Shining Tree – July 30, 2016

To summarize the part of her work that is covered in that episode, trees feed each other through the network of fungi that fill the ground around them. The forest is more than just the trees. The forest exists for its own purpose. A purpose that has absolutely nothing to do with us.

If we see all of evolution as somehow leading up to us, all of human, cultural evolution leading up to neoliberalism and here we are just busily trying to accumulate and make meaning for ourselves, death becomes the enemy. When we enter into or recover this sense of kinship that was absolutely fundamental to so many indigenous cultures everywhere around the world at many, many different points in history, that there is no radical break between us and our kin, that even consciousness is shared, to some degree and to a large degree, with a lot of other creatures, then death stops seeming like the enemy and it starts seeming like one of the most ingenious kinds of design for keeping evolution circulating and keeping the experiment running and recombining.

And to go from terror into being and into that sense that the experiment is sacred, not this one outcome of the experiment, is to immediately transform the way that you think even about very fundamental social and economic and cultural things. If the experiment is sacred, how can we possibly justify our food systems, for instance? It’s only the belief that we share no significant kinds of meditation or emotional life with cows that allow us to run the kind of food system that we run.

Richard Powers

I am not nearly as impressed with Neil Postman as both Ezra and Richard Powers are. When I got to that section of the interview, my infatuation with Powers waned significantly. I have some pointed thoughts about Neil Postman, some of which may eventually appear here after I finish working through the two books of his that I’m on again, off again, listening to. In the meantime, here’s a link to the other true prophet that Ezra mentions:

The Essential McLuhan by Marshall McLuhan

Richard Powers’ books:

Litany Against Fear

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

Dune

If I was to risk my life to see a movie, this is possibly the only movie that I would cross that line for:

DUNE – FINAL TRAILER – Oct 7, 2021

Check out the ‘thopters, man. Finally someone gives me real ‘thopters. That alone will get me to go watch the movie, even in a time of plague.

Dune – Official Main Trailer – Jul 22, 2021

I just hope the movie has a story. A story that feels something like the story in the book. I’m not looking for the book as a movie, I’m looking to feel the same way about the story in the movie as I do about the story in the book. Fingers crossed.


The first movie of Denis Villeneuve’s Dune ends immediately following Jamis’ Tahaddi challenge. Given the place in the first book where the movie ends, I would say that there are at least two more movies of material left to put on the screen. That is, if we are talking about the series of movies ending where the first book ends. If we go on to Dune Messiah and Children of Dune, then we have at least a nine-film epic.

I liked his handling of the story as far as it went. He departed from the text several times, and yet the story remains intact underneath the changes. The director deftly weaves a tale that was made for the screen out of the text that Frank Herbert wrote, and he does it better than all the others who have attempted to tell the story before.

Jodorowsky’s Dune (2014)

Documents the first time someone tried to bring the book to the big screen. While the attempt was fatally flawed from the beginning, the collaborations that started with that endeavor went on to generate a dozen other works that would be sorely missed today had the attempt not been made. I’m glad the movie was never finished. There is no way the completed project could equal the grandeur of the vision that is presented in the pitches for the movie.

Dune (1984)

Unfortunately for us, David Lynch did complete his attempt to put Dune on the big screen. Luckily for us, David Lynch went on to make better movies. Don’t get me wrong, there are facets of the 1984 Dune that are grandiose almost beyond imagining unless you have seen the movie yourself. The guild steersman in the first act; in fact, all of the first third of the movie was excellent. All of the casting for the Harkonnen’s including Sting as Feyd-Rautha was excellent. Unfortunately the production couldn’t create ornithopters that looked like ornithopters. They also abandoned the Prana-Bindu training/fighting in favor of creating a gadget that they called a weirding module to make the fighters unbeatable.

The production suffered from many problems during the course of the movies’ creation and this shows in the finished product. There were long exposition sequences throughout the film, a shortcut to storytelling on film that is never a good idea. The Wife walked out of the movie back in 1984, midway through one of the sequences that featured a bloody battle scene while the voiceover track intones “…and Paul and Chani were in love.” The horror of it was too much to bear. She spent the remaining hour of the movie playing video games in the arcade attached to the theater.

I have watched the movie several times over the years. It never got better for me, which is its own condemnation of the effort in my eyes. When you know a story before seeing the movie made from it, the anxiety of what you are about to see enacted on something you know and love overshadows everything. This has proven to be true for me for every movie that I have watched after reading the book. The first viewing is almost painful to endure. If the movie is good though, the later viewings get better and more enjoyable because you already know how the movie treats the thing you are nostalgic for.

1984 Dune treated a novel that I had read more times than I had read anything else very poorly. It strayed from the meaning and intent of the story almost from the moment the characters touch down on Arrakis. I had read the first four novels seven times through before seeing the movie in 1984 and most books never get a second reading by me. Dune spoke to me in ways that other books did not. Frank Herbert understood realpolitik, and he wove his vaguely recognizable societal groups into a believable future framework that gives the reader insight on the world of power politics, and what can happen when an oppressed population is given a savior that they recognize instinctively. Almost none of this was present in the 1984 version of Dune.

Dune (2000) Miniseries

This version was superior to Lynch’s version. It was more like the story it was trying to tell than 1984 Dune. True, they still didn’t get the ornithopters right, and they didn’t have Sting as Feyd-Rautha, but they made do with what they had and at least tried to tell the story that Frank Herbert wrote. I’ve never managed to catch this series since it first aired, so I have little recollection of it now. I just remember being glad to see the story treated more like I expected it to be treated, instead of being buried behind special effects sequences that could never replace real storytelling. They even went on to make:

Children of Dune (2003) Miniseries

An adaptation of the second two books of the series. I remember even less of this series than I do the first SyFy series, although I remember watching both. This one didn’t impress me with it’s ability to bring the story to the screen. In the end the small screen can’t compare to the big screen and these stories deserve to be on a big screen.

All of this is my way of saying that I look forward to seeing Jason Momoa returning in movie number four as the Goula Hayt. I’ll be along for the ride for at least that long. Here’s hoping that Denis Villeneuve gets the green light to continue with the second movies’ creation.

What Dune achieves – as Frank Herbert himself wrote – is an ambivalence and suspicion of “good wars.” The film’s allegiance is with the natives, and certainly with cultural humility toward the unfamiliar and the unknowable. Colonizing another is a brutal if not a fatal mission.

npr.org
Postscript

I always wondered why Frank Herbert’s world of Dune seemed so deeply human and real. It seems that he borrowed a lot of Arabic social norms and words to flesh out his world in a way that made it seem both real and foreign:

Throughline – Bonus: The Deep History of Dune – November 9, 2021

Setting aside the mistaken belief that because whole parts of the world were borrowed from them that then the story belongs to them (every reader thinks this about the stories they love and identify with) that episode of Throughline sheds some interesting light on the framing that Herbert crafted to tell his political epic in.

What Do You Want to Remember?

You Reading This, Be Ready

Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?

Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?

When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life—

Whatever can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?

William Stafford (Ask Me)
Robert Bly Reads William Stafford: The Darkness Around Us Is Deep (1993)

Drowning in Depression

What makes a person go online begging for help from total strangers, and then when someone tries to understand the problem, tries to understand why this stranger is publicly threatening to kill themselves, they turn on the would be helper and try to submerge them in their ire?

As I deleted all my comments from the thread that started this thought train moving and reported the post as a violation of the subreddit’s rules (what I should have done in the first place and will do the next time I see one of these kinds of posts there) I was reminded of this passage from Dune:

“Once on Caladan, I saw the body of a drowned fisherman recovered. He–“

“Drowned?” It was the stillsuit manufacturer’s daughter.

Paul hesitated, then: “Yes. Immersed in water until dead. Drowned.”

“What an interesting way to die,” she murmured.

Paul’s smile became brittle. He returned his attention to the banker. “The interesting thing about this man was the wounds on his shoulders –made by another fisherman’s claw-boots. This fisherman was one of several in a boat — a craft for traveling on water — that foundered . . . sank beneath the water. Another fisherman helping recover the body said he’d seen marks like this man’s wounds several times. They meant another drowning fisherman had tried to stand on this poor fellow’s shoulders in the attempt to reach up to the surface to reach air.”

“Why is this interesting?” the banker asked.

“Because of an observation made by my father at the time. He said the drowning man who climbs on your shoulders to save himself is understandable — except when you see it happen in the drawing room.” Paul hesitated just long enough for the banker to see the point coming, then “And, I should add, except when you see it at the dinner table.”

Dune by Frank Herbert (1965) pg. 139

(a Reddit thread discussing what the scene means)

When you are drowning in depression, it will do you no good to stand on the shoulders of the swimmer next to you. You will both surely drown if you do that. This is why rescuers in actual water emergencies frequently have to wait for a drowning person to stop fighting the water before they can attempt to pull the victim to safety. A drowning person will drown you and themselves in their frantic attempts to stay up in the air. They don’t know what they are doing. A depressed person needs therapy, and solid, stable people around them. Not more depressives that will pull them down deeper into despair.

Had I not found aid in the form of disability payments back in 2005, I would have been dead in 2006. I had it all planned out. I just had to start the plan in motion and it would have worked flawlessly. Probably. I was drowning in depression, convinced that I had to keep working to have any value to the people around me. It took almost another decade for me to figure out that I had value that wasn’t calculated in dollar figures, something that a working person who is convinced that they must keep working to have a meaningful life can’t understand. Not really.

I know this because I was one of those people and I can see the train of thought that lead me from my deepest pit of despair to where I am now. But I’m still burdened with the same chronic illness that forced me out of work twenty years ago. I know this because any time I forget who and what I am and try to start back into my old ways the vertigo sets back in and I have to take a week off in order to recuperate. Just like I had to do every other week back in the bad old days when I thought force of will alone would see me through.

I cannot rescue another chronic illness sufferer if that person can’t understand how I’m still treading water all these years later and flings insults at the methods I employ in order to cope. Hopefully they will also survive long enough to see the error of their ways. I won’t know because I can’t save them and save myself at the same time. They’ll have to find someone with a firmer grasp on reality than I have. I have people who want to see me keep on living. I hope that they do too.

Short Wave – How To Reach Out When Someone You Know May Be At Risk Of Suicide – April 5, 2021

Postscript

She was going to have to give up nursing in order to treat her Meniere’s if she had Meniere’s. She didn’t have vertigo, so I tried to explain to her that she probably was misdiagnosed and should seek a second opinion from a professional. She then scathingly informed me that she was a professional who damn well knew what was wrong with her. She had endolymphatic hydrops that she developed from exposure to a chemical (she never said what) and hydrops was Meniere’s. She said I needed to educate myself. She then attacked me for being on disability for 15 years, leeching off the government as she put it.

It isn’t Meniere’s if you know the cause. It isn’t Meniere’s if you don’t display the full spectrum of symptoms. It isn’t Meniere’s if you can cure it. I wish I didn’t have Meniere’s. What she has isn’t Meniere’s. What she did have was evidence that:

It has been said that he who is his own lawyer, is sure to have a fool for his client; and that he who is his own physician is equally sure to have a fool for his patient.

quoteinvestigator.com