Saturday, February 26, 2022

Best way to help Ukraine and peace and justice? Shine searing light on those wrecking the world!

While one hopes for good news from Ukraine, like verification of tales of Russian conscientious defectors, emulating Viktor Belenko... it's also important to remember that this is a worldwide oligarchic putsch that Putin has been ring-leading for a decade. The biggest and best thing the West can do, other than immediate support for Ukrainian resistance?

...would be to dismantle Kremlinite fifth column networks that the slightly-relabeled KGB vastly expanded during their hold on the White House. This would entail not only sanctions but housecleaning of a sort that could bring pain to many of our own elites. Especially those now being blackmailed. An example from a few days ago:

  “A massive leak from one of the world’s biggest private banks, Credit Suisse, has exposed the hidden wealth of clients involved in torture, drug trafficking, money laundering, corruption and other serious crimes.”  

These things keep happening as I predicted in Earth (1989) - that ever-more crimes and cheating would be revealed by whistle blowers… 

…and that it will never be enough to truly shred (with light) the worldwide networks of cheaters. Indeed, that danger to them is likely one reason the cheater-mafias all seem united now, in desperate moves to quash democracy and rule-of-law. And boy are they desperate, it seems! (See bottom re the "weak Biden" theme that's rampant on the right.)

For every spill like this one, there are likely ten that the oligarchs managed to quash just in time, “phew,” through murder, blackmail, bribery etc. Like the Epstein Files, or the Deutsche Bank records, or David Pecker’s safe… or a myriad other potentially lethal-to-aristocracy revelations that explain why the distilled chant every night on Fox amounts to: “Don’t look! No one should look at us!”

And yes, the one thing Joe Biden could do to smash the mafia putsch would be to appoint a truth commission to recommend clemency for blackmail victims who come forward.

== Demanding extreme transparency to save all our lives from 'black ball' dangers? ==

If I have been hammering Transparency since 1995, others have taken it up. The latest, dour Jonah-of-Doom Nick Bostrom, appeals for salvation-via-light in apocalyptic terms, via his latest missive about existential threats

How vulnerable is the world? - Sooner or later a technology capable of wiping out human civilisation might be invented. How far would we go to stop it?”   

(If I just now sounded critical, let me add that I agree with him about most things! Except the pessimism part… oh, and the incessant implication that “I invented all of these ideas!!”

Bostrom’s ruminations about a “black ball” existential threat is one that’s long been pondered both in science fiction and at fretful intelligence agencies. Let's say a harmful technology arrives that is easy for malignant forces to implement and amplify. Until today, many harmful threats like nuclear explosives were ‘hard’ to implement without large, national systems, and hence were controllable. But progress in all sorts of technologies like AI and miniaturization and genetics suggest a lone practitioner might someday wield vast power.

Bostrom pays less attention to the other thing that counters a ‘black ball’ scenario, the RATIO of sane vs. insane practitioners of the art. Take the anthrax attacks of late 2001, when hundreds of skilled and decent biologists acted quickly and in concert to help agencies thwart a mad scheme by one rarely skilled-but-indecent practitioner. So long as that ratio converges in an open and free society, 'black balls' may be staunched without imposing utter Orwellian surveillance or quashing the rapid advance of both freedom and progress.

But okay, let's go with the notion: what if there appears a tech so universally easy and devastating that those two saving graces aren’t enough? (And this possibility is often ranked high on any list of theories to explain the Fermi Paradox. Think about it. Or visit comments.) 

Bostrom posits that some kind of universal transparency/surveillance is the only conceivable palliative that might prevent catastrophe… and then proceeds to doubt that ornery humans would put up with such a state. 

(There is a Rising Power in the world whose court intellectuals are already raising exactly Bostrom’s point, in support of total control from the top by a Benevolent all-surveilling State.)

Alas, Nick seems incapable of perceiving the other way that light might usefully cancel out black balls. Not via top-down surveillance, but by lateral/reciprocal transparency and accountability, in which citizens themselves are the ones using omniveillance and sousveillance to spread general awareness, catching malevolent actions far quicker than any state protective caste.

Yes, sure, that sounds superficially a lot like the social credit systems for crowd-based mass enforcement of conformity being pushed in some parts of the globe. Only general transparency need not be oppressive if three conditions are met.

- Complete decoupling from state power.

- Sousveillance that pours light especially upon all elites.

- A social value system that highly prizes MYOB. Or Mind Your Own Business. And the rights of individual eccentricity. Stances preached relentlessly by Hollywood.

If we have all three of those conditions, then universal light will expose for opprobrium especially the voyeurs, gossips and bullies who would use transparency against people who are just minding their own business. (A logical flaw in that odious, drek-propaganda drivel, the book and flick The Circle.) 

Yes, this utopian alternative use of transparency sounds far more difficult to implement than Bostrom's state-centered Universal Surveillance. 

But yes, there really is only one path out of these messes - through the cleansing power of light. And the fact that so many elites reflexively oppose it means that they are far, far less-sapient than their hired sycophants flatter them into believing. 

It is vastly more likely to catch those black balls in time, while achieving that positive sum wonder... a society that's creatively rambunctious and moving forward at light speed.

And finally... something different to throw in...

== Damning State to State Differences ==

I’ve long held that the Union side in this phase of the 240 year American Civil War desperately needs better tactics… the reason I wrote Polemical Judo.  

Among the moves that we desperately need is to utterly smash a baseless canard that we’ve heard all our lives One that seemed valid and cute, when it came from Andy Griffith, then became increasingly toxic when spread aggressively by Jeff Foxworthy and the Blue Collar Comedy Tour guys… an assertion - both implicit and explicit - that “We may be less educated. But that’s a virtue! Since we down-home folks are more polite, down-Earthy, honest and moral than city/university people.”

Bull. A million times bull.

Oh, I’ll grant that slowness of speech and using “sir” and “ma’am” does make for a nicer sounding surface than city sidewalk gruffness. But New Yorkers are just as likely to be helpful, if they see a real need. And the rest is just a pure lie!

Regions that are best called ‘confederate’ have been net importers of tax dollars for more than a century, so griping about ‘taxation is theft’ becomes ironic. And as for morality? 

Name a turpitude that isn’t more prevalent in your average GOP run state (aside from Utah): from teen sex rates, pregnancy, abortion and STDs to domestic violence, crime, gambling, divorce and so many other metrics of poor self-control, like obesity. And yes, addiction. Not just to substances but mind-numbing drugs like Facebook and Fox News. 

The risk of dying from Covid is 50% higher in red states. 

Obesity rates across states (CDC)
The U.S. distribution of the Seven Deadly Sins - portrayed in this set of graphics - is deeply damning

And yet, in fact, things are even more imbalanced than the graphics portray, because three of the ‘sins’ are weirdly defined in order to cut the Confederacy some slack! 

Gluttony ought to show obesity rates, not the number of fast food franchises, for example. The map of Greed is just absurd, since both the rich and the poor are attracted to states with vigorous economies, and at least the Northeast and far western states are trying to do something about disparities. Sloth is just weirdly defined. But the other four? They reflect pure statistical truth.

The worst hypocrisies have to do with divorce rates and gambling, which the parents of these folks deemed wretched sins. Now though? The divorce rate among just Republican office holders is FAR above that of Democrats, especially at the top, where demonstrable child predation and pedophilia occur at rates vastly higher than for top dems. (Please, oh please offer wager stakes on that?)

 And today’s GOP is owned by a consortium that includes almost every non-native casino owner, including those based in Moscow and Macao. Which brings us back full circle. The best way to defeat the worldwide mafia/oligarchy putsch against our grandchildren's future is to clean our own house. With light.

* PS re the foxite narrative that the Ukraine war is all due to "Biden's weakness." 
Um, that isn't how this sort of thing works. 

During a regime of weakness - or one where the enemy controls the White House - that is when the enemy bides his time! Because time is on the tyrant's side. Hitler and his staff were planning war for 1947.  He only yanked the schedule forward when reports came in of rapid British re-arming at rates that would soon outstrip German production. This was all laid out in a senior thesis, later a best-seller, called While England Slept, by a Harvard student, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. 

Likewise, it is vastly more likely that Putin rushed his war of conquest because time was no longer his friend, not only because of Biden administration rampings up of Ukraine aid, but also (I posit) things that have very likely been done by our unleashed intel agencies during the last year that they have not been quisling-restrained.

Envision current staunch Ukrainian resistance enhanced by 6 more months of NATO aid. Then tell me which narrative makes more sense.


Tony Fisk said...

Anonymous hackers apparently breached database and obtained personal information on every member of the Russian armed forces.
Not sure if it's related, but Ukraine has opened a hotline inviting all Russians to phone their relatives and tell them to come home. Given that many Russian troops have not been told which country they're in, this is genius.
Reports of tanks in NE Ukraine running out of fuel.
Karkiv has beaten off assaults. Putin appears to be committing to full assault on Kiev. I gather cities are not the best place for 500 tanks. We'll see what morning brings there.
SWIFT expulsion of Russia agreed to. Yachts to be collected next week.

Paradoctor said...

"The U.S. distribution of the Seven Deadly Sins - portrayed in this set of graphics - is deeply damning."

What set of graphics? You link to obesity and divorce statistics, but where's Pride? Envy? Avarice? Lust? And how to quantify those?

Don Gisselbeck said...

The worst thing about the uneducated rubes is their lack of reciprocal deference to expertise. The rube is probably expert at something and would expect that to be respected (rightly so, he has years of experience backed by actual science). Even a physicist would accept "Yer water pump is toast" from an experienced mechanic. Yet that mechanic (no doubt a foxite) would not accept the expertise of a climate scientist, a historian, a sociologist, etc even though they have more experience and are backed by more science.

David Brin said...

I failed to link to the 7 deadly sins graphic article and now can't find it. But here's one from 2009.

David Brin said...

The wealth disparity chart skews the overall results to imply it's now all red America. But the rich AND the poor are attracted to dynamic economies. So that one is bull unless you take into account how hard the state is trying to uplift the poor.

Jon S. said...

"Reports of tanks in NE Ukraine running out of fuel."

Watched a video taken by a Ukrainian man on TikTok. He was driving past a Russian armored vehicle, which was stopped in the roadway and surrounded by its crew. He slowed for a moment to ask if they'd broken down; one of the soldiers replied that they'd run out of gas, to which the man offered to tow them back to Russia. He then asked if they knew where they were, and where they were going. Unsurprisingly, only the vehicle's commander knew.

gerold said...

Seems to me the danger of public surveillance is overblown. We know surveillance has real benefits when it comes to street crime, but the fear of Orwellian police state misuse is a counterweight. There are two simple changes to our society that would eliminate that risk:

1. Libertarian reform of the legal system: the elimination of victimless crimes from the penal code would eliminate the ability of government to misuse surveillance data. In China and Russia criticism of the government is a crime; a libertarian legal code would not recognize that as illegal.

2. Abandonment of our shame-based cultural norms which condemn universal human erotic instincts. If people weren't so damn embarrassed about sex they could breathe a lot easier. We're making a lot of progress in this area, but notice how terrified right-wing forces all around the world are about seeing this form of social control evaporate?

Ever wonder why the same people who yammer the loudest about "protecting" public decency are the most indecently corrupt?

reason said...

I wonder how effective it would be for The EU to offer any defecting Russian soldiers asylum.

reason said...

David -I wonder if you have any comment on the guardian article about the pyramid of power in Russia, and how absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Tony Fisk said...

Another example of Putin's 'Machiavellian genius'.

Day 4, and Kiev is still there. It seems 5000 Russian troops don't intend to be anytime soon.

On the darker side, thermobaric weapon systems are now being deployed. Horrible things (although a very juicy target for a Javelin, I gather)

This is an interesting snippet: telemetry of the crowds?

"What many people don’t understand is that we Ukrainians are counting every gunshot, every artillery fire, every tank passing by. On Telegram we exchange videos of neighbourhoods. For those of us lucky enough to be safe, we are getting information out. This is a mass mobilization."

Camargo said...

Let's see what happened.

The US, instead of letting Ukraine be a neutral buffer zone between NATO and Russia, was prepping to include it inside NATO. A clear provocation considering that would open the borders of the nearly indefensible plains of Russia to a land invasion. Russia is paranoid about that, quite rightly so.

The discovery of huge gas and oil deposits in Ukraine threatened Russia's main source of capital. The loss of that revenue would be a death blow.

Russia's demographic crisis make them even more paranoid.

Ukraine (pettily and quite bastardly) cut water access to Crimea causing a humanitarian crisis there. Not quite the good guys depicted in the media, right?

With the US and Kiev poking the bear with a short stick it sounds like this war is exactly the outcome they wanted.

Camargo said...

Oh, and Biden IS spineless and weak. Not to mention kind of senile and very creepy. Doesn't seems to be very bright too.

Even democrats acknowledge that.

Camargo said...

Mosquito and/or bacteria sized cameras everywhere. Death to privacy I say.

"But they will see me pooping!" Who cares? Everybody will see everybody pooping. Expect for a few very sick individuals, no one will bother.

And without zero privacy we will know who they are.

Maybe a omniscient AI that can curb the end of world scenarios before they even start is the only salvation.

Unknown said...


Lust: track Pornhub consumption
Envy: track viewing numbers for "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" or whatever is playing that role these days
Pride: measure front yard grass heights, amount of wax on car hoods
Avarice: sorry, there is no need to track it. Avarice, like DEATH and Savoir Faire, is everywhere.


Re: advancing tech vs species existence

I think it was Fred Pohl who pointed out that on some day in the future, assuming continued scientific and engineering progress, every human teenager would wake up with a metaphorical button on the their bedroom wall marked "Destroy World". That was written a long time ago. If you combine this with the "DO NOT PRESS THIS BUTTON" scene from the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, it makes for a fraught future.

David Brin said...

Unknown thanks for perceptive comments on the posting itself.

Carmago A couple of your assertions (unlike the rest) aren't trivially shruggable Kremlin agitprop lies, so I'll toss a reply to those two. Maybe. But be warned. Do no drench us with multiple posts. Compact it all so that normal, sane people can decide to read or skim or not.

I wish Zelensky would add at some point... "If you are defending a static part of the front and you find all the russian soldiers are firing over your heads, shout brotherly greetings to them and invite them to tea. Otherwise, kill them and toss sunflower seeds on their bodies."

David Brin said...

Carmago's drivel deserves an answer only in one place. Yes, from Putin's point of view, expansion of NATO was like a zero-sum game of RISK, an aggressive move by an enemy coalition. That paranoid, zero sum thinking should have been taken more into account byu our leaders. Especially Hillary Clinton.

But ALL such thinking ignores OUR fundamental view... positive sum... that peoples have a right to vote and elect leaders and policies they want. Not a word from Putin ever even nodded toward the fact that Ukrainians do not want union of any form with Russia, or especially his mafia oligarchy. They want union with Europe. They voted for it. And Putin's saber rattling and land grabs made them ever-more determined.

They begged for NATO out of sense of self defense. We refused and Putin could have had that permanent, but he's been waging open war against ALL western institutions for a decade now, chanting the old masturbation mantra that "The West is decadent!"

We've proved it wrong every generation for 250 years.

I guess we may find out what fraction of his nuke officers will obey orders from a desperate mobster.

Larry Hart said...


Even democrats acknowledge that.

Whip up your hate in some tottering state
But not here, dear.
Is that clear, dear?

Larry Hart said...

Like any good story, it explains a lot.

WASHINGTON — As President Biden tells the story, he was blunt with Vladimir V. Putin during a meeting in Moscow more than a decade ago. “I’m looking into your eyes, and I don’t think you have a soul,” Mr. Biden recalled telling the K.G.B. veteran. Mr. Putin smiled. “We understand one another,” he said.

Der Oger said...

I guess we may find out what fraction of his nuke officers will obey orders from a desperate mobster.

More and more "mistakes" are becoming apparent during the invasion. Troops still operate as if they had air superiority. Food and Fuel might be a problem. Objectives that have been conquered are retaken by the Ukrainians.

These "mistakes" could be deliberate. "Obey, but do not succeed" is a common technique to resist your superiors. Failing at a task might yield a higher rate of survival than other strategies.

So, if there are such officers, there might be unexplained (and maybe unreported) malfunctions, and some nukes might veer off course. Or, the officer corps decides having a spine might be beneficial to the continued existence of humanity, and depose of Putin.

I wish us all luck. Stay safe.

Unknown said...

Regarding Russia's showing so far...

Keegan pointed out that blitzkrieg requires at least the passive cooperation of the enemy - either through incompetence or defeatism. Ukraine has shown neither. (Keegan's example was the 1944 Allied breakout from Normandy, where Hitler's "hold your ground" decree resulted in the near-total encirclement of a huge part of the German forces in France.)

A commenter on another blog suggested that corruption may be a factor - that supplies the Russian army relied on were found to exist only on paper (and as sums added to foreign bank accounts). Even in a relatively open society this can be a problem, but Putin's Russia may have vastly expanded the field.


Camargo said...

My bad about multiple posts, Mr. Brin. The words kept coming and we can't edit previous posts.

I will slow down next time.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

I guess we may find out what fraction of his nuke officers will obey orders from a desperate mobster.

“I'm not going to shoot myself for that corporal.”

Alan Brooks said...

Unfortunately, China is still backing Russia up, so let us not become giddy regarding the tenacity of Ukrainians.

scidata said...

FWIW this is how I see history:
h(t): one damned thing after another
h'(t): rates, trends, forces
h''(t): inflection points / attractors / forks (jarring stuff like that Sun Yat-sen quote)
h'''(t): individual minds (integrating this back to h(t) is computational psychohistory)
h''''(t): neuronal cascades (thoughts)
- the last two could be biological or psychological - I have difficulty separating the two.
I'm much more comfortable with sigma notation than calculus, but I don't know how to typeset either in Blogger. Math is beautiful and intriguing, but it's the language of man, not god (old can-of-worms). Man formulates mindfully, nature computes mindlessly.
Early on I admired Boltzmann. Then Turing and Moore. Lately it's more Shakespeare, Leacock, and Brin :)
I've wondered if h'''''(t) is good vs evil, but that's way too mystical for me.
I like listening to baseball while soldering, and also seeing other views of history (which are often more coherent and accurate than mine). Or not. Looking at you, George Will :)

BTW Zelenskyy has a law degree from an economics institute and his father is a professor of cybernetics. I wouldn't be shocked if either or both had heard of computational psychohistory.


David Brin said...

scidata... interesting!

Alfred Differ said...

Sorry. Even with a risk of 'black ball' tech, I'm not willing to surrender my liberty or cease defense of my civilization.

The zero-sum trade off between security and liberty is bullshit. Our freedom improves the average fatness of our wallets which enables us to buy better security. On average, it's NOT a trade. I refuse to listen to authors who imply it must be.

We can MAKE it a zero-sum trade, but I like to think we aren't that stupid.


The button on the wall in a teen-ager's room that says "Destroy the World" will likely be accompanied by many others. Such tech doesn't develop in isolation. I can think of a number of others they are much more likely to push.

"No more zits."

"Make me irresistible to all girls."

"Change the rules of physics in my social rival's home."

"Save my parent's marriage."

Seriously. If a black ball concept emerges some day, it will have context implying all sorts of other capabilities. It makes no sense to cower with head buried in the sand because we've already seen these kinds of things. Kids have a button in their bedroom right now that says...

"Connect me to the information of the world."

David Brin said...

I agree Alfred. My point is that we can spot each others' black balls, rather than kowtowing to a nanny state. But at least those three ingredients I list are needed, for that lateral transparent world to work and also stay diverse and free.

David Brin said...

Amazing footage.

Alfred Differ said...

The only argument I know worth considering opposing the notion that we will spot each other's black balls is the simplest one.

"We won't try."

In support of that argument, an opponent would ask me how many of my neighbors I actually know? Lots of us don't. The TV reporter would stick a microphone in my face and I'd have to say "I had no idea that neighbor was Sociopath X who shot up everyone in that concert."

In opposition, I'd point out that I don't know them well which helps reduce tension. They are less likely to destroy the world if they don't have an immediate irritant looking over the fence at them. 8)

I'd also point out that I DO know a little about one of them because the police came by one day asking questions without pointing fingers. I worked backwards to which neighbor had their attention and added my own. I note this neighbor has all windows properly screened in my direction. Can't imagine why. 8)


When I lived in a different part of town, I had a very different attitude. I knew damn well what was going on across the street. So did every neighbor. We talked to each other about them making it difficult for them to know which neighbor called the cops any particular time it happened. Could have been any of us. It was my turn one night when they had to chase off (with an axe*) one of their persistent, threatening customers.


I don't think "We won't try" works as an argument. Real humans ponder their security. We aren't really sheeple.

* They were engaged in a business that was just shady enough they couldn't rent a store front. Without that, their customers had to find them at home. I wound up with a begrudging respect for the guy who came out with the axe… because he didn't use it. I made sure the police knew that when we called. They wound up hauling away the customer.

gerold said...

It's been called "the first crowd sourced war" and for good reason. Ukrainian citizens call in the route of incoming Russian convoys and then cheap Turkish drones turn columns of armored vehicles into burning death traps and scrap metal.

They say generals are always fully prepped to fight the previous war, and Russian tactics sure look like Operation Barbarossa II. They're rolling in with inadequate supplies and no air cover. An army travels on its stomach and for tanks that means a lot of fuel; those tanker trucks in the middle of the convoy are the money shot for drones or ground attack fighters. Light them up and watch the fireworks.

It's almost enough to make me feel sorry for the poor bastards. They say every country gets the government it deserves and there is a lot of truth to that. Being a conscript in the Russian army is terrible even in peacetime, basic training is like the hazing rituals in a psychotic fraternity; good preparation for enduring misery but lousy training for modern warfare. It's probably even worse for the Chechens Putin is throwing into the fire but the quicker they can be put out of their misery the better.

Any one know if Wagner Group is involved? Haven't heard any mention of them but they seem perfect for the mission.

The Guardian article about Putin and the corruption of power was spot-on. One thing I can't help wondering about is the effect of the corona virus on the mental health of the dictator. That may explain some of his mental deterioration; after poisoning so many of his enemies Vlad seems to have developed a Lady Macbeth-like obsession with protecting himself from contamination. They say schoolkids suffer emotional damage from isolation but Vlad seems to have taken it to extremes.

And nice reference to Tolkien and the corruption of power. I've seen some disparaging references to JRR on this blog, as if he were some fossilized remnant of medieval feudalism, but that's a serious misreading. The Ring was a talismanic representation of the corruption of power, and LotR was an explicit warning against it. It should be placed alongside Orwell's 1984 as a seminal work of political allegory in support of freedom and democracy. Don't be put off by the kings and knights in shining armor or the archaic saga structure. LotR was a powerful hymn for freedom and against autocracy.

If things keep going the way they are Ukraine will have to ponder the question of whether to recapture all of the Donbass and maybe even Crimea. That would be a nice problem to have.

Larry Hart said...

The events of the past week have shocked countries with typically pacifist miens, as well as those more closely aligned with Russia. Both have found the invasion impossible to watch quietly. Viktor Orban, the pro-Russia, anti-immigrant prime minister of Hungary, who denounced sanctions against Russia just weeks ago, reversed his position this weekend.

Gee, who is Tucker supposed to root for?

* * *

From the same article, this statement more than anything else startled me at how upside-down the world is. A "1939 moment", meaning that Germany needs to stand firm against the metaphorical Hitler.

“The mainstream political parties in Germany realize this is a 1939 moment and seem ready to support this new government in meeting the challenge at hand,” Ms. David-Wilp said.

Jon S. said...

China is backing Russia? In what way? They aren't providing materiel support; they're going along with the G7 sanctions (kind of have to, as the yuan itself isn't strong enough to stand without outside support); they certainly aren't publicly praising anything Putin is doing.

Mr. Brooks, I strongly suspect your data might not be coming from a reliable, independent source.

Robert said...

Pride: measure front yard grass heights, amount of wax on car hoods

Nah. Measure mistreatment of retail workers and waitstaff.

Tim H. said...

Something interesting on energy:
I want to see how the pilot project goes before I get too excited, but, potentially, they could bore the holes on the grounds of a power plant and spin the turbines without coal, methane or uranium.

David Brin said...

gerold, I speak of JRRTolkien with far more respect than I feel toward GLucas, you’d know if you looked at the actual essays. Collected in VIVID TOMORROWS: Science Fiction and Hollywood -

Tolkien is a romantic and hence inclined against modernity, an inclination magnified and multiplied prodigiously from having witnessed the Battle of the Somme, where tools of modernity mowed down his generation. GLucas has no such excuse, having benefited and depended upon modernity in every way, the ingrate.

Yes, JRRT poses Mordor as totalitarian and oppressive and hence, by comparison, the good-looking and friendly (*) Dunedain and Rohanese and elves seem kinder and friendlier. But… “freedom”? Seriously? Tolkien was honest! He admits that the elves were nasty and oppressive in their own ways and all the pain boils down to their fault. He admits that modernity MUST come… but prefers the version portrayed in the Shire.


JonS. “China is backing Russia? In what way?” Criminy! They just made a deal to buy massive amounts of Russian oil and wheat. They set up a separate money-laundering system for all Russian corporations and oligarchs.

The one bunch we can armtwist is the Saudis. We need to say “Either you start pumping now, till oil prices fall, or you can expect that our overtures to Iran will ramp up and our friendliness to you will decline in meaningful and painful ways.

Larry Hart said...

Jon S:

China is backing Russia? In what way? They aren't providing materiel support; they're going along with the G7 sanctions (kind of have to, as the yuan itself isn't strong enough to stand without outside support); they certainly aren't publicly praising anything Putin is doing.

I thought they explicitly weren't going along with sanctions, and were expected to help Russia defray the effects of sanctions. They've certainly abstained on any anti-Russia votes in the UN.

It's possible my information is out of date.


"Pride: measure front yard grass heights, amount of wax on car hoods"

Nah. Measure mistreatment of retail workers and waitstaff.

I'm not sure I'd equate pride with assholery.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

We need to say “Either you start pumping now, till oil prices fall, or you can expect that our overtures to Iran will ramp up and our friendliness to you will decline in meaningful and painful ways.

It would be delicious as pertaining to Tucker and company if Russia drives us back into civilized relations with their biggest bugaboo, Iran.

Tony Fisk said...

There's aiming to not succeed, and there's outright incompetence and disregard for your troops. Ask the Brits in Market Garden about the efficacy of miles of armoured columns on single roads thrusting into enemy held territory. And they weren't facing hit and run javelin squads.
ex-BBC correspondent John Sweeney's embedded himself in Kiev. Hasn't much insight on the way Putin's war's going, but has been commenting on everyday life, and how quiet it is. Internet's up. Power on. No tanks, yet.

Der Oger said...

@ gerold
Any one know if Wagner Group is involved? Haven't heard any mention of them but they seem perfect for the mission.

Take it with a grain of salt, since it could be propaganda: Members of Wagner mercenaries were sent into the streets of Kiev to assassinate Selensky. They failed and died.

Also, there are reports of Wagner mercenaries being called back from Africa. Possibly leaving openings there to destabilize growing Russian influence on various nations there.

From the same article, this statement more than anything else startled me at how upside-down the world is. A "1939 moment", meaning that Germany needs to stand firm against the metaphorical Hitler.

I saw the government declaration and the debate afterwards on sunday. In short: we would be 3rd in spending on defense in the world, support SWIFT exclusion and arming Ukraine, find alternatives to Russian gas, and harden our cyber infrastructure.

Reminder: It is a coalition of Social democrats, greens and libertarians doing that.

With overwhelming support from the center-right christian democrats, standing ovations and the promise not to nit-pick by that partys leader. From the left side of the parliament I noticed a certain "shock" moment, indicating to me that the government did not inform the factions of the full extend. Yes, this left a feeling as if the tides of time change.

I have mixed feelings about this.

The main problem of our armed forces is the bureaucratic apparatus and the ineffective procurement of goods, as well as recruitment. So, throwing more money at the problem before addressing it would not necessarily fix it, only alleviate it.

Second, we have other issues that demand attention in the education, healthcare, welfare and environmental areas. No money for that, but 100 billion immediately plus 30-40 billion extra per year for the armed forces? No tax increases and only limited debt-making? What about civilian defense?

Yet, the money is needed badly. Most gear with more technical sophistication than a can opener is either "in repair" or "en route".

Also, one could notice who stood up applauding the Ukrainian ambassador, and who remained on their seats.

Alan Brooks said...

Jon S,
is China playing both sides in the war?

Der Oger said...

What about a map depicting the seven cardinal virtues? Wouldn't that be more productive than pointing the finger?

David Brin said...

Der Oger, alas, history shows that the Confederate side of American nature never backs down except when totally confronted and all their bluffs are called.

Robert said...

My point is that we can spot each others' black balls

As a vet's son, I admit my first thought was "you should have treated that before it necrotized"…

It's called Fournier gangrene. Not uncommon in diabetics.

Nasty picture here (only look if you have a strong stomach):

Yeah, I laugh whenever I hear about AI too. ranchers have been doing AI with a syringe for generations :-)

Robert said...

I'm not sure I'd equate pride with assholery.

Talking to people who've worked retail, the assholes are convinced they are superior. Sounds like pridefulness to me.

Guess I'm going off definitions 1a and 2 in the dictionary:

duncan cairncross said...

Der Oger

Spend that money on renewable energy - it would be MORE effective than spending it on the military

David Brin said...

Duncan, it is important that your energy investments not benefit a conqueror.

gerold said...

DB: the West as portrayed by Tolkien is indeed free; much more so than our own open societies. There are no jails, no police, no legal restrictions on speech. It's basically a tribal anarchy much like the ancient Germanic cultures that produced the myths, legends and sagas that provide the format of the stories.

Of course freedom doesn't prevent people or dwarves or elves from being mean or violent. In fact it gives them more freedom to be that way or however they want to be.

There are kings and such but they follow a rule of law; law is supreme, not the will of the king. Exceptions such as Denethor have been corrupted, and ultimately that corruption comes from a concentration of power.

There have been complaints that the bad guys are bad looking and the good guys look good; it's certainly a romantic idealization but I read it as allegory. The gang boss bears the greatest responsibility for the evil done by their organization, but he couldn't do it without a gang of evil underlings. Orcs are the evil underlings doing the dirty work of their gangboss. In real life they might wear expensive suits and have a nice haircut, but allegory provides a certain narrative purity.

As for George Lucas: I'm always bemused at paeans to his "mythology" - I've seen better world building and archetypes in marvel comics. His special effects guys put together a cool alien bad scene but his characters are paper thin, and not that nice heavy pulp.

David Brin said...

Oy, gerold there is absolutely no evidence that Tolkien refers even glancingly to the kind of society you describe with rosy glasses. He was a scholar of medieval history and literature and he knew what feudalism was. He did assume his Aragorn was one of the cool-dude lords who dot history and I can see that, as I know Henry V slept on the ground with his men. But Tolkien himself blamed the Elves for arrogance...

...and I am totally justified for hating them for things as simple as never publishing a cookbook with the recipe for waybread. Or giving every home in Gondor a Palantir so people could know all knowledge and communicate instantly///. JRRT could actually envision such a thing...! So it was a deliberate choice to take that cool envisioning and restrict it only to the noble castes.

Don Gisselbeck said...

C. S. Lewis seemed to have the same take on modernity (That Hideous Strength for example). He too was in the trnches.

Don Gisselbeck said...

We do have JRRT to thank for "Oft evil will shall evil mar" which seems to be happening a lot.

Paradoctor said...

Dr. Brin:

I love the idea of a waybread cookbook, and of Palantirs in every home. But such egalitarianism is an Enlightenment concept. Perhaps the Shire would welcome that, but certainly not the Elvish kingdoms.

This suggests a trope that I would like to see: the democratization of magic. I would dearly love to see a book or a movie which starts out in a world with an arrogant magical/superpowered elite; but some magician/technician figures out the physical principles of magic/superpower, and via those principles invents an amulet/gizmo that gives those powers to anyone who purchases the device, affordably priced for the masses. The magical/superpowered elite, both 'good' and 'evil', gets wind of this challenge to their monopoly, and they don't like it. They unite against the foe - that is, the People - and that's the story's driving conflict. In the end the Good Guys - that is, the People - are victorious. Superpower to the People!

Disney Star Wars hinted at this, at the end of "The Last Jedi", with some random boy using the Force. But Disney did nothing with this, because Disney is Disney. In "The Incredibles", Syndrome planned such a technological revolution, but the movie called him evil and crushed him.

I suspect that the Suits had a hand in both of these denials of democratizing magic; and that's because the Suits do not desire democracy. I say that in our world, it is money that's the magic that should be democratized.

Dr. Brin, I offer you the democratization of magic as a trope worthy of you. Please write such a book.

gerold said...

DB: actually Tolkien was a professor of literature and language - not history - specializing in ancient Germanic. His metier was old anglo-saxon (Beowolf and Arthurian adventure stories) with a sideline in old norse. The stories he cut his teeth on were not medieval even if they were written down in 13-14th centuries. They portrayed an idealized heroic age were serfdom didn't exist and gods, heroes and magic swords mixed it up with fair damsels, dwarves and dragons.

I'm sure JRR know his medieval history too but that wasn't what interested him. The setting of gods and heroes was a backdrop for explorations of courage and honor, wisdom and beauty. Hobbits may have lived close to the soil but they never got dirty. For this we should not blame him for lack of verisimilitude; nobody misses the lack of horse flops and B.O. in a sword and sorcery tale. It ain't about that.

Henry V was a Most Christian Majesty and mired in the shit of realpolitik. JRR wrote about a pagan society still unpolluted by religion.

It's an interesting comparison of different conceptions of wisdom between the biblical King Solomon and the pagan King Heidrek. Heidrek was a primary source for Tolkien. It's where he got the riddle game and the cursed talking sword of the Silmarillion and it perfectly encapsulates the pagan Germanic ethos he portrays so well. (His son Christopher Tolkien translated it.)

I would have liked that lembas recipe though.

Alfred Differ said...

The only people in Tolkien's books who are free by modern standards are the hobbits largely as a result of neglect or the absence of some lord somewhere projecting power there. That lines up partially with English history in some pre-industrial times when the aristocrats were pre-occupied or too in-bred.

Everyone else was not free by modern standards. They might not be upset at their lord/king, but that's not freedom. They were subject to whim and accepted that as fact.


His fans love the elves, dwarves, and noble men. They cling to romanticism. I do too at times, but when I constructed game play environments, I always cast the elves as enemies of free peoples. Certain elves might not be, but on average I ALWAYS cast them that way because that's how I saw them in Tolkien's work. The orcs might eat men, but the elves would slowly impose structures upon them. They could afford to wait… and choose.

Tolkien HAD to remove them from the stage for the next age to belong to men.

Alfred Differ said...

Der Oger,

We don't all agree on the definitions of the cardinal virtues let alone acknowledge them in people we already dislike.

For example, courage used to be restricted to martial examples. A man could be courageous on a battlefield, but no where else. Many of us don't accept that now and the change can be tracked back to when the Dutch kicked out the Hapsburgs. What remains as the definition is still disjointed, though. Many think it is possible to be courageous in private. Many others reject that. We haven't settled around a dominant meaning yet.

We usually DO agree, though, with what qualifies as cowardice. That's where our host goes when he wants to challenge opponents with wagers. He's making a social display out of a call to conflict and putting money up so there are stakes for winning and losing. Courage in all ways except for the missing battlefield with guns or swords. Anyone running from him is a coward, right? Whether guns and swords are present or not, running from a social challenge is cowardice of a kind most of us accept as such.

At present, the vices are a little better defined over here. Displaying them brings down more consequences than being a person who is less than virtuous.

Alfred Differ said...

is China playing both sides in the war?

Of course they are.
We would too if we were in their position.


I'm cautiously optimistic about this whole war right now. If it stretches too long, Russia will demonstrate to the world they are at best a second rate power. *

If they do that, US foreign policy can afford to shift over the next generation as the other petro-princes lose relative power. Russia will just be another one of them.

* Sure. They have nukes. Those are expensive to maintain, though. Like Tolkien's elves, we'd wait them out.

Tony Fisk said...

Having earlier rolled my eyes at the 64km traffic jam of heavy metal the Russians have parked outside Kiev/Kyov, John Sweeney just made a remark* which puts a new spin on 'failing to succeed'. Hostages?

*"My working hypothesis is that the Ukrainians could blow it up at any moment. But, if they do that, then... Putin will... bomb Kyov to smithereens."

Tony Fisk said...

"A richly imagined universe of hope" is how I recall Time magazine describing the original SW.
Book of Boba could be better described as a poorly imagined backlot of despair. Even switching to season 2.5 of the Mandalorian halfway through doesn't save it.

Larry Hart said...

I usually intentionally make a fool of myself over the fact that we're leaving the six consecutive months with seven-or-more letters in the name behind and blah blah blah. Hard to get into the mood this year.

* * *

Then again, this is a tack I haven't heard before. Probably nothing will actually come of it, but one can daydream...

With a Russian invasion looming, the Ukrainian ambassador sat across from his Russian counterpart, his first chance to unload the frustrations and anxieties of a nation directly to its aggressor. He opened not with a complaint about shelling or a defense of sovereignty but with a request that the United Nations release the legal memos from 1991 that permitted Russia to take over the Soviet Union’s old seat at the Security Council.
Article 23 of the U.N. Charter lists the members of the Security Council. It says that France, the United Kingdom, the United States, the Soviet Union and the Republic of China are its five permanent members. Two of the five are problematic. The Republic of China is the name of the government of Taiwan, a distinct entity from the People’s Republic of China, which has operated in the council since 1971. The Soviet Union dissolved in December 1991 and its territory and people broke into 15 “new” countries.

Russia sits in the Soviet seat because it claimed to be the sole legal successor state to the Soviet Union, taking over all the old country’s obligations, debts and privileges. It notified the U.N. secretary-general in a letter on Dec. 24, 1991. The U.N. appears to have done nothing to investigate, corroborate or think through its implications; it simply acquiesced.

That’s why the Ukrainian remark was cutting — there are no memos because no work was done. Other post-Soviet countries claimed to be either new states or reconstitutions of old ones that had been forcibly folded into the USSR. Some, including Armenia, applied and were admitted as new members. Ukraine was a founding member of the United Nations despite being part of the USSR, admitted along with the other founders in 1945 as a result of a deal between Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill in 1945.

Robert said...

hating them for things as simple as never publishing a cookbook with the recipe for waybread

Here you go:


David Brin said...

CS Lewis was also Tolkien’s room-mate!

Exactly Paradoc! That would make such a great movie and mythology!

gerold, just because serfs and peasants and speak carriers aren’t mentioned in Beowulf and Siegfried does not mean they weren’t there. It means they are shrugged aside by the poet as unworthy of notice, less than dirt. Crum! You actually think the bards of the 13th century would agree with you and not me?

Tolkien’s core notion of the 4th Age and the Ring War was that SOME kind of ‘modernity’ was coming, and it some ways long overdue after Elvish crimes. But choosing between the clanking, fuming horror of Mordor-modernity and the yeomanry of the Shire, he prefers the latter, with a pleasant yeomanry doffing their hats to petty (Took) lords.

Laurence said...

I always saw the Shire as an example of Proudhonian anarchism, a collection of losely organised local associations co-operating voluntarily, with the concept of property largely limited to what one actively used.

I rediscovered C.S Lewis a few years ago, he's quite an interesting and provactive writer...apart from those dreadful Narnia books!

"I would have liked that lembas recipe though. Indian Rhotis come pretty close, especially if they're cooked quite thick.

David Brin said...

JRRT made clear that there was inherited aristocracy among the hobbits, as well. Though in the English tradition of lords who get their hands dirty on the land, working next to the gardener. THAT difference is why English lower classes fought for their lords in the Napoleanic era, instead of cutting off their heads.

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

We haven't settled around a dominant meaning [of "courage"] yet.

In modern times, scoundrels often twist the word into knots in order to claim that doing an evil without fearing God's displeasure is courageous. Putin most likely agrees.

Paul Ryan explicitly used this sort of "reasoning" in asserting that it takes courage for a politician to cut Social Security and Medicare. Back then, the media wasn't quite entirely cowed by Republicans, and some pundits pushed back that doing the bidding of the powerful against the wishes of the powerless hardly constitutes a profile in courage.

It must be 20 years ago now, I remember seeing the movie version of Shakespeare's As You Like It with Denzel Washington. I don't recall much of the plot, but one line in particular has stuck with me all this time. One of the female characters bemoans a disturbing tendency among the men of her time to depreciate actual valor and credit puerile acts of petty bravery instead. I had to look up the full quote, but I remembered the second half by memory:

"To be Hercules nowadays, one only has to tell a lie and swear to it."

So I guess it's not just in modern times.

Larry Hart said...

Tony Fisk:

"A richly imagined universe of hope" is how I recall Time magazine describing the original SW.

It was.

It still is if one can watch the original film in isolation without thinking about what comes before or after. But probably only someone who saw the original when it first came out is capable of doing that, and even then, only with a whole lot of willfulness.

Larry Hart said...


In "The Incredibles", Syndrome planned such a technological revolution, but the movie called him evil and crushed him.

Well, he was evil because he killed or tried to kill all of the good guys. Kinda like the Phantom of the Opera. While I get your point, it's hard to imagine the movie or the audience loving the guy.

"This is supposed to be a happy occasion. Let's not bicker about who killed who."

David Brin said...

Yeah I noticed that about Syndrome.

LH great Hercules quote from the Bard.

Robert said...

In "The Incredibles", Syndrome planned such a technological revolution, but the movie called him evil and crushed him.

Well, a revolution after he had fun using his technology to be acclaimed a hero.

scidata said...

"To be Hercules nowadays, one only has to tell a lie and swear to it." (via LH)

Hitchens on C.S. Lewis:
To those who argue that Jesus may have been a great moral teacher without being divine (of whom the deist Thomas Jefferson incidentally claimed to be one), Lewis has this stinging riposte: That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell.

Admiring while vehemently disagreeing with someone is the mark of and educated mind (slightly twisted line from Aristotle). I miss Hitch.

A.F. Rey said...

That was the one fatale flaw of The Incredibles: making the line "When everyone is super, no one is" a bad thing.

It made the heroes spend the movie trying to prevent the world from being able to share their super powers. In other words, making sure no one overthrew the ubermensch, because the power of the superior man was never meant to be shared with the hoi polloi.

A sentiment I'm sure Trump and Putin would agree with. :(

gerold said...

Did Tolkien write about evil elves? It's been some years since I read his Silmarillion Elder Days stuff but I don't recall anything like that. There were elves who were overly proud like the sons of Feanor who overly coveted the silmarils. They were also pretty contemptuous of men and might be excessively tribal like the elves of Mirkwood. I'd say pride was their main character flaw but when it comes to deadly sins I'd say pride isn't all that bad.

Of course there was Morgoth the evil Valar, and he probably had some corrupted elves working for him though I can't recall any specifically. Sauron was a numenorian I believe so essentially human.

Poul Anderson wrote a great little fantasy novel called The Broken Sword that did have some pretty evil elves but it call out in 54, the same year as LotR and it fell into obscurity. I liked his take on the Midgard/Middle Earth reality but his version of elves has been eclipsed (except by a few people here.)

DB: regarding the bards and poets of the 13th century: they were even more romantic than we are. King Arthur never has to collect taxes or engage in the grubby details of governance. He only has one functionary: Sir Kay the Seneschal, who is usually the butt of jokes and the Round Table fall guy. His job seems to be providing food for everyone or something of that sort, but the Arthurian Court exists in a dreamscape where valor, honor and love are foremost and peasants are never squeezed. Class hierarchy is virtually invisible, although I recall Gawain once being jibbed by a noble lady as a merchant when he set up his stall outside a castle. All in good fun you understand.

You mentioned the difference between lords who worked beside their gardener and petty despots who squeezed the peasants and the distinction is significant. Cultures require some form of organizational structure. It enables them to formulate a coherent response to emergent conditions and make decisions on a group level. Gardening lords could increase the well-being of the group by making well-informed decisions taking the welfare of the people into account, which is why their peasants would fight for them. It's a very adaptive behavior and a big part of why Western culture has been so successful.

Lords who succumbed to the corruption of power alienated their population and could not compete with open, free and fair cultures. Rule of law is how the Indo-Europeans kept rulers from going off the rails alongside the principle of separation of powers. IE myth and legend is permeated by the principle of the tripartite system (sovereign, warrior and producers) who each have an equal role to play in upholding society.

LotR actually has a beautifully tripartite structure among the characters with Aragorn and Gandalf in the sovereign estate, Legolas Boromir and Gimli as warriors, and the hobbits representing the productive estate. There's even a neat fractal structure within each group, with Frodo as the sovereign producer, Pippin and Merry as the warriors, and Sam as the producers producer. Tolkien makes it clear that sovereigns and warriors are susceptible to corruption by the Ring and gives us an inside view of how Sam overcame that temptation by laughing at himself. That's a plucky hobbit.

David Brin said...

gerold Tolkien himself blamed the High Elves for trying to keep everything static as well as their contempt for men.

Their refusal to even open a small community college is despicable, but that's not JRRT comprehensible.

The English 'gardener lords' were very British and they kept the prols from rebelling as the horrible lords of France faced. But it is arguable whether that led to better overall outcomes.

Larry Hart said...

A.F. Rey:

That was the one fatale flaw of
The Incredibles: making the line "When everyone is super, no one is" a bad thing.

It made the heroes spend the movie trying to prevent the world from being able to share their super powers.

Geez, that's not how I remember the movie at all.

I will grant you that the line of dialogue could--and perhaps should--have been describing a good thing. But coming as it did from the cackling murderer, that aspect of it comes off a little disingenuously--like when Putin declares that he's "de-Nazifying" Ukraine. Doing so does not make support for Ukraine into defense of Naziism. Neither does the fact that the villain's desire for revenge caused him to conceive a scheme which devalued heroes make him a champion of the working man.

The heroes were not made aware of a scheme to democratize powers, nor did they fight to keep such a thing from happening. They were drawn unsuspecting into the plot, and fought more than anything else to save their own lives.

gerold said...

DB: the old traditions of the tribal assembly ("Thing") never quite died out in Britain and the Netherlands, leading directly to modern democracy, so they definitely led to better outcomes. Kings, lords and the Church were also part of the mix and often worked at cross-purposes, but because the people were always reading, willing and able to fight the cause of individual liberty was never lost.

Switzerland, Scandinavia and the city-states of Germany and northern Italy also retained representative government throughout the middle ages. Freedom is addictive. The Shire was very much a self-governing people's collective, and the "hobbit lords" were more objects of ridicule than veneration; something like the "chief" of an H-G tribe: one word of command from them and everyone either sniggered or just went about their business.

Regarding an affinity for stasis among the elves: seems like a gentle jibe from Tolkien about the affinity for the status quo among the haves. For an immortal stasis is pretty tempting. Why mess with a good thing? It's a problem for any affluent society. People lose their taste for risk and change. They can park their wealth, collect their rents and stagnate while entropy nibbles away.

Larry Hart said...

Iran blames the US, for...what exactly?

ran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, blamed the United States for the current crisis in Ukraine in a live speech broadcast to his nation on Tuesday.

Mr. Khamenei, who considers Russia an Iranian ally, did not condemn President Vladimir V. Putin for invading Ukraine. In fact, he did not mention Russia at all in his speech. He said Iran had a general policy of opposing wars and invasions of sovereign states, and called for an end to the conflict in Ukraine.

Like China, they "oppose invasions of sovereign states", but refuse to condemn the invader of a sovereign state. I suppose the US forced Putin to do it by looking at him funny?

Unknown said...

The triple system is more "Those who fight, those who pray, and those who work": Basic Indo-European feudalism (warriors to enforce the system, priests to propagandize for it, and peasants to support it).

Merchants and innovators were deeply distrusted...I wonder if the roots of anti-Semitism lie partly here, as that was the role that Jews were ascribed across much of Medieval Europe.

Interestingly, in Imperial China, warriors lost their place on the podium.

I consider the Broken Sword a better portrayal of the world of Dark Age Northern Europe than anything Tolkien created*. It describes a troll/elf World War which humans are unable to even recognize. Anderson's elves reflect the amorality they were originally ascribed, and its most evil character is also its most interesting - the child left by elves as
a changeling who turns against the society that abandoned him among the humans.


*so, apparently, does Michael Moorcock. I did not know that.

Laurence: You'd like roti canai, I suspect. It's an Indonesian/Malaysian variant.

Gerold: "...Morgoth the evil Valar, and he probably had some corrupted elves..." it's pretty clear that those are orcs.

Slim Moldie said...


This may seem irreverent, but what Tolkien may or may not have intended with social/historical/allegory is somewhat irrelevant to what connects most of us to the story. The things everyone TALKS about: orcs, elves, dragons, battles, wizards, magic, maps, descriptions of nature that rival James Fenimore Cooper, bla bla bla so what! Ask yourself as the reader, what theme EMOTIONALLY drives and connects you to the main CHARACTER in the literal LOR journey.

And if you don't get it, you can use the American Pychiatric Association as a Mad Lib with Frodo's journey: pretty much the entire plot.

"Substance use disorder (SUD) is a complex condition in which there is uncontrolled use of a substance despite harmful consequencea. People with SUD have an intense focus on using a certain substance(s) such as (RINGS OF POWER) to the point where the person’s ability to function in day-to-day life becomes impaired. People keep using the substance even when they know it is causing or will cause problems (going Gollum), The most severe SUDs are sometimes called addictions.

People can develop an addiction to: (Rings of Power)
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, people begin (using the ring of power) for a variety of reasons, including:_____________________"

That's it! The whole damn story! And once he is free of it, the elves and wizards are going to take their magic bread and music and get off his lawn, forever.

David Brin said...

Amusing take on things, Slim. Gerold, I guess we're just gonna have to disagree. I have accepted that Aragorn himself is a decent dude, as some kings and lords were. But EVERYTHING to JRRT was bloodlines.

Larry Hart said...


The electric car chargers along one of the most important freeways in Russia are all down Monday after the Ukrainian company tasked with building the main components in the chargers used backdoor access to hack them, shut them down, and program anti-Putin/pro-Ukrainian messages to scroll past on their screens.
AutoEnterprise, for its part, reposted video to its Facebook page pretty much admitting to the chicanery. The video shows one of the disabled chargers displaying messages like “Putin is a dickhead” and “Glory to Ukraine. Glory to the heroes” and is now going viral across social media.

Tony Fisk said...

@Paradoc, you might like to check the Pixar film 'Onward' which depicts a society that's switched from magical fantasy to the convenience of modern technology. Main problem is the mess unicorns make rummaging through garbage bins. Probably comes with a hint of nostalgia.

In between doomscrolling, I've also been watching over gameplayer Hollow's shoulder as he makes his way through the latest Horizon instalment: 'Forbidden West'. Gorgeous visuals and storyline. The main take away here is that our hero Aloy is getting increasingly frustrated in her efforts to track down the remnants of the Gaia program that was meant to keep a fragile and nascent ecosphere from falling apart. It starts getting hinted, with increasingly large clue bats, that *maybe* this isn't a task to be taken on by one individual, however talented, and that *maybe* some of the characters she's encountered aren't just amiable but uneducated and unfocussed savages.

It's done really well. Huge time sink, though (especially if you aren't yet familiar with the first instalment.)

gerold said...

@Pappenheimer: the tripartite system is many thousands of years old, lost in the prehistory of IE peoples. Because we see it in mythology stretching from India to Ireland we know it goes way back - maybe all the way to proto-Indo-European. (See Dumezil for copious documentation, Scott Littleton [eg From Scythia to Camelot] for a more modern analysis, and Bruce Lincoln likewise.)

The insertion of "those who pray" was a product of the Church worming its way into Western society during medieval times. The original formulation, and the one featured so prominently in ancient myth and legend (and modern day stories and film) was different and entirely antithetical to theocracy. Sovereign/warrior/producer is the foundational ideology of the Western social contract. It specifies roles and responsibilities in a tribal warrior culture which was scaled-up eventually to urban civilization and it specified that none of the three were any better or more important than the others. It explicitly noted their interdependence, with particular emphasis on the productive estate as the foundation of life.

The productive estate had jurisdiction over wealth, beauty, pleasure, love and sustenance, hence female figures (goddesses) often ruled this domain. Naturally the Church could not tolerate such beliefs and took special pains to try and destroy it.

Broken Sword by Anderson is definitely darker than Tolkien. I loved his portrayal, but Tolkien certainly has more depth. The corruption of power might be the central problem of human society; the more power have as humans, the more we can accomplish both for good and ill. But when we entrust individuals with the application of that power they are corrupted by it. It was Lord Acton who coined it: power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. History confirms the aphorism over and over as we can see in Russia right now.

The Norse God Tyr appears in Broken Sword right?

In the myths the sword named Tyrfing (finger of Tyr) was also known as the sword of victory. It was also known as a cursed sword because although it would always kill anyone it cut it would eventually turn on its owner. It also had to be resheathed wet meaning once it was drawn it had to kill someone. Herodotus actually mentions a sword of victory sacred to the war god among the Scythians, and when Attila rolled west over the steppe he claimed to posses that same sword of victory. Myths are hard to kill.

gerold said...

DB: JRR certainly does do a lot of bloodline work in the books, but I read that as another holdover from his source material. If you think the geneology is overdone in Tolkien, it's very light compared to the sagas. Modern translations will abridge the family tree but it still prompts the occasional eye roll and a skip of the para.

Frodo was more resistant to the corruption of the Ring not because of his bloodline but because he wasn't a warrior and he wasn't a sovereign. He was a member of the productive estate and almost completely immune to delusions of grandeur.

But yeah - agree to disagree.

gerold said...

Slim: one more comment on the topic.

You're right that people don't read LotR for social allegory, they read it as an action fable. But it seems to me that the underlying allegory provides it with a resonance that makes it more powerful. Some critics have tried to dismiss it as a fairy tale unworthy of serious consideration. It didn't feel like serious literature because it had elves and wizards. But generations of readers can't help but feel differently.

Critics will argue that the public are a bunch of ignorant yahoos unable to judge great works of art, but there's something to be said for the wisdom of crowds over the judgment of pedants. I suspect LotR strikes a chord in the subconscious relating our actions as individuals to society. They say the only thing required for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing - but for good to triumph requires that when we do something we act with honor, courage, truth and love. A message transcending swords and sorcery.

Alfred Differ said...

Syndrome's line about making everyone supers is a classic comic book twist. Writers create trivially evil villains who would destroy the world, but with a flick of the pen they add one more dimension to the character by making them more a sociopath than demon.

Look at how the early Magneto was portrayed in Marvel's XMen. The early character was flat. When he was re-used to fight non-mutants, he was even flatter. Claremont altered him by giving his evil a purpose that made sense to a human. Destroying everyone isn't human. Destroying people who would commit genocide against his people is.

Syndrome was a villain with that twist. His stated goal makes sense as human, but he was still an evil man who had to be stopped. In a comic book plot, little explanation is needed once he kills. In a real world plot, we'd wonder if he'd actually make everyone supers after concentrating power and eliminating rivals. We know what to call people who do that no matter their stated goal.

Alfred Differ said...


I wonder if the roots of anti-Semitism lie partly here…

Aristocrats, Priests, Peasants.

Merchants of any kind didn't fit into the scheme whether they were Jews or not. The fact that Jews wound up in that social clade should shock no one. Where else were they supposed to fit without losing their identity?

The entire system wrapped around a system of ethics that was enforced by all three groups. Revolts speak of peasant uprisings against nobles, but even more common was the distrust between peasants and merchants. That nobles and priests distrusted merchants is easily understood in modern times, but the peasants did too. That's harder to explain, but I think it boils down to the perception of zero-sum games.

The miracle of the last few centuries of western civilization is how the merchant clade secured its interests against all three… and utterly consumed the peasantry while doing it. We ate them ALIVE generation by generation. Listen carefully and you'll hear the last of their children's bones being gnawed and crunched.

Alfred Differ said...

The English 'gardener lords' were very British and they kept the prols from rebelling as the horrible lords of France faced. But it is arguable whether that led to better overall outcomes.

I think the argument that it did is strong. With less need for blood running in the gutters, the English civil war (in all its phases) got to focus on higher order issues related to liberty.

A strong argument for why the liberal revolutions of 1848-49 failed was they looked too much like earlier peasant revolts in regions where serious blood-letting had to happen. The fight was about low order issues and didn't collect the allies needed. This failure and the schism among the intellectuals that occurred immediately after IS the supporting evidence. Liberalism in the fashion that created the US failed among many European intellectuals after 1849 and they drifted toward socialism in its various forms.

Weaker British lords enabled a higher order revolution with better overall outcomes.

Jon S. said...

"There were elves who were overly proud like the sons of Feanor who overly coveted the silmarils."

Feanor and his sons swore an oath, on the name of Eru Iluvatar Himself, that they would have the Silmarils to themselves only, and would slay any man, elf, dwarf, orc, or Valar(!) who dared try to take the gems from them. That oath was responsible for probably about 70% or so of the misery Middle-Earth experienced. (When Feanor and four of his sons were slain in battle, one of them tried to persuade the others that it would not break their oath to simply ensure the Silmarils were held by the eldar, but the other two overruled him, to their eventual regret.)

Larry Hart said...

Katniss Everdeen could be in Ukraine right now:

I'm in District 8 where the Capital just bombed a hospital full of unarmed men, women, and children. And there will be no survivors.

If you think...for one second...that the Capital will ever treat us fairly, you are lying to yourselves. Because we know who they are and what they do. THIS is what they do! And we must fight back.

I have a message for President Snow. You can torture us, and bomb us, and burn our districts to the ground. But do you see that? Fire is catching. And if we burn with us!

Paradoctor said...

Tony Fisk: Thank you. "Onward" is now on my list. Garbage-eating unicorns, eh?

Once I visited Marion Zimmer Bradley's home in Berkeley. After playing some games of dilemma chess with her son, I walked out to the back-yard for some fresh air. It was evening. The horizon glowed red and orange; the crescent Moon shone in the western sky; above it was the planet Venus; at the zenith were the night's first stars; and there in the twilight stood Lancelot the Living Unicorn.

Lancelot was an Angora goat. He was waist-high, he had fine white silky hair, and he had a single horn. Thus the name. His human owners, Otter Zell and Morning Glory, had surgically modified the goat at birth. They transplanted Lancelot's horn buds to the center of his forehead. These merged and grew to give the goat an imposing mono-horn.

Lancelot looked almost as if he had stepped out of a medieval woodcut. Almost. He had a goat's short tail, not a long tail with lion tuft. His horn was not an elegant long spiral; instead it was a brutal-looking ribbed pyramid. He could put a serious hurt on you with that weapon.

So I stood at a polite safe distance from Lancelot, and I watched the unicorn nibble at Marion Zimmer Bradley's rosebushes. This reminded me of the Thurber story "The Unicorn In The Garden", which also had a unicorn eating a rosebush. I deduced that one of the dangers of visiting Marion Zimmer Bradley's home is that you might find yourself in a Thurber story.

I witnessed, with my own eyes, that unicorn droppings are brown, oval, one centimeter long, and half a centimeter wide. I offer this observation as my contribution to the science of unicornology.

David Brin said...

“The corruption of power might be the central problem of human society”.

In a way. Yes. But it goes deeper to the prime reproductive strategy for all males… dominate and prevent other males from breeding while maximizing your own opportunities. Elephant seals, lions, rabbits, kings lords & priests.

Nothing could be more ‘natural’ than feudalism. You and a team of big males take other men’s women and wheat. And we now know it happened HUGE about 12,000 years ago, winnowing down the Y chromosome.

It also GOVERNS incredibly stupidly. That combination trap ranks in my top ten explanations for the Fermi Paradox. It may be very rare for a sapient race to stumble into the alternative to the male repro trap, the enlightenment / positive society.

Gerold no question that Frodo + Sam + Peregrine the “Took” represented hierarchy that appears more agile, flattened, collegial and even perhaps a little mobile. A version of lamentable ‘modernity’ that Tolkien much preferred over the urban/industrial/clanking type he ascribed to Mordor.

Yes the personal tales of friendship are core to LOTR… as kids ignore the evil implications of Yoda’s pure-evil, and take away only “mean people suck!”


A.F. Rey said...

The heroes were not made aware of a scheme to democratize powers, nor did they fight to keep such a thing from happening. They were drawn unsuspecting into the plot, and fought more than anything else to save their own lives.

Perhaps the heroes were unaware, but Brad Bird certainly was. What did you think the whole idea of making supers illegal was about, but not the hoi polloi trying to keep heroes down? The ridiculous legal suit again Mr. Incredible for saving a person's life? Mr. Incredible's slimy little boss keeping him from saving a mugging victim? Dash being unable to win races because he was faster than everyone else! The whole first act is about how mere mortals keep Supers from using their powers and being superior.

So democratizing super powers is just the cherry-on-top of what the tiny, petty and jealous had been doing to the Supers before the Incredibles cut loose--taking away their superiority. And while the whole Harrison Bergeron theme is fine, making the villain be the one who wants to give super powers to everyone suddenly makes it the old "I'm the king because I am superior" tale of the king who deserves to rule because he is superior to you all.

In my opinion. :)

Tim H. said...

gerold, the orcs were originally elves, kidnapped by Morgoth and "Improved"*. Sauron was a lesser Valar, who seduced some elves, temporarily, and too many Numenoreans.
*A possibility to bear in mind when genetic modification becomes possible.

David Brin said...

Does anyone know what this fellow was talking about, sending me this message? "Within the last couple of weeks, you posted on what one might call the anti-western death cult that exists in Russia. In it, there was a link to a really good French article about the subject. Could you repost the link to your post on the subject? "

Unknown said...

Aragorn spent much of his youth on the run, living in the woods, wandering (I recall that he spent some time as a common soldier in Gondor, too). Though Elrond kept him safe and treated him as royalty, other humans treated him as they would any armed rover - as a possible bandit (note Barliman Butterbur's dark suspicions). His self-doubt is a large part of his initial character.

If you are going to choose a monarch, that's not a bad choice. But what are Aragorn's grandsons going to be like?

One of the things Tolkien knew about war is that it takes away your friends. There is a long list of the dead on the winning side of the Pelennor Fields, and the common wounded get more book time than in much fantasy work.

"Nothing except a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won." Arthur Wellesley


Larry Hart said...

A.F. Rey:

What did you think the whole idea of making supers illegal was about, but not the hoi polloi trying to keep heroes down? The ridiculous legal suit again Mr. Incredible for saving a person's life? Mr. Incredible's slimy little boss keeping him from saving a mugging victim? Dash being unable to win races because he was faster than everyone else! The whole first act is about how mere mortals keep Supers from using their powers and being superior.

Well, yeah, that was the theme kinda ripped off from Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns, and probably many other antecedents--the fickle and suspicious public turning on heroes. But that makes my point--whatever justification Syndrome might have about spreading superpowers around to everybody, he was hardly a misunderstood good guy who was unfairly cast as the movie's villain. He was driven to devalue heroism by his petty resentment of heroes, and his plan to make powers available to the public was just the other side of the coin of the early movie's making powers available to no one.

gerold said...

@Tim H: the idea of human genetics being "improved" the way elves were twisted into orcs is certainly unpleasant but it's one of those infinitesimal risks that we can toss it out of the equation. Who would gain? What possible benefit could it provide? By the time we have the science and tech to make directed mods to the human genome we'll be able to make killer robots with way more destructive capability that any orc. Faster too. Robots roll off the assembly line. By the time your killer orc was ready to start rampaging he'd be long obsolete.

The Nazi's gave eugenics a bad name but let's face it, evolution has been all about improving dna sequences since forever. We don't want to let natural selection do that job anymore because it would require a lot of people to be killed before they can reproduce. Natural selection never was all that good at it anyway unless you have millions of years to spare and we don't have that kind of time.

gerold said...

@Alfred: the Church and aristos may have railed about wealthy merchants upstaging them with their wealth but the dynamic in medieval Western Europe was quite different as far as rural populations were concerned.

The growth of cities (starting in the Low Countries and French urban centers that survived the fall of the Roman Empire in the 11th century) was seeded by rural populations who would send some of their sons and daughters to live in town. Those ties remained intact as the cities grew in size and wealth.

Things were different in Eastern Europe where town and country populations often remained quite distinct. There the roots of antisemitism were fed by a predominantly Jewish town population who were a large proportion of the merchant class and a rural population who often relied on traveling merchants to provide access to manufactured goods. Resentments developed naturally as a result.

Town life in Western Europe was quite different and provided mutual benefits to town and country. Walter Christaller described how towns evolved as nodes in the exchange system with Central Place Theory; there is a good wiki page on it.

Obviously exploitation existed alongside cooperation, but systems emphasizing mutual benefit have a competitive advantage over systems of exploitation. People like to view history through brown-tinted lenses but it can be overdone.

Jon S. said...

"You're right that people don't read LotR for social allegory, they read it as an action fable. But it seems to me that the underlying allegory provides it with a resonance that makes it more powerful."

Let's ask Prof. Tokien about that.

“I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history – true or feigned– with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse applicability with allegory, but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.”

David Brin said...

Sorry, that characterization of Aragorn’s first 100 years is all wrong. He was hereditary chieftain of the Dunedain, the root stock of all Numenoreans and the most powerful tribe of humans north of Rohan.

Jews of Europe became urban largely because they were denied all normal patterns, e.g. their own landed aristocracy. This had a weird side effect that those who married the richest and healthiest girls tended to be scholars and not barons or warriors. Some assert that had selective effects.

JRRT’s claim not to do allegory is one of the most absurd protestations I have ever seen from a smart and decent man.

gerold said...

@Jon S re allegory (or lack thereof) in LotR: it's funny how art can contain undercurrents escaping the knowledge or control of the artist. Many times viewers will describe what they loved best and the artist will protest that they had no such idea. I think this happens most with truly great art. Mystics might describe it as tapping into the collective unconscious or something of the sort, and despite the clumsy nomenclature it's a pretty good description.

DB: Tolkien made a number of strange pronouncements about his work. He once described it as "very Catholic" which is very weird; the utter lack of priests, nuns, popes, religious rituals and scripture is decidedly un-Catholic. The narrative landscape is pulled directly from pagan Germanic myth and legend with a healthy dose of Celtic lore - so it's catholic but not Catholic - but he actually seemed to be covering his ass by claiming it wasn't heretical or something.

Great artists are judged by their work, not their press releases.

Robert said...

The Nazi's gave eugenics a bad name

Eugenics fully deserves its bad name, at least as it was practiced in North America. No death camps, but forcible confinement and sterilization were legal in both America and Canada.

Last eugenics law in Canada (Alberta) was repealed in 1972.

Last eugenics law in America (West Virginia) was repealed in 2013.

There was a difference between eugenics as practiced in England (encourage positive traits) and America (eliminate negative traits).

The English eugenics movement, championed by Galton, promoted eugenics through selective breeding for positive traits. In contrast, the eugenics movement in the US quickly focused on eliminating negative traits. Not surprisingly, “undesirable” traits were concentrated in poor, uneducated, and minority populations. In an attempt to prevent these groups from propagating, eugenicists helped drive legislation for their forced sterilization. The first state to enact a sterilization law was Indiana in 1907, quickly followed by California and 28 other states by 1931. These laws resulted in the forced sterilization of over 64,000 people in the United States. At first, sterilization efforts focused on the disabled but later grew to include people whose only “crime” was poverty. These sterilization programs found legal support in the Supreme Court. In Buck v. Bell (1927), the state of Virginia sought to sterilize Carrie Buck for promiscuity as evidenced by her giving birth to a baby out of wedlock (some suggest she was raped). In ruling against Buck, Supreme Court Justice Wendell Holmes opined, “It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind....Three generations of imbeciles is enough” (Black 2003). This decision legitimized the various sterilization laws in the United States. In particular, California’s program was so robust that the Nazi’s turned to California for advice in perfecting their own efforts. Hitler proudly admitted to following the laws of several American states that allowed for the prevention of reproduction of the “unfit”.

Robert said...

The best single-volume book on the history of eugenics in North America that I've found is Edwin Black's War Against the Weak, published in 2003. Here are some reviews:

Genetics is in the news. What is not in the news are its origins in a racist twentieth century pseudoscience called eugenics, which was based on selective breeding. In 1904, the United States launched a large-scale eugenics movement that was championed by the medical, political and religious elite. History has recorded the horrors of ethnic cleansing, but until now, America's own efforts to create a master race have been largely overlooked. In War Against The Weak, investigative journalist, Edwin Black, reveals that eugenics had an incredible foothold in America in the early twentieth century, and was in fact championed and funded by America's social, political, and academic elite. Even more shocking, Black traces the flow of ideas, research, and money from Cold Spring Harbor (Long Island) to Germany, in the process proving that it was America's eugenics programme that gave Hitler the scientific justification to escalate his virulent anti-Semitism into all-out genocide.

In the first half of the 20th century, more than 60,000 Americans—poor, uneducated, members of minorities—were forcibly sterilized to prevent them from passing on supposedly defective genes. This policy, called eugenics, was the brainchild of such influential people as Rockefellers, Andrew Carnegie and Margaret Sanger. Black, author of the bestselling IBM and the Holocaust, set out to show "the sad truth of how the scientific rationales that drove killer doctors at Auschwitz were first concocted on Long Island" at the Carnegie Institution's Cold Spring Harbor complex. Along the way, he offers a detailed and heavily footnoted history that traces eugenics from its inception to America's eventual, post–WWII retreat from it, complete with stories of the people behind it, their legal battles, their detractors and the tragic stories of their victims.

Edwin Black’s book about eugenics is a well-written, informative work, focusing primarily on the American eugenics movement, as well as its connections to Nazi eugenics. As an investigative journalist, Black excels at poignantly portraying the injustices perpetrated on the weak by elites, most of them scientists funded by Carnegie, Rockefeller, and other powerful business interests. He properly expresses outrage at the way that racial and social prejudices were clothed in scientific garb to label people “inferior,” which then gave scientific license to forcibly sterilize people, hinder or even break up marriages, and restrict immigration. Some more radical eugenicists even proposed killing the inferior. Black does a good job showing the ways that certain prominent American eugenicists waged a “war against the weak” by targeting marginalized groups for persecution.

Don Gisselbeck said...

His "Leaf by Niggle" is pure allegory, which is really odd.

Tony Fisk said...

The film Gattaca gives (American) health insurance as a credible reason for a society to practice eugenics through selective breeding.

Ukraine has been keeping a running tally of Russian casualties that appears to be accurate (at least,they match American estimates), so I was floored when I saw that the numbers had nearly doubled overnight. 9000 deaths is getting close to a decimation of the entire Russian invasion force. In response to the increased targetting of infrastructure (ie civilians), Ukraine special forces announced they will no longer take artillerymen prisoner... I don't think this is a wise course of action (Ukraine is definitely winning on humanitarian grounds atm, and those prisoners won't be doing any more harm). Then again, it's not my family being bombarded by folks who have had a week to contemplate the depravity of their actions in Putin's depraved war.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

Jews of Europe became urban largely because they were denied all normal patterns, e.g. their own landed aristocracy. This had a weird side effect that those who married the richest and healthiest girls tended to be scholars and not barons or warriors. Some assert that had selective effects.

Dave Berg of Mad Magazine fame put it that Christian Europe's values as to the measure of manhood revolved around challenge and violence to the extent that they necessarily killed off their second-best, third-best, etc fighters. The absolute best may have temporarily survived all challenges, but much of the society's strength was eliminated in internecine fighting for that top position.

Says Dave Berg, Jewish men, on the other hand, proved their worth by making one woman happy for the rest of their lives.

* * *


eugenics as practiced in England (encourage positive traits)...

I wonder how much influence that had over George Bernard Shaw's theme of Man and Superman, that men and women should be free to choose mates from the entire available population, unhindered by expectations based on class or race. On the one hand, that was a very democratic notion back in the early dawn of the 20th century. On the other hand, his stated goal for this unhindered selection was that it would eventually lead to (decades before either Hitler or Clark Kent) the birth of the "superman", a superior specimen of human being who would be wise and strong enough to rule as a benevolent dictator.

Larry Hart said...

Robert's linked article above:

The first state to enact a sterilization law was Indiana in 1907, quickly followed by California ...

The California of Nancy Pelosi that we perceive today was not always thus. California was conservative during much of the 20th century. Its electoral votes went to Republicans more often than to Democrats in TwenCen, and the state gave us both Nixon and Reagan. And in 1907, there wasn't even the Hollywood side of things yet.

Paradoctor said...

Larry Hart, A.F.Rey:

The anti-super legislation wasn't mass pettiness: it was mass survival instinct. A superhero is a supervillain who isn't killing anyone today. I don't care if Superman says he's good; I insist that the government stockpile kryptonite, just in case.

Democratizing magic is the _only_ way that supers would be allowed to survive, in the long run.

Larry Hart said...

An interview with Jon Stewart, saying what we already know...

[mimicking Tucker Carlson's support for Putin]
Well, but isn’t that the way we judge dictators and atrocities — are they nice to me? This Hitler guy, yes, has he done some things? But I got to tell you something— always holds the door. Very polite.

In some ways, I think then you have to ask the question, why is Rupert Murdoch trying to destroy the fabric of this country? What’s in it for him?


My wife and I play a game. We live in an area that’s very red. And so we like to play a game when we’re driving somewhere called “Insurrectionist” or “Just Supporter.” And so when we’re driving, we’ll see somebody. And you’ll just be like, OK, that guy’s got — OK, there’s a flag on the truck, but nothing else. And that’s a flannel coat. I’m going to go with supporter. And then you’ll go by and you’ll see somebody with, don’t tread on me, no more media bullshit, and be like, OK, that’s a guy who would probably take a shit in the rotunda if he had a chance to. But it’s an important distinction.

Larry Hart said...

After too long a time, a new Stonekettle post...

History shows again and again and yet again, that a political party and an ideology that accommodates and encourages this yammering ignorant hate cannot build anything.

It can not build anything.

It can only destroy.
This horrible worldview is precisely the vile bilious hatred condemned over and over by the very religion these people claim to believe in. They are selfsame antichrist they claim to fear.

If Republicans do not remove this vile cancer from their midst, then they have become a disease upon the body politic.

And sooner or later, like any other malignant tumor, we're going to have to cut them out.

Before they kill us all.

gerold said...

@Robert re: eugenics - you're right, I gave the Nazis too much credit in giving eugenics a bad name. As you point out the same noxious ideas applied by the Nazis to "improve" the gene stock were in use elsewhere, particularly in the US. In the 30's it's probably true that Nazi ideas were more prevalent in the US than they were in Germany, particularly in the former confederacy where racism and white supremacy were king.

The goal of improving the human gene pool is still a good one but those efforts were applied with a terrible mixture of ignorance and evil. That kind of evil has been repudiated as we learn from our mistakes but we're far from having sufficient knowledge for gene editing.

If we ever do decode our dna then eugenics can be done in an ethical way. Being able to understand the genotype/phenotype causal linkage is immensely complex and I doubt if merely human intelligence could ever be up to the task. But if our AI partners get smart enough to read dna they can help us get a lot smarter too; we certainly need it.

gerold said...

@Jon S: good point - the ill-advised oath of the sons of Feanor had disastrous - one might even say evil - consequences. Not because they themselves were evil however; prideful and rash for sure, but their oath was prompted (if I recall correctly) by Morgoth's jewel heist. They swore to retrieve the silmarils and it originated as a noble quest but good intentions had terrible consequences.

We see a similar plot device in Old Celtic myth and legend, where the degrees of freedom are limited for heroes by a _geis_, a vow leading to tragedy.

Larry Hart said...


you're right, I gave the Nazis too much credit in giving eugenics a bad name. As you point out the same noxious ideas applied by the Nazis to "improve" the gene stock were in use elsewhere, particularly in the US.

No, I think your original point stands. The fact that eugenics was popular in the US and Canada doesn't diminish the argument, in fact it enhances it. For all we know, the idea might still be popular in polite society today but for Hitler ripping off the mask and making clear just what was being promoted.

I often mention that Hitler made anti-Semitism unpopular. That's not to say there was no anti-Semitism in civilized countries before. On the contrary, it was perfectly acceptable in polite white Christian society. What Hitler did was show it in such a way as to make it impossible to promote and still be a good person. After WWII, being anti-Semitic meant "being like Hitler", which at least used to be an unqualified bad thing.

A similar dynamic is at work with forced eugenics.

Larry Hart said...


I don't care if Superman says he's good; I insist that the government stockpile kryptonite, just in case.

There's a difference between stockpiling a countermeasure "just in case" and preventing the hero from helping people. The laws which forced heroes like Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl to hide their powers from their neighbors wouldn't have done anything to stop them had they in fact gone bad. They merely prevented the heroes from doing good.

I've used such an argument in the real world about billionaires. When a fellow Illinoisan complains about why our billionaire governor (J B Pritzker) is any better than the former Republican billionaire governor (Bruce Rauner), I like to come back by asserting that it's not the money (and subsequent power) itself that distinguishes a good guy from a villain. It matters whether one uses one's powers for good or for evil.

David Brin said...