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CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR'S BOOKS

Thursday, October 31, 2013

HAPPY REFORMATION DAY

"Let the wife make the husband glad to come home, and let him make her sorry to see him leave."
-Martin Luther on marriage

Its that time of year again.  Way back in 1517, a monk and scholar named Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to the Wittenberg church door as many had before, and it started off the Protestant Reformation that changed the world.  The story has been told many times (you can read the history here from a previous Reformation Day post), but the blows of that hammer have echoed down through the ages and still reverberate today.
The Reformation changed a millennia of Roman Catholic dogma which had over the years stagnated and become corrupted more and more largely because of its vast political power.  Christianity does not prosper or stay true to its essential beliefs with power, it tends to be led astray by success.  The reformation was an attempt to return Christianity to its origins and roots and further to think through some aspects of life and faith in the light of the then-modern growing understanding of the world and science.
Out of this movement came many benefits to the world.
DEMOCRACY
The main one is Democracy.  While Democracy had a limited form in the past in places like Athens, it was always tainted by slavery and the control of a very powerful elite.  The principles of limited government and not trusting those in power were heavily influenced by the Reformation which taught that all men are sinful and corrupted by the fall and hence not to be trusted with too much power.  When the founding fathers wrote the US Constitution, they were influenced by this concept as well as the idea that before God we all stand equal.
CIVIL RIGHTS
Related to Democracy is the principle of civil equality.  Reformers taught that there is nothing innate in any human that makes them better or worse than any other.  Not only are we all equally sinful before God and only saved through His grace, not our virtue or good works, but we are all created as image-bearers of God and of great worth.  Because of these principles, civil rights and equal treatment under law naturally follow - and did, as time went on.
MARRIAGE AND SEX
Marriage, sex, and women all were benefitted by the Reformation.  The Roman Catholic Church taught that marriage was unpious, that sex was sinful (original sin was said to be sex between Adam and Eve rather than Adam and Lilith, put in the garden for Adam to deal with his urges), and that women were the root of sin as wicked seductresses.  The Reformation rejected this, noting the Bible's strong endorsement of marriage and command that married couples should rarely go without sex and only with good reason (I'm not making this up; check out 1 Corinthians some time).  Further women were treated as a blessing, with wisdom and to be treated with respect and honor.  Indeed, in Reformed areas, women were allowed to divorce their husbands rather than requiring them to wait for the man to dump her.  They were even allowed to divorce over abuse and abandonment.  Reformers also heavily emphasized fidelity in husbands rather than winking at mistresses and adultery - even in Monks and priests.
WOMEN
Women were encouraged to study and write about the world and the Bible.  Notable Reformed scholars such as Catherine Parr, Catherine Willoughby, and Anne Locke Prowse all rose from the Reformation and their embrace of women as intellectually capable.
SCIENCE
The reformation also created an explosion of scientific study and achievement.  Men such as Francis Bacon, Johannes Kepler, Blaise Pascal, Charles Babbage, Lord Kelvin, Michael Faraday, and Samuel Morse were all reformational Christians who saw the world as being a word of God, teaching about His nature and proclaiming His glory.  Because of them science grew by leaps and bounds, unhindered by dogma and church inquisition.
LITERACY
The reformation also promoted the idea of educating everyone, because of this view of the world and knowledge.  Knowing more of the world means knowing more of God, and further it helps someone read and understand scripture better.  Printing copies of the Bible in the common ("vulgar") language of the local people for the first time in human history, reformers such as Luther and Tyndale wanted everyone to read it and thus to be taught to read.  The principles of popular education went hand in hand with the reformation, especially reformers such as John Calvin.
ARTS
Literature also flowered and expanded due to the reformation.  Now books could be written by more people as more were literate.  Quotes from the Geneva Bible printed by Reformers (the first Bible translated by a group of scholars from ancient texts) are scattered through Shakespeare's works.  And of course Bach's music was all signed with one of the reformed slogans "Solo Deo Gloria - SDG - to God alone be the glory."  Arts were allowed much greater freedom of expression without fear of punishment for straying from permitted boundaries.
ECONOMICS
I've written more extensively about the Protestant Work Ethic, which has been widely slandered and misunderstood in our increasingly leftist society and in hateful academia, but it was the basis of free enterprise, the powerful economies of the day, banking, and more.  This was a direct result of the reformation, and it transformed the world.  The reformed concept of private property, the individual's right to a fair wage for good work, and the principles of ownership all changed the very core of society from the workplace on outward.
LIBERTY
Reformers were the first to promote the idea of the individual conscience as inviolate.  That one could not be commanded to do that which he believed was wicked, and that one could not be held accountable for the ideas or beliefs they had.  As Luther allegedly quipped "I'd sooner be ruled by a wise Turk (Muslim) than a foolish Christian."  This is the very basis of liberty: the freedom to be who you are and believe what you wish within yourself without fear of harassment or punishment.
It is not an overstatement to say that Martin Luther is the most influential person in history since Christ, and that his 95 theses changed the world for the better in ways we're still seeing unfold.  Celebrate Reformation Day, even if you're not a Christian, because the life you live and the benefits you enjoy came out of that simple act almost 500 years ago.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

SNOWBERRY'S VEIL LAUNCH PARTY, Mark 2

“Yes, come run at me. See if you can cross the distance without sprouting feathers. Perhaps you’ll be the fourth or fifth, the one who actually reaches me before I kill him. Who wants to be first?”
-Erkenbrand

In 2009 I wrote a book called Snowberry's Veil.  This was a fantasy story of a Ranger, his love, and the adventures he goes through to win her and fight a terrible evil.  The book is set in my fantasy role playing world which I've been developing and running games in on and off since the late 1980s, and as a friend who read the books said:
This is a fast-paced read with humor and action springing from the author's detailed world setting. Careful reading rewards those who like to become immersed in an author's imagination. I can see many adventures in the future for the Ranger of this title.
When I finished the book, I decided to go with an online publisher because I wanted to have a real tangible book finished and in print before trying to shop it to a more established publishing house.  Well that didn't turn out particularly well as I wrote about a few months ago, but it did give me a real book in my hands and that was nice.
I love the story,  its basically a small-scale fantasy story that I wrote in the style of Louis L'Amour as if he was writing a fantasy.  Naturally its my writing, but it was largely an experiment to see and show how his work and themes fit well into fantasy.  It was easy and I believe it turned out very well.
That copy sold a few dozen but it always concerned me.  The art wasn't quite right, it was placed poorly, and there were troublesome editing and grammar issues (some of which resulted from printing, apparently).  In the meantime I wrote a second book Old Habits which is available for sale still, and its done okay in sales.  The things I learned in writing Snowberry's Veil I was able to take advantage of in my second book, and it turned out quite well.
Eventually I recovered the rights to Veil and had it professionally edited and rewrote it, adding some little bits to clarify some things and crafted new illustrations.  Polished up, missing the grammatical flaws and properly edited, this version of Snowberry's Veil is a much better product.
So in a way, this is my first book, its just being more broadly released and seen as my second.  Which is fine, although each of the two stories are somewhat connected, they aren't a series you have to read in a certain order.  Its all building up to something, God willing, that I'll eventually get written in the future.
The story is the same though, and here's what people who read it had to say in the past:
Christopher Taylor's first, self-published novel is an imaginative story about a forest ranger/explorer who perseveres amidst dangers such as beastmen, human degenerates, strange hybrid forest creatures, and a harsh, wintry environment. The novel is at its best when the characters are actively engaged in an adventure, and the story is especially gripping when such adventures lead to heroic battles and confrontations. It is clear that Taylor has raw talent as an author. His characters are well-rounded, his descriptive ability is impressive, and his creativity in imagining the world of his story is evident. With a little more practice and polish, Taylor has the potential to be among one of the better fantasy writers of our time.
-James Huck

Separated from the caravan and injured, can Erkenbrand make it back to finish the escort job? Suddenly without a guide, will the caravan come to some Awful End, or will the fates smile upon everyone in the end? And just who is Snowberry?

Buy Snowberry's Veil to find out!

--If you're looking for World Spanning Epic Fantasy, this ain't it. A small tale about a few people, told simply yet eloquently...it may be a new genre, I'll call it MicroFantasy. Give it a shot.
-Leo Kazimov


Christopher Taylor has written an engaging fantasy novel that weaves together a couple of different storylines into one enjoyable novel. Taylor is a creative writer who brings the reader into his own world -- and you can't help but enjoy what you see.
...
His use of language and descriptive words also helps keep the plot moving. If you enjoy fantasy, you'll enjoy Snowberry's Veil.
-Robert Toornstra
The new version of my book Snowberry's Veil is available now on Amazon for $1.99; when the Lulu print version finally comes out, it will be available there as well - and when you buy the paperback, you get the e-book version .99 on Amazon.The paperback version is awaiting final check on the print and formatting before I release it to the public, which should be some time next week.  
Check it out, you won't be disappointed!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

COMMON KNOWLEDGE: Harmless Weed

"While our nation has remained fixated on illicit drug use — such as marijuana, which hurts no one — we ignore science, we ignore medicine, and we ignore good common sense."

One of the things people today tend to giggle at is the depiction of Marijuana in old movies and TV.  Films like Reefer Madness are watched for entertainment rather than education and the old stories of kids going crazy and causing problems while stoned are scoffed at.  Pot makes you mellow, after all.  The most damage you'll end up doing is to the snack bar, not someone else.
If anything, people tend to think a stoned world would be safer and less troubled.  Weed makes me drive better, I've heard people say.  Less anxious and aggressive, more laid back, how can that go wrong?  We're told by advocates of "hemp" that pot is less dangerous than cigarettes, causes less cancer, and nobody has ever become violent on pot.  Its harmless!
Indeed, support for legalizing marijuana has become more widespread, with states such as Colorado and Washington effectively legalizing the use and states such as Oregon and California legalizing pot for "medical" purposes.  Supposedly, according to a Gallup poll, more people want pot legal than banned.
And if marijuana is so harmless and less damaging that cigarettes, why is it still illegal?
Well, advocates of legalization can be a bit... loose with the facts, when it suits them.  And since they're probably all smoking weed, you have to take their pronouncements with the sort of respect you would any kid toking on a bong and stating how the world could be fixed.
The first thing to understand about marijuana is that its imbibed in almost all cases by smoking.  And deliberately sucking burning material and smoke into your lungs is bad, no matter what the material is.  Its damaging to your lung tissues, its harmful to your throat, and it will lead to the same sort of problems as cigarette smoke: emphysema, bronchitis, loss of sense of taste, coughing, lower lung capacity, etc.  Using a vaporizer will avoid some of these problems but might have its own drawbacks.
CANCER OR NOT
How cancerous pot can be is a matter of some dispute.  There haven't been a lot of really reliable studies done on the topic.  I remember reading about 20 years ago that smoking a joint is about 20 times as cancerous as smoking a cigarette, but how factual that is I'm not sure about.  Certainly the chemicals sprayed on pot to kill it (then sold unscrupulously anyway by pot dealers) probably makes it significantly less healthy.
Pot advocacy group NORML notes:
Cannabis smoke – unlike tobacco smoke – has not been definitively linked to cancer in humans, including those cancers associated with tobacco use. However, certain cellular abnormalities in the lungs have been identified more frequently in long-term smokers of cannabis compared to non-smokers. Chronic exposure to cannabis smoke has also been associated with the development of pre-cancerous changes in bronchial and epithelium cells in similar rates to tobacco smokers.
They also cite several studies that claim that "no association" was found  between cannabis use and incidents of oral cancer, but then its very rare with tobacco cigarettes as well and the studies were quite small and short term.  A 2006 UCLA study found no link between pot smoking and increased cancer risk, but another found up to six times the risk.
Although Marijuana use is ancient, its been illegal and significantly less popular than tobacco smoke in the past, so its difficult to get a quality long-term study done on the effects.  What studies have been done do suggest that there's definitely risk
One study demonstrated a doubling in lung cancer for male marijuana smokers who also used tobacco (i.e. for men who smoked the same amount, the risk of lung cancer was twice as high for men who also used marijuana.) Another study found that long-term use of marijuana increased the risk of lung cancer in young adults (55 and under), with the risk increasing in proportion to the amount of marijuana smoked.
And, of course, if we legalize pot just to find out if there's any real risk, by the time we find out it will be too late to fix the problem.  Something significant about pot smoking is that while it is free of substances such as nicotine, users hold the smoke in their lungs longer, thus exposing the tissues to damaging materials and carcinogens for a longer period of time.
What is certain is that it is irrational to claim confidently that smoking pot has no cancer risk.  That's just ridiculous on its face, and the science on the matter is highly contested and uncertain.  Alan Budney, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine puts it this way: “Do you want to put cancerous material in your body even though it hasn’t been proven to cause cancer?” It was a long time (and highly contested) that cigarettes were even damaging to your health at all, and they were legal.
VIOLENT WEED
The concept that pot makes you mellow and won't lead to violence is one that's been increasingly challenged in recent years.  The University of Buffalo is working on a study to find out just how valid this connection is (funded by federal dollars of course).  This might make you scoff, but while marijuana is a depressant and tends to make you calm so is alcohol and the presumption that this cannot lead someone to become violent is a bit unreasonable.  We have plenty of experience with the effects of alcohol on people; it varies greatly.  Drunks vary by person; some are morose, some are cheerful, some are violent, and so on. Its not so unreasonable to believe that some marijuana users could be more violent in reaction than others.
Does use of marijuana cause any crime or violence?  This one is a bit more clear.  There have been several high-profile shootings and mass killings lately that are linked to pot use.  For example when Congresswoman Giffords was shot in Arizona along with several other people, it was by a man Jared Lee Loughner who was a pot smoker.  In fact, many recent shooting incidents were by guys who are smoking pot, and stoned at the time.  The Navy Yard shooter?  Pot smoker.  Boston bomber?  Pot smoker - major league toker.  Aurora theater shooter?   Pot smoker.  Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza?  Pot smoker.
Now, this doesn't mean the pot was to blame for the shooting but it certainly blows the "people stoned on pot are like, mellow, man" myth to shreds.  People on weed do commit crimes, do hurt others, and do kill.  In fact, police will tell you that pot doesn't prevent violence or crime at all.
It has been known for a few years now that pot can cause schizophrenics to become unstable and violent.  What isn't as well known is that studies show someone who smokes pot is more likely to become schizophrenic.  And studies show that marijuana use can lead to psychosis.  Whether that is because the tendency is exaggerated or unlocked by marijuana or it tends to cause the illness isn't clear.  What is clear is that pot is not harmless and even might be very dangerous.
Some doctors prescribe "Medical marijuana" for depression and anxiety, but there's evidence that's actually bad for these conditions rather than helpful.
VEHICULAR TOKING
And the driving thing is pretty obviously silly.  Every single depressant and drug that causes relaxation or "stones" the user has a warning on it: do not operate heavy machinery.  Why not?  Because slowed reaction time, hindered perception, and a dopey mind  does not lead to a skilled and capable user.  Driving a car requires keen senses and awareness of one's surroundings, and marijuana does not help you do that better.  You may feel more relaxed but there's a point at which you become too relaxed and don't operate things better.
Various studies have shown that people who are stoned drive worse than when they are not.  Reaction time, fine motor control, and awareness are reduced.  How much this affects drivers isn't exactly clear - nor is it for being drunk, because it varies by situation, driver, and the vehicle - but the pattern indicates that people who drive stoned are more likely to break traffic laws and get into accidents.  This is contested by groups like NORML who want to legalize pot, but the general data indicates a problem.
Like many arguments, the "legalize it" movement goes too far.  They insist on arguments that are absurd, and your average pot advocate says the silly stuff mentioned above: totally harmless!  Never hurt anyone!  Nobody ever killed someone on weed!  You drive better!  That's ridiculous and were they not desperate to argue for a position they would recognize it.  Or stoned, of course; I've had plenty of exposure to stoned people and they make stupid arguments because they don't think straight.  The whole "college kids around a bong" stereotype exists because its true, people who smoke pot think terribly idiotic or shallow things are of terrific weight and importance.  It can make them argue very poorly as well.
So you get responses that any suggestion of a problem with weed are all lies and prohibitionist trash and outrageously overstated support for legalization of pot.  Almost all their arguments are discredited as a result, and most are deceptive.  The whole "hemp is a wonder product" movement for example is just an attempt to get pot legal, they don't really care about hemp.
Overall the truth about pot is mixed: its almost certainly cancerous, to what degree is unknown.  It almost certainly causes at least some people to become violent and seems to lead to mental instability in some people, especially those already unbalanced.  And traffic stats and data show that driving while stoned is not any better and possibly worse than driving while drunk.
In other words, weed isn't as harmless and wonderful as advocates claim, but at the same time it isn't the death drug that some claim, either.  Its probably not going to drive your young people insane as old propaganda suggested (but there is risk it might push unstable people over the edge), but its not safe and healthy to use, either.   Its not Reefer Madness but its not what NORML claims, either.
*This is part of the Common Knowledge series: things we know that ain't so.

Monday, October 28, 2013

WIKIPIDDLING

"Look something up on Google or ask Siri a question on your iPhone, and you’ll often get back tidbits of information pulled from [Wikipedia] and delivered as straight-up fact"

I've written a few small bits for Wikipedia, and edited some things in the past.  Most of the time I don't care but some bits are written with some mistakes or confused information and some are lacking bits that should be added in.  I try to resist editing bias away because its probably not going to stick; they'd just call it my bias.
I couldn't resist once, though.  On the entry for Mormonism, the wikipedia article stated that Mormonism "is Christian" which is not true.  While Mormons consider themselves Christians, almost no Christian agrees, and since the Mormon church rejects some fundamental Christian doctrines, you cannot state flatly in an encyclopedia that they are Christian.  So I edited it, to say that Mormons "consider themselves Christian."
I mean, if a bum living under a park bench considers himself to be a member of congress, that doesn't make it so.  The edit was reversed and I got a nastygram from someone in Wikipedia telling me that edits for bias weren't allowed and that it was hateful or some such nonsense.  I just shook my head and moved on.
There's been a lot said about Wikipedia's accuracy, and almost all of the criticism is accurate.  But it seems that for a while now, its not even a mass encyclopedia, either.  You really can't edit or add stuff to it much.  Sure, if you're one of the anointed official editors you can, or some celebrity or special interest group you'll get your say, but other than that, editing is basically impossible.
At the MIT Technical Review, Tom Simonite wrote about this (courtesy American Digest):
Yet Wikipedia and its stated ambition to “compile the sum of all human knowledge” are in trouble. The volunteer workforce that built the project’s flagship, the English-language Wikipedia—and must defend it against vandalism, hoaxes, and manipulation—has shrunk by more than a third since 2007 and is still shrinking. Those participants left seem incapable of fixing the flaws that keep Wikipedia from becoming a high-quality encyclopedia by any standard, including the project’s own. Among the significant problems that aren’t getting resolved is the site’s skewed coverage: its entries on Pokemon and female porn stars are comprehensive, but its pages on female novelists or places in sub-Saharan Africa are sketchy. Authoritative entries remain elusive. Of the 1,000 articles that the project’s own volunteers have tagged as forming the core of a good encyclopedia, most don’t earn even Wikipedia’s own middle-­ranking quality scores.

The main source of those problems is not mysterious. The loose collective running the site today, estimated to be 90 percent male, operates a crushing bureaucracy with an often abrasive atmosphere that deters newcomers who might increase participation in Wikipedia and broaden its coverage.
What the gender of the workers has to do with anything one can only speculate about, but the problems are very real and very present: a small core of very zealous people work quite hard to make Wikipedia be what they want it to be.  And in many organizations, the craziest and/or most shrill tend to be the ones in charge, even if they have no official position.  That always hurts any volunteer group because you can't throw them out or penalize them, really.
Yet Wikipedia's very nature - its open editing process - is also its greatest weakness.  I used to demonstrate to people how untrustworthy the site is by editing an article to include them in some insulting manner, then linking it to them.  Yes, Wikipedia officially says that you smuggle lemmings in your socks to Pakistan for rituals to summon Cthulhu, at least until the edit is caught and fixed.
A major example of this weakness was recently discovered, more than five years after being originally posted.  Kevin Morris at the Daily Dot explains:
From 1640 to 1641 the might of colonial Portugal clashed with India's massive Maratha Empire in an undeclared war that would later be known as the Bicholim Conflict. Named after the northern Indian region where most of the fighting took place, the conflict ended with a peace treaty that would later help cement Goa as an independent Indian state.

Except none of this ever actually happened. The Bicholim Conflict is a figment of a creative Wikipedian's imagination. It's a huge, laborious, 4,500 word hoax. And it fooled Wikipedia editors for more than 5 years.
Fooled them so much that they nominated it as a "featured article" in 2007.  And that's not the only example:
A half-decade sounds like a long time. But while impressive, seven other Wikipedia hoaxes have actually lived longer. These include an article on a supposed torture device called "Crocodile Shears" (which persisted for six years and four months) and one on Chen Fang, a Harvard University student who, intent to demonstrate the limitations of Wikipedia, named himself the mayor of a small Chinese town. It took more than seven years for Wikipedia editors to finally strip Chen of that mayorship.

And then there's the case of Gaius Flavius Antoninus, whose Wikipedia page described him as a perpetrator in one of the most famous events in history—the assassination of Julius Caesar. "He was later murdered by a male prostitute hired by Mark Antony," the Wikipedia entry told us. Antoninus, like the Bicholim Conflict, never existed. The hoax evaded Wikipedia's legions of volunteers for more than eight years, until it was finally uncovered in July, 2012, and similarly purged from existence.
That's the main weakness of the format.  Another main weakness is that people can and will edit stuff to lock in their political biases and beliefs into topics used by millions for research.  Don't care for someone?  You can smear them officially on Wikipedia and get away with it, for a while at least.  Some topics like the Iraq War, Benghazi, and Whitewater investigation of the Clintons are basically worthless for any information whatsoever.  And to make matters worse, the main people who are behind editing and choosing what stays or goes sometimes are these sorts of people.
Its long been known that you can't use Wikipedia for any really contested topic or hot issue.  Its best for things like how far away a planet is or the population of a city.  Things nobody has a strong feeling about and are easily researched.  I use Wikipedia quite a bit in my research, not as a primary source, but as a location to find sources, through the footnotes.  You can generally ignore the content, but the links are often useful.
Interestingly enough, many of the topics I write in my Common Knowledge series are solid and well-researched on Wikipedia.  I've rarely found the myths and flaws people believe unchallenged or promoted on these topics, even ones as controversial as McCarthy and the Red Scare.
But if the editors are trying to keep the main flaw (trolls and zealots editing things their way) from hurting Wikipedia, they're also keeping Wikipedia from being what it was originally designed to be.  Instead of being a completely free volunteer site anyone can add their knowledge and expertise to, its become a site controlled by a small number of volunteers which block anyone from touching anything especially in a way they don't care for.
Supposedly the site is working on updating the interface and changing how its made so that people find it easier and better to work with, but there's not much they can do about the editorial power people have.  And the internet is full of examples of how that plays out: often very badly.
And honestly, who really thought this would play out any differently?  It takes a spectacularly ignorant or naive person to think you can throw something completely open on the internet and get anything remotely reliable or useful for information.

Friday, October 25, 2013

SNOWBERRIED

I apologize for the lack of content, especially over the weekend, but what energy I have I've been pouring into getting Snowberry's Veil re-publication done.  I have finished off a bunch of internal illustrations, just one or two pieces to go.  I have the cover finished:
And I have the map done, a huge thing that's shrunk down considerably for the book (to reduce line size).  Today I did the basic layouts and formatting for the book, and when I finish the little illustrations, I'll get them in place.  Once that's done I hope to have the book out in Amazon and available on Lulu in November.
The Logo was odd.  I like the font, but it spaced some of the letters very strangely and I had to hand-adjust them together better.  Originally I planned to put a few pine boughs poking in from the sides, but I couldn't get them to look right so I dropped it for a very simple, very plain cover.
If I can continue to write books in this series (7 books total, each a different main character until the end when they all come together) I plan on giving each one a basic color.  Old Habits, for instance, had a mostly black cover with black velvet and a pile of gems.
The strange thing is, this is my first book, but its going to seem to be the second.  Anyway, that's what I've been busy with, and you can look for Snowberry's Veil to hit the shelves next month.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

THE PILL EFFECT

This is an older piece that I think deserves more attention, so I'm reposting it.  Why all the girly men?  Maybe its chemical.
"Yes, but where will I get my nails done?"
-A Metrosexual male considering camping

Modern Man
The Daily Mail has an interesting pictoral, showing the movie stars women thought were the most handsome, desirable, and sexy over the years. They don't go back as far as they might, to Humphrey Bogart and Robert Mitchum, but they mention Kurt Douglas and Steve McQueen. These were men's men, the kind of guys who would make a modern metrosexual hold their jacket while they danced with his date. They weren't conflicted and filled with angst, they were not beautifully coiffed and carefully manicured. None of them got their ears pinned back so they would look better on camera.

Today most supposedly hot guys look either like teenage boys (or are teenage boys) or give off a strong gay vibe. Models for men's products look like they would rather kiss the guys than use the products. Actors have prettier hair and more makeup than the actresses. What on earth happened?

The David Derbyshire writes in the Daily Mail about a recent study which thinks it has the answer:
Dr Alexandra Alvergne, of the University of Sheffield, says the Pill could also be altering the way women pick their mates and could have long-term implications for society.

'There are many obvious benefits of the Pill for women, but there is also the possibility that the Pill has psychological side-effects that we are only just discovering,' she said. 'We need further studies to find out what these are.'

The links between the Pill and sexual preferences are highlighted in a paper in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution.

Scientists have long known that a woman's taste in men changes over her menstrual cycle.

During the few days each month when women are fertile - around the time of ovulation - they tend to prefer masculine features and men who are more assertive.

On these fertile days, women are also more attracted to men who are 'genetically dissimilar', Dr Alvergne said. Picking a partner whose genetic make-up is unlike their own increases the chances of having a healthy child.

On days when women are not fertile, their tastes swing towards more feminine, boyish faces and more caring personalities, researchers have shown.

However, if women are taking the Pill they no longer have fertile days.
Now, how true this is, I wouldn't know. There might be something to it, and it might just be some goofy study done by a few guys in a basement at a university. I'm not sure how many women are actually on the pill or have taken medicine to cease their reproductive cycle. The internet has a few sites that claim 100 million women world wide are on the pill - but that's only a tiny percentage of the 2+ billion adult women in the world.

Its possible that this 100 million figure is primarily represented in the entertainment, style, and advertising communities, which would mean the people who decide what we see and are told to like are the most influenced by this "pill effect." I guess I could believe that, perhaps.

And, as commenters pointed out, guys like Fabian, Elvis, and Ricky Nelson were all considered hot in the 1950's... but they were lusted after by teenagers for whom the little boy look is more reasonable and appropriate. This study is about adult women, not kids.

But I think there's another factor that isn't being considered here.

One of the major driving forces in modern culture is emasculating feminism. Men, we're told, are just too masculine, and they must focus more on their inner child and their feminine side. All that testosterone is why we have wars and violence and crime. If only men would stop being so manly we could stop hunting Bambi and everything would be rainbows and skittles.

So we get a culture which pushes men to be weaker and women to be stronger. Tough guys in movies are often either a parody or shown to be deep down weak and sad inside. Women in movies are usually stronger, better, tougher, and more emotionally capable then the men are. Everything distinctly masculine (military, hunting, sports, etc) is downplayed if not openly mocked. Masculine concepts such as honor and duty are derided as foolish and outdated. The people who most cling to this ideology are heavily represented in media, entertainment, fashion, and culture.

Add to that the bizarrely overpowering, disproportionate representation of gays in media and entertainment - a tiny portion of the population which is given a gigantic voice - and the depiction of men becomes even more feminized.

So we get deliberate images of weak, feminized men in popular culture and entertainment.

There's also a pendulum effect which cultures tend to follow. Go back a few hundred years and men wore long powdered wigs, lace cuffs, and makeup that would make Tammy Fae Baker amazed. Then men became more rough and masculine, then in the 20s men were dapper, slicked back little things with manicures and a fear of physical exertion. Then the world went to war twice and realized those feeble things were worthless where it mattered. Then we got Alan Alda in the 1970s, alleged sex symbol and image of all that a modern sensitive 70's man should be.

Women and the culture reacted with revulsion at this weeping, feeble and hapless loser. It reacted so strongly we got Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, and Jean Claude Van Damme. But by the time Van Damme was fairly popular, he was a pretty boy who had perfect hair. Even those muscles fell out of favor, and we got Johnny Depp.

In time the pendulum will swing again, moving away from the wimpy pretty boy to more rugged, masculine men. But the trend is definitely away from that and to the girly boy, with only a rebellious culture flinging contempt at the mavens of fashion which brings this about. We're long over due for one of those reactions. A lot of women are seriously asking where have all the cowboys gone.
Since this was written, movies like The Expendables have come out, and big bushy beards are popular with guys, so the pendulum seems to be swinging away from the polished pretty boys toward more masculine images, for now.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

COMMON KNOWLEDGE: McCARTHY AND THE BLACKLISTS

"The important thing about a lie is not that it be interesting, fanciful, graceful, or even pleasant, but that it be believed."
-Dalton Trumbo


About ten years ago when the film Good Night and Good Luck came out, my friend's daughter was so fascinated by it she decided to become a lawyer.  She wrote a school paper on McCarthyism and the evils of Joe McCarthy.  She'd never really heard of the events and was greatly shaped by the film and its message.
The general understanding of those years was that a right wing extremist Senator named Joe McCarthy saw commies everywhere and began to attack everyone in sight.  Others went along with his leadership and the Committee on UnAmerican Activities, led by McCarthy, destroyed lives and ruined liberty in America in its witch hunt to find the evil commie.
Communists, of course, were over in Russia and China, we are told, and what few were in America were harmless sorts who had no real power or access anywhere.  Actors and others in creative fields were especially attacked, and Hollywood out of fear created a "blacklist" which banned people suspected or accused of being commies.  These people couldn't find work anywhere, their careers destroyed.
But in his path stood Edward R Murrow, hero of the people and hard-working journalist who saw the evil of McCarthy and waged a one-man crusade to end his tyranny.  Against all odds, this scrappy newsman defeated the hated McCarthy and showed the whole nation the truth behind his evil schemes.
The problem with all this is that there's some truth behind it, but most of it is distorted or highly confused.
For one thing, the House Comittee on Unamerican Activities (HUAC) was in the House of Representatives, and Senator McCarthy was in the Senate.  For those not familiar with US federal structure, the House and Senate are two different legislative bodies, and do not mix.
Senator Joe McCarthy (R-WI) was a WW2 vet who won election to the Senate in 1947 and served until 1957.  McCarthy was a lawyer who ran as a Democrat for District Attorney (unsuccessfully) and eventually became a 10th district court judge.  He then switched to the Republican party and ran for office as "Tail Gunner Joe."  McCarthy won over an anti-communist fellow Republican Robert LaFolette, gaining support from the red-tinged  United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers union.
You get a feel for McCarthy's style of politics by how he managed to smear his Democrat opponent as a war time profiteer for investing in stocks and earning $47,000 over 2 years during the war.  McCarthy himself had earned nearly that much on stocks as well.  McCarthy was a pretty loud mouthed guy who wasn't afraid to attack his foes and say pretty much anything he wanted.  Its hard to find any positive examinations of the man's life because of the anti-communist years (he's become one of the biggest demons to the left, and thus academia, which provides most historical information), but it doesn't seem like the attacks are entirely without justification.
McCarthy was a charismatic man who gave good speeches.  He also was willing to criticize the army when he thought they'd done wrong.  For example, while he wanted the death penalty for SS soldiers involved in a massacre of US Soldiers at Malmedy, he also criticized the army for torturing confessions out of the soldiers (although when pressed had no evidence of this taking place).
McCarthy's politics were hard to pin down.  He ran as both Democrat and Republican.  He started out being not so concerned about communism, and then picked it up as a hobby horse.  He tutored Democrat presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson on public speaking (which he largely disregarded, uninterested in show and performance).  The man seemed motivated not by policy and politics but by personal power and fame.
Joe McCarthy was already pretty well despised by the press corps, not any real cause for concern, when he became very famous and popular.  He spoke at a Republican Women's Club in Wheeling West Virginia and claimed  "The State Department is infested with communists. I have here in my hand a list of 205—a list of names that were made known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping policy in the State Department."
From there, the whole thing just snowballed.  People were concerned about Communism, and the fall of China and Russia (huge parts of the Asian continent and a quarter of the world's population) had people very worried.  Further, the press was just fascinated in this guy and what he was saying, they couldn't help themselves.
What you have to understand is that it was a very real, very disturbing fear in the hearts of Americans and around the world, that Russia and China were gearing up for another huge world-conquering effort.  And the rhetoric coming out of those countries was no help.  They called for the end of capitalism, the destruction of the US especially, and so on.
Further, as nations fell to Communist revolutions, people were worried.  They knew, from personal experience in the war (watching how Russian soldiers and their prisoners were treated) and from reports out of China and the Soviet Union that brutality, murder, and tyranny followed.  Nobody wanted that.  And US intelligence knew that the Soviet Union was actively working to infiltrate and undermine the US.
The House started up a committee to look into Communist infiltration, and around the nation, a real concern built up.  Movies and TV shows started to play up the red scare and general ignorance about Communism and fear resulted in terrible things.
My mother tells of when as a child she suffered the spite and mistreatment of her home town because her parents were considered possibly Communist.  Her father was from Denmark and had a heavy accent, and her mother had very poor hearing, so they were a bit odd, and that was enough for some folks.  An angry, vindictive neighbor spread tales about them and the small community turned against them for a while.
That wasn't the only example.  Neighbors would use anti-communism as an excuse to cause trouble.  People did lose jobs, did get ostracized, did get accused and "denounced" as Communists.  Unlike in, say, the Soviet Union that didn't result in a show trial and exile to Siberia or death, but it was damaging to lives.

MURROW'S HEROICS
Here's the thing though.  Joe McCarthy was the public face of anti-Communism, by his design.  It was his claim to fame and reelection.  But was Edward R Murrow a fearless warrior for freedom and justice?  Was he opposed to the anti-communism?  Its hard to say exactly how he felt about Communism.  He willingly signed a declaration of non-communism submitted by the NBC to all of its collaborators under the threat of being fired. 
By the time the See It New program came out about Senator McCarthy he was pretty well on the decline in popularity and power anyway.  His inability to show any proof, his attacking popular figures like an Army guy who got promoted were hurting him in the public eye.  After all, CBS would never have run the show to begin with if he was still really popular and powerful.  Andrew Ferguson wrote in the Weekly Standard in 1996:
By the time the [March 9, 1954] show aired, a mutiny was underway on his own subcommittee to relieve McCarthy as chairman. Prominent Republicans had joined Democrats in publicly denouncing him, even, gingerly, his former comrade Vice President Richard Nixon. In the mainstream press, anti-McCarthy feeling was endemic. Among those routinely critical were Time magazine and Col. Robert McCormick's Chicago Tribune. If Col. McCormick and Henry Luce were denouncing a right-wing icon, you could feel pretty safe in firing away.
One of Edward Murrow's "boys" Eric Sevareid, said in a January 1978 broadcast that the McCarthy program "came very late in the day,"
The youngsters read back and they think only one person in broadcasting and the press stood up to McCarthy, and this has made a lot of people feel very upset, including me, because that program came awfully late.
Other broadcasters had already condemned McCarthy's bombastic speeches and tactics without any proof or even evidence.  Even Edward Murrow himself makes it clear he wasn't some lone hero like the sheriff in High Noon standing alone, steely-eyed against the Senator:
"My God, I didn't do anything. [Times columnist] Scotty Reston and lot of guys have been writing like this, saying the same things, for months, for years. We're bringing up the rear."
Clooney's film of course, presents the Murrow as hero image, building him up as some towering figure of journalism and hero of the people, the only one man enough to stand against a powerful and evil right winger.  And of course, the entire film is a parable about the evils of the PATRIOT Act, which suddenly has become okay now that a Democrat is president.
What really did take down McCarthy?  ABC showing the Army hearings in which McCarthy came across as ill-informed, anti-military, and a grandstanding putz.  He ruined himself, and then the press piled on.  CBS didn't run the hearings because they ran at the same time as lucrative Soap Operas.
As for Murrow, a few years after the hearings, Murrow worked on an anti-Communism special report for CBS.  And far from being a glowing example of fine journalism, the See It Now segment was agitprop of the worst sort.  They went through thousands of hours of McCarthy footage and picked the worst of his appearances, statements, mistakes, and ugliest looks.  They deliberately picked the most absurd and cackling villain moments, carefully cut, then ended up with Murrow launching into a diatribe about how awful McCarthy himself was.  Not exactly fine journalism.

THE LIST
Was the Blacklist in Hollywood real?  Yes and no.  There was no actual list printed up for the studios, any more than there is now of conservative Hollywood types to avoid work with.  There was an unofficial group of people who the studios deemed damaging to their image and profits if allowed work, but how much of that was dogma and how much as just business is hard to say.  Although the system was considerably more conservative then than now, it still was left leaning even back then.
There were lists published by several groups, such as the Red Channels list which gave names of supposed (and often actual) Communists and sympathizers, but the studios didn't have any official book or anything.  Most of the really hardcore reds were known by many in the studio system, so they didn't really need a list.
If you made money, Hollywood was willing to put up with just about anything as long as they could keep it under wraps.  At the height of the red scare, being a known Communist was just too hot to cover up, so it was bad business. 
When 10 Hollywood types were called before HUAC to testify they refused to cooperate and were held in contempt and jailed.  They appealed to the Supreme Court, who noted that congress certainly was within its legal rights to jail people for contempt of court.  They had lawyers, due process, and so on.  But this treatment enraged these actors and assorted movie types and they decided the whole world should hear about it.
At last some of these "Hollywood 10" were actually Communists who did work with the Soviets, according to later records.  So they were likely following Soviet policy to use the press and entertainment community to damage anti-Communist efforts. Most of the ten had been part of the Federal Writers' Project, which was part of the WPA (Work Progress Admin.) during the Roosevelt administration.
John Huston later mentioned that these people were not exactly standing up for human rights in their refusal to testify:
It seems that some of them had already testified in California, and that their testimony had been false. They had said they were not Communists and now, to have admitted it to the press would have been to lay themselves open to charges of perjury ... And so, when I believed them to have engaged to defend the freedom of the individual, they were really looking after their own skins. Had I so much as suspected such a thing, you may be sure I would have washed my hands of them instantly. But, as I said before, the revelation was a long time coming.
The truth is that by now, it has been revealed that most were sympathizers to Communism, and some absolutely were Communists.
Some actors, such as Humphrey Bogart, were very sympathetic to communism, and writers such as Dashiell Hamett were as well.  Elmer Bernstein wrote music reviews for a Communist newspaper, likely out of a desire for work more than any ideological agreement.  
The Hollywood Reporter published a list of names of alleged Commies such as Dalton Trumbo, Maurice Rapf, Lester Cole, Howard Koch, Harold Buchman, John Wexley, Ring Lardner Jr., Harold Salemson, Henry Meyers, Theodore Strauss, and John Howard Lawson.  Later in 2012, the son of the publisher apologized, claiming his father just wanted revenge for being denied a studio, but how publishing names of actors from all over was going to accomplish this is unclear.
The truth is, most of the people on this list ere not just Communists, but members of the CPUSA, who took a treasonous oath to overthrow the government of the USA and assist the Soviet Union in conquering the country.  Paul Kengor writes at Front Page:
Regardless of their American citizenship, Communist Party members in the Stalin era (when Dalton Trumbo joined the Party) swore an oath: "I pledge myself to rally the masses to defend the Soviet Union. . .. I pledge myself to remain at all times a vigilant and firm defender of the Leninist line of the Party, the only line that ensures the triumph of Soviet Power in the United States."

...

As for the Hollywood Ten, all were members of the Communist Party, and we've known their card numbers since the 1940s: Dalton Trumbo 47187, John Howard Lawson 47275, Albert Maltz 47196, Alvah Bessie 47279, Samuel Ornitz 47181, Herbert Biberman 47267, Edward Dmytryk 46859, Adrian Scott 47200, Ring Lardner Jr. 47180 and Lester Cole 47226.
However, not all were as hardcore communists as the accusations alleged.  Some names were confused or mistaken, and careers were ruined as a result.  Louis Pollock lost his screenwriting career because the American Legion confused him with Louis Pollack, a California clothier, who had refused to cooperate with HUAC.  Some were damned by association, just a name mentioned as enough to lose work, even if you weren't specifically condemned.
And it became common for low-ranking Hollywood workers to get no work at all, such as Adrian Scott (director of movies such as Murder, My Sweet) who didn't get to direct another film until 1972 and Lilian Hellman (who absolutely was a hardcore Communist) who never got to write another screenplay until 1966. However, that didn't keep everyone on the blacklist from working.
Several actors, writers, and so on such as Walter Bernstein worked under psuedonyms or simply didn't have their names listed in the credits.  They were still working, they just were doing it in secret.  Some like Elmer Bernstein were able to keep working but on lower budget, small projects and minor films.  Some effectively blacklisted themselves by fleeing the country and working elsewhere.
The blacklist basically started in 1947, and broke up in about 1957.  Hitchcock hired a blacklisted actor named Norman Lloyd to work on his TV show, and from then on more and more blacklisted people were getting work.  Kirk Douglas claimed to be the one who had shattered the blacklist with Spartacus, but he was basically playing up himself for publicity.
Supposedly the film High Noon and the TV show On The Waterfront are anti-HUAC and anti-blacklist statements, but having seen both I'm highly skeptical of these claims.  Certainly plenty of later movies have come out.  Every few years another "look how evil fighting Communism is" film comes out bemoaning the plight of actors denied work for their ties.

THE TRUTH BEHIND THE SCENES
Congress did pull many people up to investigate them for former or active Communist ties.  "Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party" was asked of people.  And many of them had been Communists.  Back before WW2, Communism seemed okay.  Few knew of the horrors of Communist Russia at the time and those who did tell of them were just scoffed at and dismissed.  Communism was popular with academics in the 20s and 30s.  It was seen as a big step forward in progressivism, bringing equality and spreading the wealth around more "fairly."
As the truth behind Communist regimes became more clear, a lot of these people left the party.  Their leftist inclinations were still there, they just didn't care much for the Communist brand.  And a lot of these people got into trouble during the red scare, for their previous allegiance.
Things got a bit crazy, and finally McCarthy attacked the Air Force, claiming it was riddled with Commies and people had pretty well had enough by that point.  It was the final straw; the military was too well respected and the hype had gone too far.  McCarthy was disgraced, and the entire anti-Communist fight had a black eye, it looked terrible.
Whether that list McCarthy actually existed or not, and whether there were that many in the State Department, no one really knows.  What is known is that there were actually Communists and members of the Communist party in the State Department and around America.
We know this because once the Soviet Union collapsed, the KGB released plenty of paperwork, and among that paperwork was confirmation of nearly everything anti-communists said.  The Soviet Union did in fact specifically work to infiltrate the US government, entertainment industry, education, and all other parts of the US.  They knew there'd be no worker's revolution because people were happy and well paid, not exploited.  So they undertook a long-term plan to undermine and nibble away at the foundations of the US and take over sectors that controlled education and popular opinion. The first place the term "McCarthyism" was found was in the The Daily Worker, a Communist magazine produced by Soviet agents working in the US.
The Vernona Intercepts detail how unions were taken over by Communist sympathizers and workers in the US, how many writers and workers in education and media were coopted and even signed on willingly to work with the Soviets.  It shows that yes, there were in fact Communists working within the State Department.  My guess is that the CIA and FBI were aware of some of this and mentioned it casually to McCarthy and he went off on a tear.
This is no demented anti-communist paranoia, the people, plans, locations, and process were all quite well documented by the KGB.  When HUAC pulled people into talk to them, many were folks that were part of this systematic attempt to overthrow the US and turn it Communist.
The Red Scare was true, they really were trying to destroy America.  The problem is the United States is a free place where you are allowed to believe and think whatever you want, in theory.  That was the core behind tolerance and free speech, that a man's conscience cannot be bound by law and we must be free people to believe what we want.
McCarthyism - or any movement which does the same - violated this very foundational principle of America by condemning a belief system as "unAmerican" and destroying their lives over it.  Whether the belief system is Islam or Tea Party membership or Communism, or even something like racism, simply thinking and believing something, or even speaking about it, is not unAmerican.  It is uniquely American, something no other nation in the world enjoys the equal of in freedom of expression.  No other nation on earth holds freedom of speech and conscience as dearly as America.
Further, the freedom to assemble is in the 1st amendment, so membership in the Communist Party is absolutely protected, and not something you should ever have to testify about.  Yes, its stupid and self-destructive in the case of academics and actors, but they're free to be stupid and self-destructive in America.  And that's what made the whole exercise so hideous.
Yet every so often the society (or the ones who drive popular thought) will find some ideas so repellent they condemn the very belief of some ideas to the point of punishment and even criminalization.  And that is unAmerican.  Ultimately, it also works against the efforts of the people involved.  Eventually folks get sick of the demonization and attacks for having an idea or saying something, and they start to move away from the effort.
And that's what happened with the anti-Communism movement.  It got such a nasty feel, left such a terrible taste in the mouth of people that the entire concept of fighting communism was damaged.  These days if you call someone a Communist, you're attacked as hard as you were back then for being one.
In the end, Joe McCarthy never caught a single Communist spy, although with Annie Moss he might have come close - she was an active member of the CPUSA at the time (according to the CPUSA its self).
The House Committee on UnAmerican Activities did manage to ruin a lot of people's careers and lives for having Communist ties, and some of those were very real Commmies, but none of them were spies.
In the end, this one ends up a mix: its not like Clooney and the rest of Hollywood tends to portray it, but what they claim isn't entirely false, either.
And the biggest casualty of them all was the truth that Communism is bad and was actually trying to infiltrate and destroy America.  It was, and some would argue it succeeded.  If only the Soviet Union had hung on a few more decades, imagine how they'd be doing today?
*This is part of the Common Knowledge series: things we know that ain't so.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

SOME THOUGHTS

CASSANDRA: Already I prophesied to my countrymen all their disasters.
CHORUS: How came it then that thou wert unscathed by Loxias wrath?
CASSANDRA: Ever since that fault I could persuade no one of aught."
-Aeschylus, "Agamemnon"

Well I'm back from the Oregon coast.  I actually got back yesterday but with all the packing and moving and unpacking and such I was pretty well wore out.  So I guess I took a 3-day weekend on the blog thing.  Blogging  is sort of an insecure feeling, without lots of comments you never are really sure anyone is reading.  Stat counters only tell you people showed up, not if they stuck around and cared about anything you wrote, so I'm always concerned if I take too much time off people will stop coming.  I know I've done it with good blogs in the past when their content slowed and stopped for a while.  I check back in once in a while but know I'm not missing anything if I don't read for a few weeks.  I wouldn't want people to do that here.
Am I the only one creeped out by the new Skittles ads where people have skittle teeth?  That doesn't make me want to eat any.  It kind of has the opposite effect.  Now I wouldn't want to have any, even if I could eat candy these days.
I love this picture.  Imagine how Mooses (meece?  Moosen?) view Halloween.  Its like people are leaving offerings to them on the porch.
I remember as a kid how we'd take the zucchini that had grown too big to be any good to eat and feed them to the cows in the pasture next to our home.  They'd come running down the hill almost in a stampede to eat those things.
Here's how John Wayne talked about James Garner:
“That Redford fellow is good. Brando. ‘Patton’ - George C. Scott. But the best of the bunch is Garner - James Garner. He can play anything. Comedy, westerns, drama - you name it. Yeah, I have to say Garner is the best around today. He doesn't have to say anything - just make a face and you crack up.”
I agree, Garner really is an underappreciated actor. He wasn't just Rockford and Maverick.
Here's just a hilarious video to enjoy.  Bob Newhart was so good at his craft, it was fun to see him even when he wasn't delivering comedy lines.
Kind of reminds me of the R. Lee Ermey Geico ad.
A House Stenographer when off in the chambers in DC recently.  She says that she'd been told by the Holy Spirit that she had to say something and finally couldn't hold back.  Her rant was a warning:
Do not be deceived. God shall not be mocked. A House divided cannot stand.  He will not be mocked; He will not be mocked… don’t touch me… He will not be mocked. The greatest deception here is that this is not one nation under God, It never was. Had it been… it would not have been… No. It would not have been… the Constitution would not have been written by Freemasons… they go against God. You cannot serve two masters. You cannot serve two masters. Praise be to God, Lord Jesus Christ.
Now the Freemasons stuff is a bit out of the blue (although several of the founders were masons), but there are some congressmen there that should have felt a bit of a chill at that warning.
I'm the sort of Christian who believes that God speaks to us through scripture, not direct special revelation, but the content of her message is certainly something the government needs to stop and consider.  Instead they'll call her crazy and mock her.  Which really is a warning in and of its self. Maybe she is around the bend, but that doesn't make her wrong.  God will not be mocked.
Hat tip to American Digest for this bit, I'd have done that earlier but I'm still a bit weary.

Friday, October 18, 2013

INNOVATION CONTINUES

"When the American spirit was in its youth, the language of America was different: Liberty, sir, was the primary object."
-Patrick Henry

I read an old translated letter in a book recently.  Its from Baron Franciso Louis Hector deCarondelet, the Governor-General of Louisiana and West Florida in 1794 when it was under Spanish control. He warns the Spanish government that these recently independent Americans are a threat to Spanish lands and power because of their hardy, capable, and ambitious nature:
This vast and relentless population, progressively driving the Indian tribes before them and upon us, seek to possess themselves all of the vast regions which the Indians occupy between the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Appalachian mountains, thus becoming neighbors at the same time that they demand with menaces the free navigation of the Mississippi
...
Their roving spirit and the readiness with which these people procure sustenance and shelter, facilitates rapid settlement.  A rifle and a little cornmeal in a bag is sufficient for an American wandering alone in the woods for a month; with the rifle he kills wild cattle and deer for food and also defends himself against the savage; the cornmeal soaked serves as bread; with tree trunks place transversely he forms a house, and even an impregnable fort against the Indians; the cold does not terrify him and when the family grows weary of one locality, it moves to another and settles there with the same ease
...
Who shall warrant that our few inhabitants will not unite with joy and eagerness with men who, offering them their hep and protection for the securing of independence, self-government and self-taxation, will flatter them with the spirit and liberty and the hope of free, extensive, and lucrative commerce?
Back then, to be an American meant to be self-reliant, ambitious, hungry for freedom and making one's own way, and rejecting some central control.  Americans for over a hundred years after this period were known for being "can do" people; that is, while other peoples when faced with a problem felt despair and hoped for assistance from those in power, Americans saw an opportunity and a chance to excel, relying on themselves and neighbors.
Much of that is gone, but I was considering recent history and I think its still there, in some small part.
Consider the internet for a while.  Over the last ten years, what innovation, new idea, new website, new trend, or new use of the net has not been American in origin?
From Youtube to Google to Lolcats, the Internet has been a hive of uninhibited expansion and development of new ideas, with Americans leading the way.  Few of the major uses of the internet have come from outside of the USA, for even concepts like the cell phone really only took off when the American idea of the "app" made them more than just a tool.
Think about the websites and locations you go every day to on the internet.  Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Pinterest, whatever.  All of those are American in origin.  Youtube, American.  Netflix, American.  Google, Blogger, Yahoo, AOL, all American.
The thing that Americans are most hindered by, other than a culture shifting to dependence and a left-leaning mindset, is the lack of a frontier.  There's nowhere to expand to, no animals to hunt and trees to fell to build a home, no land to settle, no frontier.  Except online, where there are almost no limits.  There's some horrible stuff out there, to be sure, but they exist on the awful fringes.  The bulk of the internet is built up by people looking for a place to expand, a chance to make their name, a way to express themselves and be free.
And really, for now, that's all that's left to that rugged American spirit.  Its still out there; its just stuck online.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

COASTAL VISIONS

First the tide rushes in
Plants a kiss on the shore
Then rolls out to sea
And the sea is very still once more
-The Righteous Brothers, "Ebbtide"

Although I'm pretty well house bound, I get a walk out on the beach and to the bay when I'm here at Salishan.  This is Oregon, so there's no gigantic curling breakers here, only waves of around 2-3 feet tall that crash pleasantly but harmlessly onto the beach.  Every year storms change the shape of the beach so it can have drop offs or like this year just a gentle slope, littered with logs cast up from the sea.
Oregon's coast has more nesting sea birds than Washington and California combined, according to the Oregon state info I read.  And there are plenty of birds.  Some I recognize like gulls and pelicans, others I am not sure of, like Sandpipers.  Here are a few shots from views around the beach house.
A view out the east side, toward Siletz bay.  The mountains are often shrouded in fogs and mist
And out the west side, from a few years back.  its unchanged; this is at high tide, looking over the beach grass.

A bit of the local fauna growing just off some driftwood. The fact that succulent plants can grow in the sand so often soaked with saltwater fascinates me from a chemistry perspective.The end of the spit, separated by a narrow inlet between the Pacific Ocean and Siletz Bay. The water there is shallow enough you could almost walk across it, although I really wouldn't recommend it.
Pelicans. I'm told they are Brown Pelicans, which are apparently endangered or threatened, but there's sure a lot of them in this area.More pelicans. They are strange looking creatures on land, but look very impressive and sleek on the wing.
Seals, they look like perhaps leopard seals. Quite a few will rest and sun themselves at the end of the spit.The seals are quite curious, if shy. They follow you along the shore, out at sea, watching you as you walk.

I've always found the ocean relaxing, although not as beautiful as the mountains. When I go up into a high mountainous forest, I feel like I've come home. But I do like the feel and sound of the ocean. Perhaps some more pics tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

VAN DUZER AND BEYOND

"Watch out when driving through vanduzer corridor.  The animals hide by the side of the highway in the bushes and make faces at you."

I'm at the Oregon coast again.  Each year I spend a week here, and while in the past I had to either front-load the blog to post while I was gone or have guest posts, the house has wireless and I can work here, too.  Last year I didn't mention anything but this year I think I'll do a sort of travel vacation blog instead of my usual think pieces and nonsense (you can decide which is which).
The trip over the mountains to the coast from Salem is a pleasant one, even if I've been over it scores of times.  It is about a 50 mile trip from Salem, Oregon to Lincoln City, Oregon, over the Oregon Coastal Mountains.

The trip runs along Highway 22 west through Baskett Slough.  This area is a bird refuge, and some time I'd like to take a look around it although I don't have the energy to walk around in it I once did.  The slough is mostly a field with swampy bits and large hills rising around it.  The ground was covered with white and black birds - geese, I think, they were too far away to see clearly - and the effect was like pepper scattered over the ground.  Covering almost 2500 acres of grasslands, forests, and swamps, the refuge was formed in the year I was born (1965) to provide the local birds with a place to safely live and breed as the Willamette Valley became more built up and farmed.
From there the route changes to highway 18 and the forests start up.  This area is up from the valley floor and is climbing into the Coastal Mountains.  This area used to rumble with logging trucks and still there is some activity, but these days its mostly just autos on their way to Spirit Mountain and further to the ocean.  Also called the Salmon River Highway, 18 is the most direct route to the Oregon coast and the casino at Grand Ronde
Built in 1995 by the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community, Spirit Mountain is the biggest casino in Oregon.  Every year I see it, the place has grown by a building or two as it spreads and earns more money.  Native Americans from nine tribes such as Shasta, Kalapuya, Molalla, Chinook, Tillamook and so on banded together to get this built, and its bringing in a gigantic amount of money every year to these people.  Three million people a year come to Spirit Mountain to hand their money away, making it the state's busiest tourist attraction. Since it has opened, the casino has earned almost a billion dollars.
Not far west of Grand Ronde the road enters the Van Duzer corridor, a segment of highway 18 remarkable for its beauty and forested pathway.  H.B. VanDuzer was chairman of the Oregon State Highway Commission from 1927 to 1931 and he was responsible for the path and construction of highway 18.  Originally a toll road, it eventually paid off its cost and now over 20,000 people travel annually to the area for day use and visitation.  The area is a strip of land along the highway over 1500 acres in size, and includes a small park.  Here the highway crosses the Coastal Mountains, at a dizzying height of 793 feet.  This shallow summit probably explains why a wagon trail lay across the path now used by Highway 18.
Van Duzer Corridor is a quiet, lush area of great beauty and its always relaxing to pass through it.  I've seen deer often along the side peering out (and rarely crossing), and it smells wonderful outside.  The Salmon River runs along the highway west down the oceanward slope of the mountains, giving the highway its alternate name.
Then you come to Otis, Oregon.  Actually, Otis proper lies a few miles north of the junction between the North Old Scenic Road and Highway 18, but the town is noteworthy for the fact that it is for sale.  It has been for sale since 1999, and you can buy the unincorporated township of about 3500 people for $2,200,000 - down from the original $3 million asking price.  For that price you get a gas station and mini mart, a Pronto Pup corn dog stand, two houses, an empty 25-stall horse barn, a helicopter storage shed, a garage, a Grange hall, the Otis post office, the Otis Café, an auto-repair garage and 190 acres of farmland.  Presumably the homes of the people living there are not in the sale price.  As the town lies on the main road from Salem to Lincoln City and is one of the few places to eat past the Van Duzer corridor before you get to Lincoln City, it seems like it could be worth looking into as an investment, with a bit of construction. Yelp users give the Otis Cafe 4 stars, although I've never eaten there.
Then Highway 18 merges with the Coastal Highway, 101.  Highway 101 is one of the most astonishingly beautiful and curvy roads in the world, the kind of road that the guys on Top Gear UK don't think exists in America.  Its a short trip from there to Lincoln City, which is not a city at all, but perhaps they have big plans.  A narrow strip of land between the Coastal Mountains and the ocean is clustered here with shops and homes, mostly aimed at the tourist industry.
Lincoln City is not a place I'd really care to live,  it seems to have no real appeal other than a place to come and spend a little while and a little money.  Even the main attractions like Mo's Seafood restaurant aren't what they used to be (still good, but not as good as when it was in the little shop in town).  The scenery is wonderful, and the beaches quite nice, but the town lacks any real pull like Newport's aquarium further south.  The only real reason I love to visit Lincoln City is Robert's Books.
Robert's is the best bookstore in Oregon, perhaps the northwest, if not the west coast of the USA.  Not only does Roberts have a massive array of books, but the place has a fascinating character and feel.  Its welcoming and rambling, with that almost random layout that small used bookstores always seem to have.
Another major appeal of Robert's is his art collection.  Over the decades, Robert has found and bought original artwork from book covers and has them displayed with a copy of the book cover all around the store.  Its like a fascinating pulp and mystery art gallery.  He has original Pogo artwork from a Sunday strip, maps, old posters, and plenty of amazing bits to enjoy walking around.  Its worth a visit, if you do nothing else in the town.
Finally we get to the Siletz bay and Salishan Spit.  The Siletz on the east side of Highway 101 is another wildlife refuge, and its marshy hillocks of grass flock with herons, gulls, brown pelicans, egrets, and even bald eagles.  Deer wander in the marsh and smaller critters move unseen through the grasses.  The 100 acre area is closed off from human travel, and can only be viewed from nearby roads.  On the other side to the west is the Siletz Bay, enclosed mostly by the spit.
This bay is usually dotted with fishermen and crabbers.  The bay is mostly mud flats at low tide, and rises to a blue sheen of beauty in high tide, edged by tall grass.  As we passed it this time, I spotted two bright white egrets walking stilt-like through the shallows.
Salishan Spit is a very narrow strip of sand and rock that divides the Pacific Ocean from Siletz Bay and it is clustered with vacation and beach houses of high value and often odd architecture.  A gated community, it is run by strict rules.  no home can be more than two floors, and the use of the area is very strictly regulated.  No one has any lawns, and landscaping is very limited.  The beach grasses may not be replaced or diminished, and the homes cannot be painted wild colors.  Almost all of them are that grayish color wood gets in salty sea air, which makes them blend in well with the surroundings.
Originally the area was being examined for an airport for Lincoln City.  It is a very large area of relatively flat land that would be easily accessible to air traffic.  However after a fight of several years, the wildlife refuge and spit were assigned instead.  The spit is next to Salishan Lodge which is a high-end resort type of structure with a large, sprawling 18 hole golf course which costs $89 to try all 18.  The bay its self has a walk around it which is well worth the time to travel.
All of Oregon's beaches are public, which means you can walk from Washington to California on the beach (although some of it will require a bit of rock climbing to accomplish).  Oregon has more free public beaches than the entire East Coast of the United States.  The house I'm in has undergone a bit of renovation lately, as it was built in the early 70s and was getting a bit worn down.  Its 2 stories, with the top floor just a bedroom and small bathroom.  The only drawbacks here are the long stairs to get to the house proper (a bit of a workout lugging all the stuff up and down each time) and the bed I sleep in is made for a midget.  I can stretch out and my feet hang off the end when my head bumps the headboard.
Otherwise, its a nice, quiet place in a very pretty setting to get some writing and relaxing done.  I typically read a good half dozen books or more when I'm here, which is always time well spent, I figure.  I can't afford to buy anything at Robert's these days, which is a shame, but perhaps in the future I'll have more cash coming in.  Over the week I'll be putting some pictures up from my aunts.  They take an armload every time they are here and have gotten some pretty amazing shots over the years.
Cheers from Salishan.  I'd say I wish you were here but honestly I need the quiet.