Tom Pittman's WebLog

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2019 January 17 -- Design by Committee

"Hugh" is a guy's name, and his picture on the inside back cover is definitely a guy. So how did the novel turn out so bad? He starts out with a guy for a hero, but this guy turns to the Dark Side, complete with inner turmoil, and gets killed off, and is replaced for the rest of the story with a female -- as with so many male authors, really a guy with female name and pronouns, but the story wallows in inner turmoil, the stock in trade of chick-lit. I even wondered if he'd surreptitiously gotten his wife involved (she's named in the back-cover author blurb, but not as a collaborator) or something like that, because it was otherwise mostly a guy story.

Then I got to the end, and the (larger) author blurb on the next page explains that it was an internet collaboration thing, design by committee. That explains it. Internet discussion groups are a chick thing, guys have more important things to do, like saving the world.

The story is set in a post-apocalyptic toxic earth, which was common during the nihilism which preceded the fall of the Soviet Union; for a book published three or four decades later, it's anachronistic. It didn't make sense. Just now, as I write this, the author page flipped over, and I see a "conversation" with the author I missed when I set the book down last night, where he admits to a childhood fear of nuclear annihilation. I hope he grows up, but I probably won't go back for his other stories on the library shelf to see if he did.

2019 January 15 -- Crossing the Rubicon

Today I crossed the Rubicon: I had a chunk taken out of my face in connection with the C-word. My father, one of the last times I saw him, had numerous "skin cancer" scars on his face, but he spent a lot of his life outside. My sister died last year, and the last I saw her, she also had the wrinkly skin one gets from spending a lot of time in the sun. She had the Woman's Problem, but I never heard her say anything about her skin. Of course she was always "a private person" and said very little about her health to me or anybody else. Me, I'm an indoor guy. I figured the probability was low. I figured wrong. Or maybe the docs are lying to us. I have a bionic eye the ophthalmologist couldn't explain -- but *I* can: too many years sitting too close to a CRT. Now it's an LCD, maybe safer, maybe not, who knows? They all lie to us.

I had this new bump over my eyebrow. At first it was skin-colored but lumpy, like the warts I had on my hand as a kid, so I didn't worry about it. But it started to itch and darker. The internet, when I looked a few years ago, always said if it's dark I should get it looked at. There are two dermatologists in the yellow pages that are not specified in some nearby town, one on 6th street. I know there that is. The other was on "Golf View" street, but no such street on my city map. I Googled the address, and the only Golf View street anywhere nearby is the next county over, and the street view of the building looks like it could be a doctor's office. So I went to 6th street.

There is no such thing as a "right to privacy" in the US Constitution, but the King (who wears Nine Black Robes) says it's the law, and like the Apostle Paul (after he learned from the Philippian jailer what rights he had as a Roman citizen), I choose to avail myself of that right, to the degree possible. The Law says that if the government asks me for my private personal information, I must give it to them. I obey the law. It also says I must give that information to banks and employers, but generally not otherwise. The doctor is neither the government, nor a bank or my employer, I don't have to give them anything. Some -- perhaps most -- of them refuse treatment when I do that.

It's worse after ObamaCare. 22 years ago HIPPA became law, it had two purposes: driving up the cost of medical insurance by insisting the carriers had to cover pre-existing conditions, and protecting patient privacy. ObamaCare changed that by destroying the privacy component of HIPPA where it matters most. Now all the doctors are required to report everything they do to the government, and the patient has no say in the matter. They make a much bigger deal of not disclosing patient data to friends and family, probably to hide the Big Brother aspects of the law. But they cannot disclose what they do not know.

So the 6th street office refused to see me "without ID." They claimed it was so as not to confuse me with another patient of the same name. No such person in this county. They claimed it was so when I came back for biopsy results, they'd know it was the same person. After thinking about it a while, I decided that if they required ID from me, I would do my very best to make it futile: they would see me exactly once, on that day, and never again. All I needed was for them to zap the bump off, like I had done a couple times previous (before ObamaCare made it too expensive). It's an office visit kind of thing. So I started looking for dermatologists in neighboring towns I could visit once only, and mentioned what I was doing to my niece, and she's a go-getter, she got me an appointment at the dermatology clinic in town (not in the yellow pages) where she takes her father-in-law, and got them to promise not to demand ID.

So they did their thing, and I have this hole in my face (currently covered by a big band-aid). It itches about as much as before. It's all downhill from here.

I read somewhere that eighty years ago there were two countries in Europe, both with a significant Jewish population, but were distinguished mostly by the kinds of records the government kept on citizens. Today, one of those countries has no Jews living there. Guess which one kept better records before Hitler marched in. If the government has the records, they will be abused. Privacy is like secrets: there are no secrets after a second person knows. If the government makes laws "protecting" your privacy, then only every criminal in the world, plus everybody in government (probably not much different), knows your secrets. Not mine. Yet. But it's all downhill from here.

2019 January 14 -- BAR Publishes Unprovenanced Artifacts

You may recall last summer, I sadly announced the suicide of Biblical Archeology Review (BAR). I was wrong. Editor Robert Cargill was giving out not policy but propaganda, which you probably do not remember from my friend Phil, the military intelligence agent,
Propaganda is the "skilled mixing of 99% truth with 1% deception to produce an overwhelmingly convincing message that is 180 degress opposite of the truth."
In Cargill's case, the deception is the rot about unprovenanced artifacts. The cover story in the current issue is authored by Cargill himself, describing his experience in an archeological dig. It was well-written, more fun to read than the corresponding stories under founding editor Hershel Shanks' supervision in previous years. Perhaps he and all his staff thought so too, and let one of the other features through contrary to his promised prohibition of unprovenanced artifacts. Or maybe (as I hope) his promise was pure propaganda, a carrot to attract more and better authors. I'm not very fond of dishonesty, whatever the excuse or benefit, but benefit it seems to be.

The author if the secondary feature makes an important point, but he makes it based on the wrong data. He openly admits to using unprovenanced artifacts to build his case, but the case is better built on linguistic data, about which he seems less cognizant. His title point is that a particular phrase found on some pots and mud seal impressions -- he shows photographs: that's what I like about BAR, I can look at the inscription myself and confirm or deny the author's interpretation myself -- he says this phrase is better translated "Commander of the Fortress" instead of the more usual "governor of the city."

So I look at the photos, and they are quite clear, and I read Hebrew, and I pronounce it out, and I realize that I know all these words, every part of it was in my daily readings this last week, and I can read it directly off the pot, and it really does mean "for leader of city."

So what's the deal here? Author Schniedewind correctly understands that the modern (English) word "city" is not a good translation for the Hebrew word "'IR" on this pot, but he seems to ignore that it is also not a good translation any place that  the word "city" was a good translation 800 or more years ago, before large-bore cannons started to make city walls irrelevant. In ancient times, not only 800BC, but all through the entire time of the Bible and for more than a thousand years afterward, a "city" is a defendable place where people live; there's a different word for the suburbs outside the walls where the peasants lived and the rich people had villas more spacious than their in-city apartments, and for unwalled villages not worth defending. So the walled garrison he was looking at, where they found this inscription, was a "city" (a defensible place where people lived), every bit as much as Jerusalem a century or two later, where they found the same inscription (unprovenanced, but presumably dated by its writing and image style), and the same Jerusalem two centuries earlier when David captured it from the Jebusites and named it after himself, "city of David." It's not the size of the area that made it a city, nor the number of people who lived there, but the walls that surrounded and contained and defended it, and the meaning of the word did not change for over 2000 years, when imported Chinese weaponry made the walls irrelevant. When I visited Jerusalem in 1984, even then there was the walled "city" and then there was the rest of Jerusalem outside the wall, and which I never heard anybody call it "city." The city was inside the walls.

One needs to read everything with a critical eye, and BAR still (today, anyway) makes that possible. And inscriptions found in the trash heaps around the Temple Mount -- yes, we know where they found it, but we don't know how it got there, it's all technically unprovenanced, without a historical setting except by the same kind of interpretation that helps us believe the James ossuary and the ivory pomegranate and the Dead Sea scrolls are all genuine -- were a delightful addition.

Bravo! Will I say so to BAR? No way, it might have been a mistake, and I wouldn't want them becoming more careful.

2019 January 9 -- Catastrophism Apologetic

The author is no Creationist Christian, which question he answers in the single word of his hero:
"Don't tell me 4,004 B.C. is true after all."
"No. [p.176]
But he argues vigorously and almost convincingly in Cradle of Saturn for recent global catastrophes of Biblical proportions. Fiction can do things like that. As I mentioned back when I read it, Michael Crichton's State of Fear makes an awesome scientific case against the supposed threat of global warming in the context of a fiction story.

Author James Hogan directs his sharpest venom against greedy power manipulators in politics and their academic and military lapdogs. Christians could (and should) take a lesson from this, it's the same message Jesus teaches in the Bible, but badly corrupted by easy-grace in most American churches. There was nothing to like at all about his villain, and there was no reader sympathy to be lost when he met his well-deserved end, only wonder at the hero's indecision. That's not really a spoiler, the only way an author could let the Bad Guy survive is if he's planning a sequel, but how do you make a sequel to the end of the earth?

I have a problem with end-of-the-world stories like this one, because I read the Last Chapter of the Book. We know how the world ends, and while fiction authors like to blend Biblical quotes and references into their stories, they do not see it as God's righteous judgment, so there are fundamental problems. In fiction, the hero and his family always escape -- you cannot sell stories that end otherwise -- but the only escape God offers at the end of time is the salvation the Church has been preaching off and on since the first century. That does not sell fiction (except to a few Christians willing to overlook the same flaws as in the secular catastrophe fiction).

His creation story leaves something to be desired, but like I said, he's not a Creationist, what can you expect?

Anyway, Creationists and Christians in general should be aware of this novel, it cannot hurt our just cause.

2019 January 1 -- Fiction and Politics

Long long ago in a far-away place, I may have read Dune, but I remember absolutely nothing about it except the title and the bleak sand dunes of the environment, so maybe I only read about it, or saw the movie, or some such non-reading encounter. But it seems to be one of the classics of sci-fi that everybody praises. So when I got to the H's in the library sci-fi section, and there were all these Dune-like books, I tried one of them that promised to be the beginning of a new trilogy (as opposed to the 13th sequel to the sequel to...). It turned out to be a rip-off by the guy's son, trying hard to earn his own chops and not ride his father's coattails but failing (at both), as I mentioned a couple months ago (see "More Fiction Failures"). But maybe his father would be better.

Nope, I didn't even finish The White Plague. The cover blurb boasts "Frank Herbert's speculative fictions have taken the grand themes and questions of politics, ecology, overpopulation and much more and applied them to the human drama." The "much more" seems to include endless inner turmoil over past failures, which I suppose women readers like to read about -- or at least women authors like to write about -- but honest guy fiction avoids like the plague, which is the title topic of this loser. Technically, it's an interesting enough idea, but there are no heroes. I skipped to the end, and there still are no heroes. Maybe that's where his son got it from, but the father at least has an excuse: he wrote this more than 30 years ago, when pretty much all fiction (at least sci-fi) was filled with the bleak nihilistic fear of global nuclear incineration.

The reason he has no heroes is because he has no God, no standard of moral absolutes to hold up for emulation. His religious professionals are the same greedy, selfish, power-hungry villains as everybody else -- no surprise: if he actually knew some honest Christians (rather than only knowing about them third-hand, like most of the left-wing bigots in this country), he would realize that good people do exist, and they make the world a better place for all of us. I even have known atheists who inherited their moral values from religious parents or grandparents, and have not figured out that their own professed religion does not support that kind of virtue. Frank Herbert and his son have made the connection, and it's a bleak world they have to show us.

The cover blurb mentions politics, and it was evident from this story's reference to American politicians (and perhaps also the Brits, but I don't know enough to recognize it) that he is definitely on the left side of the fence. Reagan was President when this book was published, and he sold hope to the American people. Reagan's politics brought an end to the threat of nuclear armageddon -- it might not have been Mr.Gorbachev who tore down the Berlin wall, but it came down. I even have a small piece of the rubble which I got when I visited Berlin some time later. But it happened after this book came out.

Herbert doesn't even have nice things to say about the other party (no heroes). Here's the advice given (with the author's apparent approval) to the newly sworn-in Democrat President:

The uses of power require a certain measure of inhumanity. Imagination is a piece of baggage you often can't afford to carry. If you begin thinking about people in general as individuals, that gets in your way. They are clay to be shaped. That's the real truth about the democratic process. [p.262]
No, it's the real truth about Machiavellian might-makes-right politics, which Herbert may not have intended to attribute to the entire political party falsely called "Democratic," but which they all surely act like they believe it. The other side probably believes the same, but at least the name of their party is more honest. True democracy is where the people tell the leaders what to do, not the other way around. Make no mistake, the people who lost the last Presidential election here in the USA do not believe in the people telling the leadership what to do -- the people in this country chose Trump (or none of the above) -- or they would accept the people's choice and get on with their life, just as the other side did four and eight years before. Continued talk of impeachment only proves that they do not believe in democracy. When you have no god but yourself, that's all you can hope for. It's a dismal world and not worth reading about. Herbert & son may not be alone, but they still have competition, and there are still books worth reading (but harder to find in this library in a blue state than they were 2000 miles east of here in red states).

Yes, politics matters, but not as much as virtue. These modern authors have never seen virtue, and they write what they know. That's why they have no heroes. They've never seen heroism, and they cannot imagine how it could work. The world is not a better place for the lack.

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