More from the Oxygen Club

I generally enjoy Townhall, I do, but today I’m just staring at the screen and shaking my head. Ben Shapiro is taking the controversial position that it’s okay to get angry about young girls being murdered, while Me So is blowing kisses to the cops. John Stossel, meanwhile, dedicated his 750 words to discussing how sugar does not inspire hyperactivity while Debra Saunders demonstrates that she doesn’t know the first thing about British electoral politics.

(The point isn’t that Labour won, Debra, it’s that it lost over 60 percent of its majority and Labour’s old guard has never been particularly enthusiastic about Tony Blair. In a parliamentary system, a demonstration of weakness like this is almost always an occasion for the party leader’s rivals to make their bid for the top spot.)

I mean, it’s not like there’s anything going on across the country, with the markets poised on the brink of a serious downturn, the housing markets looking very toppy and steady interest rate raises of the sort that usually precede a recession. And then there’s the national government pushing for a political union with Mexico while installing an internal police state.

Ah well, to each his own.

Mailvox: voting is not thinking

Shrubbery asks a question:

How is voting not thinking? How is a restriction on voting rights different from hate crime legislation? Correct me if I’m wrong but are you not opposed to hate crime legislation?

First, let me state that confusing one thing with another unrelated thing is very common on the Internet and is a warning sign of imprecise thought. Usually it is obfuscated slightly through the use of weasel words such as “really”, “basically” or “virtually”, for example the quadrennial notion that voting for X is “really” a vote for Y when simple addition demonstrates that it is nothing of the kind.

Now to the question. It is eminently clear that voting is not thinking. One is a private mental act with no ramifications for anyone else, the other is a public act with potentially fatal ramifications for everyone else. The hate crime analogy is a particularly weak one, as a hate crime is an secondary crime added onto an ACT that is already a crime based solely on what the prosecution believes the criminal was thinking. It is pure thought crime; the crime is based solely on the perceived thoughts.

Voting restrictions such as I have defended are not based on anyone’s thoughts, they are based on the statistical probability of an individual’s actions. The individual’s thoughts are completely irrelevant, as he, (or as we’ve mostly been discussing, she), may want to vote for the socialist because a) the socialist candidate is cute, b) the socialist candidate promises a chicken in every pot, c) the socialist candidate promises a new Medicare entitlement for the children, d) the socialist candidate is a woman. It doesn’t matter, far from being any sort of thought policing measure, the thoughts are absolutely irrelevant.

Pretend we’re not talking about voting for a moment. Substitute purchasing for voting and the smallpox virus for socialism. The right to buy and sell private property is far more fundamental than the so-called “right” to vote; it can actually be found in the Constitution. And yet who would argue that anyone should be allowed to purchase the smallpox virus, much less those who have reliably demonstrated for eight decades that, if given the chance, they will purchase smallpox and distribute it to everyone at the first opportunity?

I wish that the states were still a laboratory of democracy, as I think it would be extremely informative for everyone to see what would happen in two neighboring states, one where only women were franchised and one where only men were franchised. What most people don’t realize is that historically speaking, there is an example of the latter in pre-1971 Switzerland, and as one might expect, Switzerland was significantly less centralized than any Western democracy and is still less centralized today although since 1971 it has joined the UN, modified its national constitution to grant the federal government the right to pass gun control laws, legalized abortion, is considering getting rid of the national militia that has defended it for centuries and has an elected government lobbying the people to pass a referendum approving the goverment’s decision to permanently open its borders and labor markets to the entire European Union.

This will, in all probability, kill the country’s economy, its banking system and its high standard of living. But hey, at least they’ll have the consolation of knowing their frauleins were voting.

The dregs of literature

From the back of a new paperback:

Wendy Chrenko, former high school misfit, is now an overworked graduate student, researching her dissertation on “Remnants of Matriarchy in the Ancient Sumerian Inanna Cycle.” Still smarting from the painful wounds of a long relationship that ended abruptly, Wendy is bound and determined to prove that men and women once lived together in perfect equality, even if it means volunteering for a bizarre and dangerous scientific experiment.

And here I thought that we’d reached the bottom of the barrel with romance novels in space and hot lovin’ wereseals ravishing women by the seashore. I was so wrong.

The punchline is that this book is the proud product of the publisher I was told I’d never be able to publish with due to my “vile” view of women authors and hard science fiction. Lawsy, whatever shall I do?

Fred on universal suffrage

It has become apparent that I am going to have to reform the government of the United States. Frankly I’d rather remove one of my lungs with a ballpoint pen. Still, I’m nothing if not perfervidly public-spirited. I will not stand around like Nehru fiddling while Rome burned. Noblesse oblige, that sort of thing.

To begin, we have much too much democracy. We need to discourage people from voting. In fact, the gravest obstacle to the restoration of civilization in North America is universal suffrage. Letting everybody vote makes no sense. Obviously they are no good at it. The whole idea smacks of the fumble-witted idealism of a high-school Marxist society.

At least eighty percent of the electorate lives in blank medieval darkness regarding any matter of public policy or history. They might as well vote on the incisions needed in cardiac surgery as try to govern themselves. Poll after poll shows that even graduates of America’s pathetic Halloween universities (where the young disguised as students are hornswoggled by mountebanks disguised as professors), which means most of the universities, do not know who fought in WWI, or within a century when the Civil War took place, or who Galileo was. These are the better informed. The rest barely know what century they live in.

Unalloyed ignorance is not an obvious qualification for governing, despite all appearances.

Only two possible reasons exist for universal suffrage, both bad. The first is that if you let idiots vote, the Democrats will sometimes be elected. That is, it is a sort of affirmative action for the Democratic National Committee; this is perhaps slightly more desirable than, say, price supports for hemorrhagic tuberculosis. The only good thing that can be said about Democrats is that, when they are in power, the Republicans are not.

The second reason is that, in principle, the idiot vote will keep idiots from being maltreated by the bright. It does not, however, keep the bright from being maltreated by idiots, who are far more numerous. They run the schools, for example, which is why students often can’t read after twelve years.

Book Review: Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

by John Scalzi
Tor Books
Rating: 7 of 10

Style: 4 stars
Story: 3 stars
Characters: 2 stars
Creativity: 4 stars

Those of you who remember the Electrolite affair, wherein a small horde of science fiction and fantasy writers discovered, to their horror, that not everyone in the SFWA is in sync with their androgynous vision of humanity, may recall Mr. Scalzi as one of my foremost critics at the time. Unlike many of his socially maladjusted peers, however, Mr. Scalzi is capable of distinguishing between an opposing point of view and the individual who holds it and we engaged in a friendly post-contretemps exchange of emails in which I volunteered to review his latest novel, OLD MAN’S WAR.

Having recently re-read GLORY ROAD and HAVE SPACE SUIT WILL TRAVEL, I can state with some delight that Mr. Scalzi is as close to resurrecting Robert Heinlein as we are likely to enjoy without serious advances in the black art of necromancy. OLD MAN’S WAR is both stylistically and thematically informed by Heinlein, especially STARSHIP TROOPERS, but manages to be so without being a thinly disguised ripoff. In this book, Scalzi wisely dispenses (for the most part) with the usual authorly fixation on Making A Point, instead focusing on enthusiastically telling a military adventure tale that entertains the reader. There are one or two twists that come as a genuine surprise, and when he does mix a little sentiment into the melange, he does so rather deftly, in a manner that enhances the adventure tale instead of detracting from it.

Style: Definite points for managing to pull off the forthright Heileinesque prose, which so many have attempted and failed. Scalzi is a straightforward writer and his strength is descriptive simplicity. There are a few rough spots in the early going – for example, Scalzi is unable to resist the all-too-typical dialogue where an unbeliever lectures the crude caricature of a believer using his superior knowledge of the Bible – but he quickly settles into a groove and lets the reader relax and get carried away by the story.

Story: Space opera, to a certain extent, but good space opera. Or perhaps space infantry opera would be a better term. Scalzi wisely eschews long and boring descriptions of how every piece of technology works in favor of moving the story along. And the story is a good one, revolving around the idea that technological advances now allow old and decrepit individuals over the age of 70 to be rejuvenated, albeit at the cost of joining Earth’s galactic infantry. Given this unique blend of Golden Age feel and geriatric plot, one might call it the first “rejuvenile” novel. Nicely plotted and with plenty of action, OLD MAN’S WAR is in some ways more coherent than its classic predecessor, STARSHIP TROOPERS.

Characters:: This is probably the weakest link of the book. While Scalzi makes some effort to provide motivations for his characters, only the protagonist and, ironically, a character who knows next to nothing of herself, come across in full-color. The crude bigot who gets his, the delightful gay man, the crusty drill sergeant, the overenthusiastic fool and the sexually uninhibited beautiful women are all oft-seen staples of SF fiction and they’re simply plugged in as required here. That being said, they’re no more cardboard than one sees in most novels today and they serve their purposes well.

Creativity:: It is very hard to come up with a new spin on anything these days. Scalzi does so and he does it with that effortless ease that causes one to shake one’s head and marvel that no one had thought of it before. His plot twists are also well-conceived and based on a logical extension of the technological innovations around which he’s built his story. This isn’t the mind-blowing originality of Stross here, but in my opinion, it’s nearly as hard to come up with a genuinely new twist on a classic tale as it is to simply throw all the rules out and start from scratch.

Text Sample: Dr. Russell smiled. “Mr. Perry, when you signed up to join the army, you thought we’d make you young again, right?”

“Yes,” I said. “Everybody does. You can’t fight a war with old people, yet you recruit them. You have to have some way to make them young again.”

“How do you think we do it?” Dr. Russell asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Gene therapy. Cloned replacement parts. You’d swap out old parts somehow and put in new ones.”

“You’re half right,” Dr. Russell said. “We do use gene therapy and cloned replacements. But we don’t ‘swap out’ anything, except you.”

“I don’t understand,” I said. I felt very cold, like reality was being tugged out from under my feet.

“Your body is old, Mr. Perry. It’s old and it won’t work for much longer. There’s no point in trying to save it or upgrade it. It’s not something that gains value when it ages or has replaceable parts that keep it running like new. All a human body does when it gets older is get old. So we’re going to get rid of it. We’re getting rid of it all. The only part of you that we’re going to save is the only part of you that hasn’t decayed — your mind, your consciousness, your sense of self. “

Dr. Russell walked over to the far door, where the Colonials had exited, and rapped on it. Then he turned back to me. “Take a good look at your body, Mr. Perry,” he said. “Because you’re about to say goodbye to it. You’re going somewhere else.”

“Where am I going, Dr. Russell?” I asked. I could barely make enough spit to talk.

“You’re going here,” he said, and opened the door.

From the other side, the Colonials came back in. One of them was pushing a wheelchair with someone in it. I craned my head to take a look. And I began to shake.

It was me.

Fifty years ago.

Note: this is not part of the review, but I would be remiss if I failed to note my great personal amusement that my accusation of Mr. Scalzi’s apparent rectal fixation during the Electrolite dustup appears to have been well-founded as it is rather strongly supported by the text of this novel.