Archive for October 2016
When I read H.G. Wells in junior high, I was enthralled. Roger Luckhurst was interviewed by Five Books and has some interesting things to say:
Three of the books that you have selected to talk about today were written early in H G Wells’ career, in the 1890s. Do you think that his biggest contribution to literature has been those early scientific romances?
Yes, that’s probably right. There is a common critical line about Wells which is that he started off young and enthusiastic, writing lively, ambivalent and ambiguous works. He seemed to be delightedly thinking up new ways of destroying humanity over and over again, or perversely pointing out how we were all going to degenerate down the evolutionary scale, back into sea squids. His work of the 1890s is satirical and provocative.
Then, quite early in his career, he became a famous writer and personality very fast, and in a sense started to treat himself too seriously. He did a famous lecture in 1902 at the Royal Institution called The Discovery of the Future, where he essentially said: fiction is boring! We can scientifically predict the future! And that is what I am going to do in this lecture. Some critics of Wells say that that is what he did for the next 44 years of his life. He got increasingly didactic and uninteresting; literary people in the liberal establishment like Virginia Woolf and E. M. Forster hated him; he became estranged from early fans like Henry James. After his early work, he only wrote didactic utopias and non-fiction about ‘world government’. He hectored.
I think this picture is way too simple, but it is the case that if you are interested in science fiction and popular culture, then those early works—The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, The Island of Doctor Moreau—are crucial. After that, he did write some interesting works in a bewilderingly diverse array of genres, including social realism and utopias. He even had a religious phase briefly during the First World War, but also wrote histories, textbooks, novels and endless utopias. It was a very diverse career, not easy to encapsulate.
What is the enduring appeal of his early scientific romances? Why do people still read them?
He is not the ‘father of science fiction’, as people sometimes say, but he was part of a generation that was beginning to think about science as a resource for literature. I think he was very lucky to be born when he was, in 1866. He got the benefit of the Education Act of 1870, which meant he could go to college and be among the first generation to be taught scientific subjects. Consequently when he became a journalist in the 1890s his frame of reference was no longer Greek and Roman and Classical literature, as it would have been if he had been to public school and university.
So he was a young upstart from the petit bourgeoisie, of a generation that was relying on new kinds of knowledge. His cleverness was in being able to put them into a new kind of the old romance form and produce the ‘scientific romance’. They are a deliberate mix of new and old: romances rather than novels. They can be utopian or dystopian, but not in the style of literary utopia, established by Thomas More, which is often quite static, descriptive and boring. Instead, Wells’ fictions are dynamic and melodramatic, full of wild, disordered emotions, sensations of sublime awe, and total horror. You’re never quite sure where the sympathies lie, and that ambiguity is why I think they endure.
Writing about The Time Machine, you have identified the ‘Further Vision’—which occurs towards the end of the book—as one of Wells’ most impressive literary passages. Could you talk us through this scene? . . .
James Fallows has an excellent column that I urge you to read. This is in the column:
Interesting how the GOP (including Trump) seems to now be in bed with Russia, which hacks emails for them and apparently contributed to a fake video of election fraud. Alastair Reid reports at First Draft:
For weeks now, Donald Trump has been telling his supporters that next week’s US presidential election will be “rigged” against him. His claims have even gone so far as to inspire one woman in Iowa to be arrested on felony charges for voting twice in the fear that her first vote would be “changed to Hillary”, according to Iowa Public Radio. The clamour for greater oversight into the election process and any evidence of misconduct is growing.
On October 12, a YouTube user called “Tea Partier” posted a video titled “Democrats Busted On Camera Stuffing Ballot Boxes”. The full video features four soundless, separate clips, each showing people ramming paper into election boxes as the name of a US state is super-imposed on the footage. Two of the videos take place in halls decorated in red, white and blue. The others are clearly identifiable as voting stations.
The only problem? They are all from Russia.
“Tea Partier” regularly posts political news videos relating to the US election, social issues and world events, but doesn’t appear to have any official ties to the Tea Party movement. However, by taking screenshots from key moments in each of the clips and uploading them to Yandex images and Google images, we can track down the original versions of each of the featured clips.
Clip 1 – “Illinois” . . .
The OSS was the first asymmetric iKon razor (bar guard on one side, comb guard on the other), and also the first asymmetric modern razor. (I don’t know about vintage razors, so there may have been a vintage asymmetric razor at one point—God knows that they seemed to have tried every other variation.)
This is really an excellent razor, but I must pare down the collection, so I am reluctantly putting it up for auction.
In the New Yorker Ryan Lizza has an interesting column making the case in favor of James Comey, and I highly recommend it. As he points out, Loretta Lynch, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama had previously muddied the water to the point where Comey felt that what he did was appropriate and necessary. It begins:
On October 11, 2015, President Obama was asked by Steve Kroft of CBS News about Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server while she was the Secretary of State. It was an awkward question for Obama. The F.B.I., led by James Comey, whom Obama chose to run the agency, was in the middle of an investigation into whether Hillary Clinton mishandled classified information. His Administration has been unusually aggressive in prosecuting government officials who leak classified material. But the Clinton e-mail investigation had also turned into a highly partisan issue, with Republican Presidential candidates making wild and unsubstantiated claims about her conduct. Still, Obama could have remained silent. There is a long-standing tradition by which Presidents do not comment about ongoing F.B.I. investigations, especially when a former member of their own Administration is under scrutiny. Obama seemed to want to follow that protocol and swat the question away. “Well, I’m not going to comment on—” he said before he was cut off.
“You think it’s not that big a deal?” Kroft asked.
If Obama had intended to stick to the standard “no comment” that tradition dictated, he changed his mind. “I can tell you that this is not a situation in which America’s national security was endangered,” the President said, asserting a firm conclusion about the matter eight months before the investigation was completed.
The following April, after it was revealed that classified information did pass through Clinton’s unsecured e-mail server, Obama was asked by Chris Wallace of Fox News if the President stood by his October comment. “Can you still say flatly that she did not jeopardize America’s secrets?” Wallace asked. Obama again hesitated. “I’ve got to be careful because, as you know, there have been investigations, there are hearings, Congress is looking at this. And I haven’t been sorting through each and every aspect of this,” he said.
But once again the President added a seemingly exculpatory comment about the target of an ongoing investigation. “She would never intentionally put America in any kind of jeopardy,” Obama said, of Clinton.
The second comment was less specific than the first, but, as Benjamin Wittes, the editor-in-chief of the Lawfare blog and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Jack Goldsmith, a former assistant attorney general in the Bush Administration, note in a careful analysis of the e-mail investigation, “Both of these statements gave the appearance to many observers that the President had prejudged legally relevant aspects of the investigation.”
Obama’s Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, who oversees the F.B.I, allowed herself to be similarly compromised. On June 27th, President Bill Clinton boarded Lynch’s plane while it was on the tarmac at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, and the two spoke for about thirty minutes. Clinton and Lynch, who both insisted that the e-mail investigation was not discussed, quickly admitted that the meeting was a mistake. “People have a whole host of reasons to have questions about how we in government do our business,” Lynch said in an interview with Jonathan Capehart, in Aspen, Colorado, on July 1st. “My meeting on the plane with former President Clinton could give them another reason to have questions and concerns.”
An aide to Bill Clinton told CNN that the meeting “was unplanned” and “entirely social” but “recognizing how others could take another view of it, he agrees with the attorney general that he would not do it again.”
To remove any doubts about political meddling in the matter, Lynch said that she would accept whatever recommendations career prosecutors sent to her in the investigation, but later a Justice official muddied that position by insisting that Lynch would actually be “the ultimate decider.”
Two days later, on July 3rd, the Times reported that “Democrats close to Mrs. Clinton say she may decide to retain Ms. Lynch, the nation’s first black woman to be attorney general,” a report that did little to ease the concerns of those who were worried that Lynch and Obama and the Clintons were trying to unduly influence the investigation.
Why does any of this matter now? Because the statements and actions of Obama, Lynch, and Bill Clinton are necessary to understand the context of Comey’s unusual decision this week to break with long-standing Department of Justice procedures about not taking actions or making public disclosures that could affect an election. . .
Radley Balko has a list of links in the Washington Post, such as these:
- Dozens of deputies, FBI agents raid a man and his 7-year-old son, search the house for hours, apparently before realizing they had hit the wrong home. [This story shows quite clearly that the US is on the road to being a police state: police and FBI can destroy private property even without a warrant without being held accountable—and the poor homeowner just has to pay for the damage from his own pocket. I find this sort of thing both acutely depressing and frighteningly common. At the very least, it seems appropriate that, for each of the men in charge of this raid, have a large group of men break into his house, wreck everything, and leave it to him to deal with the mess. At least they would then know what it feels like. – LG]
- Judge (again) rebukes Orange County officials for concealing evidence in ongoing jailhouse informant scandal.
- The latest massive forensics scandal comes courtesy of the Ohio state crime lab.
- Mississippi woman was held in jail for 96 days without charges — and no one has been held accountable for it.
- Surprise! Company that has been spying on Baltimore from the air with permission from local officials violates its promise to only keep aerial surveillance data for 45 days.
- Alabama lets police and prosecutors take pens, paper and phones into executions, but not attorneys for the condemned.
Tara Duggan reports in the San Francisco Chronicle:
In the shallow waters off Elk, in Mendocino County, a crew from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife dived recently to survey the area’s urchin and abalone populations. Instead of slipping beneath a canopy of leafy bull kelp, which normally darkens the ocean floor like a forest, they found a barren landscape like something out of “The Lorax.”
A single large abalone scaled a bare kelp stalk, hunting a scrap to eat, while urchins clustered atop stark gray stone that is normally striped in colorful seaweed.
“When the urchins are starving and are desperate, they will leave the reef as bare rock,” said Cynthia Catton, an environmental scientist with Fish and Wildlife. Warm seawater has prevented the growth of kelp, the invertebrates’ main food source, so the urchins aren’t developing normally; the spiky shells of many are nearly empty. As a result, North Coast sea urchin divers have brought in only one-tenth of their normal haul this year.
The plight of urchins, abalones and the kelp forest is just one example of an extensive ongoing disruption of California’s coastal ecosystem — and the fisheries that depend on it — after several years of unusually warm ocean conditions and drought. Earlier this month, The Chronicle reported that scientists have discovered evidence in San Francisco Bay and its estuary of what is being called the planet’s sixth mass extinction, affecting species including chinook salmon and delta smelt.Baby salmon are dying by the millions in drought-warmed rivers while en route to the ocean. Young oysters are being deformed or killed by ocean acidification. The Pacific sardine population has crashed, and both sardines and squid are migrating to unusual new places. And Dungeness crab was devastated last year by an unprecedented toxic algal bloom that delayed the opening of its season for four months.
The collapses are taking a financial toll on the state’s seafood industry. A report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released Wednesday showed the California fishing harvest decreased in value by $109 million between 2014 and 2015, or by 43 percent.
The impact has already been felt in Bay Area homes. This summer, chinook salmon sold for more than $35 per pound in some markets, about 50 percent higher than in previous years. The absence of Dungeness crab during the 2015 holidays jarred many locals, though the Bay Area’s favorite crustacean is still slated to return to tables on Nov. 15, when the 2016 commercial season is scheduled to begin.
More disturbing are signs that the recent changes to the Pacific Ocean could represent the new normal. . .
As you know, the GOP denies that climate change is happening so it uses all its power to oppose efforts to alleviate or stop climate change. Their position—that climate change is a hoax—is based on ideology, not evidence (since the evidence all shows that climate change is happening).