Thursday, August 29, 2013

Notes on "A Crimson Overture"

Many years ago a fan of my Chess Hanrahan detective novels who had read all four in manuscript, and, in fact, had used the manuscript of the last in that series, Honors Due, in her detective literature course at a major university, asked me when she could expect the fifth adventure of the scrutinizer of all things observable. I do not recall what my answer was then. She had already read the manuscripts of the first two Cyrus Skeen Roaring Twenties novels, China Basin and The Head of Athena. Whether or not she had liked them, I cannot recall, either. But she expressed a preference for another Hanrahan.

This column is about why there will be no more Hanrahan detective novels, and why there will be no more Merritt Fury suspense novels, either. I will also explain why I have dwelt in the past and produced five Cyrus Skeen detective novels set in the late 1920's, the latest being A Crimson Overture, which edges into the 1930's.

Before going any further, I should mention in the beginning that what inspired me to write A Crimson Overture was Diana West's American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation's Character, reviewed in my column Our Enemy Inside the Gates (June 8, 2013), in which she documents the influence Communists inside our government had on our foreign policies regarding Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and the conduct of World War II. I had always suspected that there was something rotten in that particular phase of American history, and West lays out the whole stinking smorgasbord. She embarked on her project, not wholly incidentally, because she wanted to know why Islamists were having such an influence on our foreign policy, a policy which has grown in suicidal leaps and bounds in scale going back to at least the Carter-Reagan years.

I will not dwell on West's findings here. You must read her book and judge for yourself. I will say that I agree with her thesis one hundred percent.

In the previous Skeen adventure, The Chameleon, the detective's curiosity is piqued when he is paid with a bad check before he has even begun to look into the matter he was hired to investigate. He discovers a murder and an embryonic Nazi Bund a-budding in a university town south of San Francisco. And in the previous title, The Daedâlus Conspiracy, he journeys north of San Francisco to investigate and foil a possible plot to assassinate a prominent U.S. Senator.

Both titles led naturally to A Crimson Overture, in which Skeen delves into the murder of a courier of important information regarding the Soviet and Communist infiltration of our government, and before the third decade is even over (the following decade, the 1930's, will be deemed the "Red Decade"; that is the allegorical meaning of the title).

The chief attraction for me as a writer to work in this series, in that time period, is that the protagonist has far more freedom of action than he would have if he undertook the same actions today. More importantly, he is psychologically healthier, as are many characters in the series' "supporting cast." These aspects are important to me as the writer, as the creator. Were they absent, were they not values I hold in high esteem, I would not be able to lift a pen or poise my hands over a keyboard to write a single word.

To set a story in my own time, and imbue the protagonists with the element of unabridged, unopposed volition that is characteristic of Cyrus Skeen, is psychologically impossible for me to accomplish. My mind and creative powers revolt against the prospect. They refuse to generate any ideas that would lend themselves to a credible story. My mind stops cold.

Call that a failing, if you like. Or a lack of imagination. But it is my psychological health I am speaking of here, and no one else can judge it.

Also important to me are the values that such characters were likely to hold in that period.

I do not know how other contemporary detective and suspense writers manage to write what they do with stories set in our own time. I can only hypothesize.

They are clueless about the peril posed by a government daily acquiring the character of a dictatorship or totalitarian régime. This cluelessness or perceptual malaise would include not just the omnivorous power-seeking entities such as the NSA, the DHS, and the TSA, among other federal usurpers of freedom, but all the other intrusive and regulatory Goliaths such as the EEOC, the IRS, the FDA, the SEC, the HHS, the EPA, and other alphabetical abominations. Such writers seem to take these things as the metaphysical given, or even as metaphysically necessary, and craft their stories to accept them as benign, practical, or workable.

In the Cyrus Skeen series, Skeen is often in conflict with the federal authorities of his time, such as the Treasury Department's Bureau of Prohibition. He freely, in defiance of the 18th Amendment, consumes alcohol and patronizes restaurants that serve it. He is not above letting the air out of the tires of the automobiles of Revenue Agents., or even taking a sock at a Revenuer.

It is interesting to note that the enforcement of the 18th Amendment began with an arm of the Bureau of Internal Revenue, responsible for collecting taxes on alcohol. It was temporarily transferred to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1933, and when the 18th Amendment was repealed, enforcement and collection of the alcohol tax was returned to the IRS. The ATF, or the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, is its SWAT-happy descendent.

Chess Hanrahan, a private detective who solves moral paradoxes in four titles, and Merritt Fury, a fiercely independent entrepreneur in three, have been "optimized," given the nature and character of today's political and literary culture. That is, there are no more credible actions possible to them in terms of the scope of action they might follow to preserve their values or their lives.

They are men of action. In a culture that prohibits or regulates the kinds of actions they take, no action is possible.

When I wrote the Hanrahan series (With Distinction, First Prize, Presence of Mind, and Honors Due), and the Fury series (Whisper the Guns, We Three Kings, and Run From Judgment), I was pushing the edge of the credibility envelope even then. This was in the 1970's and early 1980's, when some leeway in action was possible and even credible. If they acted in a new story, set in contemporary America, as they do in those novels, they would immediately run afoul of some agency of government enforcement. It is a consequence I could not evade. And, technically, that would be the end of the story that would never be written.

Imagine Merritt Fury, a globe-trotting entrepreneur, submitting to the TSA's groping and searching at an airport. I can't. I won’t. Imagine Chess Hanrahan ingratiating himself with a murder suspect, sensitive to hurting the suspect's feelings and risking a lawsuit. I can't. I won’t.

Literarily and existentially, Hanrahan and Fury would not survive in today's culture. They would find it as repellant, esthetically barren, morally bankrupt, hostile, and doomed as I do. The only alternative for them would be for me to pen a fantasy. I am not a fan of fantasies. So, Chess Hanrahan and Merritt Fury are on strike. They will not reappear until, as John Galt says to Dagny at the end of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, "the road is clear."

In terms of a political and philosophical statement, if anything can be called that, my magnum opus is the Sparrowhawk series of novels set in England and Virginia in the pre-Revolutionary period and ending with the outbreak of war. That also is a series I wrote because its protagonists had freedom of action, and the freedom to think without worry of repercussions, and who were not vehicles of a cramped epistemology, as most men are today.

In the Cyrus Skeen series, I highlight some premonitions of things to come, and try to emphasize some parallels between Skeen's time and our own. Skeen is a man of the mind as well as a man of action. He is a perfectly integrated man. He notes, on occasion, the intrusions of the irrational in art and politics and even social mores. In A Crimson Overture, for example, he wonders about the futility of President Wilson having sent American troops to restore "democracy" in Russia during that country's Civil War after World War I. The parallels between the American role in the Northern Russia intervention, led by Britain, and our own intervention in, say, Libya, are too obvious to dwell on here. 

I will write more novels for Skeen until he reaches a time when he is no longer free to act without incurring political or social penalties. I will refuse to submit him, and his wife, Dilys, and their compatriots in spirit, to the indignities and baseness of our time.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Boycott Kobo Books

The last major ebook publisher, Kobo Inc. of Canada, has refused to remove its MP Publishing (Isle of Man, Great Britain) editions of my Sparrowhawk series from its online catalogue, citing a contract between Kobo and MP Publishing.  See the Wikipedia entries on Kobo Inc. of Canada here:

This overlooks and evades the fact that MP Publishing, with whom I did not sign a publishing contract, was sold the publication rights to the series by a now defunct publishing firm, MacAdam/Cage of San Francisco, which has not paid me royalties earned by the series for the second half of 2012, per the now inoperative contract between MacAdam/Cage and me, and as of today's date. This is clearly a breach of contract, to which MP Publishing is party, because it, too, has not bothered to pay me earned royalties, nor sent me a statement of earnings, and has remained silent on the matter. Culpability in this piracy is clearly extended to Kobo of Canada, because it now has knowledge of the facts in the case.

Kobo's position on the matter is that the legal relationship is between MP Publishing and me, not between Kobo and me. This is transparent evasion and dishonesty, reducing Kobo to the criminal status of a fence.

I am requesting that readers here who use Kobo ebook readers of any kind refrain from purchasing any Sparrowhawk title from Kobo (and, in fact, boycott the firm altogether). Regardless of the status of the contract between Kobo and MP Publishing, it is a contract which expropriates earnings from my intellectual property, which as of this date, is stolen property.

Legal recourse to correct this theft or piracy would entail hiring a British solicitor or attorney to represent me in any action against MP Publishing. This is a costly alternative clearly beyond my means. MP Publishing knows this, and is counting on the prohibitive cost such an action would entail to protect it from any just and untoward penalties. It would probably bring Kobo of Canada into the litigation, as well, making it an international issue and doubly complicated.

Readers who peruse the Wikipedia entries on Kobo will see that the piracy of my intellectual property is international in scope, extending to France, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as Great Britain and Canada.

The simplest and most honest action Kobo could take, considering all the facts in the matter, would be to remove my Sparrowhawk titles from its sites. This it refuses to do. It is willfully abetting MP Publishing's theft of my intellectual property.

Thanks for your cooperation in this matter.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

When Nudge Comes to Shove

In my past column, "Nudging Us to Serfdom," I wrote that on January 30th, Maxim Lott of Fox News reported:

The federal government is hiring what it calls a "Behavioral Insights Team" that will look for ways to subtly influence people's behavior, according to a document describing the program obtained by Critics warn there could be unintended consequences to such policies, while supporters say the team could make government and society more efficient. 

David Brooks of the New York Times on August 8th entered the "nudging" fray with his own mild-mannered perspective, "The Nudge Debate," on whether or not the government should "nudge" Americans to adopt accepted behavior as defined by, well, the government, advocacy groups, and "public-spirited people" with influence in Washington D.C.  

I say "mild-mannered" because to read his op-ed, you would get the impression that he thinks the semi-subliminal autosuggestions, and some of them not so subliminal, promoted by government really aren’t so insidious or bad. The government may or may not know best, but its intentions are benign. You would turn the page thinking he could perhaps be talked out of his wussily worded position on Cass Sunstein-caliber "nudging."

Mark Tapson of FrontPage, in his August 14th "The Soft Totalitarianism of Nudging," more or less "bitch-slaps" Brooks for having endorsed the whole idea, commented:

Brooks looks to saviors he calls “public spirited people” to design ways to rescue us from our incompetence and sloth. These betters of ours are designing “choice architectures” that guide us, like cattle, in the direction of what the left deems to be the proper moral and societal choices. To apply this theory to policy-making, the public spirited people in the Obama administration recently announced the creation of a “Behavioral Insights Team.”

Tapson summarizes the Brooks perspective:

“These days,” Brooks concludes, “we have more to fear from a tattered social fabric than from a suffocatingly tight one. Some modest paternalism might be just what we need.” Actually, what Americans need is less condescension and suffocating control from arrogant nanny-state elitists like Obama, Sunstein, and Brooks, and more freedom to exercise our individual rights and personal choices.

The last thing Brooks, Obama, Sunstein and other ambitious "people managers" would want to be called is "totalitarians." After all, some of them have even read Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, or Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon. They suspect, but do not dwell on the possibility, that "some modest paternalism" is inherently the parent of immodest, total control. Once established, it knows no bounds. They suspect the ultimate consequences of such "benign" despotism, but do not identify them. They do not wish to see the naked core cause of all their condescending "humanitarian" proclivities. Because that is where a closer examination of their premises would take them.

All "soft" totalitarians are walking embodiments of Doran Gray, and the essence of their "souls" is not hidden in a locked attic beneath a dust cloth, but in a lightless, dank cellar. They are vampires, and fear the light.

Yes, Tapson is right. What Americans need is less condescension and suffocating controls from the likes of Obama, Sunstein, and Brooks – to name but a few in a legion of such arrogant elitists. But individual rights and personal choices are precisely what they are the enemies of.

Let's examine Brooks' op-ed in some detail. He writes:

….[P]eople are pretty bad at sacrificing short-term pleasure for long-term benefit. We’re bad at calculating risk. We’re mentally lazy.

Let's take it for granted that Brooks isn't speaking for himself, though I am of the opinion that he is mentally lazy, for otherwise, like "economist" Paul Krugman, he wouldn’t make such blatantly foolish statements. Who determines what is a "long-term benefit"? Or a "short-term pleasure"? Congress? Consensus? The AMA? Popular opinon? What risks are worth calculating? And whose are they? What does Brooks mean when he says "we're mentally lazy"?

We make decision-making errors when thinking in our own language that we don’t make when thinking in another language. When asked to thin in a second language, we're forced to put in a little more mental effort.

Whatever that means. Perhaps it means, for example, that when we slid into our cars, our purpose is to go somewhere and return safely and sound. That's our "own language." Perhaps by the "second language" he means the government's mandating strapping on a seat belt. Or buying lead-free gas.

As these cognitive biases have become better known, public spirited people naturally want to design ways to help us avoid them. In 2009, Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein published a book, called “Nudge,” on how government and other organizations could induce people to avoid common errors. Last year, Sunstein gave the Storrs Lectures at Yale on the topic, which will soon be published as a book called “Nanny Statecraft.” Last month, the Obama administration announced that it is creating a new team to explore applications of this sort of empirical research to policy-making.

There's an interesting concept: "cognitive biases." What it means is that men's cognitive faculties are flawed, subjective, and highly prejudicial. Thus Brooks reveals here that he is WUI, that is, writing under the influence of Immanuel Kant, who alleged that our minds cannot really see or know reality, but only a filtered and highly unreliable "impression" of it.   Ergo, the reality we perceive is deceptive, optional, and malleable. It can be or mean whatever one's "biases" wish it to mean, however it imperfectly comports with our prejudicial "biases."

But are a government bureaucrat's "cognitive biases" more equal than others'? He cannot prove it – reality is unknowable – but your intake of more calories than what his scientists say is good for you empowers him to "nudge" you to consuming calorie-reduced foods, because a "healthy you" is an intrinsic value. To whom? To him. How does he know this? He doesn't. It's just official policy. There's no use in resisting a government policy. Just do it.

Brooks' notion of "cognitive biases" puts him in the dubious company of Paul Krugman, whose August 15th New York Times column, "Moment of Truthiness," dwells on how "others" manipulate reality to make us think wrong things. Writing about the conflicts between voters and politicians, about misinformation and the lies and half-lies of sitting politicians and bureaucrats, he notes that

We…all know that that reality falls far short of the ideal.

Or did Krugman mean that the ideal falls short of reality? Or of the reality?  Reality is optional? Kant said so. "Truthiness" means that there might be an element of truth in an assertion or observation, but we'll never know. To Krugman, a Nobel Prize recipient for his economic flights of fantasy and advocacy of inflationary policies to spur economic growth (the "Keynesian resurgence"), reality is discretionary.

If an economy is "mired" in the consequences of past reckless fiscal policies, the solution is to adopt even more reckless fiscal policies. After all, reality, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Lots of people running around hectically performing pointless make-work and being paid by the siphoning off of actual economic values is the way to go. If we can't know reality, we can fake it.

Krugman's "ideal," however, the one that is too good for reality, is a virtual world non-stop Looney Tunes cartoon, with Krugman in the role of Foghorn Leghorn.

But, enough of Brooks' brain-brother.

We're entering the age of what's been called "libertarian paternalism." Government doesn't tell you what to do, but it gently biases the context so that you find it easier to do things you think are in your own self-interest.

Context biasing. There's another wussy term for changing the cognitive filters. There's not much contextual difference between a mugger telling you, "Your money or your life," and if you think it's in your self-interest to resist him, he will kill you and take your money anyway – and a government telling you, "File your 1040's or we will destroy you," and if you resist, it will put you in jail and take your money anyway. In both instances, it is values – your money – that is the object of theft, together with your future, which is held hostage.

So, the "soft" biasing in the first instance is in giving the mugger the money and preserving your life; in the second instance, it is complying with myriad government diktats to avoid fiat punishment, diktats ranging from paying "your" taxes, conforming to environmental regulations, not smoking, using seat belts, eating "healthy" foods, enrolling in Obamacare, and in general obeying all the prison rules, and preserving your life. And if you are in business, it is a matter of complying with hundreds if not thousands of regulations that govern manufacturing and services and other tradable values, such as various kinds of insurance.

The truth is that virtually all government policies today are reducible to crude criminality. All employ the element of force or threatened force via fraud or extortion.

Brooks gives us samples of his caliber of "nudging":

Government could design forms where the default option is to donate organs or save more for retirement. Individuals would have to actively opt out to avoid doing these things. Government could tell air-conditioner makers to build in a little red light to announce when the filter needs changing. That would make homes more energy efficient, since people are too lazy to change the filters promptly otherwise. Government could crack down on companies that exploit common cognitive errors to induce you to pay more for your mortgage, bank account, credit card or car warranty. Or, most notoriously, government could make it harder for you to buy big, sugary sodas.

Brooks of course would argue: Well, a nudge-happy government wouldn't force you to do these things. Adhering to the "superior" value established by government is strictly a "voluntary" choice. And so he covers his bases this way:

But this raises a philosophic question. Do we want government stepping in to protect us from our own mistakes? Many people argue no. This kind of soft paternalism will inevitably slide into a hard paternalism, with government elites manipulating us into doing the sorts of things they want us to do. Policy makers have their own cognitive biases, which will induce them to design imperfect interventions even if they mean well.

If hell is created by "good intentions," then "moderate" paternalism leads to such things as the regulatory behemoth Environmental Protection Agency, which began as a miniscule offshoot of the conservation movement. The proposed EPA budget for 2014 entails spending billions of dollars. Brooks concedes that policymakers are governed by their own "cognitive biases," but their "meaning well" is justified by their ends, not necessarily by their "means." The movement that began by advocating the saving of trees has spawned a gigantic bureaucracy that commands the saving of the planet.

Individuals may be imperfect decision-makers, but they still possess more information than faraway government rule-makers. If government starts manipulating decision-making processes, then individuals won’t learn to think for themselves. Even just setting a default position reduces liberty and personal responsibility.

In his single reality-based observation – in his first sentence – Brooks explodes the myth of a "planned," "scientifically managed" economy. But then he qualifies it with the subtle suggestion that individuals "thinking for themselves" means thinking the way the government wishes us to think.

The pro-paternalists counter that government is inevitably setting contexts and default positions anyway, so they might as well be aligned with individual and social goals. There’s very little historical evidence that there is an inevitable slippery slope leading from soft paternalism to hard paternalism. If companies are going to trick people into spending more on, say, bank overdraft fees, shouldn’t government step in to prevent a psychological market failure?

Brooks obviously doesn't know his history, just as Barack Obama doesn't know his deepwater Gulf ports. There are innumerable instances of "soft paternalism" morphing into "hard paternalism." For example, Weimar Germany was a consequence of the Bismarckian "paternalism" of a welfare state, and the bloody contest for political power between the Communists and Nazis in the Weimar Republic itself paved the way for Nazi rule. The agrarian reformers of Tsarist Russia paved the way for totalitarian Communism and the Soviet Union.

Brooks is right: The role of government paternalism indeed is a philosophic question. But he is incapable of answering it because his woozy conception of it leads him to endorse such paternalism. To wit:

But, in practice, it is hard to feel that my decision-making powers have been weakened because when I got my driver’s license enrolling in organ donation was the default option. It’s hard to feel that a cafeteria is insulting my liberty if it puts the healthy fruit in a prominent place and the unhealthy junk food in some faraway corner. It’s hard to feel manipulated if I sign up for a program in which I can make commitments today that automatically increase my charitable giving next year. The concrete benefits of these programs, which are empirically verifiable, should trump abstract theoretical objections.

All the "voluntary" options cited by Brooks are approved by the government or by one or another influential advocacy group. In Brooks' shrunken universe of "concrete benefits," organ donations, shunting junk food out of sight to a faraway corner, and guaranteeing one's charitable giving are hands-on "empirically verifiable" imperatives, intrinsic in nature, and not to be questioned. He has no need for any "stinking" abstract theoretical objections.

I’d call it social paternalism. Most of us behave somewhat decently because we are surrounded by social norms and judgments that make it simpler for us to be good. To some gentle extent, government policy should embody those norms, a preference for saving over consumption, a preference for fitness over obesity, a preference for seat belts and motorcycle helmets even though some people think it’s cooler not to wear them. In some cases, there could be opt-out provisions.

So, government paternalism is the same as "social" paternalism. Who establishes social norms and judgments? What does it mean for us to "be good"? Government should embody those norms and judgments, and allow individuals to "opt out" if their "wrong" biases urge them to.

And that's when "nudge" escalates to "shove," and out come the handcuffs wielded by the "public-spirited" wards of the "moderate" paternal state.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Fear and Loathing are the New Freedoms

Imagine that Lionsgate Television serialized Jack Abbott's In the Belly of the Beast, shot it as a "comedy-drama" in the spirit of Mork and Mindy, complete with humorous but serious lessons in life and prolonged observations on human behavior, sans laugh tracks and yuks. Then you'd have the overall flavor of Orange Is the New Black, a Netflix featured series about a woman's time in a federal minimum security prison.

Jack Abbott, for those who are unfamiliar with the name, was a convicted murderer whose 1981 book about the cruelty of prison life became a bestseller and was championed by those literary lights, Norman Mailer, Jerzy Kosinki, and Susan Sarandon. Prison, averred Abbott, was but a reflection of America society in general. He blamed it for what he was.

Taylor Schilling, whose last major role was as a fashion-challenged and acting-deficient railroad executive, Dagny Taggart, in a skewed, bizarre, and often esoteric production of Ayn Rand's prophetic novel, Atlas Shrugged, plays Piper Chapman,  a kind of conflicted Mindy, a blonde, blue-eyed inmate sent up for fifteen months for drug trafficking. She is based on the real-life Piper Eressea Kerman, also a vacuous nonentity on whose memoir, Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Woman's Prison, the series is based, who was also indicted for the same offenses.

Chapman is sent to federal prison for fifteen months for transporting a suitcase full of drug money for Alex Vause, a lesbian and an international drug smuggler and Chapman's former lover. In the series, Vause also appears in Litchfield Prison, a very convenient plot development, because if she didn't show up to confront Chapman about her sexual proclivities, and to finally "break up" with Chapman, the series would only be half the length it is.

Kerman married, a year after being released, Larry Smith, a fringe writer who specializes in something called "Six Word Memoirs." Kerman reputedly now works as "a communications strategist for nonprofits," specifically Spitfire Strategies, which is devoted to advancing "social change." Given the content of both the book and the series, that should not come as a surprise. Did Lionsgate Television contract with Spitfire for advice on how to indoctrinate viewers? The series certainly qualifies as an engine for "social change."

And just when you thought that Hollywood could not lower the limbo bar of grunge, angst, grossness, slice-of-life naturalism, and political correctness any lower, along comes Orange Is the New Black (Orange/Black). It accommodates scurrying human rodents and other vermin small enough in character to squeeze under the bar.

Orange/Black may or may not be a subtle metaphor for American society. It is difficult to probe the motives and intentions of anyone who produces such expensive rubbish. The excerpts of the book I read I found boring if not unreadable. I won't quote them here.

I watched all thirteen episodes of the series, in order to ensure a fair and objective evaluation of it. The hard part was recovering from the ennui of watching such rubbish.

When Kerman's book appeared in 2011, it was so drowned in establishment praise that it's hard to rummage through the layers of exuberant and lavish superlatives to find any substance. All one finds is a fork-full of dry cake smothered in gobs of icing. One is expected to care about Kerman's sojourn in prison. The message is: Confusion and self-effacing introspection are the new norm. Fifty shades of banality are the new heights. When you glance down in appreciation at your prison shower room floppies, you have attained Karma.

Much is made of owning a pair of shower room floppies in the series, because to not wear them is to risk contracting a fungus. But the fungus so apparent in this series isn't physical. It is mental. It is philosophical.  

Last June, Netflix signed a second season contract for the series. It might now feature some Muslims as additional Morks who can instruct Chapman on the art of being human. Chapman, being a white, infidel female, has no wisdom to offer anyone. I'm sure various Muslim advocacy groups have protested the absence of female head-bangers in the prison population. Perhaps Piper Chapman will see the light and champion the creation of a special arse-lifting room just for Muslims, and the issuing of free prayer rugs and Korans by the prison commissary. Just as we do for the killers in custody at Gitmo.

The first season brandished a gamut of virtually every other "minority" or "oppressed" group imaginable in American society today, all Morks in their own eclectic ways: lesbians, butch and covert; a black transgender character and hairdresser and former fire fighter; Christians, tame, laid-back, zealous, maniacal, and even homicidal; Hispanics or Latinos of unknown nationality (maybe Mexican, maybe Colombian, who knows?); various shades of  jive- and street-talkin' blacks, from Obama tan to midnight blue; corrupt and conniving prison administrators, and corrupt and sex-cruising male guards, all white; butch female guards; indefinable whackos of various stripes; and followers, leaders, groupies, and non-aligned female felons of virtually every kind.

Then there's Galina 'Red' Reznikov, the incarcerated wife of Russian origin who runs the prison kitchen and a drug smuggling operation, played by Kate Mulgrew. Anyone familiar with the actress from the Star Trek: Voyager TV series, in which she played Captain Kathryn Janeway, will not at first recognize her, for she has filled out and her faux Russian accent bears little resemblance to her commanding tones as captain of a research ship roaming the stellar voids in search of plots.

Outside the prison fence in civilian life, there is a darkly satirical presentation of American society, dominated by Larry Bloom, Piper Chapman's fiancé, portrayed by Jason Biggs. Larry is an angst-ridden wuss of a "journalist" who finally dumps Chapman because, as he says at the end of the season, he was engaged to her out of fear, which wasn't quite right. Double Duh.

Larry has two stereotypical, nattering Jewish parents. His parents question his choice of Piper Chapman as a fiancé and wife. Chapman, after all, is a blonde, Waspish shiksa whom they do not approve of. His mother is always serving food. His father seems never to rise from the kitchen table. Larry hangs out for wisdom with Chapman's brother, an obese drop-out who lives in a trailer in the middle of a forest because he doesn’t like people.

One must wonder: Why is it okay to stereotype Jewish parents, but not ethnically identifiable criminals or non-criminals? Say, blacks or Hispanics, or Asians? I guess it's because most Jews are "white." And, of course, in this culture, it's open season on anyone who's white. Or is remotely white. Such as George Zimmerman. In Orange/Black, blacks and Hispanics get a pass. They're just victims of "the system." They are distaff Jack Abbotts. Some of them have even committed murder, too, as well.

So, Orange/Black is a racist Netflix series. One can't help but reach that conclusion.

There are lesbian sex scenes, and heterosexual sex scenes, all lovingly and graphically depicted by a creature who specializes in grunge, Jenji Kohan, the series' co-creator, writer, and producer. Kohan was also largely responsible for 102 episodes of the TV series Weeds and 47 episodes of Tracey Takes On. Neither of which I have seen, because I gave up on prime time TV years ago as fundamentally unpalatable. But, to judge by their IMDB descriptions, they are all darkly satirical and designed and produced to elicit chuckles while instructing you on how sick you and American society are.

Most importantly, Orange/Black on all counts is profoundly anti-man, that is, anti-man the gender, not the species. There isn't a single sympathetic male character in the series. That should not come as a surprise, either. I say "profoundly" because without the anti-man mantra, the series would not work.

That makes Orange/Black a sexist Netflix series, governed by feminism. Again, no surprise.

The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Advocate, and other publications – all the usual suspects – collectively applauded Orange/Black for breaking new ground in the routine cinematic flagellation of America and men. That's the new norm, as well. Read these for yourself.

I don't think I'm spoiling it for anyone by revealing that in the very last episode of the series, in the very last minutes, during a Christmas pageant put on by the inmates, Chapman is cornered by a "meth-head" Christian maniac, Tiffany Doggett, an inmate with bad teeth who intends to kill Chapman for not respecting her religiosity, for not acknowledging her "gift" for working miracles, and for refusing to be "converted" and joining her little gang of groupies. Chapman, in a rage of fury, winds up beating her to death. I think. Whether or not Tiffany ascended to heaven in her pageant angel costume, or was put in intensive care for a smashed jaw and lost teeth, will be revealed in Season Two of Orange Is the New Black.

Do I care? No. Will Chapman be exonerated, or sent to solitary, or to a maximum security facility? I don’t care about her fate, either.

Why do I torture myself watching this stuff? Because someone's got to do it, to say the things that need to be said. Because the establishment isn't saying them. You would expect Jenji Kohan to take the Fifth. But she isn't. She boasts of her ability to produce grunge. And that is all that is being produced in our culture. Blame Immanuel Kant. He started it all.

One last word of advice: If you want to watch an adult depiction of female criminality, I suggest watching Leave Her to Heaven, or Double Indemnity. Or perhaps the appropriate episodes of the old Perry Mason series.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

FrontPage's Spitballs Strike Diana West

There is a firestorm occurring on FrontPage over a purported review of Diana West's American Betrayal: The Assault on Our Nation's Character, written by Ronald Radosh. Radosh penned a "review" which questioned the reasoning and scholarship of West's contention that Franklin D. Roosevelt consciously, or by subtle policy, boosted the fortunes of Stalin's Soviet régime to profit from the course of WWII, aided in large part by Soviet agents working within and without the U.S. government, and by Harry Hopkins, FDR's chief advisor and aide for so many years.

The title of Radosh's review telegraphs his hostility towards West and her book, "McCarthy on Steroids," and what he plans to say about the book. It is interesting to note that some time has passed since the first reviews of West's book appeared, one on FrontPage itself, written by Mark Tapson in July, whom Radosh does not consider an authority on the subject of Soviet espionage and FDR's complicity in furthering the interests of Stalin and the Soviet Union.

Significantly, FrontPage's editors purged, or removed, Tapson's objective, short, and informative review of the West book. It's too late for that, because, speaking for myself, I already have a hard copy of the review, together with its now defunct URL. The text of it can be found here, on West's own blog site. Printed out, it comes to two and a fraction pages. How many reader comments it generated is now unknown.

Printed out, Radosh's comes to nearly ten pages. Radosh may as well have written a book. It has generated, to date, 182 reader comments, a good many of them criticizing Radosh for conducting a smear campaign against West or otherwise advising him that he is talking through his former "Red Diaper Baby" hat. Radosh continually accuses West of weaving a "conspiracy theory," when she painstakingly documents every claim, assertion, and conclusion in American Betrayal.

Why would the editors remove Tapson's review? Because it contradicts Radosh's in substance and in style, in truth, and in honesty. The removal of Tapson's review speaks volumes about the motives of FrontPage's editors. Instead of issuing a statement to the effect that while they respect Tapson's views on West's book, there is another perspective and here is Mr. Radosh's, and even providing readers to a link to Tapson's review. But to remove a contradictory and controversial article is a confession of intellectual weakness and moral turpitude. The editors do not wish readers to compare the Tapson review with Radosh's. They wish to play Big Brotherish Ministry of Truth games with readers' minds.

In his rambling, Alinskyite article, Radosh expects West to have read or consulted every book ever published whose subject was FDR's conscious, insouciant, or unwitting complicity in the preservation of the Soviet Union. He claims she didn't read this or that authority or author. Her knowledge and command of the field of Soviet-American studies ought to have been encyclopedic, and if it wasn’t, then, as far as Radosh and his editors are concerned, she should be shot down, discredited, and her work consigned to a dustbin.

Reading his purported review, I was constantly reminded of that old legal saw, "When did you stop beating your wife?" "But I never beat my wife." "Prove it." "I can't prove a negative." "Too bad. Let the implied charge be entered into the minds of the jury." "Objection!" "Objection overruled."

Reading Radosh's "review," one is first knocked silly by the highly personal animus he nurtures for West. It colors his purported review and does him no favors, and certainly, as West herself points out, does nothing to lend his reputation as a neocon any credibility. I could not shake loose the impression that Radosh was attempting to defend Roosevelt, Harry Hopkins, and even Stalin from West's charges. The invective present in his long screed is demonstrable and there for all to see who choose to see.

But rather than attempt to counter Radosh's allegations of West's incompetency and illiteracy – which in itself would require a book-length treatment, something I am not willing to undertake because the soundness and value West's book speak for themselves – I will simply stress that FrontPage's editors have shown their dishonest and manipulative hands by removing Mark Tapson's review. That is an unconscionable and unforgivable journalistic and moral crime.

That is a grave enough charge that should weigh heavily on FrontPage's editors. Radosh's purported review may as well have appeared in The New York Times, and we all know how committed that publication is to straight journalism and truth-telling.

But, then, we are dealing with Neocons here. Neoconservativism is simply a smorgasbord of supposedly "right-wing" ideologies populated largely by former communists, retired radical left-wing activists, cringing liberals, and even ex-SDS members such as Radosh. It is as philosophically rudderless as traditional as "right-wing" Republican philosophy (provided anyone can find it). As a movement, it is so open-ended it may as well admit Barack Obama and all three Clintons as honorary members. Neoconservatism can accommodate just about every ideology but Islam.

Had West written a similar book about the infiltration of our government, military, and other institutions by Islamic supremacists, would Radosh have attempted to pick it apart and wisecrack about West's insufficient scholarly abilities? I'm betting he would. Would the editors of FrontPage have sanctioned it? To judge by their behavior now, I'm betting they would.

They've shot their bolt, discredited themselves, and I'll never trust a neocon ever again. Not that I ever did.  

I have also reviewed West's book on Rule of Reason and Family Security Matters, "The Enemy Inside the Gates," here and here. Judge for yourselves. I have also critiqued another scurrilous review of West's book by Frank Csongo in The Washington Times, "Critical Tunnel Vision at The Washington Times" (June 27th), here.

I conclude this defense of Diana West and her book by paraphrasing myself from "The Enemy Inside the Gates":

On one hand, the culprits did not value the truth. On the other, they feared its power and went to extraordinary lengths to suppress it, erected ideological barricades to block it from public knowledge, and punished those who spoke the truth or threatened to tell the truth.

West's lesson to Americans: Reality can't be redacted, buried, fabricated, falsified, or omitted.

And that goes for the editors of FrontPage, as well.