Archive for February, 2019

Populism, immigration and white majorities

February 20, 2019

2.1 children per woman is the replacement rate.  Click to enlarge.

I recently read WHITESHIFT: Populism, Immigration and the Future of White Majorities by Eric Kaufmann (2018, 2019)

It’s about the response of white people in North America, western Europe and Australasia to the fact that their birth rates are below the replacement rate, and that the likely sources of immigration are all from non-white countries with higher birth rates.

Kaufmann, a professor of political science at the University of London, said white fears of immigration are the driving force behind the election of Donald Trump, the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Community and the rise of right-wing populist parties throughout western Europe.

He sees four white responses to population shifts:

  • Fight.  Reduce or eliminate immigration from non-white countries.
  • Repress.  Avoid thinking about the issue and suppress discussion in the name of anti-racism.
  • Flee.  Retreat to white enclaves and avoid diverse neighborhoods, schools and social networks.
  • Join.   Assimilate and inter-marry with non-whites to form a new beige majority.

I wrote about the fourth possibility in a 2012 blog post.  I noted how, in the USA, the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant majority evolved into a white majority that includes Catholics and Jews.  I speculated on the possibility of a further evolution into a new “non-black” majority including white Hispanics, mixed-race people who identify as white and possibly Asian-Americans.

The great danger, as I saw it,  is that the new majority would be as much, or maybe even more, prejudiced against black people as the old majority..

Kaufmann, who grew up in Vancouver, hopes for a more benign evolution—a inclusive majority based not on ancestry, color or facial features, but on loyalty to the nations’ original European cultural roots, but also tolerant of minorities who reject that culture.

He’s an example of what he advocates.  He is by ancestry one-fourth Latino and one-fourth Chinese, but identifies as white.  (The fact that he “identifies” rather than “passes” as white shows progress that has occurred in my lifetime.)

I have long believed that American patriotism should be based not on race, religion or national origin, but on loyalty to the Constitution and the ideals of equal rights contained in the Declaration of Independence.

Kaufmann thinks such civic ideals are too thin to command strong loyalty.  A nation can and should have principles of good citizenship, but real national identity requires a sense of being part of a community with a shared history, whether defined by language, religion, ancestry or culture and customs.

∞∞∞

The politics of the USA, the UK and many other countries are defined by a revolt of an anti-immigration Populist Right  against what Kaufmann calls a Left-Modernist cultural and political elite, which defines opposition to immigration as racist.

Exceptions include the English-speaking parts of Canada, where no Populist Right has emerged, and nationalistic countries of Eastern Europe, where Left Modernism has never gained a foothold.  In Quebec and Scotland also, the cultural elite is on the side of French Canadian and Scottish ethnic nationalism.

Left-Modernism, as Kaufmann sees it, originated among bohemian intellectuals of a century or so ago, who rejected the conventions of the conformist middle-class majority.  In the USA, this was a revolt against the Puritan heritage and an embrace of everything anti-Puritan, from sexual freedom to  jazz music.

Over time these values came to dominate academia, the news and entertainment media and the political elite.  Along the way, though, the Left Modernists ceased to value radical individualism and self-expression and developed a kind of reverse Puritanism, based on conformity and guilt.  Nowadays it is the Populist Right that is transgressive and provocative.

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President Trump invokes power of a dictator

February 18, 2019

President Donald Trump, having failed to persuade Congress to appropriate a full $5.7 billion for his border wall, has said he’ll declare a national emergency and take the money from Department of Defense funds.

The thing is, he doesn’t even pretend there is any emergency involved.

I could do the wall over a longer period of time.  I didn’t need to do this.  But I’d rather do it much faster.  And I don’t have to do it for the election.  I ’ve already done a lot of wall for the election. 2020.  And the only reason we’re up here talking about this is because of the election—because they want to try to win an election, which it looks like they’re not going to be able to do.

If a President can simply declare a national emergency and override the will of Congress, what power does he lack to make himself a dictator?

President Trump did not give himself these emergency powers, and he is not the first one to use them or abuse them, but none before him have been so blatant about the lack of justification for using these powers.

Our Constitution sets up a form of government with three branches of government with separate powers—the legislative, executive and judiciary—with the idea that each would check and balance the power of the others.

The problem with this is that separation of powers means separation of responsibility.  The path of least resistance for Congress is to abdicate responsibility to the President.

It’s true that Congress is not entirely to blame in this case.  The original law that President Trump invoked allowed Congress to veto an emergency declaration by a majority vote of the Senate and the House of Representations.  The Supreme Court ruled that unconstitutional; it said the two-thirds votes are required not only to overturn vetoes of legislation, but to overturn any Presidential action.

Even so, it is Congress that over the years has given Presidents the powers of dictators, and it is the responsibility of Congress to take these powers back.  No member of Congress who declares themselves a part of the “resistance” to President Trump can be taken seriously if they continue to allow him the powers of a dictator.

LINKS

Republic’s End: Trump’s Border Wall by Ian Welsh.

A Fishy Emergency Threatens the Republic by Doug Muder for The Weekly Sift.

Trump’s dictator move is the real emergency—and we handed him the keys by Will Bunch for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

What Is and Isn’t a Big Deal in Trump’s Executive Actions Related to the Border by Jack Goldsmith for Lawfare.

And why can’t we stop wondering “why”?

February 16, 2019

Source: Incidental Comics.

Ilhan Omar holds Elliott Abrams to account

February 14, 2019

Elliott Abrams in the 1980s carried out U.S. support for central American dictatorships that massacred their own people.  He is justly hated for his actions to this day.  For the Trump administration to put him in charge of U.S. policy toward Venezuela is an insult to the people of Latin America and a signal that the U.S. government does not care about human rights.

In the video above, Rep. Ilhan Omar, a new member of Congress from Minneapolis, questions Abrams about his record.  Along with Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib, she is a new voice in Congress, who speaks truths that others fear to state.

Omar referred to a notorious massacre in which more than 800 civilians, including two-year-old children, were killed by U.S.-trained troops.  The Intercept had details on this:

On December 11, 1981 in El Salvador, a Salvadoran military unit created and trained by the U.S. Army began slaughtering everyone they could find in a remote village called El Mozote.  Before murdering the women and girls, the soldiers raped them repeatedly, including some as young as 10 years old, and joked that their favorites were the 12-year-olds.  One witness described a soldier tossing a 3-year-old child into the air and impaling him with his bayonet.  The final death toll was over 800 people.

The next day, December 12, was the first day on the job for Elliott Abrams as assistant secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian affairs in the Reagan administration. Abrams snapped into action, helping to lead a cover-up of the massacre.  News reports of what had happened, Abrams told the Senate, were “not credible,” and the whole thing was being “significantly misused” as propaganda by anti-government guerillas.  [snip]

The extermination of El Mozote was just a drop in the river of what happened in El Salvador during the 1980s. About 75,000 Salvadorans died during what’s called a “civil war,” although almost all the killing was done by the government and its associated death squads. The numbers alone don’t tell the whole story. El Salvador is a small country, about the size of New Jersey. The equivalent number of deaths in the U.S. would be almost 5 million. 

Moreover, the Salvadoran regime continually engaged in acts of barbarism so heinous that there is no contemporary equivalent, except perhaps ISIS.

In one instance, a Catholic priest reported that a peasant woman briefly left her three small children in the care of her mother and sister. When she returned, she found that all five had been decapitated by the Salvadoran National Guard. Their bodies were sitting around a table, with their hands placed on their heads in front of them, “as though each body was stroking its own head.”  The hand of one, a toddler, apparently kept slipping off her small head, so it had been nailed onto it.  At the center of the table was a large bowl full of blood.

Criticism of U.S. policy at the time was not confined to the left. During this period, Charles Maechling Jr., who had led State Department planning for counterinsurgencies during the 1960s, wrote in the Los Angeles Times that the U.S. was supporting “Mafia-like oligarchies” in El Salvador and elsewhere and was directly complicit in “the methods of Heinrich Himmler’s extermination squads.”

Source: The Intercept

Similar stories could be told about U.S. support for the dictatorship in Guatemala and Panama and for the Contra rebels in Nicaragua.

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The widening target of ‘anti-racism’

February 14, 2019

Where once the targets of those concerned to fight injustice were “racism” and “sexism,” today the targets are “whiteness” and “masculinity.”  The underlying premise is plain: that there is no whiteness independent of the domination of nonwhites, and no masculinity independent of the domination of women.

==attributed to Wesley Yang, author of The Souls of Yellow Folk

I think it is great that black people to take pride in themselves and not think they have to be like whites in order to respect themselves.    I think it is great that women to take pride in themselves and not think they have to be like men in order to respect themselves.

I think discrimination against black people and against women are great evils, and I think it is great that these evils are being stigmatized and diminished.

I don’t see how racism and sexism are diminished telling white men they should be ashamed of themselves for being white and male.

My father taught me to live in a way that allows me to respect myself and to be willing to treat others with courtesy and respect, and that is what I believe in.

It is wrong to teach anyone that self-respect is impossible, or is possible only by adopting a certain creed or joining a certain group.

Breaking a taboo vs. committing a crime

February 11, 2019

Click to enlarge. Hat tip to Kevin Drum.

Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia had a page in his 1984 college yearbook showing a white man in blackface (possibly Northam himself) posing with someone in Ku Klux Klan regalia.  This has been big news, and many of Northam’s fellow Democrats have called on him to resign.

Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia, when serving as secretary of state, purged Georgia’s voter rolls using methods that targeted black voters.  This may have given him his margin of victory over Stacey Abrams, a black woman.  This has not been big news, and none of Kemp’s fellow Republicans have called on him to resign.

This fits with Machiavelli’s observation that human beings will more readily forgive an actual injury than they will an insult.

It is good that certain words and actions that once were common are now socially unacceptable.  I can remember when what we now call the N-word was a common expression.  I’m glad it isn’t any more.

Yet  Lyndon Johnson, who did more than any President since to advance the cause of civil rights, used that word.  And certain powerful people who would never use that word condone redlining, police brutality, selective enforcement of drug laws and systematic disenfranchisement of African-American voters.

I don’t think anyone should be judged on the basis of the worst thing they ever said or did, but rather on the basis of the record of their whole adult lives.

Gov. Northram has apologized for the yearbook photo.  He should have the chance to show by his policies as governor that his apology is sincere.  Judging by the results of the public opinion poll shown above, a majority of African-American voters in Virginia feel the same way.

LINKS

Ralph Northram and the limits of forgiveness by Doug Muder for The Weekly Sift, who also made some good points today.

Reverend William Barber Explains How Governor Northram Can Repent His Racist Sins.

Establishment Republicans mystified by their base should look at Ed Gillespie’s campaign by Matthew Yglesias for Vox.  About Northram’s Republican opponent in the 2017 election.

GOP’s Brian Kemp purged 1 in 10 Georgia voters by Greg Palast.  And Kemp is not alone, as Palast’s other reporting shows.

AOC on how to legally be a ‘super bad guy’

February 11, 2019

AOC Campaign Finance Primer Goes Viral by Jeri-Lynn Scofield for Naked Capitalism.

Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian

February 10, 2019

I picked up a copy of THE HISTORIAN: a novel by Elizabeth Kostova (2007) on a free book exchange rack at my local public library.

This novel, which is about a multi-generational search for the grave of Count Dracula, is more of a historical novel than it is a horror novel.

Dracula was a historical figure who lived in the 15th century in Transylvania and Wallachia, regions of what is now Rumania.  

His life overlapped with the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks.  He was known for his cruelty to both his subjects and the Turkish enemy.

The framing story is a narration by a history professor, living in the present, about her attempt as a 16-year-old in 1972 to discover the truth about her father and his interest in the Dracula legend.

We then revert to 1954 and a narration by her father, a young graduate student in history, of his quest to save his advisor and mentor who has been taken by Dracula.  The quest takes him and a mysterious young woman to Turkey, Hungary and Bulgaria.

Within this narration are letters by the mentor of his journey in 1930 to Rumania, where he discovers the original (but empty) burial-place of the Count.

The 642-page novel moves at a leisurely pace, which I didn’t mind but others might.  I like her sketches of the life and landscape in all the countries that the characters visit.  Kostova is a marvelous descriptive writer and, from what I can tell, a meticulous researcher.

We get a glimpse of the struggles between Turkish Muslims and Orthodox Christians in the 15th century Balkans.  These wars were as murderous, heroic and tragic as World Wars One and Two, and, as the conflict in Bosnia shows, they aren’t completely over yet.

Near he end, we get to meet the Count, visit his library and hear him explain that inasmuch as human nature is basically corrupt, the only kind of perfection that is possible is perfection in evil. 

The book’s layered history reminds me of Rebecca West’s great book, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, which is about her travels through Yugoslavia in the late 1930s and how the past lives in the present.

I would have liked an appendix telling what is fact and what is fiction in the novel, but evidently the author preferred to maintain the pretense that this is a true story.

Merle Hazard, country musician economist

February 9, 2019

Time for a change of pace.  Merle Hazard (not to be confused with the great Merle Haggard) claims to be the world’s leading country musician-economist.  Click on his name for more about him and more selections.  Hat tip to kottke.org.

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The peril of repealing arms control treaties

February 8, 2019

The danger of all-out nuclear war is two-fold.  One is that a leader of a nuclear-armed nation may launch a first strike in hope that the target nation will not be able to retaliate.  The other is that the leader of a nuclear-armed nation may think another nuclear nation has launched or plans a first strike.

Although neither the American and the Soviet/Russian governments has been willing to give up the option of all-out war, the two governments have over the years made treaties to make all-out war less likely.

But since the dawn of the 21st century, the U.S. government has moved backwards.  President George W. Bush withdrew from the anti-ballistic missile treaty in 2002.  President Donald Trump has announced the U.S. will withdraw from the INF (intermediate nuclear force treaty.  There is a possibility that the strategic arms reduction treaty) will not be renewed in 2021.

Arms control treaties can give a false sense of security.  They do not eliminate nuclear weapons, only stabilize them.  But without such treaties, the danger would be much greater than it is.

ABM Treaty.   The anti-ballistic missile treaty was signed by Richard Nixon and Leonid Brezhnev in 1972, after nearly 10 years of negotiation.  The USA and USSR agreed to limit themselves to 200 anti-ballistic missiles—missiles intended to shoot down intercontinental ballistic missiles—at two sites.. Later this was reduced to 100 ABMs at one site.  Missile defense against short-range and intermediate-range missiles was allowed.  After the breakup of the USSR, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan agreed to abide by the treaty.

The purpose was to preserve the principle of mutual assured destruction, which was considered a guarantee of peace.  If either American or Soviet leaders thought they had a reliable defense system, they might think they could attack the other nation and then be able to repel whatever weapons weren’t destroyed in the attack.

President George W. Bush canceled the treaty in order to place ABM systems in Poland and Romania.  He said such systems were necessary not just to protect against attack by Russia, but by “rogue nations” such as Iran.

There are grave doubts as to whether these ABM systems would work.  Maybe the best outcome would be that Russian leaders will fear that they might work and NATO leaders will fear they won’t work.

INF Treaty.  Negotiations of the intermediate nuclear force treat were begun by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, and completed in 1987 during the George H.W. Bush administration.  The purpose of the treaty was to eliminate Soviet or Russian missiles aimed at European targets and Europe-based missiles aimed at Russia.

The treaty called for a ban on land-based missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers (310 to 3,420 miles).  It did not affect missiles fired from airplanes, ships or submarines, which was to the advantage of the United States, as the leading air power and sea power.  Under the treaty. the U.S. destroyed 346 nuclear weapons and the Soviets destroyed 1,346.

In the early 21st century, Vladimir Putin called for renegotiation of the treaty on the grounds that it did not set limits on other powers, particularly China, with its long land frontier with Russia.  Later Russia reportedly developed and tested an intermediate-range missile, the 9M729, and may have deployed some of them.  Putin claimed that the U.S. ABM system violated the treaty, arguing that nuclear warheads could be fitted on the supposedly defensive missiles.

President Donald Trump announced cancellation of the treaty, based on Russia’s violations.  Critics say that’s what Putin wanted him to do, since it frees Russia from any treaty obligation.

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How could we accept nuclear doom as an option?

February 7, 2019

A friend of mine responded this way to my review / essay on Daniel Ellsberg’s The Doomsday Machine, which quoted Bertrand Russell as saying that President Kennedy was “mathematically” worse than Hitler because he was willing to put the whole human race at risk during the Cuban missile crisis.

Thanks for this. I lived through that time too.  I guess that my perspective is a little different, although I see Russell’s point.  Kennedy was a cold warrior, among the coldest. And Khrushchev was as well.  

And while Kennedy would not have launched unless launched upon, he inherited the nukes and he had a hard game to play. The darkest devil was Curtis LeMay, Air Force Chief of Staff, who enthusiastically pushed for bombing Cuba.

Thank God Kennedy resisted, because those tactical nukes in Cuba would have been raining down on us and then both sides would have launched the ICBMs, and we wouldn’t be here.

Kennedy created some of this tension with his ridiculous missile gap rhetoric during the presidential debates–there was no missile gap, at least not one that favored the USSR, and he certainly knew it.

Again, thanks for your review. It was a terrible time, and there have been many close calls since that the general public has been mostly unaware of.

I liken Kennedy to someone who lives in a house with a basement filled with TNT.  He was able to resolve the Cuban missile crisis without letting anyone get their hand on the detonator.  But he never considered the possibility of getting rid of the TNT or the detonator.

Kennedy was a cold warrior.  So was Daniel Ellsberg.  So was I for many years after Ellsberg saw the light.  I never understood the justice of Bertrand Russell’s words during his lifetime.

My thinking back then—and I was not alone in this—was that the world faced a choice of two equal evils.  One was nuclear warfare.  The other was the triumph of totalitarianism.  I did not think it was better to be red than dead.  I admired President Kennedy for managing to avoid a victory for totalitarianism without waging war with nuclear weapons.

I came of age reading the literature of anti-totalitarianism—George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism, Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon.  I thought there was a real possibility that Orwell’s SF dystopia could come true.  I thought that Soviet foreign policy was equivalent to Hitler’s and that conditions in the USSR in the 1960s were equivalent to conditions under the height of Stalin’s Great Terror.

I continued to believe these things long after I was exposed to facts that indicated otherwise.  It is amazing how hard it can be to change an opinion once you’ve committed to it.

I did not know the U.S. military’s secret estimates that nuclear war could result in the deaths of a quarter or more of the human race.  The thought of “omnicide”—the death of all—did not enter my thinking.   Daniel Ellsberg, by the way, does not advocate total nuclear disarmament, at least not to begin with.  He only advocates disarmament to the point where no country has the power to destroy the human race or human civilization.

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Daniel Ellsberg’s The Doomsday Machine

February 6, 2019

In 1961, the philosopher Bertrand Russell said President John F. Kennedy and Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, because of their commitment to nuclear weapons, were worse than Adolf Hitler..

“…Macmillan and Kennedy, through misguided ignorance and deliberate blindness, are pursuing policies which are likely to lead to the extermination of the whole human race,” Russell said.  “Hitler set out to exterminate the Jews.  On a purely statistical basis, Macmillan and Kennedy are 50 times as wicked as Hitler.”

I recently got around to reading Daniel Ellsberg’s 2017 book, THE DOOMSDAY MACHINE: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner, which indicates that Russell was basically wright.

Kennedy, like Truman and Eisenhower before him and every President since, was willing to threaten nuclear war.  Ellsberg wrote that this not only could have led to the death of virtually the whole human race, but, on Kennedy’s watch, very nearly did.

I remember the 1950s and the 1960s, and the public’s well-founded fear of nuclear war back then.  The fear has gone away, but the danger hasn’t, as Ellsberg made clear..

The book is in two parts.  The first is a personal history of nuclear policy, leading up to the Cuban missile crisis.  The other is a historical look at how American leaders in World War Two came to regard mass killing of civilian populations as morally acceptable, and how no American leader since then has been willing to give it up.

The Eisenhower administration had a war plan called “massive retaliation.”  That meant that in the case of military conflict with either the USSR or China, the U.S. would implement a plan that called for the nuclear bombing of every town in Russia with a population of more than 25,000, and also every large population center in China.

The Air Force, in response to a query by President Kennedy, estimated that this would result in the deaths of 324 million people in China or Russia through blast and radioactive fallout, which is more than died at the hands of Hitler, Stalin and Mao combined.  It estimated that up to an additional 100 million people in Communist ruled nations in eastern Europe, in allied nations in western Europe and also in neutral nations, depending in which way the wind was blowing.

This amounted to more than 600 million people, a quarter of the human race at that time.

But wait.  There’s more.  The Air Force did not attempt to estimate casualties due to fire.  Nuclear bombing would have set off fire storms that would have made World War Two Hamburg, Dresden and Tokyo seem like the victims of children playing with matches. Ellsberg wrote that, if you count direct deaths to fire, a nuclear attack on the Communist bloc would have taken the lives of between one third and one half of humanity.  I can’t get my mind around such an enormity.

All of these estimates were based on a successful U.S. first strike that destroyed the Communist countries so completely that their military would not be able to retaliate.  If that didn’t work, there would have been tens of millions or hundreds of millions of American deaths as well.

Later on certain scientists awoke to the possibility of “nuclear winter”.   Firestorms resulting from a nuclear attack would send so much soot and smoke into the upper atmosphere that they would literally blacken the sky.  The dark layer would be above the clouds, so there would be no rain to wash it down.  It would remain for 10 years or more, making it impossible for plants to grow or for most complex life-forms to survive.

So an all-out nuclear attack could literally be a Doomsday Machine.

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The ‘deep state’ in the Reagan administration

February 4, 2019

When George H.W. Bush served as Vice President to Ronald Reagan, I was one of those who thought of him as merely a product of the upper crust who was always trying to seem like an average joe, and never quite succeeding.

But, as Seymour Hersh wrote in a recent article in the London Review of Books—

There was another view of Bush: the one held by the military men and civilian professionals who worked for him on national security issues.  Unlike the president, he knew what was going on and how to get things done. For them, Reagan was ‘a dimwit’ who didn’t get it, or even try to get it.  [snip]

George H.W. Bush (AP)

Bush was different: he got it.  At his direction, a team of military operatives was set up that bypassed the national security establishment – including the CIA – and wasn’t answerable to congressional oversight.  It was led by Vice-Admiral Arthur Moreau, a brilliant navy officer who would be known to those on the inside as ‘M’.  [snip]

In May 1983 he was promoted to assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General John Vessey, and over the next couple of years he oversaw a secret team – operating in part out of the office of Daniel Murphy, Bush’s chief of staff – which quietly conducted at least 35 covert operations against drug trafficking, terrorism and, most important, perceived Soviet expansionism in more than twenty countries, including Peru, Honduras, Guatemala, Brazil, Argentina, Libya, Senegal, Chad, Algeria, Tunisia, the Congo, Kenya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, Georgia and Vietnam.

Source: London Review of Books

The “Star Wars” missile defense plan was a disinformation campaign, designed to make the Soviet rulers think the United States actually could defend against a nuclear attack.  Nobody on the Joint Chiefs of Staff actually believed it would work, according to Hersh’s informants.

Bush’s team sent out special Marine and Delta Force teams to kill drug lords, Soviet agents and terrorists, based names provided by the  CIA from the files of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Justice Department and National Security Agency—just as the Joint Special Operations Command does today.

President Reagan knew nothing of this.  Neither did CIA Director William Casey, who the team regarded as reckless, uninformed and overly read to talk to the press.  The press itself never caught on.  The only member of Congress who was told was Rep. Dick Cheney, R-Wyoming.

One of the team’s efforts was an abortive plot to assassinate Libya’ Muammar Qaddafi.  Another was support of the Contra rebels in Nicaragua, which was forbidden by Congress.

This is what is meant by a “deep state”—a decision-making center within government that is hidden from the public, not accountable to the public, but greatly affects the public welfare for good ill.

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A true history of SF’s golden age

February 2, 2019

I just got finished reading ASTOUNDING: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard and the Golden Age of Science Fiction by Alec Nevala-Lee (2018)

This book is the story of how John W. Campbell Jr., the editor of Astounding Science Fiction magazine, and three writers most closely associated with him, shaped the American mind.  It provides a detailed and objective account of the personalities, relationships and accomplishments of these four figures, both for good and ill.

In 1937, when Campbell became editor of the magazine at the age if 27, popular science fiction was a minor subset of the action-adventure genre.  

His ambition was to make science fiction not only a source of entertainment, but a way of thinking about science and the future.

He was an outstanding editor, full of ideas, able to prod and provoke writers into doing better work than they thought they could.  

He was a second-rate intellect who was outside the literary mainstream, but he punched above his intellectual weight. 

Albert Einstein subscribed to Astounding.  Werner von Braun, in wartime Germany, reportedly took the trouble to obtain copies of the Swedish edition. 

Carl Sagan, Gene Roddenberry, Stephen King, Paul Krugman, Elon Musk, Newt Gingrich and George R.R. Martin all acknowledge Campbell’s influence.

When I visit my local Barnes & Noble bookstore, the space given to science fiction exceeds all other genres combined.

Without Campbell, there still would be adventure stories set against a science fiction background, like Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars stories, and there still would be literary writers, like H.G. Wells and Olaf Stapleton, who use science fiction themes, but It’s highly unlikely that science fiction would pervade the culture of the English-speaking world as it does today.

The other factor in the growth of science fiction, mentioned only in passing in this book, is science fiction fandom, a distinctive and maybe unique community in which writers and readers can interact and discuss the genre.

As for myself, I never participated in fandom, Astounding Science Fiction magazine and books by Astounding writers were my main source of intellectual stimulation when I was a young teenager.  I have continued to read science fiction all my life, and while I pass over the bulk of it, I find the best science fiction a source of great pleasure and food for thought.

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