Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, November 15, 2019

Four Things

1. If you haven't paid a visit to Project Gutenberg, let me recommend browsing its well-organized inventory of public domain, free (as in beer) ebooks the next time you're looking for something to read. I snagged a copy of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde there after the book came up on a list of "steampunk" science fiction. (Of course, it isn't really steampunk, but it very much has the feel of the genre.)

The site offers a variety of formats, including the Kindle-compatible MOBI. To upload to your device, retrieve your Amazon account's email address and send the file there in an untitled, blank email. Currently, I'm reading a P.G. Wodehouse book I found there.

A cursory look while preparing for this post showed collections of work by Henry Hazlitt (although not Economics in One Lesson, at least as a stand-alone book), and The Federalist Papers.

2. A humorous Twitter exchange between some kid and William Shatner serves as the point of departure for a column by HR expert Suzanne Lucas.

It also reminds me of the ska song, embedded below and titled, "William Shatner," by the Scofflaws.

I know. Okay, boomer.

3. It's time for another gem from Miss Manners. Scroll down or search "bridal shower" for the Q and A, if you wish, but here's the meat:
If people are going to insist on taking all of the spontaneity out of present-giving not only by dictating the merchandise, but also by setting its timeline and means of delivery, Miss Manners can hardly muster sympathy for them when their guests obey their rules and show up empty-handed.
Sometimes, when the truth sets you free, it also makes you smile.

4. Since I own a copy of the out-of-production Objectivism Research CDROM, I can perform searches through much of the work of Ayn Rand and the early Objectivists. (Even if I owned the Kindle edition of every single such book, this resource is infinitely easier to use than having to search books singly or guess where something on the edge of recollection might be.)

But there are gaps, such as The Objectivist Forum (TOF), of which I own a bound copy. As far as I can tell, there is no electronic version. But I did at least find an electronic table of contents (with brief summaries) for TOF. That was quite helpful the other day when I wanted to read "The Possible Dream," by Harry Binswanger, but did not know where it was. I highly recommend reading it, by the way.

(I had forgotten that TOF was not part of the CDROM set, so I then found it in the bound copy. That said, at least I don't have to lug that thing out just to look up where/whether it contains an article I have heard about.)

-- CAV


Snedcat said...

Part the Bigger:
Yo, Gus, a couple of thoughts. First, "It also reminds me of the ska song, embedded below and titled, 'William Shatner,' by the Scofflaws." Off on a bit of a tangent, there's a very good essay about the mass misremembering of the character of Captain Kirk here. Of course, it also has more than its fair share of leftist bafflegab and boilerplate, but I was reminded of it recently when I rewatched several of the best first-season episodes and remembered how much I liked it as a boy and why. Horakova makes a very good point about how the view of Kirk as simply a brash womanizer reflects the way masculinity (and so much else) has been hollowed out in popular culture over the past couple of decades, something you and I have discussed before. In this respect, her discussion of "The Conscience of the King" is especially good; that was one of those episodes of TV I watched when quite young (another would be "Ill Wind" from The Fugitive) that deeply affected me by dramatizing a profound moral quandary and not letting up or playing it false. And this sentence of hers starts from a place I don't stand and still hits the target right dead center: "Heterosexuality has been through the...ringer in cultural productions in the last decades due to backlashes against feminism and queer visibility that have transformed portrayals and interpretations alike into dumbshows—crude pantomimes, as before the play." Crude pantomimes describes so much of our hollowed-out culture. It's a very good essay, perceptive and well written, with a lot of stuff to make you say "But but but..." (Though I warn you, it's pretty long, so if you haven't got half an hour or so to devote to it, bookmark it for later.)

Second, one of the lamer channels that stays in my YouTube feed because I watch their offerings often enough for the sick pleasure of laughing at their rain-puddle shallowness is, which puts up a lot of Top 10 popular culture lists (yeah, I know, I should have stopped there...). And then they had a list of Top 10 opera arias (though they called them "opera songs") without Richard Strauss. (That aria's one of the songs my wife and I always listen to on our anniversary; that recording was made shortly after the two singers had married.) And then it has "O Fortuna" from Carmina Burana, which is a cantata not an opera (in which case Bach's songs in praise of coffee should have been included instead).

Heh, so anyway, Old Man Grumbles off. The list of Top 10 ska bands is...surprisingly not bad. There was a good mix of all three waves, with three Jamaican, three Brit, and four Yank bands. The three Jamaican bands were well chosen--Bob Marley and the Wailers are too reggae for me to have put them on the list, but as a good hook for viewers, good idea; and then Toots and the Maytals (yes! someone did good there) and The Skatalites. Maybe Jimmy Cliff or Desmond Dekker instead of Marley? But that's a minor minor quibble. For the Brits, The Beat, Madness, and The Specials, which is a fully defensible choice. But then for the Yanks, Sublime, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Operation Ivy, and The Toasters--I would list only The Toasters, and instead add Hepcat, Slackers, and Scofflaws. (But at least they didn't include No Doubt. Heh.) But they list The Skatalites as the No. 1 Ska Band, which is completely true, so on the whole it's a good list for people curious about the genre, and those of us already familiar with it can just nod and tap our feet.

Snedcat said...

Part the Littler:
To end on a lighter ska note: Just as "William Shatner" shows that ska can be written about anything, however trivial, it can also make even mindless 80s pop more listenable, mostly because horns make everything in pop better, like these excellent German skanksters show. Also, I don't know if I ever sent you a link to this Aussie band doing a great ska cover (and a funny video homage) of the theme from Get Smart. Third, The Oldtones are a good Japanese ska band with almost enough horns (who, a bit unusually for ska and fairly unusually for a Japanese group, are predominantly women). And for a last video, this is a talented Russian ska band I like covering a Blues Busters classic. (They released an album recently. You might or might not see a copy of it fairly soon.)

Gus Van Horn said...


First, thanks for throwing that top ten ska band list out there.

Second, isn't it interesting how the same people who have attacked masculinity as toxic for so long are also the most eager to form a macho complex in the name of feminism (for example), as, for example seen on the cover of a recent book. (I don't know much about the book apart from the fact that a "progressive" is touting it and its blurb, but still: What a predictable cover!) Or take the slang compliment butch from back in the '90's. Or the ... manizing, I guess? ... of the two grifters I blogged about recently? If men are such scum, why is it so fashionable to imitate them?

Okay. No more time: Have to get the critters to school. Will look at that essay at some point, though. It sounds interesting.


Gus Van Horn said...

Thanks again!

Snedcat said...

Next Part:
Yo, Gus, you write: "Second, isn't it interesting how the same people who have attacked masculinity as toxic for so long are also the most eager to form a macho complex in the name of feminism (for example)..."

As you doubtless already know, one could spend years and tomes just riffing on the whole stew in modern society of ideas of men and women, both feminist and otherwise, on any level from the septic shiny surface to the fetid intellectual depths. In this particular respect, I suspect a lot of it has to do with the many different ideas of masculinity and femininity in question. They were not monolithic, well-defined ideas that the feminists attacked; there's stuff of dubious or no value in traditional ideas of masculinity, for example, which when distinctions are made are considered "toxic masculinity" (though again you get motte and bailey arguments about that all the time, and everything else in feminism). One common response among young men is to get in everyone's face, sometimes with the most objectionable aspects of what at one time or another might have been considered masculine in some part of society. With many of them it has a rather shrill tone to it, what a cultural critic would label "performative," and what I would call a blind revolt against badly mixed ideas, many bad, with a strong whiff of responding angrily to what is seen as a personal attack (which in many cases it is). The same is true of many young women, including a number of past friends. It's like watching a bunch of shadow boxing.

As one example your links suggested, there's the trope of the "powerful woman" character. Now, I like well-done female characters with intelligence, integrity, gumption, skill, and even physical endurance and strength. They are admirable traits in any person; I know numerous women like that and am married to one. To the extent "powerful women" embody those traits, they're good characters--or rather, they have the raw materials of good characters, because they also need to be well-drawn characters, which is not as common. Besides the tendency to skip that work and go for the cardboard, there's also a tendency to bring in less admirable traits, and not always to allow character growth--pugnacious bull-headedness mirroring the less admirable traits of masculine characters. (Which can make for compelling characters both male and female--I consider Hank Stamper from Ken Kesey's Sometimes a Great Notion one of the most memorable, vivid, and downright interesting characters in American literature...and, lord'a'mercy, one of the most frustrating and infuriating. Unfortunately, there's only one Hank Stamper, no matter how many authors have seemingly tried to copy him.)

It requires some analysis and careful thought to do the usual critical work of identifying the good and the bad and what works and what doesn't and why, and much of the stuff in popular culture doesn't really merit that except as an exercise, for practice, or because it's revealing of larger issues. So what you get is a loud chorus of fan-kids pro and con shouting increasingly stridently as they step on each other's esthetic toes before advancing to stomping each other's feet and kicking each other's shins, while what passes for intellectual commentary is slumming academics emitting tenure fodder and determinedly middle-brow critics using the shopworn ideas they picked up in college to find cosmic significance, or at least what lefties wedded to the ideas they picked up by osmosis consider so, in what doesn't have it (yeah, I used to read the Onion AV Club, and that describes much of their commentariat and their reviewers, respectively, generally quite well--some were better, of course, but not enough of them).

Snedcat said...

Nexter Part:
One example I was thinking about recently along that line. One former commenter here later spewed his increasingly rancid swill elsewhere in the virtual world. One of his tirades elsewhere was what one sympathizes with feminists in calling "hurt fee-fees" in going on and on and on about how evil Buffy the Vampire Slayer was. Women are not strong, he said; femininity consists in physical weakness because women are physically weak and femininity is the essence of their nature as women, and thus having a physically strong female protagonist is by definition an attack on men like him. The very fact that she is supernaturally strong is simple falsehood, a lie, and thus vicious (which means all fiction is a lie, and thus vicious, but reason was never his strong suit). Moreover, the whole shtick of the powerful woman is an attack on men as such; those writers try to steal for women the hero's quest of Joseph Campbell belonging properly to men (presumably, since said piker went on about it with such adulation). And one of the guy's other rants was about how Superman was justly a great hero or something...presumably because his equally unreal super powers were, oh, who knows? This is what so often passes for cultural and esthetic criticism among the current culture-warrior right. Intellectually it's a vacuity; they cede the realm of ideas to their opponents and then stomp on their opponents' feet and pose for intellectual triumphs they haven't earned.

Now, I'm a long-standing fan of Buffy, which is good for what it is and what it does; it has an admirable and (usually) interesting heroine who's a fairly well-drawn TV character, and the show is often clever, sometimes intelligent, and occasionally wise. It also has its fair share of problems and silliness, and only the best episodes have worn well for me. Calling it thoroughly evil as that guy did is ludicrous; that's completely over the top, showing neither judgment nor intelligence when both are required, and it sounds like nothing so much as aping the liberal eggheads. (Cue a whine about "cultural Marxism," the usual get-out-of-having-to-use-your-brain-free card.) And condemning it in the name of Joseph Campbell? More shopworn ideas that spread through the academy and then trickled out of it.

Gus Van Horn said...


As they might say on King of the Hill, "Yep." (Insert a beery belch on either or both sides of that.)

Toxic bastard that I am, I am taking my wife and kids to Disney World for the weekend. We just packed, and she's collecting them from school...

In either or, frankly, any case, I am just playing the part the fools (of either sex) who stereotype masculinity would have me play, prisoner that I am to their very limited imaginations. No matter what I do or say or think, they will cast it in the worst possible light. Am I an oppressor? A cuck? Blind?

Whatever. They can go to hell.

In the real world, I plan to have a fun time with my three kids, as I often put it. My wife is great in her field, but loves to go to Disney, and I am happy to oblige.

It is a shame that so many people can't let go of what other people think of them. Have a good weekend, and say hello to your wife for me.


Snedcat said...

There was a third comment in the series, but it wasn't very good; I was thinking out loud and it seems much less profound and very poorly thought-out after a good sleep, so if it was lost in's twisty innards, leave it lost, and if you deep-sixed it, good. (There was a fourth one saying I reread the essay I linked to and the first three parts are the best; after that the pickings get slimmer. Cultural Marxism does exist, however much of a numinous specter the cultural right makes it into, and lurks in that essay, the more of it the later you get in it. Even there the essay has the virtue, if you will, of being readable, which that tripe so rarely is.)

Having been in academia for a goodly chunk of my life, I have certainly encountered enough feminists of numerous varieties. Once you get into academia, what coherent, fairly borad theories of the world do you encounter? Feminism is one, socialist thought of different flavors another, and not much that isn't even worse. (Deep Ecology, for example.) That gets absorbed by the new generation of scholars and propagated to the next. Of course, the boilerplate is that feminism isn't anti-man, it aims for equality of the sexes, but in practice this is motte and bailey. If you point to lesbian separatists like Marilyn Frye, they respond, "But they're not feminists." If not, then why are they taught in feminist and women's studies classes? (Of course, more generally, the equality of the sexes is not a philosophical primary: It ignores the question of what the sexes are and even more basically of what people are. Philosophically, academic feminism's a woozy free-for-all and a mess if your goal is consistency and clarity, but a goddess-send to intellectual grifters and power lusters of every stripe.)

I've had many good feminist women friends, not all straight; a few I had to cut loose as they went to the worse. The ones who remained my friends weren't man-haters; they wanted a fair shake and to be treated with respect. Some strains of feminism offered that amid worse things, and the viler sort of feminism they rejected. But feminism as a whole doesn't--the better sort take a "Let a hundred blossoms flourish" approach (as well as the ever-present desire to make feminism a broad-based political movement), which is all that the worse sort want or need to make headway.

Of course, the worse sort are not all grifters and power lusters, though those naturally rise to the top. I might have sent you a link many years ago to a breath-taking LiveJournal essay on how Firefly was a woman-hating rape fantasy, etc., etc. (I did enjoy the prescient comments about Joss Whedon being a cynical woman-(ab)using manipulator using feminism to get ahead. I don't think that's true--he's a typical muddled contemporary with flashes of excellence that don't last--but it was a nice change at the time to read someone who doesn't think the sun rises from one of his ears and sets in the other.) It was a perfect specimen of hatred of men as such. To the writer, my existence was an existential threat. I read more of the author's writings and some of her online community friends, all lesbian separatists, and all without exception, I noted, sexually abused as girls, mostly by their fathers. (I don't think all were afflicted with Munchhausen Syndrome either, though some might have been. Like finds like, and the Internet makes that easier than ever.) Of course women like that will consider men's sexuality predatory by nature; of course that's all they'll see in men. To the extent that view is considered acceptable discourse by academic feminists (all women's voices need to be heard, after all, no matter how ill-thought-out or vile--but once that stuff's been heard, why refuse to reject it? what value does it have?), a plague on their house.

There's more I could say, but I think that's enough. Have fun at Disney!

Gus Van Horn said...


A quick look ahead of the critters (as my kids like me to call them) waking up indicates that the third comment must have gotten lost. But I'll leave it unpublished if I do find it...

Your motte and bailey point is a good one, and I encountered that a lot with civil rights activism as I grew up in Mississippi, especially regarding quotas. It was (and probably still is) hard to argue against them there without looking like a bigot or a traitor, depending of course, on which race the audience (belongs to or "identifies with") and the speaker belongs to or appears to belong to (!).

The "better" feminists, civil rights activists, or what have you are the ones most in need of hearing a properly-framed argument in favor of the cause that will really help them get a fair shake and flourish: individualism.


Snedcat said...

Yo, Gus, now for something quite different. You write, "I snagged a copy of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde there after the book came up on a list of 'steampunk' science fiction."

I've been reading a lot of the authors who became famous in the periodical press of that time. Robert Louis Stevenson and Arthur Conan Doyle made their way to fame and modest riches that way, and some now lesser-known authors did some good stuff in that venue as well. (I got onto this tangent reading some of the classic ghost stories and weird tales that influenced Lovecraft, oddly enough.) The "New Humorists" are quite fun--they wrote a wide range of stories, including some truly classic ghost stories, but also some fine humorous works. Jerome K. Jerome is the most famous, and E.F. Benson (remembered for the Mapp and Lucia novels mostly, but also the author of one of the finest ghost stories in English, one I have used in English classes for advanced students) and Barry Pain are also good enough. Not great but good. In a way, a steady diet of their humor is like watching a sitcom with higher literary values--in a way, it's comforting to think that even popular humor is unchanging and eternally the same. Heh. But here's some fun for the new week:

In the middle of the night my wife woke me up in a great state of alarm, to say that the clock had just struck thirteen, and who did I think was going to die?

I said I did not know, but hoped it might be the next-door dog.

My wife said she had a presentiment it meant baby. There was no comforting her; she cried herself to sleep again.

During the course of the morning, I succeeded in persuading her that she must have made a mistake, and she consented to smile once more. In the afternoon the clock struck thirteen again.

This renewed all her fears. She was convinced now that both baby and I were doomed, and that she would be left a childless widow. I tried to treat the matter as a joke, and this only made her more wretched. She said that she could see I really felt as she did, and was only pretending to be light-hearted for her sake, and she said she would try and bear it bravely...

In the night the clock gave us another warning, and my wife accepted it for her Aunt Maria, and seemed resigned. She wished, however, that I had never had the clock, and wondered when, if ever, I should get cured of my absurd craze for filling the house with tomfoolery.

The next day the clock struck thirteen four times and this cheered her up. She said that if we were all going to die, it did not so much matter. Most likely there was a fever or a plague coming, and we should all be taken together.

She was quite light-hearted over it!

After that the clock went on and killed every friend and relation we had, and then it started on the neighbors.

It struck thirteen all day long for months, until we were sick of slaughter, and there could not have been a human being left alive for miles around.

Then it turned over a new leaf, and gave up murdering folks, and took to striking mere harmless thirty-nines and forty-ones. Its favorite number now is thirty-two, but once a day it strikes forty-nine. It never strikes more than forty-nine. I don't know why—I have never been able to understand why—but it doesn't.
(The best part of "Clocks," Jerome K. Jerome)

Snedcat said...

And one more good helping of sitcoms avant la lettre (et dans les lettres):

At the same time, everybody knew well that Hector was marked out for a great position. I had already, with a view to eventualities, had some discussion with one of the Directors, Mr. Cashmere, whom I have already quoted. I was a special favourite of his. But it is quite an ordinary thing in business, of course, for a Director to discuss the internal affairs of the Board with one of the Company’s junior clerks.

Mr. Cashmere expressed the highest opinion of Hector, and said he had no doubt that Hector would become a Director, as a result of a complicated situation that had arisen. Two of the Directors, Mr. Serge and Mr. Angora, while remaining on the best possible social terms with the chairman, Sir Charles Cheviot, were bitterly opposed to him on questions of policy. On the other hand, though agreed on questions of policy, Mr. Serge and Mr. Angora were bitterly jealous of each other, and a rupture was imminent. Under the circumstances, Mr. Cashmere, while assuring everybody of his whole-hearted support, had a private reservation of judgment to be finally settled by the directional feline saltation.

Whichever turn the crisis took, he regarded it as certain that there would be a resignation, and that Hector would get the vacant place.

“Why,” I said, “it’s rather like the Government of the British Empire.”

“Hush!” he said, warningly. “It is exactly like it, but in the interests of the shareholders we do not wish that to be generally known. It would destroy confidence.”
(Barry Pain, Marge Askinforit (1920), funnier I gather if one has access to Margot Asquith's memoirs--again, this passage might be the pinnacle of the work.)

Though I found when reading them I occasionally needed to turn from sitcoms to stronger stuff:

I suppose the same thing holds good with the hosts; they seldom have more than a superficial acquaintance with their guests, and so often just when they do get to know you a bit better, they leave off knowing you altogether. There was rather a breath of winter in the air when I left those Dorsetshire people. You see, they had asked me down to shoot, and I’m not particularly immense at that sort of thing. There’s such a deadly sameness about partridges; when you’ve missed one, you’ve missed the lot—at least, that’s been my experience. And they tried to rag me in the smoking-room about not being able to hit a bird at five yards, a sort of bovine ragging that suggested cows buzzing round a gadfly and thinking they were teasing it. So I got up the next morning at early dawn—I know it was dawn, because there were lark-noises in the sky, and the grass looked as if it had been left out all night—and hunted up the most conspicuous thing in the bird line that I could find, and measured the distance, as nearly as it would let me, and shot away all I knew. They said afterwards that it was a tame bird; that’s simply silly, because it was awfully wild at the first few shots. Afterwards it quieted down a bit, and when its legs had stopped waving farewells to the landscape I got a gardener-boy to drag it into the hall, where everybody must see it on their way to the breakfast-room. I breakfasted upstairs myself. I gathered afterwards that the meal was tinged with a very unchristian spirit. I suppose it’s unlucky to bring peacock’s feathers into a house; anyway, there was a blue-pencilly look in my hostess’s eye when I took my departure. (Saki, "Reginald on House-Parties")

And I made sure to include the Gutenberg links for added value.

Gus Van Horn said...

Thanks, again, Snedcat!