Quick Review: Stranger Things 3

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Stranger Things is starting not to get the 80’s right.

Probably it never did. Nostalgia coasts on dusting off old images, making people say “Hey, remember this!” and that’s only fun if it’s in the brightest possible colors. So much of the charm of Stranger Things lay in seeing boys riding around on bicycles, unattended, just like they used to (What about Elle? She didn’t ride a bike. Max doesn’t either; she’s a sk8er grrl).

But one of the things that occured to me with this new season was how *clean* everything looked. And the fact that I noticed it is suggestive.

Folks, the 80’s were dirty. People didn’t care that much about littering, nor about drunk driving. A street that didn’t have broken beer bottles on the side of it was a street that hadn’t been built.

Also, nobody in the 80’s talked about Soviets as being “enemies of the state”, especially not radical journalists. The 80’s weren’t the 50’s. Yeah, the Cold War was an ongoing thing, but we’d all gotten used to it. We were tired of it and wanted it to be over. Not that we suddenly liked the Soviets or disliked Reagan (whose landslide 1984 re-election took place within the timeline of Season 2), we just settled into it as being normal. If anyone found a nerdy Russian in Indiana who wanted to go to a County Fair, we would have bought him all the cherry slurpees he wanted. The 80’s were the great age of Yakoff Smirnoff. That said, I’m glad the show didn’t make the Russians the secret good guys, which I kind of expected during the first episode.

As for the plot: I liked it better than Season 2, which really felt like Season 1.5. Granted, the bad guy was the same, but the approach of it was different. And creepily so: a monster dissolving it’s mind-controlled victims into puddles of flesh that it then draws into itself. The merely Lovecraft-derived Demogorgons and Demodogs from the previous seasons look almost adorable by comparison. Elle finally became an actual character rather than a victim/plot device, and they nerfed her at the climax to underscore this. And they did something useful with Billy other than make him the new Steve Harrington. On the whole, I’m fine with it.

Let’s hope they stop after Season 4.

Updating a Classic: Giving Solar System Blues a Cover it Deserves

I like to call Solar System Blues my first novel. Certainly it was my first serious attempt at self-publishing, and my first serious review. Because of this, I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted for the cover, and just kind of used the templates that CreateSpace and KDP offered.

That has changed.

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Self-Publishing Review had this to say on it:

The world building is subtle and the author avoids too much information dumping on the whole. This book is a quick read and is only 140 pages. While the action and mystery come at the reader fast, after you get past the first few pages, it doesn’t feel overwhelming.

In honor of the new cover, I’m doing a Kindle Countdown Deal starting July 2. That means between July 2 and July 5, you can get the ebook for the low low price of $0.99, and between July 5 and July 9, for the low price of $1.99.

Honestly, what do you have to lose? Click here to buy.

A Smart Analysis of The Sixth Sense

Over at Ace of Spades. I did not realize that The Sixth Sense would have been the #1 film  that year were it not for Star Wars. I haven’t seen it in forever, but I have a feeling I wouldn’t dislike it on rewatch (my favorite film from that year, however, remains Fight Club).

And, here’s the thing, with the Big Twist out of the way, it’s actually a much better movie. (How’s that for a twist!)

The build up to the twist—the sleight-of-hand that prevents you from seeing it—is actually sort of rickety. I remember someone complaining at the time that there are a lot of odd tropes abused by The Sixth Sense that (if you don’t overlook them) make it seem like you’re watching a very sloppy film. And I remember when I saw it the first time, I was like, “Huh. That was odd. That doesn’t make much sense. Why is that happening?” And I did overlook them and so was pleasantly duped.

I’ve always thought that movies work better when you let yourself get pulled into them. Your mileage may vary, but read the whole thing.

The Democrats are Democrats

Is Megan McArdle actually surprised that no one mentioned Obamacare at the debates? Or is this rhetorical surprise?

The Affordable Care Act barely came up. What candidates wanted to talk about was Medicare-for-all.

That is nothing short of extraordinary. In 2010, President Barack Obama signed into law the biggest entitlement expansion, and the most significant health-care reform, since the 1960s. You’d think Democrats would be jostling to claim that mantle for themselves. Instead it was left in a corner, gathering dust, while the candidates moved on to the fashion of the moment.

There are those of us toddler-eating, goose-stepping monsters who argued way the hell back in 2010 that this was the point all along; that the ACA was just the camel’s nose to get the government in the business of managing health-care (anyone out there who wants to argue that the real camel’s nose was Medicare and Medicaid, nolo contendre). It was destined to fail, designed to fail, so that the next Democratic President could give the ratchet another turn, so that the Republicans could jump up and down about it, and then do nothing, so that the next Democratic President could give us a European-style National Health Service.

McArdle is educated enough to have heard of the Cloward-Pliven Strategy.  This would appear to be a variant of that. It’s that old socialist tactic, “the worse, the better”, which is why the Democrats were furious this week at having to vote funds for migrants at the border. They don’t want migrants at the border to be reasonably cared-for. They want concentration camps. They want dead children in the Rio Grande. Because what they really want is open-borders with concomitant demographic shift that earns them the majority they need to rule. And the way to get that is to present these people as saintly victims, martyrs of our hatred, all the time. Alexandra Occasio-Cortez isn’t stupid; she knows what she wants and makes the moves necessary to get it. People who take her public statements at face-value, as if she was different from any other kind of politician, those are the stupid ones.

And the same applies to Marianne Williamson, the “beautiful lunatic”, whom Stacy McCain has been giving the George McGovern treatment (Stacy might have a wish to be the Hunter Thompson of his generation). I’m not in the business of making predictions, but when Williamson said this:

I tell you one thing, it’s really nice if we have all these plans, but if you think we beat Donald Trump by just having all these plans, you’ve got another thing coming. Because he didn’t win by saying he had a plan. He won by simply saying, “Make America Great Again.”

My response is:

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Let’s be real here a second. Nobody cares about politicians’ plans. Politician’s plans are like their rectums; they each have one, and they all stink. Mitt Romney had a 47-point plan to fix all the things. Nobody wanted anything to do with it. They wanted to re-elect Hope and Change instead.

Having a Plan is political shorthand for “I know what I’m talking about and am a serious person. I’m smart and stuff.” Which is not a bad position to be in, but having an idea that the average voter can relate to and respond to is a better one. “Build a Wall” resonates in a way that “My plan calls for tweaking the QZM, Snorfhonkling the BLYC, and Adding a new Part to Medicare” simply does not.

So Marianne Williamson is not as dumb as you might think. I don’t know that she actually has an idea that will resonate with the Democratic base yet, but if she gets one, watch out. The Democrats are Democrats.

Bran Stark is Hosed – A Reasonable Prediction From the End of Game of Thrones

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The Kingdoms of Bran the Broken is neither a Kingdom nor is it Bran’s. Discuss.

This analysis, from A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry, argues that the introduction of Elective Monarchy to Westeros, and especially the election of Bran Stark as its first elected king, is doomed to failure. The reasons are as follows:

  1. With the exception of the Iron Islands, which are at best inconsistent with the practice, nowhere in Westeros has ever practiced elective monarchy. Indeed, every one of the Six Kingdoms has a tradition of primogeniture (the eldest son of the king is the next king, girls only succeed in Dorne), with families that have held power for 300 years at the shortest, and some of them go back to pre-history. These constituent kingdoms will all have more power than Bran, and will have every incentive to keep the central monarchy weakened.
  2. In pulling out of the Seven Kingdoms, Sansa Stark left her brother with no power base to fall back on. Had Gendry Baratheon been elected king, he would have one of the Seven Kingdoms, the Stormlands, in his pocket, providing him with an army he could call upon at will. Had Tyrion been elected, he would have the Westerlands, Edmure Tully, the Riverlands, Robert Arryn, the Vale, etc. But now that the North has backed out, Bran has nothing but the lands around Kings Landing – the Crown Lands – which aren’t much.
  3. Bran is unable to fulfill several of the expectations of being a king in Westeros. He cannot be a fighter; he has shown no interest in leading armies, and has been a character people find more off-putting than admirable.

The article includes a discussion of how the Holy Roman Empire and Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, two historical elective monarchies, worked (and didn’t work). Read the Whole Thing.

The Story is That We’re Ignoring the Story

Martin Luther King, Jr.

There’s a throwaway line in Spike Lee’s film Malcolm X, wherein two FBI agents who’ve been wiretapping the titular character, and are listening to him have a heartfelt conversation on the phone with his wife. One of the agents says to the other “compared to King, this guy’s a monk.”

That movie came out in 1992. Which means that, in 1992, the awareness that Martin Luther King was not a saint behind closed doors was already sufficiently out of the bag that it could be referenced in a major Hollywood film – for which the lead was nominated for an Oscar – and it would be assumed that the viewing audience would get it.

But that was 1992. In 2019, we pretend this information does not exist, and we attack the messenger naive enough to bring it to our attention.

Now, what is alleged in the article in the Spectator goes beyond mere extramarital shenanigans to include orgies and in one instance, cheering on a forcible rape. It’s lurid and sickening.

And before I go any further, let us stipulate that the article might not be true. Since the tapes themselves won’t be released until 2027, we won’t know until then whether the notes used to source the article are reflective of reality. Given that the FBI did not cover itself in glory in its treatment of King, there may indeed have been some goosing-up of the material in the notes to keep J. Edgar Hoover happy.

But then again, it might be true. The question is, what do we do about it?

We could, acknowledge the fact that those held up as heroes by the world often have feet of clay. We could allow ourselves the awareness that those of great courage are not without their flaws.

Or we could denounce this information as lies and attack the motives of those who speak it. Standard DARVO (Deny, Accuse, Reverse Victim and Offender) procedure. Which would be fine if it came from those with a vested interest in maintaining the cultus of MLK pure and unblemished – progressive policy institutes and black civil rights groups and the like.

But when its the media? That is most instructive. Witness this circle-the-wagons moment by a black feminist professor of history in the New York Times:

The #MeToo movement is the culmination of decades of agitation around the pervasive problems of sexual assault and harassment. Rich and famous sexual predators have been brought down by the courageous stories of women who are finally being believed. In this climate, Mr. Garrow seems to want his own “Me first” spotlight by getting out in front of an unsubstantiated story, but the problem is this: He presumptuously tells his version of stories of women who never themselves acknowledged being victims or survivors. We cannot put the F.B.I.’s words in their mouths and call it justice.

If in 2027 when the full F.B.I. tapes are released there is credible and corroborated evidence that a sexual assault occurred and Dr. King was somehow involved, we will have to confront that relevant and reprehensible information head-on. But we are not there.

Meanwhile, to accept highly suspicious evidence as fact and to dress it up with a litany of salacious anecdotes is to complete the job J. Edgar Hoover failed to do two generations ago, when he dedicated himself to denigrating Dr. King’s life and work. Mr. Garrow’s piece also names numerous black women, most of them dead, who were allegedly Dr. King’s willing romantic partners, delving into their private lives without their consent or any compelling reason. This is as reckless and unethical as the actions of newspaper tabloids that circulate titillating gossip to sell papers.

Everyone got that? If, when the tapes come out, this turns out to be true, then it will be true. But in the meantime, the author is a fame-hunting bastard and this is all salacious gossip.

I feel like an idiot for even asking, but where was all this devotion to truth and evidence, this distinction between non-pretatory and predatory sex, when Brett Kavanaugh was being accused? Oh, that’s right, it didn’t exist, because Brett Kavanaugh is the wrong sort of person. Martin Luther King is a Martyr for the Cause, and therefore entitled to a full and exacting defense.

The Rules are not the Rules when you’re the wrong sort. Everyone who’s the wrong sort needs to absorb this.

HBO’s Chernobyl is Misery Porn, and Therefore Largely Inaccurate

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Entrance to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. By Slawojar – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

In retrospect, both of the statements in this headline invite a “duh” response. HBO’s current stock-in-trade is prestige TV series, and it’s been apparent since the second season of True Detective that prestige television is an exercise in miserabilism. Nothing good can happen and everyone of value has to die or lose what they love unless they’ve tacked up enough suffering points (looking at you, Sansa Stark) to trade in for a happy ending. It has become its own set of tropes.
And of course, when real life gets shoved into a TV script, the exercise of creating a narrative for audiences to follow will simplify a lot of the messiness of actual truth. That’s completely understandable and not worth commenting on. But when a show deliberately ramps up the misery, and evades truth to do so, that deserves notice.

There is no good evidence that Chernobyl radiation killed a baby nor that it caused any increase in birth defects.

“We’ve now had a chance to observe all the children that have been born close to Chernobyl,” reported UCLA physician Robert Gale in 1987, and “none of them, at birth, at least, has had any detectable abnormalities.”

Indeed, the only public health impact beyond the deaths of the first responders was 20,000 documented cases of thyroid cancer in those aged under 18 at the time of the accident.

The United Nations in 2017 concluded that only 25%, 5,000, can be attributed to Chernobyl radiation (paragraphs A-C). In earlier studies, the UN estimated there could be up to 16,000 cases attributable to Chernobyl radiation.

Since thyroid cancer has a mortality rate of just one percent, that means the expected deaths from thyroid cancers caused by Chernobyl will be 50 to 160 over an 80-year lifespan.

It’s worse than that. Did you know that 80% of the Chernobyl first-responders who suffered from Acute Radiation Syndrome survived? That seems like a really high number, so the link goes to the official report where the numbers are from. You can see for yourself.

Better yet, read this interview with the Soviet general in charge of the containment operation for his take on the show. He’s kind of okay with it, but finds a lot of it baffling, particularly the image of teenage conscripts shooting pets in suburban areas.

Tarakanov: There’s this episode [in the HBO series], it’s is an ugly one. They show this boy, a conscript arriving at the military compound. What comes next is just ridiculous. They give him a uniform and moments later they are teaching him how to shoot animals. I mean, that’s just silly. Nothing even close to that ever happened. This is one serious mistake.

RTD: Are you saying they never executed animals, like they show in the episode?

Tarakanov: No, they did, but never in the residential area. In the residential parts, there were no cows, no dogs – not a single one. The shooting did take place, but it was in the forests, where wild animals still roamed, including deer, as well as cattle that wandered off after the evacuation. But to show this young boy, recently drafted, being given all this equipment straight away [is just absurd].

The way it actually happened was pretty simple. The government issued a decree announcing general mobilization. They were supposed to call in 20,000 reservists, as they were called, from, say, Moscow and elsewhere… Those were all men of conscription age, between 30 and 40, mostly.

To ask the question of why this change was made is to answer it. The emotional impact of seeing a young boy being ordered to shoot animals next to what was a family home is much greater than a 30-year-old man shooting a deer in the forest. We need that emotional impact. We need that gut-punch. That’s why people watch something like Chernobyl, and that’s why HBO makes it.

It’s a high-brow soap-opera, aspiring to be Aeschylus. In the process, actual humans are turned into props, puppets, and beasts. There’s a segment of society that feels its worldview pandered to thereby.