This is surprisingly more coherent than you'd think.
The science is undoubtedly questionable (even if one adjusts for the decade it was written (the 1This is surprisingly more coherent than you'd think.
The science is undoubtedly questionable (even if one adjusts for the decade it was written (the 1980s)), but the author obfuscates heroically. The pseudo-science/mumbo jumbo he proffers as his basis for belief in magic withstands the casual scrutiny of a non-scientist, at least. I know it's wrong, but I can't tell you why. And that's the mark of good work in this field.
On a personal note, I was disappointed that the author discounts the reliability of Rosecrucian texts. Burying the decapitated head of a suicide - along with some black beans and then arranging for a peasant girl to shell the beans - is more practical for me than practicing focusing my attention on a blank wall, while imagining a cloud 30 times. I guess I should have expected that nothing in this life comes easy....more
In hindsight, I suppose I should have read On the Road the moment I first became aware of it. The multitudinous references to it in pop culture assureIn hindsight, I suppose I should have read On the Road the moment I first became aware of it. The multitudinous references to it in pop culture assured me that I would inevitably read it as a teenager, so I was in no rush. However, a window closed after I got to be sixteen or seventeen and hadn't read it. Because as a teenager, the scariest thing in the world is having to admit you haven't already done something before. Thus, being seen at sixteen or seventeen with a copy of On the Road would be to admit I had not already read it. And as the pop culture references start coming at more frequent intervals, there was never an inconspicuous jumping in point for cribbing incognito.
To wit, this gem from 1994 - my senior year of high school: "You're not punk and I'm telling everyone / Save your breath, I never was one / You don't know what I'm all about / Like killing cops and reading Kerouac." An enigma. I'm still unable to definitively untangle the tongue-in-cheek in "Boxcar" (from Jawbreaker's 24 Hour Revenge Therapy). At the time I certainly couldn't tell if reading Kerouac was a good, bad, cool, foolish, real, or unreal thing. From the same song: "I like her mind [because] she hates the scene." See, On the Road is supposed to be in the curriculum for hip teenagers everywhere. And "the scene" is, of course, intolerably passé. Thus, reading On the Road at this point is too risky to undertake without taking a gamble with one's oh-so-important cred.
Fast forward to the early 2000s. A time when I had finally conquered the worst of those vulnerable, teenage fears of seeming uninitiated in the canon of youth culture. I would come home from work at night, drink beer and take Xanax and watch the only television station my crappy TV would pick up - one that only seemed to show two shows, end to end, all night long. Throwaway sitcoms called Dharma & Greg and 3rd Rock from the Sun. There was an episode of the latter in which 2/3 of the show's male protagonists took to the road in an attempt to squeeze a few more miles out of the property. The teenage boy in the show was buoyed by a fanatical enthusiasm over a book he had just finished reading: On the Road by Jack Kerouac. Though at twenty something, I had graduated beyond many social hang ups, I had come to scorn other things with a whole new ferocity. As I transitioned into a demographic expected to conform to numbingly uncreative norms, I wanted to distance myself from anything that "straights" assumed about us bookish, misanthropic, reluctant adults. If the television told people that long-haired bohemes read Kerouac I would defy it all by definitely not reading Kerouac.
Now, as a late thirty something tenaciously/desperately clinging on to youthful eccentricities and/or rejection of bourgeois adult values, it was finally safe to read On the Road. I no longer had anything to prove and - hey, guess what - it turns out fewer people actually read it as teenagers than perpetuated it as anecdotal popular culture reference. So, after two decades of being artificially weighted with non-existent perceived peril, On the Road became just another book.
Another thing happened. In addition to turning 20 years older, 20 years were added to the differential between the time On the Road was written and the present. Undoubtedly, a bold discrepancy yawned between Sal Paradise and company's libertine ways and the prejudices and myopias of mid-20th century middle America. But to someone living in the second decade of the 21st century, the book's freewheeling cast is less radical seeming. In fact, they have a few opinions that could reasonably be called hang-ups and prejudices - particularly were we to talk about misogyny and parental responsibility. But I am not unaware of historical context and was not unmindful of the same while reading. So the group scores better than, say, the Hemingway people in Spain or Hunter Thompson in Las Vegas.
This leaves me without a solid opinion on the worthiness of On the Road as a thing to read and a piece worthy of its pop cultural cachet. I think as a piece of history, it's a valuable exercise. We got to our present values through the circuitry mapped by those awful Kerouac people. Strange to think that relative enlightenment came down to us through such selfish and flawed benefactors. While I'm at it, there's promise that even fools, jerks, maniacs, hedonists, etc are units in a cellular network constantly building something better for the world by following impulses they feel strongly to be fun and worthwhile and, in the process, erode poorer mores. That kids, including grown people who act like kids, are improving the world by indulging their appetites just as surely as toddlers learn through play. And that what seems to the staid and square to be self-indulgent/destructive bad behavior may not be wasted time when utilized properly. However, is this just a lullaby we grown ups tell ourselves to reassure ourselves as we bed down for the great somnolence of middle age to put a positive spin on our own lackluster behaviors in our own messy twenties? Is On the Road now a piece the establishment keeps in circulation to reassure itself that all its activities have been productive in some way or another?
Interesting questions to ponder as life rounds new bends. I'm curious to see what I'll have to say about it in ten years....more
Father Morris is apparently a prominent Fox News contributor. I've got to aWhen someone gives you a book, you read it.
That explains why I read this.
Father Morris is apparently a prominent Fox News contributor. I've got to admit this piqued my curiosity. For one, Christians pledge an oath to righteousness while Fox News is the standard bearer for American conservatism - the social arm of which (if not both the social and the fiscal arms) represents steadfastly the forces of evil. I was curious to see if Father Morris was to be a voice of conscience or a shill, aiding and abetting the enemy. At the risk of slandering a man of the cloth, I fear it is the latter.
But, secondly, I've been attracted to the simplicity and profundity of the serenity prayer for years now, even before actively reevaluating my position on the spirit. It's a ubiquitous Christian koan (suitable for non-Christians as well) that changes over one's life, even in the relatively brief period of a decade or so. I've also been interested in Christian theology and wanted to sample the fare promoted to "average" (non-theologian) Christian readers. I figured a Fox News commentator (with blurbs by other Fox News talking (snarling?) heads emblazoning the dust jacket) wouldn't exactly be swinging for the fences with his exploration of the topic - and I could thus experience an example of populist Christian writing.
Finally, as a person sympathetic to the Lectionary, a professional clergy, and a formal "high church" approach to man's spiritual interests I thought a Catholic priest would dig a little deeper into the profundity of the deceptively quaint prayer - even if the theology was dialed down for the masses. (And, returning to the matter of Morris's Fox News celebrity, I am surprised he has the ear of the conservative American hinterland. It wasn't that long ago in my native Birmingham when a Methodist lay minister was acquitted of gunning down a Catholic parish priest on the steps of his church for performing a wedding between a white woman and a Latino man. I thought an observable portion of Protestants still think of "papists" as Anti-Christ.)
I was let down on each and every point.
That said, no one can write 228 pages and not make a single salient point. Father Morris (undoubtedly a thoughtful man and possessing of many valuable concepts and observations) sprinkles a few grains of wisdom into the pile. But they are very few and come very late into the book. I see who this book is written and marketed to - and honestly, nothing in it is categorically wrongheaded ( except maybe the Church's own doctrines on social issues that I can hardly blame a single member of the clergy for) or dangerous - but my hopes for the Good Reads community are lofty. This is not a deeply reflective book for lively readers. I can recommend it to my grandmother, perhaps, but not to anyone here....more
My take away from the Goetia is how similar the language of the conjuring rites is in style and form to modern legal petitions or complaints.
"Comes nMy take away from the Goetia is how similar the language of the conjuring rites is in style and form to modern legal petitions or complaints.
"Comes now the magician 'M,' by the authority of (insert obscure name for God), and does command spirit 'N' to appear in tangible form and answer rationally all reasonable questions asked in order to accomplish 'X.'
I guess the answer is that the same guys who imported the text into English society were basically from the same strata as the magistrates and lawyers who preserved English law and thus would have been informed by style rules proven to establish and maintain order.
Still, it's weird.
And when you think about summoning rituals with legal logic, a couple of questions are raised:
1. The magician has to stand in a protected square and the spirit is locked in a binding triangle. The magician has protective gear that prevents the spirit from poisoning him with noxious fumes and commandeering his brain. But what happens when the ritual is over and the parties have left the ceremonial grid? Do either the language of the spells or the magic itself protect the magician against future retaliation? I imagine some of the spirits would be pretty resentful for being ripped from their rarefied plane to teach geometry to eccentric shut ins living on the fringe of normal religious experience. Those spirits are constrained from harming the magician DURING THE ACT, but is there anything to prevent them from waiting by the back door to jump the magician on the way to his car?
2. If the magician inadvertently summons the spirit from a plain where he is being held in captivity or being punished, is the magician indemnified against damages the now unleashed spirit may cause in the future? A magician could theoretically upset some serious cosmic plans if his actions release a spirit who has been hunted, captured, and imprisoned by archangels as punishment for misdeeds. Such a spirit is likely to offend again. Is the magician liable?
Alas, the answers to these questions were not to be found in this book.d...more
Norb has the perfect response to the assumption that all the pop punk bands were novelty acts or performing the musical equivalent of jokes. He said (Norb has the perfect response to the assumption that all the pop punk bands were novelty acts or performing the musical equivalent of jokes. He said (and I'm paraphrasing): "We weren't musical comedy acts. We were making anthems for weird people."
"Anthem" lacks some modesty, but nevertheless many bands who happened to be whimsical, irreverent, even funny - bands like They Might Be Giants, Zappa, Ween, Dead Milkmen, and the more topical Groovie Ghoulies and Boris The Sprinkler - bands whose biggest thing in common (despite huge stylistic differences) is a defiant uncoolness - are all widely misunderstood to be "joke" bands. Anyone who's profoundly influenced by these bands has felt the unique frustration of feeling like they need to defend an aesthetic they intrinsically connect with against a world who measures culture by its stylistic orthodoxy.
BTS (and its Ramones core peers) were not quite as juvenile as they seemed. Anyone who owned MTX's Revenge Is Sweet or The Parasites's Pair knows as much. The Riverdales and Queers (and the thousand other bands from the same period) varied in quality, but they were driven by a sincere combination of motives that only slightly involved comedic impulse. They were united by a mutual, transcendental response to The Ramones, the concurrent biker jacket and ripped jean chic, other related rock acts (Rezillos, Nuggets garage comps, and bubblegum pop), and (yes) sex. Norb also explains the apparent shameless fixation with pop-consumer culture as "fast food as counter-cultural freedom" (the same way Johnny Ramone's USMC and The Misfits's children's sized Mickey Mouse t-shirts were counter-cultural) - in a mirror trend to some women's (probably misguided) embrace of pornography as "post feminism." There IS a joke - but it's on the world, not a way to make the audience laugh. As such, it's a totally stealth joke and it's no wonder the aesthetic was misunderstood.
BTS was about as state-of-the-art as any of the pop punk bands of that generation. They were the superiors of The Queers and Screeching Weasel (and certainly NOFX and Rancid) because of how well they reassembled Ramones songs in a way that was completely consistent with The Ramones. The Ramones would never have sang such salacious songs about sex as The Nobodies or The Queers. They wouldn't have had a song on every album about farting. Dee Dee's occasional songs about drinking beer in the park were tame by Queers standards. But The Ramones would have had songs about comic books and Star Trek. And had the band been more dictatorial (and not wasted time trying to please divergent personnel types like Dee Dee and Marky), The Ramones could have produced late albums comparable in craft to BTS's Mega Anal or Suck.
But there was a palpable problem with albums like Suck and Mega Anal and the "Drugs And Masturbation" single: They were goofy looking and the sexual insinuation was hard to square with the sort of liberalism that was also pervasive at the time. In The Annotated Boris, Norb gives context to some of the tongue-in-cheekness behind songs like "Got2Fuc2Day" - but not enough to change what they are. While BTS's dirty little songs were smarter and less socially objectionable than their counterpart Queers songs, they're still socially objectionable. No amount of explaining can change that.
I remember being fascinated by Norb's column in MRR (and I remember being offended too). Fifteen years later, Norb hasn't changed much. A long form discussion of this type helps show that Norb is not quite a misogynist - his multiple partners were likely post-feminist rock and rollers who were consenting subjects for objectification. But his audience may not have been as enlightened as the characters in the saga. BTS, despite motives intended to be harmless, were socially irresponsible. They would have been a much better band if they converted every "UFO" into a "(My Baby Put Me In The) Penalty Box" (which is to say, just as playful and full of libido but not as offensive). It would have been a welcome improvement to songs like "Icky Shazam" if references to ejaculate were removed.
In the end, that whole 90s pop punk boys' club was only marginally better than the glam rock misogynists in Mötley Crüe or Poison. No amount of revision can undo that sad fact. I say "sad" fact because this music and the speed and lyrical play is SOOOO good. People of my generation will inevitably tell subsequent generations' teenagers and pop punk whippersnappers about the "good old days" of BTS, but I wish this book provided the answer to all the nagging doubt we have about its social responsibility....more
Like some other vintage, anti-communist, hysterical conspiracy writing I've read, None Dare Call It Conspiracy starts harmlessly enough. The first halLike some other vintage, anti-communist, hysterical conspiracy writing I've read, None Dare Call It Conspiracy starts harmlessly enough. The first half of the book is merely irrational. I assume this is to eliminate open-minded readers who are naturally predisposed to disagree and bore those looking to have some laughs at the tinfoil hat crowd's expense. For those who make it past the half-way point, Gary Allen takes the gloves off and goes the kind of full-blown, bat shit loco crazy you are expecting.
It puts the 21st century lifelong liberal in an awkward spot, actually, as we have to be sympathetic - even defensive - for President Nixon. Granted, this was pre-Watergate, but President Nixon already had a storied career behind him, flush with things even a centrist Democrat would find objectionable. But one thing he wasn't was a communist/Rothschild/Illuminati agent. I'm sorry; I dislike him almost as much as Gary Allen does. But he wasn't that.
And this short book/long-essay makes one very uncomfortable, because it forms an unlikely solidarity with the Republican mainstream of the late 60s - early 70s.
But you have to understand: that is a totally different kind of uncomfortable: far less uncomfortable than having to confront ideas you've always believed in. Thankfully, None Dare Call It Conspiracy doesn't challenge any preexisting beliefs. It's pretty much delusional ravings from the start, escalating to full blown clanging by the end.
And it does give you something to laugh at, after all: Silly John Birch Society! You so crazy....more
Karin Tidbeck admits in her afterward that she has a "Nordic voice." Anyone who's ever acquired a taste for saga or Edda or skaldic poetry - and subseKarin Tidbeck admits in her afterward that she has a "Nordic voice." Anyone who's ever acquired a taste for saga or Edda or skaldic poetry - and subsequently gone on Nordic pagan folklore benders - will be stunned by what happens to the traditional themes when run through a sensual, feminine filter.
Gardening, home preserves, and cardigan sweaters should mingle more freely with pre-Christian folklore. This collection of stories is sorely overdue. It puts things in a way I could not, no male writer could... It shares in a thrill I had long presumed a male phenomenon. Jagannath is (among other things) like feminine black metal. Do not imagine Etsy as black metal: imagine black metal as Etsy. ...more
It would be egomania to say that I feel a lot like Dag Hammarskjold. The scale of personal responsibility I have for the people of my county is a mereIt would be egomania to say that I feel a lot like Dag Hammarskjold. The scale of personal responsibility I have for the people of my county is a mere grain before the burden Hammarskjold bore for the world. Nevertheless, it's a responsibility I try to own with humility and the right attitude - an attitude based on the belief that every person of means (be they physical, emotional, or mental) has an obligation to take the hardest job and carry the greatest load they can - because there might not be anyone else if s/he doesn't.
That's the briefest possible explanation. It doesn't perfectly describe the whole of my attitude and philosophy any more than the same description could describe someone like Dag Hammarskjold. It's phrased in purely ethical dimensions that omit any greater humanistic - dare I say, spiritual - angles.
I'm currently very private about my personal spiritual beliefs. I've let exactly two people begin to understand them and have cultivated amicable misunderstanding among all my family and friends and colleagues for years. It seems to be the best solution to the problem of privacy and the intimacy of philosophy.
While Markings is not a devotional companion to scripture, it can't help but tell you things about yourself the way C.S. Lewis does. And in this capacity I found ways to organize my own philosophy by adding to my understanding of Hammarskjold (a person I have always admired as a public servant). Again - trying to avoid egomania - I was pleased to find so much of my independently arrived at thinking in line with the wiser, better man.
Markings is a "Christian book," but it could probably work for people who identify across a wide spectrum.* Anyone potentially deterred by the ostensible premise should be reassured of its relative objectivity. On the other hand, anyone looking for orthodoxy to boost denominational conviction might feel betrayed by Hammarskjold's equivocations, particularly on the issues of death and suicide.
*When Markings quotes from scripture, it is almost always from the Old Testament. Other religious texts similarly adhere mostly to Old Testament themes, including stuff from the Anglican Psalter and the Common Book of Prayer. When Hammarskjold cites philosophers, they are as like to be Kierkegaard as any of the gospel writers....more
Hideous Gnosis does what is feared most: it opens up a space for pseudo-hipsters to plunder one of the final redoubts of the counter culture. While itHideous Gnosis does what is feared most: it opens up a space for pseudo-hipsters to plunder one of the final redoubts of the counter culture. While it shouldn't be hard to analyze black metal, justifying its more out of control elements is a huge challenge simply not met by this anthology of essayists trying to outdo each other with impenetrable analysis. Naming the endless permutations of nihilism within the genre is as farcical here as the flagpole scene in A Christmas Story (why not just commit the social faux pas and say black metal is "triple dog nihilism" and end the farce?). Trying to define "transcendent" versus "hyperborean" schools is nothing more than a way to help North Americans overcome their inferiority complexes. Whatever the true reason North Americans are not the Norwegians' peers when it comes to black metal is not explained, elaborate charts and technical diagrams notwithstanding.*
The best question explored in Hideous Gnosis is whether black metal is the present extreme limit of a style, is misanthropy, or a (Northern European focused) pagan cultural movement. Predictably, there's not a definitive answer. But thankfully, the theory that black metal is a pagan movement and not a weak excuse to be disrespectful toward others' convictions remains a possibility and isn't refuted by all the bad philosophy.
What Hideous Gnosis doesn't tackle head on are the problems those of us who became interested in black metal as an aesthetic or artistic thing found when we investigated the substance beneath. Racism is the biggest problem in black metal. Cruelty to animals and misogyny come in close seconds and thirds. The really violent escalatory spiral of one-upsmanship ended in the 90s; black metal musicians burn fewer churches and kill each other far less often today. But the danger of such a tensely ratcheted purity standard requires that new atrocious acts will be committed in the name of black metal. The cycle doesn't just need to be slowed or arrested, it needs to be stopped. An it needs to be stopped affirmatively, not by atrophy. Obviously a symposium cannot do this any more than a UN summit can stop acts of state sponsored atrocity - but a symposium is assumed to represent a meeting of the minds. Even without the possibility of saving the world, a think tank is supposed to at least discuss what it would do if given a magic wand. Alas, Hideous Gnosis doesn't think so much of its collective powers of reasoning.
That's not to say there aren't solid points and good writing in Hideous Gnosis. There are. Unfortunately there's also really bad writing that thinks it can overwhelm with obscure citation where clear observation would suffice.** (Every featured writer here would have done well to read "Politics and the English Language".) Hideous Gnosis is like an anthology for an enigmatic fanzine, only the fanzine never existed, did not run a course, and didn't change lives on its own merit. Hideous Gnosis is publicity for a few serious thinkers and their Internet associates. It will not be standard reading for music or art students.
*The simplest answer for why Scandinavian metal focuses on Norse mythology and had such a passionate bone to pick with Christianity while North American metal is more like a misanthropic hippie movement is simply the insular, homogenous quality of Scandinavian culture and history. America is far too much of a melting pot. We've all had a pagan tradition stripped from us somewhere back there. And we've all had a foreign monotheistic religion imposed on us. But the actual pagan tradition is too far lost and too diluted to legitimately feel in ghost form. And even the way we experienced organized religion varies depending on where a person's ancestry hails from. Most people in Scandinavia can trace themselves back to the pre-Christian people. Few people in North America can. That's why we aren't as mad at the Pope as the Norwegians and why we put deer antlers and owl feathers on everything. The deer antlers are an abstraction where a desecrated devotional icon is quite literal.
**Two of the essayists used Foucault and Derrida in the same essay. For some reason, John K Samson did the same. But is it all a coincidence? Did all three really come across the same writers through independent graduate study - or did I stumble on a transparent pane in all this haute intellectualism? Did the metal guys read about Foucault and Derrida because of the same Weakerthans song? If so... ?!?!?!...more
UFOs and the Alien Presence is arranged in symposium format. Four "experts" in the field, one respectable amateur (Budd Hopkins), and one regular persUFOs and the Alien Presence is arranged in symposium format. Four "experts" in the field, one respectable amateur (Budd Hopkins), and one regular person give thought out answers to what appear to be submitted questions.
The crackpot delegation is well represented - which is to be expected and was the reason I picked UFOs out of the dollar bin (for a mean-spirited laugh at others' expense). But surprisingly the three not crackpots made making fun of the crackpots (and the editor and conspiracy theorists and the UFO community) less satisfying. I don't mean the reasonable voices were persuasive... They did however have a defensible, coherent, formulated argument. They don't seem to be right, but they are no more worthy of derision than any other professional sincere about other wrong things. They came across a bit like the socialist candidate for president: the leader of a fringe minority, but one who is genuine, competent, and lucid himself. I was expecting six David Ickes.
This would be great except that a "random guy" with a UFO story and a real loony get the final word. The first four sections make you - dare I say - think (though not seriously). But then the last two confirm your original bias. Had the book been all pleasant surprise or been all crypto nonsense UFOs would have been a lot of fun. As a mixture of both, it probably shows a truer face of the UFO community, but it takes some of the fun out it....more
Disclaimer: I'm inconsistent on ratings. I'm not firm on the question of whether to grade something by its real merit or as an example of its genre. WDisclaimer: I'm inconsistent on ratings. I'm not firm on the question of whether to grade something by its real merit or as an example of its genre. Witness: Water for Elephants (which I gave a staggering five stars), which is only a good book because the rest of the genre is so bad. I've gotten into the habit of rating books based on the pleasantness or unpleasantness of surprise if the book turns out to be different from what was expected.
Fortunately for this exercise, my admittedly capricious judgment was not compromised by Simon Pegg's book. It fails as both memoir and literature. I compromise nothing by giving it two stars.
Nerd Do Well is neither funny nor informative. Shaun of the Dead was one of few redemtive moments in the previous decade's comedic/cinematic death rattle (alongside Harold and Kumar and the woefully underrated Let's Go To Prison). Though many things got funnier (television, the internets), the big screen - like pop music - seemed to languish. So why is it that one of the decade's funniest film stars isn't funny on paper? The written word is more expansive than the confines of the camera. Simon Pegg has both vision and formal education. All signs pointed to Nerd Do Well containing at least a handful of laughs. Turns out I can count the number of times I laughed on one hand.
The main reason is Pegg's thesis isn't believable. He professes to have been a "nerd" and heavily into science fiction as a youth. From experience, I can say that actual nerds do not amass the impressive scorecard of sexual conquest that middle-school age Simon Pegg boasts about through a full third of the book. Actual nerds may beat the celibacy curse in their teens but their sexual activity is of the awkward rather than rock star variety. I don't begrudge the young Simon Pegg for his obvious good times, but he cannot be both a sexually active 7th grader and a science fiction geek. Such a combination doesn't exist.
(There is a mild creepiness to the obsession with middle school base running, anyway. Supposing there is a need to discuss one's pubescent sexual experiences, the addition of detail is problematic when the writer is currently a middle-age man describing the nude anatomy of 13 year old girls. It's less than Humbert Humbert's painful soliloquy, but still well beyond the limit of traditional mores.)
The second big problem North American readers will encounter is the incomprehensible construction of the English education. Simon Pegg uses terms like "secondary modern" and "seventh year" that I thought were only affiliated with Elvis Costello songs and Hogwarts. When paired with the dense Enlish slang, a substantial percentage of the book is rendered into a foreign language. Reading Nerd Do Well is a little easier than reading a Spanish language newspaper, but is fundamentally the same. One has to read and reread passages, hoping to understand the unfamiliar words through placing them in context.
The book is not without its bright spots. When Simon Pegg explains the Oedipal subtext of Shaun of the Dead, for example - which is brilliant. The author's sophisticated comparisons of Star Wars to US involvement in Vietnam and the cold war in general is even more interesting. The problem is one doesn't have to consult Simon Pegg to entertain this line of discussion. Ever since Clerks liberated my generation, broad discussions of the ethics and political significance of Star Wars became regular fare for dorm rooms, late nights, and barrooms. Pegg's insights are of exceedingly good quality, but he's hardly the only place to go for such insights.
Walking away from Nerd Do Well, I'm given to remember it as nothing more than a rambling discussion of Star Wars, which doesn't seem to have been the point. But one has to have periodic conversations about Star Wars to stay healthy - and those conversations become much less frequent in the company of a spouse, who in my case is female (females are notoriously apathetic about Star Wars as a bloc). In this respect, Simon Pegg acted as a conduit, giving me important Star Wars news. For example, I did not realize the original version of the trilogy (the one without skinny Jabba the Hutt or Max Rebo Band raps) is available on DVD. I owe Mr. Pegg a great debt for this bit of information that has somehow escaped my attention for who knows how long.
This isn't to say I completely agree with Simon Pegg on Star Wars. I share his basic opinion that the prequels were unnecessary and abominable. But he's too hard on my beloved Episode I. Baby Darth Vader, podracing, Boss Nass, and Jar Jar Binks are dear to my heart because of their absurdity. I projected a little too much, but I imagined George Lucas playing an enormous trick on the world - like Andy Warhol insulting millionaires by selling them paintings of soup cans or Prince tricking macho R&B fans into condoning transvestitism. It turns out George Lucas just made a huge mistake and tried, vainly, to correct it in later installments. If Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith (which I remember virtually nothing about, by the way) were as silly as The Phantom Menace I'd love them just as much - out of a sincere devotion to absurdity. I'd have thought Shaun would have latched onto the absurdity for the same reason and at least embrace Episode I's more outrageous moments.
Of course much of my criticism may actually be unkind. Simon Pegg is only human. He started talking about Star Wars and got carried away, at the expense of his work. As I sit here preparing for my own workday, I find I have just spent 30 minutes longer than expected digressing about Star Wars myself. While this definitely lends a human element to Simon Pegg's apparent failure, it isn't enough to change my mind. No matter how great the professionally polite news readers on NPR make Simon Pegg come across in interviews, do not read Nerd Do Well.
Oh, as an aside, I did enjoy my 2 year old's reaction to the book's cover. The first time he saw it, he smiled, pointed, and said, "Daddy!" Though I sort of hated the book, I still like Simon Pegg and am not ashamed of being grouped into his basic physical category (chunky glasses, occasional facial hair, fair Anglo-Saxon features - though I (regrattably) do not own a white suit or drink many cocktails). It is better than my friend, who's 2 year old son proclaims, "Daddy!" when Jack Black comes on the TV....more
Masters of Deceit is a period piece, from the right's most histrionic moment. With admirJ. Edgar Hoover. Very complicated man.
Did not like communism.
Masters of Deceit is a period piece, from the right's most histrionic moment. With admiration for the (already disgraced) Senator Joseph McCarthy and just one year ahead of former President Truman's denunciation of the House Un-American Activities Committee, Hoover's credibility is suspect. Fifty years later, it is downright surreal.
I presume Hoover anticipated a bumpy ride on the promotion circuit. He comes out of the gate swinging, as if antagonizing the reader to form a hard, crusty defense-bias. Those who make it past the introduction may actually wonder if their bias wasn't misplaced. Despite being heavily edited affairs, Hoover's brief biographies of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin are at least as competent as a Conservapedia(.com) article. His assessment of the Soviet Union may have come right out of Darkness at Noon or Nineteen Eighty-Four (and thus not the product of original scholarship), but they are not overly hyperbolic.
In fact, the first half of Masters of Deceit is so dull, it probably loses a great number of readers to fatigue. This was the plan.
For those who stick it out to the 2/3 mark, the gloves come off! Hoover loses his mind in a delusional word salad. His arguments careen off each other, alternately making zero sense and cancelling each other out. He fails to make the red "menace" at all menacing. Cautionary examples are more vague anecdote than anything (there was this... uh... lady... and she was... uh... communist! And her family was... uh... sad... and had to eat cold sandwiches for dinner!).
His centerpiece - the one incident in which the author moves from the vague into the specific - tells the bonechilling tale of a local party cell's six year campaign to infiltrate a small labor union. After six years, the operatives held offices in the union. Then infighting caused their cabal to implode. From what I can tell, they didn't actually do anything devious. Unless, that is, one counts the unintelligent, bumbling oaf public enemy number one. It seems bringing America to its knees consists entirely of publishing newsletters with circulation numbers in the triple digits.
Since one must rule out the existence of any actual threat to describe, the reader immediately wonders what Hoover's mission was in publishing Masters of Deceit. It is as most already suspect: Hoover was a bigot and the most miserly species of right-wing hawk.
"The Party has operated hundreds of major fronts in practically every field of Party agitation: 'peace,' civil rights, protection of the foreign-born, support for (political) 'victims,' abolition of H-bomb tests, exploitation of nationality and minority groups." (213)
And labor unions. And charity. And... Well, you get the idea.
Translation: Hoover is opposed to "peace," civil rights, constitutional rights, labor/consumer protection, and charity. A group who distributed food assistance to flood victims (in a time when the federal government did not automatically fill the role) was dangerous. The Scottsboro Boys weren't the victims of Jim Crow, they deserved worse than what they got. Hoover is, in short, in contempt of all things contemporary Americans consider decent.
Why? What was significant in 1957 to stimulate publication of Masters of Deceit? As previously stated, Senator McCarthy was already in disgrace. A Republican (Eisenhower) was in the White House; the Senate was nearly perfectly balanced (Democrats had a one seat majority); Duane Eddy had a hit with his instrumental "Rebel Rouser" and The Olympics's baby liked "western movies." Everything seemed pretty groovy. Even if Hoover's fear was of a Democratic takeover, he had already served two Democratic presidents and a host of Democratic-controlled congresses (and would again). Nothing in his manuscript is critical of Roosevelt, Truman. He never mentions New Dealers like Averell Harriman or Rex Tugwell. The highest ranking government official Hoover mentions is former Vice President Wallace - for whom he's sympathetically forgiving for past "pink" transgressions.
My guess is that Hoover didn't criticize the Democratic party out of self-preservation and an acknowledgment that he, himself, is associated with some of its most celebrated years. Nevertheless, Masters of Deceit is an energetic, red-blooded, Republican panic attack for the most stalwart cold warrior. It's manic. It's crazy. It's hilarious at times. What, if anything, do modern readers stand to gain by undertaking it?
Well, Masters of Deceit is instructive into the way fearmongering works as a strategy. It also can be instrumental in evaluating the merit of fearmongering, when it is encountered in situ.
To determine if Hoover's theory of a communist threat is warranted, one may run a diagnostic of sorts: Hoover gives us the blueprint for communist takeover. Go through the steps in your mind and ask yourself if it could work - even in a vacuum. If it cannot (it cannot), the thesis must be false. Thus, the warning is almost certainly propaganda.
In practice, apply the same concept to any manner of conspiracy theory, from the sophomoric perception of President Bush's "oil wars" to Glenn Beck's own red scare. If the blueprint they provide could not work in practice, they are full of shit. Like J. Edgar Hoover.