atomic_fungus (atomic_fungus) wrote,

I Like Cheese

I may change that subject later, once I know what this entry will be about.

I suppose that's a big problem when you write a blog--knowing what you will write about--but here I just write about whatever I want to. Steven Den Beste has been talking about good names for anime blogs, but this isn't an anime blog.

In fact, "Atomic Fungus" actually refers to a mushroom cloud. It's a catch-all name I'm using for various creative projects; anything that actually gets published will go out under the "Atomic Fungus" label if I end up self-publishing it. I even have a logo in mind; I ought to draw it out.

"Atomic Fungus" would be a good name for a war/geopolitics blog, but this isn't that kind of blog either.

The first time I ever thought of a mushroom cloud in a humorous context was when I saw an ad for the movie version of Harlan Ellison's A Boy and His Dog. The ad featured a mushroom cloud with a smilie face on it. I never saw the movie, nor read the book--nor, in fact, read much of anything of Ellison's work, certainly not on purpose. This is so because Harlan Ellison is a wanker.

You're Calling Harlan Ellison a Wanker?

You bet your ass I am. I don't care how many awards he's won.

In 1981 I read the foreword to a novilization of a Doctor Who episode (I think it was "Mask of Mandragora") and back then, the same foreword graced all the Dr. Who books--written by Harlan Ellison.

In that foreword, he proceeded to dis every other SF series and their fans. Not an easy thing to do in a page and a half, but he's a professional--he managed. I like Doctor Who. But not to the exclusion of Star Trek, Star Wars, and others.

Later he wrote the introduction to an anthology of short science fiction by some writer whose name I can't recall offhand. In this intro, Harlan Ellison describes how he demolished some poor soul who had paid good money to attend a writer's workshop in which Ellison was the "teacher".

Right off the bat, Ellison had decided that his victim could never learn to write well, so he took great pains to destroy the guy. Well, who the fuck is Harlan Ellison to decide that? (I'd be willing to bet that the guy probably just made a political point that Ellison disagreed with.) In any case, if Ellison is there to teach and the guy is there to learn, doesn't the guy deserve the benefit of Ellison's (dubious) wisdom? Apparently not!

And over the years I have heard other stories about Harlan Ellison. He strikes me as the kind of person best avoided; he is abrasive, rude, and--oh, what the hell, he is an ASSHOLE.

...and the few things of his that I had read convinced me that he wouldn't understand science fiction if it crawled into his rectum and hardwired some politeness and tact into his brain.

But the image of a mushroom cloud with a smilie face on it stuck with me for years.

The "Atomic Fungus" logo features a mushroom cloud with a shock wave surrounding it, only instead of the shock wave being a band of cloud it's the words ATOMIC FUNGUS in large friendly letters. Back during the Cold War such gallows humor appealed to me.

Because of the leftward tilt of the news media--and because there was no Fox News, no Internet, no alternative to ABC CBS NBC and NYT--in those days the news was monolithic. That's something to consider: Ronald Reagan enjoyed high approval ratings in spite of the news coverage about him. The people on the left side of the political spectrum did not understand Ronald Reagan; the ones who didn't dismiss him as a "doddering old man" instead thought he was crazy. He was neither, but there were very few people in the press who understood how his mind worked...and none of them were in charge. So--particularly in the early 1980s--we were always closer to a nuclear holocaust than we'd ever been before!

[Except for the Cuban Missile Crisis, of course, and the circumstances which led to the Berlin Airlift. Those happened under Democrats, though, so that was okay.]

The notion that we had to knuckle under to the Soviet Union or risk nuclear war--in hindsight it makes no sense at all. Nobody in the world wanted nuclear war--not us, not the Russians, no one. But the Russians understood the basic premise that if you prepare for war, you guarantee peace.

No one wants to attack a foe who is ready to fight. The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor at 7 AM on a Sunday. Hitler made treaties with everyone before invading. 9/11 seemed just to come out of the blue. If your foe is ready to defend himself, you take heavier losses, and it's harder to accomplish your goal. If your foe is laying around, indolent and not paying attention, that's the time to strike. Every time the US has become involved in a war it has happened when it has not had much military strength to speak of.

Reagan understood that; so he prepared for war. And because he did, the enemy just...went away. The Soviet Union was spending a disastrous fraction of its GDP on defense--about double what the CIA thought, in fact--and when Reagan proposed SDI ("Star Wars") the Soviet Union collectively wet itself: they knew the US had the technical know-how--even if US scientists disagreed--and the economy to drive it. Their only possible response was to spend even more on defense...and it ruined them. The Berlin Wall fell three years after Reagan left office.

"Heinlein Was a Nut! A Nut!"

At I-Con in 1998 I sat in on a chat session about Heinlein, Starship Troopers, and how his vision of that society matched reality. The conversation was interesting and worthwhile, although not very surprising. Near the end of the session one female, standing in the door of the room (it was quite a well-attended event) had this to say:

Back in his early days Heinlein was really smart, but in his later years--Heinlein was a nut! A nut!

The uncomfortable silence which followed her outburst warmed my heart. You do not walk into a room of Heinlein fans and call the man a "nut", but everyone was too polite to tell the girl off.

Why was he a "nut" in his later years?

In his early years, Heinlein was a liberal Democrat. Now that he and his wife are both dead we're learning other things about the man, things kept quiet while people were around who might be inconvenienced by the information. His first marriage was an open one, for example. Everything in his "future history" series fit into his own beliefs and opinions; his first-ever novel, For Us, the Living (which remained unpublished for decades, until just recently) was more of a political screed than a novel. And although he always insisted that many people mistook their opinions for natural laws, he presented his opinions as natural law.

He believed in "free love", decades before the "summer of love" and the sexual revolution. He rejected religion almost entirely. His home was designed to be comfortable for nude people. He supported a kind of socialism called the "Social Credit system"--one which might actually work, to be honest--and believed that education should be handled exclusively by the government.

But in his later years, as the Democrat party drifted ever-leftward, he became a Libertarian. Classic Democrats were interested in socialism but couldn't say so; as the years passed they started to say so, and even began to advocate limited forms of communism. Heinlein understood the basic evil of communism from the beginning. In his Democrat days Heinlein didn't believe that the State should be a Nanny State; only that it should provide a necessary amount of support for everyone. That changed.

It's said that a Republican is a Democrat who's been mugged. Well, Heinlein got "mugged"; he saw Democrats do things he didn't like, and he stopped calling himself one. By the 1950s he had had enough of the notions of appeasing the commisars. The last straw was Eisenhower signing the nuclear test ban treaty, the one which moved nuclear tests underground; according to Heinlein himself, that was what prompted Starship Troopers

For Us, the Living (FL) and Starship Troopers (ST) provide an interesting insight into the evolution of his political views. In the former novel, people who commit crimes are considered mentally ill and rehabilitated. In the latter, people who commit crimes are whipped, exposed in stocks, and/or hanged by the neck until dead. In FL, committing a crime (such as assault and battery) gets you sent to a country club where doctors help you reintegrate yourself into society. In ST, committing a crime such as driving drunk will get you whipped, in public.

In FL, if you chose not to be rehabilitated--you always had a choice!--there was Coventry. Coventry was a kind of prison colony where people went when they didn't want to abide by the laws of the US. The US didn't care what happened inside Coventry, and did nothing to maintain law and order. Whatever happened in Coventry stayed in Coventry. The only time the gates to Coventry were opened was when someone went in; no one ever came out.

The problem with the "justice system" in FL is that it wouldn't work in the real world. It's too easy to fool a therapist, even a smart one; the stupid ones are worse than useless...and our public aid system is full of stupid therapists. Yes, there are people who do wrong things and who can be rehabilitated; but many of the people who are in prisons are just irredeemably bad people. Can you rehabilitate someone who likes to rape women? Could the BTK Killer be rehabilitated? Could John Wayne Gacy have been rehabilitated?

"But there's Coventry for such people!" As I recall, in FL a person could not madatorily be sentenced to Conventry. If he chose rehabilitation, the state had to try. And a sufficiently smart bad guy could fool a therapist into thinking he was cured...and then get out and do exactly what it was that had gotten him put away in the first place. (And there were no special penalites for recidivism, either. No "three strikes and it's Coventry for you" stuff. Endless state-funded mental health care. In fact, health care was socialized in FL.)

In ST, on the other hand, the justice system used principles which have long been established by every civilization in history as effective: use the pain response. If you wish to prevent drunk driving, make the penalty hurt--literally and figuratively--by giving the lush a public flogging. If you wish to prevent rape and/or murder, the simplest way is to execute the murderer: you prevent future crimes that way, and you remove him from the gene pool in the process; everyone wins. (Except the criminal. But he deserves his fate.)

If you had to face the possibility that you'd get five lashes in the public square, how often would you risk driving while intoxicated? And if you got caught and whipped, would you risk it again?

So: to this silly girl, when he shared her opinions, Heinlein was great...but when his opinions ran counter to hers, he became a "nut". Oh well.

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