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Archive for February, 2011

Themes of Interest

Posted by heyrandy on February 22, 2011

Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert Heinlein, 1961.

Science fiction suffers from innate hokeyness. This is an insuperable problem. So science fiction starts off with a real handicap. I think this is why there is no one who considers sci-fi to be a real art genre. The genre is ignored by all serious students of literature. Mystery novels are also ignored. They too have their share of hokeyness, but it is not as bad as sci-fi. Sci-fi would not be improved by the inclusion of French windows.

Heinlein’s book is easy to summarize: a human conceived in adultery and born on the way to Mars is the sole survivor of the ship’s crash. Orphaned on Mars, he is raised by Martians for twenty-five years until the next ship arrives. He returns to earth exercising supernatural powers and starts a quasi-religious sex cult. He dies at the hands of a mob while he tells them that “Thou art God.” Archaic English still sounds correct when used to express religious ideas.

What happens else happens is a vehicle to carry Heinlein’s libertarian philosophy to his readers. There are many hits on Christianity in particular and religion in general. The Man from Mars, Valentine Michael Smith, plays against the other major character (most likely representing Heinlein), Jubal Harshaw, lawyer, medical doctor, libertarian, and curmudgeon.

The book’s cover states that this book is “the most famous science fiction novel ever written.” The title is great, but the rest is mediocre. I was intrigued in the beginning but lost interest about half way through. I finished the book merely to see how Heinlein would end it. I will spoil the surprise: Harshaw et al live to carry on Smith’s work. I am glad it is fiction.

Heinlein give expression to property rights, personal privacy, totalitarian government (the world has united into a grand federation, like on Star Trek. Trite.) and various legal issues regarding inheritance. This is the best part of the book.

For sci-fi fans the book may be of interest, but I am not a sci-fi fan.


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Tragic Farce, Total Loss

Posted by heyrandy on February 3, 2011

Code Name Greenkil: the 1979 Greensboro Killings Elizabeth Wheaton, University of Georgia Press, 1987

In 1979 five American Communists were killed during a demonstration parade. Members of the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi party were charged, tried, and acquitted. The same defendants were later tried in federal court on civil rights violation charges. There they were acquitted.

None of this is quite straight forward. The events leading up to the killings and trials are a mixture of ideological blindness, racial hatred, class envy, and bureaucratic bungling. The people on both sides of this tragedy display some of the best and worst of human traits. The only group that comes out without much venality is the defense lawyers.

The author admits that the entire truth of the events will probably never be known. The author also states that the facts known can be interpreted in many different ways. There are too many facets to this affair and too many points of view for any black and white distinctions.

The dead were all members of various communist or communist leaning organizations. Ideological rigidity prevented the surviving family members from cooperating with the police. Everything was driven by ideology. The party, the cause first. It was a giant case of do-goodism driven by unmitigated naiveté. Throw in some serious class envy and racial hatred and the mix was volatile.

The opposing sides were quite different. The communists were the well-educated (some were doctors), largely from privileged backgrounds, but very naive. They thought nothing of provoking their adversaries. One member of the communists said that one of the slain had wanted to get a martyr.

The Klan and Nazis were largely poorly educated, lower or working class, and not all that bright. One, however was quite sharp. The BATF sent an undercover agent into the area. He approached the smart Klansman with the story that he was operating a training base in a nearby county, he had an airplane that would be able to take people to South America if they needed to escape the law, and would kill people for $20,000. The Klansman saw through this story. To gain control of the Klan group, the Klansman turned down the agent’s offer and sent the agent to some rival members of the Klan. The rival members bought the whole preposterous story. The rival members were later convicted of conspiring to make a bomb. It was not to be an ordinary bomb. This one would weight 17,000 tons, require 850 tractor-trailers to deliver it, and cost $4 million dollars. The freight charges were extra. One of those convicted was an informant for the Greensboro Police Department.

Both groups were very factious. There were splits, power grabs and machinations on both sides. Opportunism was the operating principle.

The law enforcement agencies were incompetent, bureaucratic, and self-protecting. Had there been better inter-agency cooperation, it is unlikely any violence would have occurred. The official investigations exonerated the cops.

The prosecutions for murder in the state court were driven by political motives. The District Attorney stated after the trial that it evidence to support a first degree murder charge (meaning there was premeditation) was weak. To charge with second degree murder was to have to face the wrath of the community.

The second trial in Federal court was no better. The prosecution was caught by surprise when the defense cross examined a communist–they had decided to cooperate– about a book he had written honoring the dead. The book was a  blend of truth, distortion, and fiction. It was pure hagiography. The prosecution was stunned. Their prize witness was being discredited, having to eat his words.

The prosecution was further caught by surprise when the defense introduced a firearms purchase record. This form was filled with the BATF as required by law. The prosecution did not know of it until the defense submitted it as evidence during the trial.

The BATF ran two undercover operations in Greensboro. In neither case did the bureau inform the U.S. Attorney as required by bureau policy. A local newspaper reported started putting all the little bit of information together to publish the story of the bureau’s action. When she asked the U.S. Attorney for comment, he was shocked. He had no idea that any undercover operation was going on.

Communism is dead. The Berlin wall fell on it. The Klan is more of a myth than reality. Both groups still have trace presence, but no real effect. The Klan is little more than useful video for the requisite anti-racism political correctness seen on the television news.

How did the event turn out the way they did? There is no good answer. It is a series of little things, each innocuous, that culminated in five death. The tragedy could have been averted if any one of those things changed. The Klansmen brought guns because they feared the communists would be violent. The communists goaded the Klan, daring them to show up at the demonstration. The Klan came to heckle. Some of the men stopped to buy eggs to throw at the demonstrators. This is not something one is likely to do if his real intent is to shoot people.

The police were unprepared for the violence. Poor communication within the Greensboro police department and no communication from the FBI or the BATF lead to no one knowing what the other was doing. Inter-agency infighting was going strong.

The real value of the book is in its analysis of the persons involved. Everyone was a blockhead. No one looked beyond their own concerns. No one was honest. Ego drove everything. Personal friendships were sacrificed for petty gain.

The events were long ago. They have been forgotten. Everyone would like to forget them. There were no winners.

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