Spawn of Mars
Don't worry. If you like your religion, you can keep your religion.
Religion as Fraud Is Boring
Why Not Try Harder With Your Conflict?
Tuesday, November 20, 2018 3:48 pm
There's a couple of things I dislike about the Ori arc in Stargate SG-1.

First, it is facile and cowardly to cast Origin, the religion of the evil Ori, as a sort of medieval Christianity. Of course the Ori instigate a crusade against our galaxy. Why not a jihad? Because modeling Origin on Islam and having Stargate Command oppose a jihad would, I suppose, be mean to brown people. Or something. Mustn't be phobic! Except, of course, against Christians. Natch. 

Second, the Ori offer enlightenment and outright ascension to their followers. Those who heed Origin will themselves become gods! But then it is revealed that this is a lie. The Ori want followers only to literally consume the energy of belief. Ascension will never be granted to anyone. Origin is a fraud.

This, I think, I dislike even more than the arc's implicit Christophobia — which, these days, I'm somewhat resigned to. Haters gonna hate. Amirite? But to posit a religion as a fraud? That is artistically tedious.

The modern screenwriter, being so far removed from true religion and bound, by his university-credentialed brilliance, to the truths of SCIENCE! alone, cannot even imagine religion as anything other than fraud. Gods aren't real; God isn't real. How do I know? The SCIENCE! tells me so!

We might, as Good Liberals, indulge the ethnic employment of religion. Aren't those Mexicans adorable with their Signs of the Cross? Aren't those Blacks adorable with their Gospel Spirituality? And my, the little bon mots we can extract from the religious expressions of these adorable ethnics! Despite the fraudulence of their silly religions.

But imagine the Ori weren't lying. Imagine that ascension truly awaited the followers of Origin. Imagine that Origin was not a fraud. Suddenly the Ori arc is interesting.

It's easy to fight charlatans. The moral high ground is so very high. But what if your foe is not a charlatan? Where then is your moral high ground? Is it right to oppose the dissemination of enlightenment? When the rewards are so great? The truths so real? True dilemmas arise. It's not so easy anymore. The Crusade has a point after all. It is bloody, yes. But not pointless. The conflict between the Ori and Stargate Command is suddenly deep.

Or at least not tedious.

Since I actually like the trappings of medieval Christianity, I mostly enjoy the Ori arc even as it irritates me. They squeezed a lot of decent adventure into two seasons. (Squeezed perhaps too much: One potentially deep and interesting story — the implantation of a Goa'uld into the incarnated avatar of the ascended Ori — was somewhat flaccidly disposed of in a single episode. That story should have been a three parter, the very climax of the Ori arc. Oh well.) I also like Tomin, and Vala's relationship with him. And finally I have one word for you: morenabaccarin.

Ageless Ideals, Not Outworn Machinery
What The Crown  Neglects to Tell
Wednesday, October 10, 2018 1:15 pm
Whenever you watch a historical drama, of course you wonder, "What is true in this?" Especially when you see the bend of the narrative, you wonder what has been left out as unhelpful or distracting. Now, there is nothing wrong with editing history for the sake of a tale; it's just best to treat any historical drama as fiction.

The Crown, the Netflix series about the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, definitely has a bend. It is firmly on the side of "the modern" — that is, the Modern as worshiped these past many decades: the casting aside of all acquired wisdom because, well, we're not stuffy and oppressive anymore. 

In particular it goes on and on about how the prohibition against divorce, and the disdain for divorced persons, is just so cruel. Never once does it explain why the prohibition exists or why people might think it a good thing. For The Crown, the prohibition is just a manifestation of adherence to outdated thinking.

In general, The Crown is all about the modernization of the monarchy. One could say: the steady erosion of its dignity. The royals, especially Elizabeth, are shown as people beset and powerless. She is a Queen with no constitutional power who, because of the supremacy of the Modern, finds herself bowing to every modernization.

As drama, The Crown is actually really good. And it is not disdainful, as such, of the actual dignity of the monarchy itself. By and large, especially with its honest (if agnostic) acknowledgement of the place of the Divine in the whole scheme, it avoids caricaturing the monarchy as merely some gilded vestige. Elizabeth is presented quite sympathetically. And yet, its greatest praise for her comes when she modernizes; not when she awkwardly tries to protect the monarchy as it has been.

And I think that, in adhering to its bend, it shows Elizabeth as weaker than she truly was. While there is no question that this second Elizabethan age has been a disaster for Britain and England is truly a dead island now (frankly, because of its descent into the Modern and, of late, its actual contempt for actual Britons), the real Elizabeth may have tried a little harder to resist.

In one episode (and in reality), Elizabeth concedes that there is something distant about the monarchy and agrees to the televising of her Christmas message. In the broadcast she says the following:
Twenty-five years ago my grandfather broadcast the first of these Christmas messages. Today is another landmark because television has made it possible for many of you to see me in your homes on Christmas Day. My own family often gather round to watch television as they are this moment, and that is how I imagine you now.

I very much hope that this new medium will make my Christmas message more personal and direct.

It is inevitable that I should seem a rather remote figure to many of you. A successor to the Kings and Queens of history; someone whose face may be familiar in newspapers and films but who never really touches your personal lives. But now at least for a few minutes I welcome you to the peace of my own home.

That it is possible for some of you to see me today is just another example of the speed at which things are changing all around us.
To this point her speech has been identical to her actual speech in 1957; at this point, she then goes into a reading of a passage from Pilgrim's Progress, the same passage she read in reality.

However, in reality, there was much else between "all around us" and Pilgrim's Progress. I wouldn't expect The Crown to repeat the entire broadcast, not least because it included some dull state-of-the-Commonwealth stuff. But some rather meaty content was excluded. Here is how the speech actually went:
That it is possible for some of you to see me today is just another example of the speed at which things are changing all around us. Because of these changes I am not surprised that many people feel lost and unable to decide what to hold on to and what to discard. How to take advantage of the new life without losing the best of the old.

But it is not the new inventions which are the difficulty. The trouble is caused by unthinking people who carelessly throw away ageless ideals as if they were old and outworn machinery.

They would have religion thrown aside, morality in personal and public life made meaningless, honesty counted as foolishness and self-interest set up in place of self-restraint.

At this critical moment in our history we will certainly lose the trust and respect of the world if we just abandon those fundamental principles which guided the men and women who built the greatness of this country and Commonwealth.

Today we need a special kind of courage, not the kind needed in battle but a kind which makes us stand up for everything that we know is right, everything that is true and honest. We need the kind of courage that can withstand the subtle corruption of the cynics so that we can show the world that we are not afraid of the future.

It has always been easy to hate and destroy. To build and to cherish is much more difficult.
The Elizabeth in The Crown would not say this. If she did, she would be resisting the narrative itself. Note especially how she calls out those who would have "morality in personal and public life made meaningless [...] and self-interest set up in place of self-restraint;" those who, in other words, would commit their adulteries, fornications, and divorces and then get all tetchy about any objections to or consequences for their actions.

I think it sad that the show did not depict this Elizabeth, the one who at least cried out as she was being struck down. But The Crown doesn't want to engage the arguments of the real Elizabeth. Rather it accepts submission to the Modern as inevitable and decides simply to depict the human drama of the Crown's submission.

P.S. A silly thing The Crown does is reckon Elizabeth's sex as a rationale for the modernization. You know: Women are breaking free of so much in this glorious new age! And now even the Monarch is a wahman! As if the monarchy had no provision for a female Monarch; as if two of England's greatest Monarchs were not women; as if only a half century before Elizabeth there had not been Victoria. Very silly.

Bowdlerizing Myself
So Maybe Han Didn't Shoot First
Wednesday, October 3, 2018 11:59 am
My collection of stories The Spare Midge has been revised a couple of times since its initial creation in 2007. I've dropped and added stories and changed their order. I've changed the title itself. Each story has also been polished a bit, to remove some or another infelicity.

One consistency, however, has been the tone. 

It's not a happy collection. This is because the author was not a happy person. I, that author, am not necessarily a happier person today; but the strand of fatalism in The Spare Midge somewhat bothers me. The things I am writing now, especially since The Giant's Walk, are just tonally different. Tonally better, maybe. Yet my old stories are still good. I wouldn't be presenting them otherwise.

It has crossed my mind, over this past decade, to maybe brighten the collection a little. Inserting The Endless Batteries was one brightening move. Yet even that tale has a bittersweet ending! And really, there's no way to brighten something like Tainted by Grace without nullifying the story altogether.

One story, though, that seemed susceptible to brightening was the eponymous The Spare Midge. I actually didn't have to change much. I didn't want to change the tragic outcome, but I did want to change the narrator's reaction to it. I also wanted to remove one crude aspect.

The crude aspect was trivial. The narrator referred to sex as a "wet." My intention was to be crude, to be reductive, and to suggest a cyberpunkish alteration of sex into something called a "wet." But the current me dislikes the crudity. As an author I have not forsaken crudity. But this one thing... ach, it's gone, and good riddance.

The narrator's reaction is a deeper issue and more directly a matter of the story's original fatalism. I realized that I could make The Spare Midge a hopeful story by changing and adding only a few sentences and words. I didn't have to rewrite substantially. The story comes to a very clear fork; and instead of going left I now go right.

No, I haven't given the story a happy ending. But the utter fatalism is gone.

Then the question becomes: Am I betraying the story?

If I had made this change when I was originally writing the story, it would simply have counted as editing. An author regularly decides that a character should do A instead of B — even though B was in the original drafts.

But if the change is made fifteen years later? After the story has already been presented to the public?

Well, first, I don't imagine more than a handful of people, perhaps no more than two, have ever read the entire prior version. In some sense I am still in the editing phase.

And second, much as the original fatalism bothers me, my reaction to it now isn't merely a kind of bowdlerization, as is certainly the business with "wet." I truly want the story to be better. I'm not making Han shoot second because, somehow, I've grown fond of the character and think it icky that he might have shot first. Nor have I undone my narrator by making her do something she wouldn't have. Rather I have placed her on a hopeful path. It is the ending I changed, not the beginning or the climax; and indeed, the new ending plays off an earlier moment of hope that was always one of the strongest moments in the story. That moment is no longer in vain.

I have not betrayed the story. I have saved it from itself.

I'm not going to be specific about what has been changed. I've probably called too much attention to it already. I suppose when I die the legions of literary scholars, intent on the intentions of the great David Skinner, will unearth the earlier drafts and identify my changes. Know ye, scholars, that I disavow the earlier drafts! I am happy with The Spare Midge as it now stands.

The Glad Game
Give Pollyanna Her Due
Thursday, August 9, 2018 3:02 pm
In the midst of an article about something I've forgotten, I came across this, which, because it irked me, I copied down:
Many of us, myself included, preach optimism, positive thinking, and looking at the glass as half full. However, there's a difference between that and being a Pollyanna who looks at the world through rose-colored glasses.
Ah, poor Pollyanna. She is one of those literary characters who, having become an allusion, has ceased being her actual self. I, too, once reductively thought of Pollyanna as a person imperviously deluded about the goodness of the world. Then I read the book. 

Somehow or another, Amazon recommended Pollyanna to me. I think it's because I had recently been searching for Cicely Mary Barker coloring books. Anyhow, I suppose I was in some sort of lightened mood, because I agreed with Amazon and bought and read Pollyanna. I really enjoyed it, not least because Pollyanna is the farthest thing from deluded.

Her attitude is supported by what she calls "the glad game." It is a game that her father taught her, and its point is simple: To find something in everything to be glad about. He first taught it to her when she was expecting a doll from a missionary barrel that, in fact, contained only crutches. This saddened her; so her father told her to be glad for the crutches — glad because she didn't need them.

This can seem like the vapid comfort one is usually given upon misfortune: "At least you have your health!" But it is better than that, for the glad game is primarily finding some good in the misfortune itself, not merely in some unrelated thing that can then be construed as compensation.

An example is when Nancy, servant to Pollyanna's aunt, relates how she hates Monday mornings; and Pollyanna says, "Well, anyhow, Nancy, I should think you could be gladder on Monday mornin' than on any other day in the week, because 'twould be a whole week before you'd have another one!"

A perfect example is when Dr. Chilton is lamenting the difficulties of his rounds. Pollyanna timidly notes that being a doctor is the very gladdest kind of business. "Gladdest!" he cries. "When I see so much suffering always, everywhere I go?" And she replies: "I know; but you’re helping it — don't you see? — and you’re glad to help it! And so that makes you the gladdest of any of us, all the time."

According to Pollyanna, there is something about everything that you can be glad about, if, as she says, "you keep hunting long enough to find it." Yes, she realizes perfectly — without any self-delusion or rose-colored glasses — that the glad game can be an effort. But the effort must be made. And why? Because of the "rejoicing texts."

Her father, a minister, had noticed the prevalence of Biblical texts that call for rejoicing. Be glad in the Lord! Shout for joy! He counted eight hundred of them. He told Pollyanna that "if God took the trouble to tell us eight hundred times to be glad and rejoice, He must want us to do it — some."

Pollyanna is not some empty-headed dolt, a comic manifestation of obliviousness, a Candide in a red-checked dress and straw hat. Pollyanna deliberately plays the glad game and is made happy. And in the course of the novel, she brings everyone to the gladness in their lives that they each had been overlooking.

P.S. Amusingly, in a post decrying a reductive allusion, I may have made one of my own! I haven't read Candide in 30 years. I'll let my allusion stand, however.

Mars Can Wait
Until the Restoration
Thursday, July 26, 2018 1:41 pm
I haven't read anything about the President's initiative for a Space Force. I don't even know if it was more than a rhetorical wish. That, and some rumblings about finally going to Mars, could make a person hopeful, however.

To think we once walked on the Moon! And now we must fret over trannies in bathrooms.

It occurs to me, though, that the last thing we want is to head to Mars under the current social regime. You know as well as I that the most pressing issue will be: Should the first human to step foot on Mars be a woman, a black, or a black woman? What should be an achievement of the species will instead be a fight for diversity points. Without question the success of the mission will be subordinated to the satisfaction of SJW feelz.

Therefore I think it best that we whose heads are clear not wish for a Mars landing soon. Let us wait for a restoration of civilization; for a renewal, frankly, of patriarchy. Our current gynarchy would make a farce of any Mars mission.

Now, being a sourpuss, I think we will have a collapse long before there is a restoration of anything sane; and it will be some unknown descendant civilization that finally makes it to Mars. So be it. The first men on Mars should be men, plain and simple. Men are the explorers and conquerors. Modern America has forgotten that.

P.S. So should I be cheering on China? Or Russia? It makes an American sad.
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