Book and Movie Reviews by MG,Jr. (2017-2020)

1 August 2020, was the 201st anniversary of the birth of Herman Melville. 2019 was my year to be totally immersed in Moby-Dick (for the third time), an awesome masterpiece. This is PERHAPS, the greatest novel yet written in the English language.

I’ve written previously on Melville and Moby-Dick here:

Happy 200th, Herman!
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2019/08/01/happy-200th-herman/

Moby-Dick
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2019/08/07/moby-dick/

Ye Cannot Swerve Me: Moby-Dick and Climate Change
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2019/07/15/ye-cannot-swerve-me-moby-dick-and-climate-change/

The Ultimate Great American Novel
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2018/09/04/the-ultimate-great-american-novel/

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W. Somerset Maugham’s “Ten Novels And Their Authors”

Maugham wrote a book of this title, describing his picks, ranked as shown below, His essays on each are excellent.

War and Peace (Tolstoy)
Madame Bovary (Gustave Flaubert)
Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
The Brothers Karamazov (Dostoevsky)
Le Père Goriot (Honoré de Balzac)
Wuthering Heights (Emily Brontë)
Le Rouge et le Noir (The Red and The Black; Stendhal)
Tom Jones (Henry Fielding)
David Copperfield (Charles Dickens)
Moby-Dick (Herman Melville)

Read by MG,Jr (from Maugham’s list), so far:

Madame Bovary (Gustave Flaubert)
The Brothers Karamazov (Dostoevsky)
Le Père Goriot (Honoré de Balzac)
David Copperfield (Charles Dickens)
Moby-Dick (Herman Melville)

I like the following, as SOME of the other novels that I think are “classics”:

The Three Musketeers (Alexandre Dumas)
Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain)
On The Road (Jack Kerouac)
Slaughterhouse Five (Kurt Vonnegut)

The Three Musketeers is described here:

My Favorite Classics
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2017/09/18/my-favorite-classics/

Huckleberry Finn and Slaughterhouse Five are described here:

The Ultimate Great American Novel
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2018/09/04/the-ultimate-great-american-novel/

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Three movies from 2015-2016:

Heal the Living (Réparer les vivants) (2016)

Superb film by Katell Quillévéré (screen-writer and director), about life, death and organ donors. The meditative nature of this film, without excessive pathos, with a lovely piano accompaniment (most of the time except for two noisy rock songs), the lovely crisp photography possible with today’s equipment, and its seamless transitions between wakeful reality and introspective day-dreaming, and back, and its transitioning ensemble – constellation – of collaborative actors (instead of a star in front of background “support”), make this a very thoughtful and artistic film that presents fundamental truths. All these sterling qualities (except for the crisp photography) will make this film largely unpopular for US audiences, especially when spoken in French with English subtitles.
https://youtu.be/otYWveDaplo

Genius (2016)

A superb English film about legendary American authors, particularly Thomas Wolfe (author of “Look Homeward, Angel”) and really about Max Perkins, the Scribner’s (book publishing company) editor who discovered Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and, most flamboyantly, Thomas Wolfe (the movie is ostensibly about him). The heart of the story is about friendship (male friendship) collaborating in the creative artistic process, in this case to produce literary novels. Anyone who likes reading (actual books of literature, in paper), and who strives to produce excellent art that requires collaborators (particularly theater and often music, and inevitably every art) in any medium would like this movie. However, the American reviewers were not keen on this movie because they and most American audiences don’t really like reading and find the movie “slow;” it’s basically a detailed exposition of intellectual processes (and what American wants to watch that?); its lighting is “dark” (which is how it actually looks in downtown Manhattan); Americans don’t like foreigners making movies about American subjects (English actors can do any variety of American accents, but American actors can’t do English, or any other foreign accent); and the movie unrolls like a well thought-out play since it was in fact directed by an English theatrical director (with a story based on a carefully studied biography of Max Perkins).
https://youtu.be/gCvcD3IBSlc

Mr. Holmes (2015)

This is a modern and very clever modern story (i.e., not by Arthur Conan Doyle) of Sherlock Holmes near the end of his life in retirement, living as a beekeeper. The plot, photography, score, and acting by the (largely) English cast are all first rate, naturally. The film has proved popular with English and American audiences, and rightfully so. The story involves Holmes as a 93-year-old (in ~1947) who, despite failing memory, is trying to recall the details of his last case, which ended tragically and caused him to retire. The jumps between “the present” (~1947) and flashbacks (~1912) are clear, as are the transitions to the flashbacks to Holmes’s post WWII visit to Japan (1946/1947). There is enough of the “solve the mystery” element in the film to satisfy most Sherlock Holmes fans, and a thoughtful emotional-psychological thread to the story that was not ruined by an excess of pathos or icky sweetness. Of course the acting, photography and score were good and well-integrated into this polished work of cinema. Overall, nicely paced and good entertainment with wit, polish and good heart.
https://youtu.be/0G1lIBgk4PA

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Some commentary on Anti-War movies and books:

The Pentagon Papers in the Movies
[the 2003 movie is the best, and what a story!]
20 April 2018
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2018/04/20/the-pentagon-papers-in-the-movies/

Anti-War and Socialist Psychology Books and Movies
23 January 2018
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2018/01/23/anti-war-and-socialist-psychology-books-and-movies/

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Lafcadio Hearn

Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904) was an unusual American who eventually became a Far Eastern foreign correspondent to American newspapers and magazines, and an expert interpreter of Japanese and Chinese stories, legends and fables, as well as a keen observer of how life was conceptualized and conducted in Asia (mainly Japan).

Lafcadio Hearn was born in Lefkada, a Greek island in the Ionian Sea on the west coast of Greece. He had an Irish father and Greek mother, and a difficult childhood filled with rejection. He also lived a very unusual life, for some time a newspaper crime reporter in the U.S.A. (Cincinnati, New Orleans), marriage to a Black Women at a time when mixed marriages were extremely difficult to sustain socially in the U.S., and then moving on to a foreign correspondent role, first in the French West Indies and then in Japan. There, he learned Japanese, taught in Japanese schools, married a Japanese woman and had four sons, and lived out a happy last chapter to his colorful and literary life.

A superb book by Hearn is Kwaidan, which is a book of Japanese ghost stories, and which book was the basis of an amazing 1965 Japanese art film (movie) of the same title by Kobayashi. I think Kwaidan is a masterpiece.

Gleanings In Buddha Fields is a collection of stories (the mythical, legendary and fabulous) and essays (on the realities of life), which in total immerse the reader into the zeitgeist, or context, of late 19th and early 20th century Japan.

Alan Watts noted that Lafcadio Hearn’s book Gleanings In Buddha Fields (1897) sparked (or was one of the sparkers of) his interest in Buddhism and Eastern Philosophy. I read Gleanings In Buddha Fields because I was curious to learn the source (about one of the sources) of where Alan got his Zen.

I recommend Gleanings in Buddha Fields to you (and Kwaidan).

Because some (at least one or two) of Hearn’s references to historical personalities of 19th century (and earlier) Japan are not part of modern memory, you might have to do a little Internet researching to gather some of the historical facts about the incidents Hearn was referring to (in Gleanings…), in order to fully appreciate Hearn’s presentation. But even without such deeper investigation, Gleanings In Buddha Fields is an excellent, informative, thoughtful and Zen-atmospheric book. In discovering it with your first reading, you can also imagine yourself reliving, at least in part, the juvenile awakening to Zen Buddhism experienced by Alan Watts (whose The Way of Zen is a masterpiece).

A modern collection of selected Japanese stories (including some from Kwaidan) by Hearn is the following. It is excellent, and well-researched, with a very informative introductory essay by the editor-researcher, who was Ireland’s ambassador to Japan.

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Cinema Art From 1968 For Today
18 August 2018
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2018/08/18/cinema-art-from-1968-for-today/

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The Ultimate Great American Novel
4 September 2018
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2018/09/04/the-ultimate-great-american-novel/

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All Quiet On The Western Front

“All Quiet On The Western Front,” by Erich Maria Remarque (22 June 1898 – 25 September 1970), is the greatest war novel of all time. Why? Because it vividly conveys the physical, psychological and emotional realities of being at the front face-to-face with the enemy in an all-out massively industrialized war. “All Quiet On The Western Front” is also the greatest anti-war novel of all time. Why? Because it vividly conveys the physical, psychological and emotional realities of being at the front face-to-face with the enemy in an all-out massively industrialized war.

This novel was first published 92 years ago, in 1928; and its story is set a century ago, in 1918, during World War I. This novel describes the realities of a soldier’s transformation from naïve enthusiastic recruit to hardened emotionally vacant veteran, the deadly and depersonalizing confusion of military operations, the rush and terror of frontline combat, the haphazard allocation of injuries, the slow-motion dread of being in hospital, the brief joys and overwhelming alienation and anguish of home leave, the struggle against insanity, the scant and fleeting serendipitous joys in the field, the loss of a personal past that moored one to a potentially fulfilling future in one’s culture, and the crushing of the lonely human spirit shadowed by the omnipresence of death. The human reality of this novel is timeless. Most of us casually say we are anti-war, but to truly inoculate yourself against any taste for war you must read this book and allow its story, and its feeling, to soak deep into your psyche.

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F. Scott Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald’s novel Tender Is The Night hit me like a thunderbolt. Fitzgerald drew the title from a line in John Keats’s poem “Ode to a Nightingale.” I’ve written quite a bit about Fitzgerald (follow the links to that). Below are a few of the comments about Fitzgerald and movies about him and his novels.

Appreciating F. Scott Fitzgerald
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2019/04/24/appreciating-f-scott-fitzgerald/

The Poetry of Disillusionment in “Gatsby” is Beyond the Movies
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2020/04/27/the-poetry-of-disillusionment-in-gatsby-is-beyond-the-movies/

F. Scott Fitzgerald and Lost American Lyricism
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2019/06/17/f-scott-fitzgerald-and-lost-american-lyricism/

I Learn About F. Scott Fitzgerald
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2019/03/16/i-learn-about-f-scott-fitzgerald/

Two “F. Scott Fitzgerald” movies:

Last Call is based on the memoirs of Frances Kroll Ring (1916-2015), Fitzgerald’s last secretary, and sounding board, to whom he dictated his last novel The Love Of The Last Tycoon, A Western. Frances Kroll Ring’s book (1985), highly praised by both scholars and Fitzgerald aficionados for its accuracy, detail and sympathy, is about the last two years (1939-1940) of Fitzgerald’s life. Frances Kroll Ring (herself in 2002) appears at the end of the film. A very well made film, as close as we’ll ever get to “being there” with Scott. Jeremy Irons plays Scott, Neve Campbell plays Frances Kroll Ring, both excellently in my opinion. The Cambridge Companion To F. Scott Fitzgerald (2002) is dedicated to Frances Kroll Ring “with affection, gratitude, and respect from everyone who reveres F. Scott Fitzgerald as man and artist.”

Getting Straight is a fun movie of college life and protest in 1970, and centers on a much put upon ex-activist and graduate student of literature (“Harry,” played by Elliot Gould) who ultimately gives it all up (except the girl) in a very spirited defense of the art and spirit of F. Scott Fitzgerald. This movie was approvingly pointed out by Ruth Prigozy, the editor of The Cambridge Companion To F. Scott Fitzgerald. I was surprised at how many references Harry makes to characters and incidents in both Fitzgerald’s novels and in his life (with Zelda and then Sheilah Graham). The movie can be fun without having to know all these references, but it is much funnier being in the know. I thought, my god!, this bright, breezy, light-hearted confection from 1970 would be over the heads of the illiterate comic-book-cartoon-movie-consuming popular audiences of today: we’re doomed!

Last Call (2002, trailer)
https://youtu.be/uzxx8C2xWDc

Getting Straight (1970, stills and music)
https://youtu.be/vWER0TLWLuo

The Crack-Up
F. Scott Fitzgerald
[originally published as a three-part series in the February, March, and April 1936 issues of Esquire.]
https://www.esquire.com/lifestyle/a4310/the-crack-up/

The Moment F. Scott Fitzgerald Knew He Was a Failure
By Lili Anolik
Sep 22, 2015
https://www.esquire.com/entertainment/a38113/f-scott-fitzgerald-1015/

“It was a gorgeous evening. A full moon drenched the road to the lustreless color of platinum, and late-blooming harvest flowers breathed into the motionless air aromas that were like low, half-heard laughter.”
— F. Scott Fitzgerald, from The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, section V.

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”
— F. Scott Fitzgerald, from The Crack-Up, part I, 1936

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My Wicked, Wicked Ways, by Errol Flynn

A mostly honest book. I have always loved Flynn in the movies. A very engaging character, with his own flaws and tragedies despite all the glamour and antics. What I most like about him is that despite everything, he always sought to enjoy, to laugh, to be happy and make others happy; but a major prankster.

I think he knew he was doomed to a short life from very early on; he had contracted tuberculosis and malaria as a teenager prospecting in New Guinea in the late 1920s very early 1930s. So, he enjoyed his smokes and booze and morphine, and most of all women, who shamelessly threw themselves at him, especially after he made money but even before when broke and homeless. Besides, he pursued them very keenly, too.

Alan Watts mentioned that some Zen master from the past had said that there were two paths to enlightenment: the path of thoughtful study, meditation, good works, piety, humility and patience; and the path of debauchery leading to exhaustion of that attitude leading in turn to an awakening. This in fact is the main comparison presented in Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha. But, Watts continued, the first path is by far recommended even though its “success rate” is not particularly high, because the second path can easily be fatal (in every way) though it was considered a “sure thing” and “quicker” for gaining enlightenment: if you survived to getting to that point! The story of Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) is in fact of a life of renunciation of a princely life of luxury and dissipation to first seek meaning through asceticism, which was ultimately found to be arid, and then to settle on the “middle way,” between asceticism and dissipation: which for today we can think of as consumerist materialism (dissipation, that is).

So, Flynn’s book was fun for me to help reflect on these ideas. Besides, it is a fun book on vignettes and quips about “golden age” Hollywood.

Errol Flynn starred in the 1938 movie, The Dawn Patrol, about WWI British fighter pilots in France. This is an anti-war movie. I describe it here:

Criminalated Warmongers
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2019/11/11/criminalated-warmongers/

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Magister Ludi (The Bead Game)

Herman Hesse received the Nobel Prize for Literature for Magister Ludi (The Bead Game). Interesting book (long), but sometimes a bit remote/slow for me. The “three tales” appended at the end are superb. I wonder if the whole big book before it was really just an enormous lead-in to them. Hesse put tremendous thought and work into this book, there are many undercurrents and subtleties that I may not have fully appreciated. I think it is basically a book about religious feeling (existentialism?) in a non-religious way; similar to the orientation of Carl G. Jung’s psychology. Both Jung and Hesse were born in religious/missionary families from Switzerland (Jung) or southwest Germany near Switzerland (Hesse, who spent much of his life till the end in Switzerland). I think Hesse was working from a view of life like looking at the Swiss Alps from a remote chalet (which is in fact where he lived).

Excerpts from Magister Ludi (The Bead Game), (1943)

He had also made the discovery that a spiritual man in some curious way arouses resentment and opposition in others, who esteem him from afar and make claims on him in times of distress, but by no means love or look upon him as one of themselves and are more inclined to avoid him. He had learned from experience that old-fashioned or home-made magic formulas and spells were more willingly acceptable to sick people or victims of misfortune than intelligent advice. He had learned that man prefers misfortune and external penance rather than attempt to change himself inwardly, and had found that he believed more easily in magic than in intelligence, and in formulas more readily than in experience — many things in fact which in the few thousand years that have elapsed have presumably not altered so much as many history books would have us believe. He had also learned that a man in quest of the spiritual should never abandon love, that he should encounter human desires and follies without arrogance, but should, however, never allow them to dominate him; for, from the sage to the charlatan, the priest to the mountebank, from the helping brother to the parasitical sponger, is only a short step, and people fundamentally prefer to pay a rogue or allow themselves to be exploited by a quack than to accept selflessly offered assistance for which no recompense is asked. They would not readily pay with confidence and love, but preferably with gold or wares. They cheated each other and expected to be cheated in return. One had to learn to regard man as a weak, selfish and cowardly being, but one had also to see how greatly one participated in all these characteristics and urges and longs for ennoblement.

We must no longer rely on the fact that the cream of the talented from out there flock to us and help us to maintain [our society]: we must recognise our humble and heavy responsibility to the schools of the world as the most important and the most honourable part of our task, and we must elaborate it more and more.

Times of terror and the deepest misery may arrive, but if there is to be any happiness in this misery it can only be a spiritual happiness, related to the past in the rescue of the culture of early ages and to the future in a serene and indefatigable championship of the spirit in a time which would otherwise completely swallow up the material.

Siddhartha

I love “Siddhartha” by Hesse; easy to see why that book of his is so popular. It is an “awakening” story similar to the life of Buddha, who appears as a support character to the protagonist. I said more about “Siddhartha” in my comments on Errol Flynn, above.

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After The End of The World: books by George R. Stewart, and Walter M. Miller, Jr.

Here are two classic “after the end of the world” books. In Earth Abides, George R. Stewart’s end-of-the-world is by pandemic!, and in A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller Jr.’s is by post nuclear war taking America back to a Medieval Period, and then eventually over a few millennia to a new rocket and nuclear age, which ends as one would expect.

Stewart was an English professor at the University of California, Berkeley, in the 1930s-1940s, and his book here is from 1949. Amazingly prescient, realistic “speculative fiction” about the subsequent lives of the few survivors of the nearly overnight pandemic.

Miller’s book is definitely different, but there are no cheesy sci-fi gadgetry nor “special effects,” despite the strangeness of the worlds he portrays. Interestingly, the monastery life that is the center of Miller’s book is similar in many ways to the monastery life that is the center of Herman Hesse’s Magister Ludi (which is also a sort-of after the end of the world book, really of a “distant” future after the end of the fascist world).

I cannot imagine Miller’s vision becoming reality, but I can easily imagine Stewart’s coming about.

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The Twilight Zone

A PERSONALLY IMPORTANT LIFE GOAL OF MINE MET!

During this 2020 summer of hiding out from the pandemic, I watched all 156 episodes of the anthology TV show, THE TWILIGHT ZONE, which originally ran between 1959 and 1964. This feat was accomplished by seeing 2 to 6 episodes a night on consecutive nights over the course of several weeks.

This show is a collective work of TV art, guided by Rod Serling, who wrote 59% of the episodes. Amazingly, despite this show being in the neighborhood of 60 years old, its anachronisms relative to today’s typical attitudes and technological paraphernalia are infrequent (as regards the attitudes) and not distracting (as regards the technicalities). But it really shines in its depiction of the inner workings of human hearts and minds, and also human heartlessness. In this most important artistic-literary aspect, The Twilight Zone has not been surpassed by television shows since.

The Twilight Zone is a sequence of — usually — morality tales (interspersed with occasional comedies) whose telling is freed imaginatively and dramatically by allowing for the arbitrary actions of mysterious metaphysical forces. It’s as if Lafcadio Hearn, Ambrose Bierce and H. P. Lovecraft had been transported 60 years into their futures to write for television. One of the most thrilling aspects of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone is the intense social consciousness, and anti-war, anti-greed, anti-bigotry and anti-cruelty attitudes nearly every minute of the entire series exudes. The acting, by many many actors, is uniformly excellent; and the production values of all the technicalities are also very good, but also very obviously more modest than in the costly productions of TV fare today.

In seeing the entire 156 episodes in one concentrated period of time, I have gotten a very clear appreciation of The Twilight Zone’s beauty and value as art. Without intending to be blasphemous, pretentious or dumb, let me say that I can see The Twilight Zone representing, for discerning American (and beyond?) viewers of the 1960s, a thought-provoking and socially instructive film-electronic art form in the same way that the plays of Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes were thought-provoking and socially instructive theatrical art forms to the Fifth-century Athenians.

The bubbling cauldron of social tensions, aspirations and fears of dynamic yet troubled societies were artistically abstracted and polished into the diamond-sharp facets of intense dramatic plays, reflecting the whole of contemporary society back into itself through the fascinated gaze of its individual people. If “the eyes are the mirror of the soul” then The Twilight Zone, through TV screens, was the mirror of the collective or societal American soul, which soul is always hidden behind a flashy loud and positivist front.

If you see the whole series, looking past the incidentals of its presentation, but deep into the essence of its conception, literateness and soul, you will see and hear as sharp and accurate depictions of the personalities and preoccupations of our society today as was the case for the American society of the early 1960s, during the show’s first run 61 to 56 years ago.

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John Keats, poet

Much feeling here, combined with a tremendous amount of work to present that feeling with refinement and grace of language, without dilution of the emotion, and without making it all seem a labored construction. Also wonderful feeling for nature and the natural world. I can’t criticize anything here, only try to learn from it. To my mind, Keats is to English poetry what Mozart is to music. Keats was a major influence on F. Scott Fitzgerald, who I see as an American “3rd generation” English Romantic poet who expressed his artistry in prose.

I have to dig into Shelley next (I have a huge tome), who was more “ferocious” than Keats. Both were very focussed artists. I’m struck by the idealism they felt and worked from.

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In Pursuit of the Unknown: 17 Equations That Changed the World, by Ian Stewart

Hello math lovers! (sic),

At one time or another a member of my family or friends has expressed an interest in:

Pythagoras’s Theorem (triangles, distance, areas, surfaces), or

Calculus (rates of change of anything and everything), or

Newton’s Law of Gravity (planetary motion, satellite trajectories), or

Pure Math (Napier’s Bones, the weirdness of the square root of -1, and Möbius Strip topology), or

Normal Distribution (the probability distribution of IQ, and “The Bell Curve” book), or

The Wave Equation (tones, semitones, musical scales, even tempering, beats within harmony), or

Fourier Transform (sines and cosines, single frequency/pitch modes and equalizers, digital camera images), or

The Navier-Stokes Equation (fluid flow, aerodynamics, F1 car design, global warming computation), or

Maxwell’s Equations (electricity, magnetism, radiation, wireless communication, TSA body scanners), or

Thermodynamics (entropy, efficiency of engines and renewable energy technology, disordering of the universe), or

Relativity (curved space-time, bent light rays, black holes, Big Bang, dark matter, dark energy), or

Quantum Mechanics (Schrödinger’s Cat, many parallel worlds, semiconductor electronics), or

Information Theory (codes, coding, data compression, digital communications), or

Chaos (species population dynamics with explosive growth and collapse, erratic unpredictability), or

Black-Scholes Equation (insane financial speculation, options, futures, derivatives, credit default swaps, the banking/real estate/financial crash of 2007-2008).

Because of that, here is my review of Ian Stewart’s 2012 book: In Pursuit of the Unknown: 17 Equations That Changed the World. Stewart says of his book: “This is the story of the ascent of humanity, told through 17 equations.”

This is an excellent enthralling book: interesting, very informative, very well written clear explanations of the mathematics and the applications of that mathematics to: classical mathematical calculations, lots of physics and related technology, information theory (codes and computers), chaos (wild swings in species populations), and the insane 21st century finance economics of our previous financial crash and its inevitable successors. This brief description does not in any way convey the complete range of this book.

On the front cover you can see the 17 (sets of) equations, which Stewart describes (and their many uses) over the course of 17 chapters. Of the 13 equations I feel confident about knowing something about (all “basic” math and/or mathematical physics), I find Stewart to be accurate and masterfully clear in his descriptions.

My only quibble is where he states about the main causes of global warming being the production of carbon dioxide and methane (gases) that: “These are greenhouse gases: they trap incoming radiation (heat) from the Sun.”

This is a collapsing of the actual mechanism, which is: the the capture of outgoing heat radiation (infrared radiation) by CO2 (most importantly) and CH4 (along with other heat-trapping molecular gases in trace amounts in the atmosphere), which upward radiated heat energy is derived from the earlier absorption (by the oceans and lands) of incoming light energy; a necessary process for cooling the Earth and stabilizing its temperature (if we didn’t mess with the process). So I would rephrase the Stewart sentence quoted as: “These are greenhouse gases: they trap outgoing radiation (heat) from the Earth.”

[If you think about it you will see that wherever the biosphere captures the incoming LIGHT from the Sun — in the air, lands or oceans — it ultimately heats to the same degree; but when our pollution intercepts and stores a greater portion of the re-radiated outward going HEAT (infrared radiation) from the biosphere than would be the case “naturally,” that the Earth’s “cooling system” is impaired and the biosphere warms up steadily, for an Earth out of heat balance.]

Regardless of this quibble, Stewart knows much much more about all the mathematics he presents and all the uses of it than I do. The 4 equations I knew nothing about (and learned about from Stewart) are: #1 Euler’s formula for polyhedra (topology); #2 information theory; #3 chaos theory (I know a little a bit about nonlinear dynamics, sensitivity to initial conditions, and limit cycles: similar to the “butterfly effect”); and #4 the Black-Scholes, or “Midas” equation that was heavily abused to produce the financial meltdown of 2007-2008. On these four, I learned a great deal from Stewart (basically everything I know about them now), and in the reading of this book I gained a sense of trust in his descriptions and pronouncements.

My only other critique of the book (and a minor one) is that there are a number of proofreading lapses (both of text and substance) that show up as typographical errors, and/or what I presume to be mischosen words (some obviously errors, others didn’t make sense to me). The few instances of these errors occur most frequently in the later chapters of the book, and none is fatal (especially if you don’t notice them). So, I agree with the praise for the book highlighted on the back cover.

I especially recommend the book for its explanation (in 8 chapters) of the physics of: classical gravity (Newtonian mechanics), waves, heat flow, fluid flow, electrodynamics, thermodynamics (entropy), relativity and quantum mechanics. I also appreciate his logical and scathing take-down of the modern hyperactive derivative-based financial speculation that dominates and threatens the world’s economies today. For me, the 8 physics chapters are superb; but there is no part of the book that is weak: “a wonderfully accessible book.”

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Upanishads

Juan Mascaró was a superb poetic translator. His selections from the Upanishads is enthralling. His translation of the Dhammapada was also wonderful:

“As the bee takes the essence of a flower and flies away without destroying its beauty and perfume, so let the sage wander in this life.” — The Dhammapada, 49

Joseph Campbell (author of The Hero With A Thousand Faces, editor of Heinrich Zimmer’s book The Philosophies of India) said of the Upanishads: “It’s all there.”

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Books I must add to my list of essential classics:

History of the Peloponnesian War (Thucydides, translated by Rex Warner)
The Plays of Euripides
The Plays of Sophocles
L’Avare (The Miser, a play by Molière)
Phèdre (Phaedra, a play by Racine)
The Picture of Dorian Gray (Oscar Wilde)
The Moon and Sixpence (W. Somerset Maugham)
The Razor’s Edge (W. Somerset Maugham)
Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)
Homage to Catalonia (George Orwell)
1984 (George Orwell)
Collected Essays (2002, George Orwell)
Bhagavad Gita (Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood)
Bhagavad Gita (Juan Mascaró)
Memories, Dreams, Reflections (Carl Gustav Jung)
The Autobiography of Malcolm X (Malcolm X, with Alex Haley)
Cadillac Desert (Marc Reisner)

…and others as I think of them.

A History of Humanity’s Future

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A History of Humanity’s Future

Our variety of the human species, homo sapiens sapiens, emerged from out of bands of more primitive yet contemporaneous older variants of humanity well over 200,000 years ago and rapidly expanded in both their numbers and the range of their occupancy on our planet. The competitive pressure by this efflorescence of homo sapiens sapiens against the older variants of humanity reduced the numbers of the latter to the point of extinction over the course of 1600 centuries, leaving just our variety of the human species to range over the Earth for 40,000 years up to the beginning of the 21st century. The story of our species from then up to the present moment is the subject of this work.

Calendar Year 2032

During at least the decade prior to CY2032, Planet Earth had experienced a continuous sequence of weather event catastrophes spawned from an immense and increasingly powerful undercurrent of climate change. Trains of maximally energetic hurricanes scythed through Caribbean islands and into the southeastern coasts of the United States of America, and similarly destructive typhoons swept westward out of the Pacific Ocean to blast into the islands and eastern fringes of Southern Asia.

Wildfires that spanned the horizon burned for months across huge swathes of land desiccated by drought, whether scrub-desert, rolling grassland hills, seemingly limitless prairies and taiga, or logged-out withered jungles, and on every continent except Antarctica. The long droughts that parched Earth’s verdure to the point of tinder were sometimes punctuated by torrential rain, snow and hail storms fed by titanic aerial rivers of evaporated ocean water transported by climatically altered atmospheric currents, and resulted in rapid, deep, turbulent and scouring floods that could wipe away the surface of the land and whatever our human vanity had caused to be built upon it, with the force of an all-devouring tsunami.

The excess heat energy firing the greater wrath of Earth’s weather was stored in the oceans, landmass surface layers, and atmosphere, and had been accumulating for over a century because of the capture by carbon dioxide gas, primarily, of radiant heat emitted from the surface of the Earth as a cooling phenomenon, and thus preventing its escape into space. That carbon dioxide gas, along with methane, nitrous oxide and several similar heat-trapping molecular gases, had been exhausted into the atmosphere as waste products of energy production by the combustion of fossil fuels for humanity’s industrial, recreational and personal uses.

The entwined mutually resonant growth of human population and fossil-fueled energy production caused increasingly massive amounts of heat-trapping gases to be exhausted into the atmosphere every year, and thus an increasing rate of global warming. By CY2032, the average temperature of the surface of the Earth was over 2° Celsius above what it had been a century before, and there was no effort to stop or even attenuate this human-caused global warming. In fact, all human effort was bent on accelerating this trend because it was seen as the mechanism for generating immediate personal financial riches and political power.

Sea ice disappeared from the Arctic Ocean, decimating both seal and polar bear populations, and opening the way for an “Oil Rush” by Russian, Canadian and US oil and gas drilling companies. A few incidents of scuffles between these Oil Rush prospectors prompted the respective governments to send in naval forces to “protect their interests.” Oil extraction platforms were quickly erected along the shallow continental shelves rimming the Arctic Ocean, and the new petroleum output both boosted the profitability and stock market prices of the respective energy companies while also depressing the global price of oil. This proved especially hard for oil-rich countries, like Iran and Venezuela, under economic sanctions by the United States and its economic followers.

Calendar Year 2035

Methane had been bubbling up from the East Siberian Shelf for over 20 years because of ocean warming and tundra permafrost melt, but the rate of such emission increased significantly after CY2032. In CY2033 summer fires along the northern shore of Siberia ignited steady plumes of erupting methane, and the incidence of these “natural” gas flares spread out to sea over the East Siberian Shelf. In CY2034 an oil spill from a shallow water Russian oil well was touched off by offshore methane flares, and the conflagration was quickly spread about the area. Unfortunately there was loss of life, and an increase in the ignition of sea-based gas flares.

Local fires of high intensity were able to survive the winter, and they were the source of later and expanded burning during CY2035. In that year offshore methane flares erupted in the Chukchi and Beaufort Shelves, and caused the US and Canadian Coast Guards to rush counter-fire protective resources to their offshore oil extraction facilities. These efforts required emergency appropriations from the respective governments, which were offset by sudden reductions of social services budgets, along with corporate tax reductions as measures of “emergency relief.”

All of these activities greatly increased the presence of naval forces in the Arctic Ocean in efforts to protect the corporate economic assets associated with each of the Arctic Oil Rush nations, and to erect militarized cordon sanitaires to keep rival and “dirty” methane flare-initiating oil prospecting operations from “infecting” declared “exclusive economic zones.” All this raised international tensions among the nations rimming the Arctic Ocean.

Calendar Year 2036

The average concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere reached 473 parts-per-million (ppm), and an unprecedented melting and sudden calving of glaciers all along the southern coasts of Greenland occurred on April 15th of that year; sea level rose 1.7 meters, though it took till mid-October for that effect to become stabilized and uniform across the globe.

Catastrophic inundation occurred in Bangladesh with tremendous loss of life, and many of the smaller West Pacific islands were made uninhabitable. The Bangladeshi refugee crisis sparked conflict on the Indian subcontinent, and the Australian and Southeast Asian naval forces were all deployed to repel refugee make-shift flotillas. The United States, Europe, Japan, China and Korea each scrambled to build sea walls and other forms of dikes to protect their most economically valuable coastal installations (Dutch construction firms cognizant of the advanced and massive hydrological infrastructure protecting The Netherlands were suddenly avidly sought out and richly rewarded for their work). Again, monies for such construction was appropriated on an emergency basis at the cost of social welfare programs. One tragic loss to world culture was the inundation of the city of Venice.

The drought-fire-hurricane-flood cycles of violent weather had continued with increasing force in the equatorial latitudes during the advance of the preceding years, and by CY2036 huge refugee streams were fleeing north from famine, because of the collapse of subsistence agriculture, and fleeing drug-and-plantation warlord violence. Similar refugee streams attempted to flee north from Africa across the Mediterranean Sea, from sub-Saharan lands devastated by a combination of drought and overwhelming plagues of locusts. As in the Western Pacific, European and American navies were deployed to repel northward bound refugee flotillas. There were reports, impossible to substantiate, of a few incidents of the sinking of refugee ships by drone bombers.

Social unrest increased everywhere. Uniformly, the wealthiest strata of societies increased their efforts at personal enrichment and for government subsidies and tax reductions for their associated corporations, all at increasing costs to public concerns and especially social welfare programs and charitable institutions for the poor. The middle and wage-labor strata of societies increasingly acceded to increased militarization of their national economies, whether in rationalized “logical” beliefs or out of emotional fearful xenophobia-bigotry, to have their governments deploy expanded military forces offshore and along their national borders to repel refugee “invasions.”

Such sentiments quickly hardened with the sudden outbreaks of disease epidemics, feared to become pandemics spread by refugees. Indeed, epidemics were breaking out more often as the globe warmed and pathogens old and new (some unlocked from thawed tundras) expanded latitudinally. Also, tropical bacterial and parasitic pathogens were expanding their ranges northward with the increased warming.

The increasing fractional capture of GDP by military establishments because of all of this boosted the financial gains of war industries and wealthy investors. The fraction of American citizens now living entirely mobile lives in camper vans, trucks and trailers, or cars, or even on foot, now reached 1% of the population. Sentiments similar to the “us versus them” attitudes taken by national populations toward foreign refugees now began to spring up domestically by homeowners (colloquially called “the settled”) toward their fellow citizen transients (“the unsettled”), and many local police forces were morphing into militias manning internal cordon sanitaires ‘protecting’ wealthier areas.

Commendably, there were new and spontaneous popular charitable efforts of both mutual and unrestricted aid, but these occurred only at and among the lower economic strata of societies, and they were often fragile against dissolution by forces of social negativity, and occasionally of criminality.

Calendar Year 2039

This was a year of major disaster. The CO2 concentration reached 489 ppm, and the average global surface temperature was now 2.4° Celsius above the temperature of the late 19th and early-mid 20th centuries. A sudden massive area-wide eruption of methane occurred from the continental shelves rimming the Arctic Ocean with a coincident gas-flame flaring expanding all around that ocean, which included the ignition of thawed and dried peat bogs, into a new “Ring of Fire.”

By the end of the year the CO2 concentration had leaped to 510 ppm. While the initial methane concentration in the atmosphere above the Arctic continental shelves had skyrocketed, the extensive and expanding flaring there burned a significant portion of that methane to carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, and at higher altitudes much slower paced oxidation also converted some methane to CO2 and CO.

In any case the total load of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere had been vastly increased and the pace of global warming accelerated beyond all previous experience. By year end the global surface temperature had reached 2.6° Celsius above the early 20th century datum.

Calendar Year 2041

The average global temperature broke through 3° Celsius above the datum. The CO2 concentration reached 518 ppm.

For a decade now Australia had been experiencing wildfires that burned continuously throughout the year. Since the Methane Burp of CY2039 those fires had been expanding into horizon-to-horizon “flame deluges” that raced toward the coasts. The much expanded Australian Navy was frantically busy shuttling between open ocean refugee repulsion missions and amphibious coastal operations of wildfire victims evacuation. Despite strident outcry by Australian environmentalists and significant portions of the Australian public, against further Australian coal exportation to China, that economic activity expanded because it was one of Australia’s few remaining sources of revenue that helped pay for its mushrooming military and navel expenses, and firefighting costs, since much of the agricultural and livestock industries had been burned away. Also, there was some absorption of agricultural and animal husbandry unemployment into expanded coal industry labor employment.

Calendar Year 2042

Summer heat deaths in Europe expanded significantly, and many European governments established watering and relief stations throughout their cities in public parks, squares and plazas. Too many medical emergencies were now occurring of people collapsing in the streets and in public transit from heat stroke, to respond to them individually from just the traditional fire, ambulance and emergency services facilities of the past.

Ominously, in an increasing number of localities these stations were also water distribution sites for rationed water. Similar water rationing stations, of a much more haphazard nature and sparsely spaced, were to be found in the Middle East and throughout the globe in historically dry and desert lands. In the most primitive, impoverished and remote of such dry lands, militia level water wars were now common. India and Pakistan were dangerously close to resorting to war over Kashmir, and each had made explicit threats to the other about using nuclear weapons.

The drought-wildfire-hurricane-flooding cycles in the United States had also increased, and economic devastation of the agricultural and livestock industries of the vast center of the country was now severe with a doubling of food prices from just five years earlier. Again, economic benefits were increasingly restricted to a diminishing sliver of the American population at the uppermost rungs of the economic ladder, and economic costs of militarization and high-end wealth protection were increasingly shifted to the lowermost economic classes. None of this was hidden anymore.

The panic for wealth protection increased in desperation the higher one went up the economic ladder. The vast majority of the American public, in the rapidly shriveling “middle class,” were increasingly panicked about straightforward economic survival: even with many successful “socialist” minimum wage increase reforms, income increasingly lagged expenses since rent, food and loan costs ramped up relentlessly, and the number of decent-paying (usually corporate sponsored) jobs was shrinking. The lowest stratum of American society, the poor, were consumed with a panic for elementary physical survival.

Calendar Year 2043

This was a calamitous year. A virulent pathogen that had lain dormant in Arctic permafrost for millennia was now finally able to escape into the open air, and it spread widely and quickly, borne on windblown dust and water droplets, and attached to avian and insect bodies. It produced a pulmonary illness of high mortality. The causative virus was robust against the disinfecting actions of time, sunshine, oxygen and natural antiviral chemicals in plants, and unfortunately also in human immune systems. Hundreds of millions would die within the year.

Complicating the cure was the fact that the viral agent was quick to mutate into equally lethal forms, some of which caused fatal heart and liver infections. All the viral strains remained active. The pandemic emergency of this Arctic Flu caused real panics: naval operations to repel refugee flotillas now routinely and openly fired upon and sank them. Triage centers were set up by nearly all countries, and in the more impoverished ones mass burials by bulldozer were implemented.

The first instance of the intentional shoot-down of an inbound commercial airliner with infected passengers occurred. Internationally, protests to this outrage were muted because all nations were quietly steeling themselves to accept this practice if need be, “for protection.” The accelerating death toll everywhere from the Arctic Flu took some of the bellicose fervor out of the numerous chronic conflicts underway at that time, from Indonesia through Southeast and Central Asia, the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East from Pakistan to Syria, Israel and Turkey, the Arabian peninsula, and across much of Africa east to west and north to south.

Large populist socialist and anti-capitalist movements in both North and South America had been active for years now, some in Central and South America engaging in outright guerrilla warfare against their oligarchic and neoliberal governing regimes, while others as in the United States were agitating politically to gain increased political power through electoral victories. In all cases the governing political establishments, which were after all entirely subsidiaries of incorporated wealth, worked against all types of popular reforms by both legal and illegal means. The undermining of populist and socialist electoral campaigns was standard, as were election interference and tampering by establishment agencies, both private and governmental.

While insurrections were common throughout much of the more impoverished world, there now began to appear more instances of political violence against state and federal authority in the United States, though such incidents remained isolated. Some observers believed that popular frustrations that had traditionally sought relief through school and shopping mall mass shootings were now being refocused into anti-government violence.

The CO2 concentration reached 527 ppm; the global average temperature reached 3.9° Celsius above baseline; steady glacial melt over the last seven years had increased the sea level rise to 3 meters above the “normal level” of the 20th century.

Calendar Year 2045

By now large coastal areas everywhere were inundated to some degree, continental interiors were becoming unlivable, and internal social unrest and politically destabilizing pressures had reached levels that were between frightening to nearly overwhelming, depending of the degree of development of the society in question, and the extent of the firepower, militarized police forces and security infrastructure its government had available for social control.

The Arctic Flu was now reducing national populations at noticeable rates. For years already, wealthy individuals had been building underground bunker retreats both at home and abroad, intended to house them for long periods with stores of food, water and energy supplies, with air filtration and disinfection systems, and waste disposal systems. For the most well-heeled, such bunkers-redoubts would include stand-alone air and water generation, recycling and re-purification systems. The super wealthy would have a colony of such clustered shelters so as to maintain protective private militias around them as well. New Zealand did a brisk business of catering to this high-end real estate demand.

The CO2 concentration reached 535 ppm that year, average global surface temperature reached 4° Celsius above baseline. No reliable cure had yet been found for the Arctic Flu, and massive famines added to the death toll from the flu. Because of the shrinking area of previously habitable terrain, due to unbearable heat in dry continental interiors and inundation of coastal areas, human crowding was very uncomfortably increased and fueled social unrest and insurgencies, and this despite the population reductions by the Arctic Flu.

The ski industry everywhere collapsed due to year-round elevated temperatures and lack of winter snow. Marine life was rapidly dying out, and the seafood industry as well as subsistence fishing was in sharp decline. Severe earthquakes in California, Iran, Turkey, Japan, Missouri and Tennessee, and volcanic eruptions in the Philippines added to the chaos and misery in their respective countries. A rebellion broke out in Western China; Israel, Saudi Arabia and Iran exchanged missile attacks for aerial bombardments in an uncoordinated manner. On August 9th of that year a nuclear bomb exploded in Pakistan.

After CY2045 global communications and air travel became more erratic and it became increasing difficult to acquire the data necessary to form a comprehensive picture of global events. The prospects for peaceful international cooperation in facing many of the current difficulties seemed exceedingly dim.

Calendar Year 2046

It was now clear that the world had lapsed into isolationist regionalism with severe social unrest or insurrections and wars within each region. The American government completed vast underground complexes from which to operate in future. Fatal pandemics continued. Attacks had been made against satellites and space platforms, and it seemed evident that weapons platforms had been put into Earth orbit, conceivably with nuclear tipped missiles. Nuclear explosions had occurred on the Eurasian landmass. Radioactivity levels in the atmosphere were rising. The average citizen came to realize he and she was going to be left out on their own, there wasn’t enough room “underground” for everybody.

Calendar Year 2049

We saw the night sky whiten then glow red for hours. Liquor stores and gun shops were looted with abandon. Electrical power and electronic communications failed here. What was happening elsewhere was unknown. People hunkered down with their families around here, or else fled in their cars if they had saved-up gasoline to use. I will report more later, given the opportunity.

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Happy 200th, Herman!

Herman Melville, 1870

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Happy 200th, Herman!

The first of August 2019 is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Herman Melville, author of Moby-Dick or, the Whale (1851), as well as numerous other novels, short stories and much poetry.

Because of the depth of his thought as well as the range of his invention, Herman Melville (1 August 1819 – 28 September 1891) remains America’s greatest writer of literary fiction, and also one of its superior poets. I consider Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens, 1835-1910) the quintessential American novelist because his masterwork, the novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), is such an exquisite encapsulation of anti-slavery and anti-bigotry moral principle within a widely popular coming-of-age boy’s adventure story. But Melville is America’s deepest literary artist, his novels are metaphors for long-running threads of reality entwined as the American experience.

While Mark Twain’s facile humor and droll prose made him very popular with his 19th century audiences — both through publications and with live appearances — Herman Melville remained largely neglected during the last forty years of his life, by a reading public that was alienated by the complexity of his art. That complexity resulted from the combination of his literary sophistication, strongly influenced by the poetic language and moral insights of both William Shakespeare and the King James Bible; his personal philosophical thought as the fundamental source for his writing; his morally enlightened (non-racist) attitude about the world’s people; and the wit of his continuing critique, embedded in his fiction, of Americans’ myopic for-profit utilitarianism and obsessive hucksterism and con-artistry, which continues to this very day.

Herman Melville, 1860

I am no amateur scholar of Herman Melville and his literature, nor do I pretend to be. I am just one of millions of readers who since 1851 have been entranced by Melville’s masterpiece, Moby-Dick. I have read this book at least three times since 1961. With each reading I was older, more experienced, and was able to gain more insight about and appreciation for the literary use of the American language, and 19th America, out of the richness of Melville’s prose. I used the image of Captain Ahab’s monomaniacal and fatal obsession to hunt down and kill the white whale Moby Dick, in a recent article of my own, as a metaphor for humanity’s current obsession to continue racing with its self-destructive fossil-fueled capitalism, which is the profligate source of greenhouse gas emissions causing anthropogenic global warming climate change.

Many readers today would find Melville prolix, abstruse, convoluted, and with a confounding multifarious vocabulary. This obviates Melville’s work from achieving instant contemporary mass pop-appeal. However, that prolixity, abstruseness, convolution and wide-spectrum vocabulary we grumble about now could reflect the devolution of Americans’ thought processes and language from a measured 19th century pacing of consideration to a hurried jittery 21st century attention-deficit superficiality: the shorn American language of today, our no-brainer “New Speak.”

Herman Melville, 1861

Herman Melville gained popular success as an author with his initial novel Typee (1846), a romantic account of his experiences of Polynesian life, gathered during his time as a whaler and seaman in the South Pacific between early 1841 and late 1844. Typee was followed by a sequel, Omoo (1847), which was also successful and paid him enough to marry and start a family. His first novel not based on his own experiences, Mardi (1849), was not well received. His next fictional work, Redburn (1849), and his non-fiction White-Jacket (1850) were given better reviews but did not provide financial security. (1)

Moby-Dick (1851), although now considered one of the great American novels, was not well received among contemporary critics. His psychological novel, Pierre: or, The Ambiguities (1852) was also scorned by reviewers. From 1853 to 1856, Melville published short fiction in magazines which were collected in 1856 as The Piazza Tales. In 1857, he traveled to England and then toured the Near East. The Confidence-Man (1857) was the last prose work that he published. He moved to New York to take a position as Customs Inspector and turned to poetry. Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War (1866) was his poetic reflection on the moral questions of the American Civil War. (1)

In 1867, his oldest child Malcolm died at home from a self-inflicted gunshot. Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land was published in 1876, a metaphysical epic. In 1886, his son Stanwix died of apparent tuberculosis, and Melville retired. During his last years, he privately published two volumes of poetry, left one volume unpublished, and returned to prose of the sea. The novella Billy Budd was left unfinished at his death but was published posthumously in 1924. Melville died from cardiovascular disease in 1891. The 1919 centennial of his birth became the starting point of the “Melville Revival” with critics rediscovering his work and his major novels starting to become recognized as world classics of prominent importance to contemporary world literature. (1)

Most of Melville’s works can now be found on-line. (2)

Herman Melville, 1868

A most interesting and knowledgable commentator on Herman Melville’s works is Louis Proyect, both because of his familiarity with Melville’s texts, and because of his discussions of how Melville’s themes are critically reflected in the social contexts of both the 19th century and today, and of how Melville’s anti-racist attitudes contrasted favorably with the “utilitarian” consensus of his times, and even ours. (3), (4), (5).

To end this commemoration of Herman Melville and his literature, on the occasion of his 200th birthday, I borrow the following paragraphs from Louis Proyect (3). Mark well what ye read here, for we need slake our forgetfulness and remember this conviction today.

Melville’s Redburn is one of his lesser-known books, but it comes as close to a conscious expression of the world we are trying to build as will be found in all of his works. He writes:

There is something in the contemplation of the mode in which America has been settled that, in a noble breast, would forever extinguish the prejudices of national dislikes. Settled by the people of all nations, all nations may claim her for their own. You cannot spill a drop of American blood without spilling the blood of the whole world. . .Our blood is as the flood of the Amazon, made of a thousand noble currents all pouring into one. We are not a nation, so much as a world. . .Our ancestry is lost in the universal pageantry; and Caesar and Alfred, St. Paul and Luther, and Homer and Shakespeare are as much ours as Washington, who is as much the world’s as our own. We are the heirs of all time, and with all nations we divide our inheritance. On this Western Hemisphere all tribes and peoples are forming into one federated whole; and there is a future which shall see the estranged children of Adam restored as to the old hearthstone in Eden.

Herman Melville, 1885

Notes

(1) Herman Melville
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herman_Melville

All images of Herman Melville here are from Wikipedia.

(2) The Life and Works of Herman Melville
http://www.melville.org/

(3) Deconstructing cannibalism
5 January 2016
https://louisproyect.org/2016/01/05/deconstructing-cannibalism/

includes Louis Proyect’s articles:

Shakespeare’s Tempest and the American Indian
6 December 1998

Herman Melville’s Typee: a Peep at Polynesian Life
18 October 2004

(4) The Confidence Man
23 December 2013
https://louisproyect.org/2013/12/23/the-confidence-man/

(5) Herman Melville and indigenous peoples
16 February 2008
https://louisproyect.org/2008/02/16/herman-melville-and-indigenous-peoples/

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F. Scott Fitzgerald and Lost American Lyricism

 

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F. Scott Fitzgerald and Lost American Lyricism

For me, the American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940) was an English Romantic Poet like John Keats (1795-1821), who experienced during his college years — that pivotal time of transition from youth to adulthood — the shock of World War I destroying the Belle Époque and unleashing the blaring, crass, destructive, frenzied and wasteful Youth Quake sociological explosion known as the Roaring Twenties, when the prewar Gilded Age was resuscitated — to eventually reach its apotheosis in Trumpian America — during the postwar prosperity of a hypocritically repressed Prohibition America that was an economic bubble flinging open the starting gates to the modernization of American manners, morals, rhythms, fantasies and expectations, and whose totality we have all experienced as the 20th Century, which we can date as the zeitgeist from 1919 to 2019.

The zeitgeist now is of self-evident global warming climate change, openly acknowledged by all except intransigent ultra wealthy buffoons clinging to their hoards and their pathetically transparent propaganda intended to ward off just taxation.

Fitzgerald was a literary artist, a lyrical romanticist who became the hip young voice of the 1920s outburst because he was able to apply his 19th century mindset and literary facility to articulate — as deep psychological insights of general applicability — his personal youthful experiences and observations of transiting through the World War I cultural shock wave thrusting his generation into the manic modernity of a vastly industrialized, depersonalized and entertainment-obsessed America.

It was because Fitzgerald’s conceptions had been formed in a previous social paradigm that he had a basis from which to objectively evaluate the new psycho-social realities of the 1920s. Younger and less alert people, whose entire awareness of social life awakened during the 1920s, lacked such a contrasting mental framework because they were blindingly immersed in, and distracted and buffeted by their times. Fitzgerald was young enough to be completely hip to and synchronized with the 1920s, but not too young to be unable to understand where the 1920s had emerged from, how they were different from the prewar past, and how they were experienced as matters of personal and societal character.

Fitzgerald, along with his older English contemporary W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965), have given me the deepest psychological insights into women as men experience them, and into personal character as it expresses itself through interpersonal relationships, especially between the sexes.

A similar transition of American life occurred forty to fifty years later when the Vietnam War shattered the stability and stasis of 1950s America, from which erupted the cultural efflorescence and political turmoil of the late 1960s, which like the late 1920s burned off the general prosperity that had been accumulated during the economic boom hot-housed during the preceding period of victorious peace.

Culturally alert writers of the 1960s included Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (1922-2007), Joseph Heller (1923-1999), Malcolm X (1925-1965) with Alex Haley (1921-1992), and Tennessee Williams (1911-1983). These writers were as different from F. Scott Fitzgerald as he was from Mark Twain (1835-1910), and none of these others matched Fitzgerald for lyricism, except for a memorable passage in Twain’s Huckleberry Finn — on the Mississippi River in early morning — and the calmly eloquent and reflective moments in Tennessee Williams’ dramas.

Fitzgerald was 14 when Twain died, and when Fitzgerald died at age 44 in 1940: Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. was 18, Joseph Heller was 17, Malcolm X was 15, Alex Haley was 19, and Tennessee Williams was 29. W. Somerset Maugham was 22 when F. Scott Fitzgerald was born, 36 when Mark Twain died, and 66 when F. Scott Fitzgerald died.

Twain’s war shocks were the American Civil War (1860-1865) and the Philippine-American War (1899-1902), while Vonnegut’s and Heller’s were World War II (1941-1945), primarily, and also the Korean War (1950-1953, for the hot war) and the Vietnam War (1954-1975, for the American phase).

Fitzgerald’s life was so timed that during the third decade of his life — and prime adult years — he also experienced the societal shock of the Crash of 1929 and its immediate aftermath, the Great Depression (1929-1942), when the outlandish and dissipative prosperity of 1920s capitalism collapsed into the socio-economic wreckage of the 1930s, with his own personal circumstances tumbling into ruins along with the times.

I find Fitzgerald’s keen insights on personal motivations and character, and on interpersonal relationships, to be far superior to those of both earlier and later American writers because of how his English Romantic Poetic frame of mind processed his experiences with youthful success and the allurements of fame while confronting the postwar shock of the new in the 1920s, followed by the collapse of illusions with the loss of wealth and social status in the 1930s, and all of that filtered through his intense emotions pulsing out of his marriage to and care for Zelda Sayre, his socially advanced and schizophrenic wife, and mother of his only child.

I can see why Fitzgeraldian lyricism was stripped out of American writing in reaction to the serial disappointments of the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean War, the sterility of the Tailfin ’50s, and the Vietnam War, and why Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) and imitators of his arid style became popular to this day, given the post World War II re-acceleration of life’s American rhythm, and the relentless commercially driven dumbing down of the American mind.

The loss of lyricism from American literary fiction, since that of F. Scott Fitzgerald, is not a sign of its increased artistry and insight, but of the opposite.

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The Liberation of Ellsworth Street

Night Rider

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Not so very long ago in Berkeley, California…

The Liberation of Ellsworth Street

Old Dog turned off of Bancroft Way and shuffled himself through the night fog down Ellsworth Street, looking for a warm place to piss. He didn’t want more cop hassles, so he passed up the usual spots against the church walls near Durant Avenue, and the scraggly hedges along the way lit by street lamps. It made him mad to think it’d been easier to find a good piss spot in broad daylight under mortar fire during the war than it was here in Berkeley, even at night! God damn it! They owed him a piss spot at least, as he didn’t even have an inside flop! That’d be worth more than that scratched and ragged Purple Heart he used as a pocket knife, and nobody ever wanted to buy so’s he could get some juice or pain pills.

Old Dog got to Dwight Way and waited to cross as there were always bullet-boy bikers and preppy college kids in their German cars racing up the street toward Telegraph Avenue. They never gave him anything when he sat out on the sidewalk against the cafés and froo-froo shops, with his sign out and playing his harmonica. Hell, he even put his cup out by his feet, far enough so’s they’d never have to smell him if they stooped to throw in some change. Anyways, it was dead of night and traffic was gone, so he crossed over Dwight to shuffle on down Ellsworth. Against the telephone pole at the corner he saw a poster, dimly lit by the streetlamp. “Reward,” it read, “Berkeley Police Department seeks information on the possible murder of Howard W. Johnson at the intersection of Ward and Walker streets.”

Old Dog had known Howie Jo, who was found burned half to a crisp about a month ago, right there against the street barrier at the end of Walker Street. Howie Jo had been a nomad, like Old Dog, all scruffy, sunburnt, with two old coats on, and a mass of sprawling kinky salt-and-pepper hair and beard. Old Dog had told Howie Jo many times that looking at him was the same as looking into a mirror. That joke didn’t work anymore. The scuttlebutt was that Howie Jo had gotten himself a whole bottle of hard stuff, and later got so sloppy drunk he probably passed out while trying to light up a smoke, setting his alcohol-spilled coats on fire with the bottle in his lap. Unless somebody lit it after he’d passed out.

Ellsworth Street is blocked, past Dwight Way, on the far side from Bancroft Way and the University. Two pairs of bollards, like solid cement garbage cans, are anchored into each side of the roadway, leaving a narrow gap between them wide enough for a fire truck. In that gap there is a short, thick steel rod lined up with the bollards, and just tall enough to rip the bottom out of any car that tried moving between Dwight and Ellsworth.

Old Dog couldn’t abide looking at those barriers anymore since he now imagined seeing a smoking black crispy pile of charcoal on them with Howie Jo’s untied army boots sticking out on the street. Anyways, Old Dog wasn’t getting any warmer, didn’t see as he was likely to get any reward, and had to piss even worse than before. “Well, fuck ‘em,” he thought, “I’m gonna’ piss right here, and put out that fire on Howie Jo’s ghost!” Old Dog was a man of vision, many of them. He stood over the barrier, his back toward Dwight, and watered that damned monument to exclusion real good.

Old Dog went back for his pack, which he’d laid down in the black night shadows behind the big telephone distribution box near the utility pole. Just then a motorcycle came purring slowly up Ellsworth toward the bollards. Old Dog crouched down into the blackness to hide. The rider, all in black leather and helmeted, reached under the weeds spilling out over the top of a bollard and pulled out a packet or small pouch which he put in a plastic carrying case on his motorcycle. He then took a different packet out of the plastic case and buried it under the same weeds. He eased his bike through a gap in the barrier and sped away up Dwight.

It didn’t look good, but Old Dog was still curious to look. Just as he thought to step out of his hide, he noticed a dark car with its lights off gliding quietly up Ellsworth toward the bollards. No time to run, he hunkered down. The black limousine stopped and a chauffeur in uniform, with a cap and all, emerged noiselessly from the car, walked right up to the bollard where the drop had been made and retrieved what had been hidden there. Old Dog expected the limo to back up to turn around and leave. Instead, he saw it rise up slowly till high enough to easily clear the metal pipe in the street, glide past over it, and then lower itself back down.

As the limo began its right turn onto Dwight, the house windows behind Old Dog suddenly lit up dispelling the black shadow he’d been hiding in. The limo lurched forward, its back tires almost chirping and, as it turned onto Dwight Way, Old Dog saw that the car’s back window had been opened, so any eyes behind it would have an easy view of him. It gave Old Dog a shiver, and it wasn’t from the cold.

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Sergeant Wanda Travers was sitting in Precinct Captain McCready’s office, getting a new and special assignment. “Travers,” he said, “see what you can find out from the street guys that tend to sleep out at Willard Park, and wander down from the University area along Bancroft Way, and out of People’s Park, into the Willard-Bateman-LeConte neighborhood below Dwight Way, between Shattuck and College Avenues. The public’s coming down hard on the city, and the mayor’s coming down hard on the chief to solve the Johnson killing, and nab the murderer if that’s what it was.” Wanda had been a lacrosse player in school and was a stocky, muscular but not fat, medium height woman. All the cop gear strapped around her waist made her look stouter than she really was, and quite formidable, but she could remain calm and low key enough to be able to approach the street people and patiently tease out bits of street-sightings information from them better than anyone. Maybe she could fish out a lead on the Howie Jo immolation. “Go plainclothes on an unmarked bike, so you can get closer to what’s going on in your neighborhood. And give me, and only me, detailed reports,” concluded McCready. “Yes sir,” and off she went, pleased because this kind of assignment was basically a promotion.

“Come on Old Dog,” Wanda said as she crouched down near his head, barely out of his frayed sleeping bag in the shadows off the grass in Willard Park, “did you see or hear anything on the streets recently that might be connected to Howie Jo?” Old Dog had a wild-eyed tense look and was shaking his head “no” like a vibrator. “There’s somebody out there messing with those that live on the street, and we’ve got to get them and keep the people safe.” Old Dog just looked at Travers speaking, his head shaking a “yes” in tiny trembling vibrations, and holding his sleeping bag close and tight under his chin. Travers knew Old Dog and his pals were always worried about being searched, so she tried to calm him on that score so he might listen better and maybe talk about anything that might be a lead. She tucked her card and a small basic cell phone into his bag even as he held it closed tight, saying “Keep it. It’s got my number on it. You can call it any time, no charge. I’m not going to be looking through your stuff, no hassles. Anything you see could help us out.” Travers got up to leave.

“Black Limo!” said Old Dog. “What?” Wanda looked down at him. “Black Limo!” he repeated. She sat down and just waited. “They says a black limo passed by Howie Jo that night.” Wanda stayed quietly listening. “Big Black Car! The Mother Ship!” and he went silent. “What kind of black limo? Tell me about it.” Old Dog seemed to sink into a well of lost thoughts, his eyes looking out far past Travers. “That’s what they says about Howie Jo, but I never seen it before. But t’other night I saw one pass over the street bar at Ellsworth. Could have been the Mother Ship cause it passed right after a Black Rider left something for it.” Wanda figured Old Dog had seen a drop for a drug connection. “Was this down by Ashby?” “No, not that far.” Now Wanda knew it was Ellsworth at Dwight Way. “What’s the Mother Ship?” she asked. “Peoples say there’s a Black Rider whose poisoning dudes whens they sleep, shoots them up!” Wanda wondered if this was a myth born out of fear, because there had been a higher incidence of street people dying of heroin overdoses during recent months. “And this Black Rider” she prompted. “Some says there’s Black Riders coming out of the Mother Ship, and going everywhere! Some say they’ve seen it!” Wanda tried bringing it back down to earth, “You mean they’ve seen this black motorcycle rider connect with the limo?” “Yes!” exclaimed Old Dog, “I seen them, and they seen me! I gotta’ keep low, so they don’t find me!” Despite her cautious probing, those were all the details Travers could get out of Old Dog that day.

Wanda’s phone rang as she was biking up Hillegass Avenue toward People’s Park. “Any progress?” McCready asked. “One of my regulars at Willard reports a story going around among the people about some combination of a big black car, or limo, and a motorcyclist all in black offing the people by injecting them with heroin overdoses, or burning them up, like Johnson. Could just be paranoia fantasies because of the ODs happening among them, besides the usual night crimes they suffer. My guy’s all panicked because he claims he saw this Mother Ship and the Black Rider, as he calls them, during a drop and pick-up on Ellsworth, and thinks they’re now after him.” “Good work, keep me informed,” and McCready hung up.

<><><>

“Hey, what you doin’ here?” Old Dog asked Lenny the K under the big trees by the corner of Willard Park at Hillegass Avenue and Derby Street. “I’m looking for a quieter night, People’s is getting noisy, too crowded.” Old Dog looked at Lenny dubiously, “you just mustn’t wanna’ share.” Old Dog knew Lenny shot up the haphazard mixed poisons they called “heroin” on the street, and he must have made a big score. “You’s best do your shit outta’ sight, ‘cause the cops come ‘round here as’in it’s a good neighborhood” warned Old Dog. “Where you sleeping” asked Lenny. “I likes under dees big trees, snuck in back d’bushes. Best for one, so you take it. I’m going t’other side.” Old Dog wandered across the park, and was lucky to find some unfinished discarded picnic food, and by early evening had discreetly ensconced himself behind the Recreation Hall, along the fence in the shadows below the bushes. As dusk slowly faded into night, Old Dog was able to get himself between his dark green blankets with some leaves scattered over them, looking like a low pile of grass clippings and leaf debris, if anyone could have even seen him through the dark from Hillegass just a few steps away. He fell asleep.

Old Dog stirred awake to a low purring motor, and low voices, in the dead-of-night street by him. He poked his head out cautiously and looked toward Hillegass. The Black Rider!, he was there under a patch of streetlight by the telephone pole! The Black Rider switched on his motorcycle with little noise, pulled out then purred down Hillegass toward Stuart Street and out of earshot. Even as Old Dog was trembling in fear, he noiselessly edged himself forward just enough to see past where the Black Rider had been parked: the Black Limo! In the streetlight Old Dog could see the license plate! In another minute the limo pulled away quietly and disappeared after the Black Rider.

Next morning, as Old Dog walked up Hillegass headed to all the action and possible handouts around People’s Park and Telegraph Avenue near the University, he saw a police car and ambulance flashing their lights by the big trees at the corner with Derby. It was Lenny the K. He’d OD’d and they were carting him away. Old Dog fished out the phone Wanda had given him and called. “I seen it,” he told her. “Lenny the K OD’d last night at my big trees spot. They’s just took him away.” Wanda listened intently, she’d already seen the dispatch report of the fatality. “And I seen the Black Rider and the Mother Ship! They for sure musta’ done Lenny!” Wanda coaxed “did you see anything about them?,” she wanted an identifying clue. “Yes!, I gotta’ number on the Mother Ship. Its B-L-T-1-3-K-K-K. I looked at it good, and I wrote it down!” Wanda replied “Listen, Old Dog, stay at Willard. I’m going to get you to a safe place, and some food. You’ll be okay during the day. We’ll be out there before dark. Promise me, so I can find you.” “Okay, I’ll do it.”

“Captain, I got a line on the black limo,” Wanda told McCready. “I got the license plate, and it’s registered to Berkeley Luxury Transport. It’s one of a number of businesses, most real estate, owned by Paul Malverson. He’s that big booster of the Police Benevolent Society, and supposed to be the real estate industry’s next candidate for mayor.” McCready beamed praise at Wanda, “Excellent work!” Wanda continued “I can’t get anywhere with BLT, so I need to interview Malverson so he can help us find out what’s going on inside his limo business.” McCready shot back “I’ll arrange for that, and call you back as soon as I can. Where’s your informant?” “He’s at Willard. I told him we’d move him to a safe spot before dark.” “Perfect, I’ll call you soon,” and McCready ended the call. Wanda rode down Telegraph Avenue, found a sandwich shop, and brought back some lunches that would keep Old Dog for a day or two; then she biked to the precinct hall.

“Wanda,” McCready told her, “Malverson is happy to see you this evening, I just talked to him. He says he’ll have his manager of Automobile Fleet Operations at BLT with him, and they’ll do whatever it takes. Malverson’ll be at an event with the Mayor and council members till about nine tonight. So, they want to meet at a complex his company manages, on Ellsworth between Parker and Carleton, after nine” and McCready rattled off the street number and the access code for entry. “Also, we picked up Old Dog, and he’s being well taken care of, don’t worry. You can interview him tomorrow, to nail down his testimony. Okay, finish up all your reports here so I have them before you go, and I’ll buy you dinner so you can get them all done. Chinese?, Thai?, Japanese?, Mexican?, pizza?, or burger?” Wanda set to work on her reports, and to thinking about the whole case.

<><><>

The big garage door at Malverson’s apartment building on Ellsworth Street swung open, and Wanda walked her bike into an expansive, neat and well-lit garage with doors to other rooms at the far back. A tall, well-built Chinese man dressed in a crisp chauffeur’s suit, complete with cap and gloves, emerged to greet her. “Hello, Sergeant Travers, I’m Peter Chan, Fleet Manager at BLT,” and he led her to a large office in back, where Paul Malverson was waiting seated behind a big desk. Chan showed Wanda to a plush office chair and left, closing the door.

“Well, Sergeant Travers,” Malverson began, “Pete and I have made detailed inquiries with our fleet supervisors and dispatchers, and have not been able to find any unusual or unauthorized activity by our drivers. Because of the sensitivity of our business – we transport many important people, and host very sensitive meetings for both corporate clients as well as facilitating social functions. So we require our drivers to pass the most rigorous security background checks, and we require periodic interrogation updates with polygraph testing. We conducted quite a number since receiving Captain McCready’s call earlier today, on all personnel who have had any contact with the vehicle you identified, as well as other vehicles from the same pool. Naturally, every now and then we find the usual sort of hanky-panky: a little drinking, or some amorous connections in a waiting vehicle while clients are engaged at a lengthy function. But, we have not been able to find anything of the sort of surreptitious and continuing activity that Captain McCready is concerned about. Is it possible that as your informant is an indigent street person, like so many others in Berkeley, that he may be a bit unbalanced and prone to flights of fancy?”

“Mister Malverson,” began Wanda, “the facts are that we’ve had a sharp increase in heroin overdose fatalities over the last few months, and even a homeless man burned to death in the streets. For many of these incidents, the people who are the closest witnesses report sightings of the limousine we’ve identified near the scenes. I agree, the sightings are not exact eyewitness testimony, nor are the people involved the most reliable of our citizens. But, the weight of evidence points to a real connection, if still unclear.” Wanda was overstating her certainty a bit to see if she could agitate a substantive tidbit out of Malverson. “I’m going to pursue this case to find that connection, because lives have been lost, and other lives may be at risk.”

“Admirable determination,” Malverson said while looking down and stroking his left eyebrow as he thought about it. The office door behind Wanda opened and Chan returned. “Pete,” Malverson instructed, “we’re going to have to clear this up without delay, we can’t leave it hanging.” Wanda turned her head around to see Pete holding a pistol with a long black silencer pointed straight at her face. “Don’t move, for your own good.” At that moment, a fully helmeted person in a black leather body suit entered. So there it is, thought Wanda, the Black Rider is Malverson’s man; but why? The Black Rider took Wanda’s gun from her waist holster under her jacket, then zip-locked her hands together in front of her, and her ankles, and then connected these with a third plastic zip-lock tie.

“Well Miss Travers,” Malverson began, “your investigation is very inconvenient for us, so we can’t let it continue. Sadly, you’ve allowed yourself to become indoctrinated by the false ideology of coddling the losers and the parasites on American vitality and progress. These street people you worry so much about are simply vermin: dirty, deranged incorrigibles without any merit, without any contribution to furthering American prosperity, either by productive work, useful talent, or substantive investment. In fact they are a total drain on the public resources essential for investing into the expansion of business activity and wealth enhancement. In any neighborhood in Berkeley, property values would rise at least thirty percent, and in many cases double, if these street vermin could be completely and permanently cleared away. In this very apartment complex, rents could be doubled overnight if we could eliminate the hordes of filth that ooze out of that People’s Park and contaminate the surrounding area. There are people of means all over the world who compete to send their brilliant sons and daughters to the University here, and who would be delighted to house those students in the rental properties along this street, and other streets near the campus, at significantly more profitable rental rates, if we could provide them with clean and comfortable neighborhoods. That unrealized profit potential is being destroyed by the dirty, noisy and importuning parasitic losers we allow public resources to maintain unendingly. Since government is incapable of solving anything that advances economic progress, it is essential that the private sector solve the problem, quickly and permanently. Our country is beginning to wake up to this socio-economic reality, but much too slowly. I am not waiting for the clarity of that truth to dawn universally in some far future, we are acting on it now! As our Cleanup Crew advances the disinfection, beautification and habitability of our city, and property values balloon, commerce accelerates, and a greater influx of the successful people who drive the engines of prosperity settle into our previously blighted neighborhoods, the realization I am talking about will become accepted as the universal norm. For a healthy garden you remove the weeds and litter, for a healthy farm you fumigate the parasites, for a healthy body you purge the pathogens with antibiotic and antiviral drugs and then inoculate against further infection, and for a healthy society you purge the incorrigibly lazy, obdurately unproductive, contagiously filthy and demented parasites and willful losers. Members of your trade, police workers, should rightfully apply their labors to protecting productive society and the corporate engines of prosperity from the degenerative elements of present society, which are so inexplicably tolerated and maintained in Berkeley. By rights, you should be a vigorous member of the Cleanup Crew. Fortunately, some police are, but not nearly enough.”

“You’re mad!” Wanda yelled at him, “inhuman! Do you really think you can get away with all this?” “I’m afraid you’re on the losing side of history, Sergeant Travers, and I regret that this is so.” “Even if you get rid of me, the department will investigate intensively. They’ll follow up on my findings, and certainly look into whatever becomes of me.”

“I don’t think so” said Malverson. The Black Rider pulled off his helmet, and Wanda’s heart stopped, it was McCready. “Traitor!” Wanda yelled at him, “you’re using the department to betray the people!” ”Now, now, Travers,” McCready replied, “the department works for the people who can pay for it to work. Malverson is right. The only way for a working man to have a stake in the prosperity to come is to work for those who make that progress happen. You don’t advance yourself by wasting your time and energy on the useless and the losers. That’s just stupid socialist bullshit that brings you down to their level, and keeps you down.”

“I wondered about you,” Wanda glared at McCready, “when Lenny the K turned up dead after I told you where Old Dog was sleeping.” Malverson’s eyes shifted toward an impassive Pete holding his gun on Wanda, as Malverson’s left forefinger traced a line down from the outside corner of his left eye to the corner of his mouth, then led his hand laterally into stroking his chin, while his eyebrows arched a tad for a moment; then he returned his attention back to the exchange between Wanda and McCready.

“You’re scum,” Wanda glared at him, “groveling so low for money, you’re not even part of the human race anymore.” McCready started to raise his hand as if to slap her, when Malverson interjected “McCready, let us not descend to the level of the degenerates. We do whatever is needed as a business necessity, but we never sully ourselves with crude displays of emotion, nor disreputable actions that can cloud our minds and distract us from our actual objectives. It is because we keep our control that we are superior. So, let us conclude our business.”

McCready put on his helmet and stepped out. Pete taped Wanda’s mouth shut with a big swath of heavy-duty black tape, and wheeled her bound in the chair out toward the garage. The Mother Ship, license number BLT13KKK was parked facing outward. She saw McCready setting an unconscious Old Dog into the front passenger seat. Malverson soothed her, “Don’t worry about your odiferous friend, he’s only asleep under the influence of a mild, and entirely safe sedative.” Malverson tore off a small strip of newspaper and held it under Old Dog’s nostrils where it gently fluttered. “See, he’s breathing.” Pete and McCready lifted Wanda into the back seat of the limo, behind Old Dog. “Close up, then meet us there,” Malverson told McCready, then got into the limo next to Wanda, the garage door swung open, and Pete drove the Mother Ship out into the night.

<><><>

The black limo eased up Ellsworth Street towards the bollards before Dwight Way. Paul Malverson sat in back on the left, with a sly smile of satisfaction at the smooth progress of his plan. Wanda Travers sat to his right with her hands and feet each bound in front of her, and these two plastic bindings connected by a third tie-wrap. Her mouth was taped shut by a big swath of heavy-duty tape, and Malverson’s gun was pointed at her left temple. Old Dog was slumped in the front right seat, unconscious. About half a block before the barrier, Pete swung the car around to the left, then backed up to park facing away from the bollards.

McCready quietly rode up Ellsworth from behind them on his motorcycle. He eased to a stop before the bollards on the other side of the street, shut his motor off and dismounted, then walked over to the parked limo. Pete unlocked the limo doors, got out, walked to the back of the limo where McCready met him, and opened the trunk. Pete took out Wanda’s bicycle and put it down against the curb a short distance behind the car. He then pulled out two bottles from a case of twelve that were labeled “White Vinegar” but were actually filled with ethyl alcohol; he also pulled out a near-empty bottle of cheap whiskey. McCready dragged the unconscious Old Dog out of the limo and to the bollard in the shadows near the telephone pole and utility box, propping him up against the bollard. Pete followed and put the alcohol bottles down near the crumpled Old Dog, then went back to the car. McCready planted the whiskey bottle in Old Dog’s lap, and doused him with all the ethyl. He picked up the vinegar bottles and returned to Pete, behind the limo, and put the bottles in the trunk.

“Okay,” said McCready, “all set. I’ll light him up once you get moving. What about Wanda?” Pete smiled, pointed a gun with a long silencer straight at McCready’s chest and fired. McCready staggered, fell to his knees dumfounded, looking up with pleading eyes into Pete’s face. “She’s going to be a hero,” Pete sneered, “she just killed you.” He shot again, shredding McCready’s heart. McCready fell on his face, and a dark pool began widening beneath him. Pete briskly unscrewed the silencer from Wanda’s gun and slipped it into his pocket. He walked over to the bollard on the other side of Ellsworth, by McCready’s motorcycle, and planted Wanda’s gun in the weedy top. Pete returned to the body to pull McCready’s gun out from his ankle holster inside his right boot, then he screwed on the silencer.

“It was very perceptive of you to forward your reports to McCready’s superiors. Ah, well, this car will have to disappear. I’m sure in time they’ll name this street after you, for the heroic service you provided the City of Berkeley,” said Malverson. Wanda just stared at him with pure hatred. “You will have come upon the crooked cop who was the entirety of the Cleanup Crew, while he was in the process of eliminating another one of the street vermin, and you will have neutralized him in a gun fight which, for the benefit of the nocturnal tranquility of the neighborhood, we are muting.”

Pete opened Wanda’s door, pulled a wire cutter out of his left pocket, and snapped off the plastic tie-wrap around her ankles, and the one that had linked her bound hands to it. “Pete,” said Malverson, “close up and get the car started so we can go quick after you move her bike and light the barbecue.” Pete went around back, closed the trunk lid, and returned to the driver’s seat. “Get out,” said Malverson to Wanda, pointing with his gun, “time to close escrow.”

She swung her legs out to step onto the street. Malverson slid right a bit, then half turned, tapping Pete on the shoulder, “Give me McCready’s gun and those wire cutters, can’t leave the plastic.” As Malverson was in his half twist grabbing McCready’s gun and the cutters with his left hand, Wanda bolted out of the car slamming the door behind her, and raced back toward the trunk to gain cover and reach her bicycle. “Turn ‘round!” yelled Malverson even as Pete switched on the air pump to raise the car height, and gunned the motor to swing the car into a u-turn for the chase.

Wanda jumped on her bicycle and pedaled hard toward the barrier, her steering wobbly because her tied hands were clasping the handlebar at the stem. Pete would be on the wrong side of the limo to shoot her until he’d made the u-turn, and, if she was lucky, Malverson would be pulled to the left into the car by the g-force of the turn and have trouble opening his window to take a shot. The car quickly swung around and was bearing down on Wanda and toward the big gap between the pairs of bollards.

She jumped off her bike, leaving it down in the middle of the road, and dove behind the bollards in front of McCready’s parked motorcycle; her bound hands searching desperately in the bollard’s weedy top for her gun. “Pfft! Pfft!,” chips of concrete flew off the bollard, ripped through her hair and stingingly pitted her right arm. She found her gun!, rolled to the ground between the two bollards just as the raised limo slammed into her bicycle and scraped it forward trailing a wake of sparking red flames.

Wanda fired six shots in rapid succession into the left front wheel arch, exploding the suspension air bag so that corner of the car collapsed and veered the limo straight toward her bollards. Pete swung the steering wheel hard to the right to aim the limo back through the central gap. The smoldering wreckage under the limo hit the central steel barrier and the car stopped dead, its passenger safety airbags bursting open with stunning suddenness to engulf Pete and Malverson as the limo pivoted left, sweeping up McCready’s motorcycle and slamming into the two bollards that Wanda was furiously rolling away from onto Dwight Way. The collision ruptured a fuel line spilling gasoline into the burning already underway causing flames to erupt upwards and engulf the car.

Wanda got up, seeing she wouldn’t be needing the bullets still left in her gun, if any. She could already hear the wail of sirens, racing in from afar, as she ran up to see after Old Dog. She grabbed his coat collar and pulled him off from the bollard he was propped against, and further away from the fire to just past the telephone pole at the corner of Dwight. Wanda peeled the tape off her face as Old Dog stirred awake. “What the hell?,” he said, looking at Wanda wild-eyed, with her two hands wrapped around her bloody glistening gun. “It’s okay, they’re all gone. We made it,” and nodded her head towards the burning limo.

As they watched, the ethanol exploded blowing the trunk lid off, expanding the conflagration, and buffeting Wanda and Old Dog with the shock. Then the fuel tank exploded into a fireball that pulsed out a blast wave that stripped leaves from the trees and ripped posters off the telephone pole. Wanda and Old Dog were showered with this haphazard confetti, and a shredded piece of poster fell into Old Dog’s lap. “Reward,” it read, “Berkeley Police Department seeks information on the possible murder of Howard W. Johnson at the intersection of Ward and Walker streets.”

Wanda looked at Old Dog with an amused expression. “Well, old guy, it looks like you’re going to get a reward.” Old Dog looked at the poster, then the fire, then at Wanda, “my own indoor place to sleep, with a shower?” Wanda looked at him with kind determination, “It better be.”

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