Was America Stolen from the Natives?

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A review of Not Stolen by Jeff Fynn-Paul

https://www.amazon.com/Not-Stolen-Truth-European-Colonialism/dp/164293951X

I grew up in a time and place where diversity meant mixing Protestants and Catholics and there was only one actual minority. These were the American Indians, or Native Americans as they’re called now, who mostly lived by themselves in county-sized reservations. As children, we regarded them with a mixture of fear and awe, finding it hard to believe the quiet, pathetically poor people who occasionally drove their pickups into town had once been fierce warriors who could shoot a buffalo from the back of a galloping horse. It was a time when America was starting to acknowledge the raw deal these people had gotten from the Europeans and others who flooded this continent. But though we realized our forefathers had done wrong, nobody talked about “genocide.” These claims came later.

Since then I’ve met a fair number of Native Americans and gotten to know a few of them. In particular, there was a Lakota fellow who married into our family. He and I got along well and we would joke about sensitive issues in a way that other people found shocking. It was interesting to see both Dances with Wolves and Black Robe with him and get his perspective on these movies. Though his outlook was quite different than mine, we respected each others’ viewpoints. Later on, after he’d been estranged from the family (by his own choice, I must note), his outlook became increasingly more radical. When he claimed that the term “Native American” was racist because America was named for a white person, I could only shake my head.

I bring this up to illustrate that I’ve tried to keep an open mind on the topic. I’ve always been a history buff and I’ve come to understand that the story of humanity has been a long struggle of war, struggle, and death. To me, the recent academic brow-beating about the fate of Native Americans seems very one-sided. So when I saw a review of a book with a different take on the topic, I downloaded it at once. It’s called Not Stolen, the Truth about European Colonialism in the New World by Professor Jeff Fynn-Paul, PhD. (published by Bombardier Books, 2023) The cover features a classic painting of European settlers meeting with a party of Native Americans back in the early days of colonization. It presents an interesting counterpoint to the current hypercritical, anti-American view of The 1619 Project and other screeds of the mainstream media.

This is ostensibly a book about history, but it’s also a political treatise. The author’s premise is that we should not view America as being “stolen” from its original inhabitants. Though he admits that the white settlers committed the occasional atrocity, the real story is much more nuanced and complex.

The first of his points are that there was no “genocide” of Native Americans by whites. This is an argument I’ve long been using myself. At the time when the Plymouth and Jamestown colonies were founded, the original population had already suffered a huge reduction due to epidemics brought by early explorers. These sixteenth-century Spaniards had no concept of the causes of disease, much less the lack of immunity in this alien population. Furthermore, Fynn-Paul argues there is no evidence of any US government entity deliberately spreading smallpox among the Indian tribes. Yes, a few individuals discussed this notion but by that time the greatest damage had already been done. In fact, the US government did its utmost to treat the residents of Indian reservations for epidemic diseases, bringing the new smallpox vaccine to them before it was distributed to whites.

Besides this forceful argument, the book debunks the idea that Indians were peaceful stewards of the earth, giving ample evidence of brutal inter-tribal war and extermination of numerous indigenous species well before whites arrived. They were essentially like Europeans, subject to the same flaws as our ancestors. For example, Southern tribes such as the Cherokee embraced African slavery, bringing their human chattel with them after their expulsion to Oklahoma. In addition, Natives were not as naive and foolish in their dealings with whites as progressives would have us believe. Among the so-called “trinkets” they received in trade for land were valuable goods and technologies such as firearms, metal tools, horses, and medicines.

Not Stolen is a detailed, well-researched book written in a style that’s quite accessible to the average high-school-educated American. Fynn-Paul pulls no punches, discussing land treaties, the “Trail of Tears”, reservation schools, and so on. Many of the most egregious incidents, though tragic, have been exaggerated by progressive self-loathing. This one-sided mythology has led to hysterical, knee-jerk reactions such as the demonization of church-run residential schools in Canada. Despite the outrage, there is no evidence that extensive abuse happened. Many of the alleged “mass graves” don’t actually exist.

Some of the author’s arguments are more semantic than factual, in particular, the title itself. One can argue that you can’t steal a country from a people who have no concept of land ownership. Yet we must acknowledge that staking a claim to a place deprives others of their use, much as Great Britain’s Enclosures Acts abolished the system of open fields, driving English peasants from their towns and into London slums. While I’d dispute the accuracy of Fynn-Paul’s title, its incendiary phrasing should help sell copies of the book and that’s a good thing.

In particular, I take issue with the author’s closing statement that America needs to clean up its historical image so it can speak with authority on human rights issues such as the alleged Uighur “genocide” in China. We do need to tell the Chinese to “butt out” with their hypocritical accusations of American “racism” but their internal politics are none of our business. The US government already interferes far too much, encouraging Islamic radicalism in Russia and China while pretending to be fighting it elsewhere. But this is not a major point of the book.

Suffice it to say that although I don’t agree with all of Fynn-Paul’s arguments, this book brings forth many important counter-arguments against the overwhelmingly anti-American tenor of current historical scholarship. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to learn the truth about America’s history.

The Trouble With “Thank You For Your Service”

On Veteran’s Day, should we be thankful, contemplative, or angry?

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A few years ago, in the wake of the Afghan and Iraqi wars, it was fashionable to say, as soon as a non-veteran learned of someone’s veteran status, “Thank you for your service.” This wasn’t just a conservative cause, though of course conservatives were more adamant about it. The corporate media was well on board. Though I’m not a veteran myself, something about this practice made me uncomfortable. For many people, these had the air of empty words spoken automatically, like blessing somebody after a sneeze. At present, the adulation has subsided, but we see it recurring at times like Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day, which is once again upon us.

If the words are spoken sincerely, and in many cases they are, I agree with the sentiment. Being in the military is a difficult but necessary job. Somebody’s got to do it. Even as powerful and relatively isolated as America is, we could still be invaded. In fact, we ARE being invaded from the south, because the current administration is encouraging the invaders. But that’s another story. Though I’m grateful that our military provides deterrence and some modicum of order, I don’t go out of my way to say “thank you.” As I see it, there are two big problems with this practice.

The first is that the greeting does nothing to help our wounded and psychologically damaged veterans. If we want to truly show our thanks, we should donate to veterans’ charities. We should also vote for candidates who will represent their interests and agitate for more funding. Of course there must be a continuing audit of the historically corrupt Veteran’s Administration.

The second problem is that it doesn’t address the proverbial elephant in the room. Why have all these troops been sent overseas anyway? Since 1945, these have all been wars of choice and we’ve been stalemated or lost almost all of them. Even when we seemed to win, as in the first Iraq War of the early 1990s, that’s because we stopped before the mission was completed. We didn’t unseat Saddam Hussein, nor did we make any deals with him to promote better behavior. Instead, we sanctioned and crippled his regime as an excuse for further intervention.

More recent military adventures have not just been failures, they’ve been complete disasters. Take for example the American-sponsored overthrow and murder of eccentric Libyan dictator Muammar Gadaffi. He may have been oppressive by Western standards (or not, given recent events) but he kept his nation in order and provided his people with one of the highest living standards in Africa. Removing him interrupted the flow of oil and provided a conduit for millions of “refugees”–actually economic migrants–into Europe. Many people, myself included, suspect this was the actual goal of the operation.

I’m quite certain that the whole “thank you” campaign as promoted by the government and corporate media was designed to bolster public support not for veterans, but for the misbegotten foreign wars which have killed and crippled so many of them. For a while, there was even talk that protesting these wars was somehow disrespectful to vets and their families. Never mind that in the Vietnam era, veterans’ groups were some of the war’s biggest opponents.

I want to make two things perfectly clear: I don’t condemn any American who joined the military and went to war overseas, even though I view all our recent wars as both unnecessary and counterproductive. They did what they felt was right and we civilians have no right to judge them. My second point is that I don’t advocate for anyone, not a single solitary person, to join up, not until our nation’s priorities change. If this brings on military conscription, so be it. I’d like to see how our pampered, mentally fragile Millennials and Zoomers react to that. The ensuing riots will dwarf the George Floyd fiasco.

On that cheery note, I want to wish all our veterans and current service people well. Be safe, get out as soon as you can, and question (at least mentally) what your superiors tell you. And thank you for your service.

Why I say, “Merry Christmas!”

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At this time of year, it’s become more and more common to hear people say “Happy Holidays.” It’s to the point where it’s begun to grate on my nerves. I understand this bland, neutral phrase is supposed to be more “inclusive” but why? Why must one be a Christian to celebrate Christmas? I’ve been an agnostic my entire adult life, and I celebrate the holiday as part of my American heritage. Yet it’s supposed to be somehow wrong to wish a Jew, a Muslim, or an atheist “Merry Christmas”? Christmas is, in my view, about more than just Christianity. It’s about “peace on Earth, good will toward men.” I’d argue that saying “Happy Holidays” is not inclusive at all, because it implicitly excludes non-Christians from the reason for the season.

Oh, I understand the rationale, the implication that our traditions are offensive because they remind others of some ugly aspect of our past. I don’t buy it. As bad as we European-Americans are supposed to be, at least we don’t judge other cultures in that fashion. We know that all nations have made mistakes and that judging is both hypocritical and wrong.

Let me give you some examples. If I was in Israel during Purim, and somebody wished me a happy Purim, I’d appreciate it. Would I get all huffy thinking about what the Hebrews did to the inhabitants of Canaan when they occupied the Promised Land? Certainly not. I’ll take a blessing in the spirit it’s given.

If I’m ever able to visit India for the Holi festival, that raucous celebration when they throw colored powder at each other, I’d want to participate, even though I’m not a Hindu. Would I be offended if someone wished me a happy Holi? Nor would I stew over my distaste for India’s oppressive caste system.

We shouldn’t dwell on mistakes of the past because it is the past. In particular, the persecutions and pogroms once committed by Christians are almost nonexistent nowadays. As human beings, we’ll never be perfect, but I like to believe we’re getting better. This is what Christmas is all about, a spirit of love and forgiveness.

So with that said, I’d like to wish everyone everywhere a Merry Christmas, no matter who you are or what you believe.

Does Libertarianism Make Sense?

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Above: The porcupine, symbol of the US Libertarian Party

At the age of 19, I found Tibor Machan’s The Libertarian Alternative* in my university’s library. I’d encountered the idea of radically limited government in the novels of Ayn Rand, but the economic and historical arguments in Machan’s book won me over. From that day on, I voted for the Libertarian candidate in every election. In 2016, I chose Trump as the lesser evil, though I hung on to my Libertarian registration until just a few weeks ago.

Mine was not a casual commitment. In the 1980s I joined the Arizona Libertarian Party where I served on the State Executive Committee and ran for office. Though we weren’t successful except in opposing boondoggles like Light Rail–which was later built anyway–I still had hope. Someday Americans would wake up to the promise of freedom, both social and economic. That hope peaked in 2008 when the libertarian-leaning Ron Paul did well in Republican Presidential primaries. Most corporate media outlets refused to say his name or report his numbers, proving how much the Establishment feared and hated us.

At the same time, I became increasingly disenchanted with the LP’s national organization. It was filled with regime collaborators, some of whom had cheered on George W Bush’s moronic foreign interventions. Others advocated the one-sided “free trade” that devastated America’s industrial base and shipped our jobs to China. Worst of all was the financial “shock theory” wherein predatory American investors rushed in to plunder newly privatized economies such as Russia in the 1990s. These policies were disastrous for 99% of the people they affected.

I realize that the LP’s platform is too extreme for most Americans. In particular, it needs to soften its “drug legalization” plank. The point isn’t to make hard drugs more available but to remove the perverse legal incentives that make the drug problem worse. But this turned out not to be the Party’s worst problem. I’ve reluctantly concluded there are several more.

Anarcho-capitalism: Many libertarians advocate a stateless society based on human rights, private property, and voluntary organizations. It’s a wonderful idea but no one can say how we’d get there. I wrote a sci-fi book (Centrifugal Force, available at https://www.amazon.com/Centrifugal-Force-Vaughn-L-Treude/dp/0988244209) about one possible path. It was meant to be a trilogy, so the story never gets to its utopian conclusion. Though I suppose a stateless “anarcho-capitalist” society is theoretically possible, why hasn’t it happened? Free societies tend to be more prosperous, so we should have gotten there purely by social evolution. The reason is most likely that such societies are unstable. All it takes is an organized gang of criminals to murder and pillage the peaceable, mind-you-own-business citizenry on an ongoing basis. Voila, you have a “government.” The people won’t be unified enough to fight back effectively.

Big business: In Ayn Rand’s novels, entrepreneurs are mostly heroes who fight wicked governments. Reality doesn’t bear that out. Even in the golden age of capitalism, tycoons like Carnegie and Rockefeller stamped out their competition by supporting favorable regulations. At best, corporations are impersonal machines motivated solely by profit. These days it’s much worse: “woke” CEOs use the shareholder’s money to push their own political agendas. Amazingly, this is legal. They also band together to monopolize markets, increasing their power and profits. Libertarian theory claims that  monopolies are impossible, but this assumes a free economy to begin with. In the real world, politicians are only too happy to use corporations to rule us.

Immigration: The Libertarian Party platform has traditionally advocated open borders. Yes, borders are artificial, but the political situation renders this philosophy ridiculous. Our welfare state attracts the poorest and least productive to come here and be a drain on the system. So-called “civil rights” laws make it illegal to discriminate against these new arrivals even when their behavior is incompatible with our culture. But the biggest problem is that too many newcomers will change the nature of our society. Not all cultures appreciate or desire liberty. In any nation that practices universal suffrage, the most aggressive and prolific immigrants (such as Islamic fundamentalists) will seize control and erase what little freedom we have.

Race and ethnicity: Libertarians embraced the progressive ideas of human equality well before conservatives did. Though they also oppose laws against “racial discrimination,” the rationale is that free market economics make prejudice unprofitable. Behind this is the assumption that all human groups are identical in motivation, capabilities, and temperament. After much soul-searching, I’ve abandoned that belief. Though I try to judge all people as individuals with their own strengths and weaknesses, the groups they belong to vary significantly. They differ in susceptibility to disease, personal ambition, and the tendency to cooperate with others. “Equity” between racial groups is unlikely or impossible, even if inept government interference is abolished. This inherent inequality will make any diverse society a contentious one.

Though libertarianism doesn’t forbid America’s white majority from organizing to protect their interests, it doesn’t encourage it, either. In their efforts to win American hearts and minds, the LP mostly follows the progressives’ erroneous “blank slate” theory. In the real world, some groups hate freedom, and their unhappiness with our system does NOT give them the right to enslave us.

Anarcho-tyranny: The worst thing about libertarian theory is that it’s given the American ruling classes an excuse to abandon rules and tradition as they see fit. Corporations are free to plunder and treat people like property, while we individuals require government licenses and permission for every aspect of our lives. To selectively free the rich and powerful from restraint makes our oppression worse, as monopolistic companies impose their collectivist views on us. This is called anarcho-tyranny–freedom for the powerful (and their hired agitators) and servitude for the rest.

My viewpoint has evolved since 2015, when Hillary Clinton’s “Basket of Deplorables” speech put me firmly in the Trump camp. Libertarianism makes sense in theory, but it doesn’t cut it in the real world. The system that best strikes the balance between freedom and fairness is Populism. It’s a philosophy that puts the interests of the common people first in the tradition of the great Andrew Jackson. Yes, the man made mistakes, particularly in screwing the Cherokee, but in most issues he was on the right track. So was Donald Trump, at least in his rhetoric. As Lincoln said, we should have “charity for all and malice toward none.” That doesn’t mean we have to surrender our country to self-righteous elites and alien invaders.

Long live Populism!

* https://www.amazon.com/Libertarian-Alternative-Essays-Political-Philosophy/dp/0911012729

Image credits:

Left, North American porcupine by Needsmoreritalin at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 2008

Right, Libertarian party logo by Hdebug, original by Lance W. Haverkamp, CC by-SA 4.0 2020

Damn the Torpedoes!

Adm. David G. Farragut, ca. 1863 Mathew Brady Collection. (Army) Exact Date Shot Unknown NARA FILE #: 165-B-1921 WAR & CONFLICT BOOK #: 130

Adm. David G. Farragut, ca. 1863 Mathew Brady Collection. (Army)
Exact Date Shot Unknown
NARA FILE #: 165-B-1921
WAR & CONFLICT BOOK #: 130

Two years ago I was part of a group of aspiring writers who would follow and promote each other on Twitter as a means to get more exposure for our books. I neither expected much nor gained much from the effort. However, I remember in particular a comment that crystallized in my mind the state of the modern publishing industry. One writer (I forget her name) posted a complaint about Internet “cancel culture,” asking her fellows to weigh in on the sacrifice of free speech to the prevailing PC ideology. The response was enlightening. In the hundreds of replies, something like 90% of the writers said, “Free speech is good, but there should also be consequences.”

These writers did not refer, as an uninformed person might suppose, to laws concerning libel or the classic example of “shouting fire in a crowded theater.” Rather, they were affirming the aforementioned cancel culture, in that people have the right to say “bad” things but that being punished for said opinions – whether it’s losing one’s platform, one’s job, or even one’s bank account – is perfectly acceptable. After all, these are “private institutions” doing the punishing.

Now I’m not going to debate this issue or the fairness of “private” censorship when 90% of America’s banks, news outlets, and social media companies are owned by a tiny cabal of interconnected billionaires who are also intimately entangled with the US government. My focus will be instead on the overwhelming agreement of the majority response. Did all 100-plus of these people who said “cancel culture is OK” actually believe what they were saying? Or were they trying to curry favor with the Powers that Be, which happen to be overwhelmingly and intolerantly leftist? Many progressive writers, J. K. Rowling, for example, have run into trouble due to a single disagreement with the prevailing orthodoxy. It seems that the lesson these writers have learned is not that “cancel culture is bad because it may someday come for me” but “I need to toe the line all the more carefully and I’ll be fine.” That caution includes, apparently, avoiding any criticism of cancel culture itself.

Let’s consider this question against the backdrop of the publishing industry in 2022. New authors attempting to publish a novel in today’s social climate will notice an interesting development. Besides looking for certain genres, topics, and styles of writing, many agents and publishers are also seeking certain kinds of writers. “Marginalized voices” is a common catchphrase, which usually refers to ethnic and sexual minorities – people of color, gay, transgender, etc. Sometimes women are included in this equation, though it’s hard to imagine misogyny is an issue in an industry that is literally dominated by female executives.

What I’m getting to is this: does it make sense for those of us who don’t belong to a protected group – in particular, straight white males such as myself – to muzzle ourselves in hopes that the publishing industry will cut us a break? For blacks and gays, this may make sense, because even luminaries such as Dave Chapelle and Glenn Greenwald can be labeled as “Nazis” despite their favored identities. To be clear, I don’t fault “marginalized” writers for taking advantage of literary affirmative action; I certainly would. It would be wonderful to have my work automatically moved to the top of the slush pile. And if they do fall afoul of the cancel mob, they may be more easily forgiven; consider whether Netflix would have stood behind Chapelle if he wasn’t an African-American. (By the way, I’m a big fan of both Chapelle’s comedy and Greenwald’s clear-headed political commentary.)

As for pale stale males, like me, I believe we’re fools to comply; we should be exactly who we are, as liberal or conservative or libertarian or populist as we feel. I’m reminded of a 1960’s cartoon in which a pair of hippies are dragging a normal-looking man away by his arms. “I’m relevant, I tell you!” screams the normie. The two hippies aren’t buying it and neither will the publishers who prioritize a writer’s identity over the writing itself. Those few enlightened agents or publishers who don’t consider a writer’s politics won’t be impressed by these acts of obeisance. And honoring the progressive shibboleths will positively shut us out of alternative non-liberal institutions such as the notorious Vox Day’s Castalia House.

This may sound like sour grapes, but being a straight white male is freeing in a way. I don’t need to apologize for having voted for Donald Trump twice, for supporting America, or for opposing immigration. Any opinions I express in this column are what I actually believe, no virtue-signaling required. If the political situation continues to decline, the American Stasi might come like the hippies in the cartoon to drag me away, but I’m not worried. The reign of intolerant reality-challenged lunatics can’t go on forever.

Which leads me to the title of this article. In 1862, faced with overwhelming odds in the Battle of Mobile, US Navy Admiral Farragut is quoted as saying, “Damn the torpedoes! Four Bells! Captain Drayton, go ahead! Jouett, full speed!” The battle was won for the Union Navy, though Farragut and his men could easily have died in the effort. This motto is perfect for dissident writers of all stripes who refuse to censor themselves. I repeat:

DAMN THE TORPEDOES!

Whatta You Mean, Sedition?

 

British Infantryman,1941

British Infantryman,1941

Way back when I created this blog, I chose the title with tongue in cheek. Besides having a love of science fiction, I’ve always been critical of the established order. This is an attribute I share with many of my kind. Science fiction has always provided an outlet for people who look to better their society.

As a proud American citizen, I support free speech and regard attempts to limit citizens’ discourse with contempt. One strategy of the political establishment is to shame dissidents into silence. For example, when we opposed the Iraq war, we were hurting the feelings of soldiers and their families and “emboldening” the enemy. It’s a weak argument when you consider that our service people face dangers to life and limb as part of their job. Criticism is the least of their problems And the Islamists on the other side care absolutely nothing for what we infidels think.

When Donald Trump was unexpectedly elected President in 2016, defenders of the status quo became more hysterical, painting critics on both the left and right as villains in league with foreign enemies. At that time, in a fit of pique, I modified the heading of my blog, adding flags that would trigger these schoolmarms of respectable thought. The Betsy Ross flag, for starters, evokes rage from those who hate our American heritage because our ancestors had different values. Yes, slavery was legal in the USA in 1776, but it was also practiced in many if not most of the world’s nations!

I chose the other five flags to offend those who can’t stand diversity in political thought. Our elites hate Russia because Putin’s government halted the looting of their country by predatory American capitalists. Furthermore, they refuse to bend the knee to LGBT ideology. Venezuela is a similar case; they had the gall to take control of their own oil reserves. Hungary and Japan are bad because they oppose immigration–how dare they decline the enrichment of hordes of incompatible refugees! Finally, Palestine stands in the way of Israeli expansion, therefore its people are routinely slandered as terrorists. I’ve heard otherwise respectable Americans call them “animals” who “only understand force.” Our media considers all five of these states to be “anti-democratic,” though their real crime is to honor the wishes of their respective populations.

Since February of 2022, Russia has been the target of unprecedented vitriol; all the more reason for me to leave their flag in place. I’m sick to death of everyone, Democrats and Republicans alike, virtue signaling with their little blue and yellow Ukrainian icons. They’re hysterical about a piece of ground in Eastern Europe changing hands, though Russia is actually less authoritarian than Ukraine. These same folks ignore the genocide in Yemen being committed by our good friends the Saudis. As Orwell would say, some victims are more equal than others!

In summary, I make no apologies for displaying the Russian flag, the Palestinian flag, and all these other “evil” symbols. I hereby declare that when I do update my heading, I’m doing it for a fresh look rather than for fear of being labeled an “enemy” sympathizer. If opposing the corrupt, irrational foreign policy of America’s ruling class makes me a seditionist, I embrace the label whole-heartedly.

ONE SMALL STEP AND FIFTY YEARS

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Above, photo of Buzz Aldrin on the lunar surface.

One of the most momentous events in human history happened fifty years ago today. On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first human being to set foot on another celestial body. It should have been declared a national holiday – hell, an international holiday – but people have never been very good at grasping what’s truly important at the moment it happens.

Before I go any further let me say that all you Apollo 11 deniers are completely and utterly mistaken. Like you, I’m a conspiracy theorist, but I draw the line at believing that significant events witnessed by hundreds or even thousands of people can be successfully faked. Sometimes they may be misinterpreted for propaganda purposes (such as the destruction of the battleship Maine in Havana harbor) but there always must be some basis in reality. Furthermore, if the US government felt it needed to fake a moon landing, why would it do so six times?

The tragedy, the travesty, the monstrous crime was that we stopped going after trip number 6. I emphatically disagree with people who say “we have too many problems here on Earth to solve first.” Fie on this defeatism! With that attitude, people would still be living in caves, because there have always been social and economic problems. There are a number of government expenditures we could sacrifice rather than space exploration such as corporate welfare and military intervention overseas (which is, to be technical, another form of corporate welfare.) Nor do we need to give “foreign aid” to third-world dictators who just stash the funds in their Swiss bank accounts. Fiscal conservatives often mock scientific research as a waste but the opposite is really the case. Science is more significant, more uplifting, and more beneficial than just about anything else the US government supports. It’s most of that other stuff that’s wasteful.

What the Apollo program proved is that we Americans can do great things and that people of all walks of life can play a part. Yet I don’t expect mankind’s greatest achievement to be celebrated with the enthusiasm it deserves, because it doesn’t fit the current year’s grievance-based narrative of identity politics. It’s just too darn uplifting, Too many of us want to be angry about something. To those people I say, search for a video of President Kennedy’s speech at Rice University where he challenges the nation to go to the moon. I dare you to listen to Kennedy’s speeches (especially his Inaugural Address) and not get choked up. I’m not ashamed to admit that I did.

Today is the fiftieth anniversary of a great accomplishment by heroic Americans. I may be disgruntled at times, but today is not one of them. Today I am proud to be an American.

We’ve moved! (Sort Of)

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Some people have recurring dreams about it being finals week in college and not having studied, or showing up at work in their underwear. I have a stranger dream, in which I remember I have a house somewhere else that I’ve forgotten about. I’ve left a bunch of my things there and need to go get them. In other words, I must have moved without much forethought. This blog is a lot like that. When I started my new blog Steampunk Desperado, I stopped posting here, and didn’t even leave a forwarding address.

I assumed this blog didn’t have much of a readership since I posted sporadically and my topics were all over the place. I didn’t even bother to check the visitor stats on Godaddy. However, my son Lowell reminded me that one of his friends used to read this blog, and although he didn’t often agree with my weird opinions, he was always interested to read them. So it is for unsung readers like him that I post this forwarding address.

The idea behind Steampunk Desperado was that I’d try to stick to the topic of my writing and not get so far afield on political nonsense. (My wife Arlys scolds me that I’m alienating potential readers.) I’d also post every day, which I’ve done since mid-October. At least half of these articles are reposts from the Sedition blog, particularly if they were about steampunk or related sci-fi or historical topics. I’ve also reposted most of the articles Arlys has written so far about Victorian culture and recipes and crafts related to our books. In the ten weeks since Desperado’s inception, we’ve almost run out of these, so it’s going to be mostly new stuff from now on.

I’m not entirely ruling out posting again on “Sci-Fi and Sedition,” especially if I want to talk about political topics, such as some of the deplorable channels I follow in You-tube. The problem is that it’s tough to get a blog post out every day on my main blog without doing stuff here as well. It’s always possible, though.

Deathnote Signs Its Own Name

DeathNoteScaled

A bit like Malkovich entering his own brain…

It may sound morbid, but “Death Note” is one of my favorite stories. I’ve experienced it in every form: the manga, the anime series, and the Japanese live action movie. I was excited to see the American movie version, a Netflix production, so I watched as soon as it was available. I was gravely disappointed within the first five minutes.

For those who aren’t familiar with it, Deathnote is based on a manga written by Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by Takeshi Obata. Shortly before his high school graduation, Light Yagami finds a magical notebook labeled “Death Note.” It’s a supernatural prank by a shinigami (Japanese “death god”) named Ryuk. The book’s instructions say that anyone whose name is written within will die, at the time and by the method specified. Ryuk (a Joker-like winged demon in Goth attire) appears and encourages Light to try it out. Light tests the notebook by writing the name of a hostage-taker from the evening news. The criminal drops dead. Light decides he’s been chosen to rid the world of evil-doers.

This power, even in the hands of an upstanding young genius like Light is an insidious thing. It takes him down a dark path much like Walter White in Breaking Bad. Eventually, the media notices the mysterious deaths and dubs the anonymous executioner “Kira” for “killer.” To the public, he’s a vigilante hero while the authorities view him as an existential threat.

This theme of hubris and corruption plays out through 12 volumes of manga and 37 episodes in the anime adaptation by Madhouse. One of its most popular aspects was the game of wits between Light and “L,” the autistic savant teenage detective the authorities hire to stop Light’s reign of terror. Some viewers felt the show drags in the final season as Light eliminates the investigators one by one, sparing only the police chief, who happens to be his own father. I disagree. The latter episodes are as intense as the early ones. You can feel the desperation of the police as they face down Kira’s supernatural power.

Just as the smash-hit anime series was drawing to a close, Japanese director Shūsuke Kaneko converted Death Note into a pair of live-action movies. Because of the time limitation, he shortened and rearranged the story. Though purists hated these changes, I felt that the movies stayed true to the spirit of the original. Casting was superb, especially with Tatsuya Fujiwara and Kenichi Matsuyama as Light and the eccentric candy-devouring L, respectively. (By the way, Matsuyama appears in an alleged sequel, L– Change the World, with Matsuyama as L in one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen.)

Death Note characters Light and L

Three Versions of Light versus L

Not so for the Netflix remake directed by Adam Wingard, which makes far more significant changes. Rather than being a “goody two shoes” from an upper-class family, Light Turner (played by Nat Wolff) is a rebel with a tragic backstory. His mother was killed by a criminal who escaped justice, predisposing him to a vigilante mindset. Though he’s smart, he’s already dishonest and gets caught selling homework to his classmates. Apparently, the American script writers thought it needed “girl power.” In this new version, Light’s girlfriend Mia (Margaret Qualley), a clueless pawn in the original, becomes Light’s co-conspirator right from the start. She’s the one who insists on killing the FBI agents who threaten Kira, while the American Light (unlike his ruthless Japanese counterpart) refuses to do so. These changes confuse and muddle Death Note’s message. Worse yet, there’s no time for the famous sparring between Light and L. Early in the movie, L confronts Light at a coffee shop, saying, “I know you’re Kira.” How? What investigation has he done? Even the ending has major changes. I won’t spoil it, except to say there’s a lot less death in this Death Note.

That said, there are some good points. I enjoyed Willem Dafoe as the voice of Ryuk, though the new CGI rendering makes him more of a demon than the trickster he was in the original. Lakeith Stanfield was also excellent as the eccentric “L,” though the script has him acting out of character at the end. I also must admit that the final plot twist surprised me, perhaps because my expectations had dropped so low.

To summarize, if you’ve seen the original Death Note, you might want to skip this train wreck of a remake. If not, you might not necessarily hate this version, but please don’t judge the rest of the franchise by it.

Note: While researching this article I became aware of a second Japanese live-action Death Note sequel called Death Note: Light Up the New World, directed by Shinsuke Sato. With some trepidation, I plan to see this one as soon as I can.