For Us, Who Didn’t Build That

I wasn’t planning to comment on Obama’s idiotic “you didn’t build that speech.”  I mean, after all, it’s idiotic.  So I ignored some of the push back and response from the conservative blogosphere.  It was minor anyway compared to MSNBC’s “All Bain, All the Time” news coverage that has been inflicting the network for weeks?  Months?  But it must have been stuck in my brain somewhere, even if covered by Romney’s tax returns and financial disclosure statements.  Sometimes I’m sure that my brain is processing things even when I’m not aware of it.  Or at least that’s what I tell myself to justify hours of mindless television; my brain is busy processing something.

So sometime this morning, between deep sleep and my second cup of coffee, I realized a few exceptions to Obama’s idea that government makes all things possible.  One of them was my grandpa’s road.   Decades ago my grandfather built and maintained a road coming off of a county road in order to get to his property.  It was all on property he owned and over the years he sold parcels all along the road he had made.  Eventually there was quite a cluster of homes coming from this private road, and when my grandfather died, in his will he left the road to the county.  So there was a clear case of infrastructure being built by private hands and the government picking it up after all of the hard work had already been done.

Of course in the United States that had been the norm.  Settlements popped up long before there were local governments to build roads and other infrastructure.  By the time government showed up, the town and infrastructure were already there.  That still goes on today.  New communities and subdivisions built by private interests pay for and build their own infrastructure; which local governments end up inheriting.

But there was something else, about the speech, something familiar, and no, it wasn’t that it was basically cribbed from Elizabeth Warren’s rant against’ producers.  It took me a bit to place it but then it came to me why I was familiar with the philosophy of that speech.

Science Fiction.

Cover of "For Us, The Living: A Comedy of...

Cover of For Us, The Living: A Comedy of Customs

One of the earliest works by Science Fiction author Robert Heinlein was a book called, For Us, The Living.  Although it was written in 1938 it was an incomplete work and never finished or published until after Heinlein’s death, when it was found and finished up by another SF writer, Spider Robinson.  As a Heinlein fan I was anxious to read it when it was first published in 2003, but this isn’t the libertarian Robert Heinlein I was familiar with from such novels as, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, or Time Enough for Love.  This was the Robert Heinlein in the midst of the Great Depression, who worked on the 1934 California Governor’s race for Socialist Upton Sinclair.

So it was a very different Robert Heinlein who wrote this book.  A socialist one to be sure, and a writer more influenced by the works of the turn of the century than what passed for science fiction in the 1930’s.  In fact, For Us, The Living, is less a novel and more an exposition of what was then a popular socialist idea, Social Credit.  Heinlein’s hero is a 1930’s engineer who after having a traffic accident, somehow ends up in the late 21st Century.  How he got there is never really explained, and although a gaping hole in the plotline that big is enough to kill interest in a plot, there isn’t really that much plot.  The car crash is just a device to get Heinlein’s hero to the future where he can listen to endless lectures on how great the socialist future is.

So as an entertaining romp, it blows.  It’s more like Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward.  This is the socialist future; let me explain how great it is and why your time stank, the end.  But if anyone is interested in an archaic socialist theory from the 1930’s, this is the book to read.  Social Credit seems to have fallen out of favor as far as wacky socialist theories go, but its implementation sounds attractive.  A nations’ cultural inheritance, is considered a factor of production under this theory.  So it’s not just the infrastructure like roads that’s a factor that government provided, it’s the accumulated knowledge that lead to knowing how to build the roads, and the fact that we have a network of roads crisscrossing the country.  Since each generation doesn’t have to build the nation up from scratch, there is a “surplus.”  The long and short, and if you know socialism you could guess this already, is that the “surplus” is distributed in payments to citizens.  Nobody has to work if they don’t want to, since they can live off the “surplus.”

So you can see why Heinlein never had this published in his lifetime.  Shame.  But I can forgive him for his socialist past; that was quite common in the 30’s, when the only competing philosophies were some version of Socialism and Fascism, or as a distant third way, Keynesian Social Welfare Democracy.  There was no William F. Buckley standing athwart history yelling stop in the 1930’s.

And in fact it’s not uncommon for people to experiment with communism or some variation of socialism in their youth, particularly in college.  Just listen to the rantings of the few remaining Occupy protestors.  Blather right out of Mao’s little red book.  Probably most of your major big time Democrats were some type of socialist in college, and quite a few Republicans for that matter.

But people grow up and in time, put aside childish things.  Well not Elizabeth Warren, but she’s an academic who never really left college.  And apparently not Barack Obama. I’ve never really joined in the chorus of those calling the President “Socialist” since, when I use the word, I mean it to be descriptive, not a pejorative, but in this situation, the case Obama is making in this speech is Social Credit Socialism.

So Obama never outgrew his youthful socialist past.  After all, what grown man would want to be friends with an actual for-realsies terrorist like William Ayers?  Of course, every time he goes off script he drops hints, going all the way back to his run in with Joe the Plumber.  But America has had almost 4 years to get used to the idea, and apparently it’s not a deal breaker.  Who would have ever thought that?

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Once Upon a Time Season Finale

When the fall season came out with not one, but two TV shows based on fairy tales, I admit I was bit surprised, although I suppose I shouldn’t have been.  Networks tend to poach ideas from each other all the time, so I guess the bigger surprise would have been that there would have been any shows based on fairy tales.   But the one that was promoted the most was NBC’s Grimm.  Grimm was presented as a cop show with fairy tale criminals.  Sort of a Law and Order:  Fairy Land.  I barely caught one or two promos for the competing fairy show, Once Upon a Time.  My only impression from the few promos I saw of that was that it looked stupid and would be cancelled soon.  Still… my wife wanted to give it a try so I committed to watching the show for as long as it lasted, which I assumed would be 6 weeks tops.

Surprisingly, I enjoyed the first episode.  Maybe I shouldn’t say surprisingly, but my expectations were rather limited so I wasn’t jumping up and down excited about watching the show. The basic premise is that the familiar fairy tale characters have, due to the evil queen’s curse, have been transported to small town Maine with fake memories; unaware of their former fairytale existence.    The show has many Lost-like elements, which isn’t much of a surprise considering that Damon Lindelof, former executive producer for Lost, has a producer’s credit for this show.  The show follows the familiar Lost template as well.   Each week’s story highlights the character’s motivations via flashbacks to the fairy tale world.  In the case of this show, the flashbacks really seem necessary to understanding the characters, unlike in Lost in which in many cases it seemed a little gratuitous.

So the season has been a neat little adventure as we the audience has tried to figure out which characters have memories of their past lives (4 by my count through the first season), can the curse be broken, and what happens if it is?

Some of my speculation has already been shot down.  Just throwing this out there, but I already thought ahead to the series finale in which it’s revealed that our “real” world was just created by the curse, and eliminating the curse would eliminate our world and re-establish the real, real world, the fairy tale world.  However the Mad Hatter episode firmly established that our world and the fairy tale world are just separate universes, amongst many alternate universes with differing physical laws.  Magic works in the fairy tale universe, but in our universe not so much.

Intriguingly, our knowledge of the fairy tale stories is explained by the Mad Hatter as creativity being some sort of bleed-over from other universes.  We know the Snow White story because some writer picked up the actual events and thought it was his original idea.  That’s a reverse twist on Robert Heinlein’s The Number of the Beast.  In Heinlein’s book, writers create alternate universes by imagining them.

Well, at least they’ve given us a basic idea of the structure of the Multiverse for this TV show; a necessity that isn’t required for most other shows. It doesn’t matter if Mike and Molly exist within a multiverse or not.

But on to the show (spoilers obviously):  Emma takes Henry to the Hospital where he is in critical condition while Emma is going through Henry’s bag she finds the story book which, upon touching it, unleashes some sort of flashback so that Emma suddenly believes everything Henry has been telling her all season about the fairy story characters and the curse, which, upon that realization, drives Emma bonkers to kill Regina who has just arrived at the hospital to see about Henry until Emma grabs her and starts thrashing her around the supply closet until Regina convinces Emma that Gold can help them save Henry so off they go to Gold’s shop where he is only too glad to help, telling Emma and Regina that he installed a back door to the curse and needs Emma to recover a decanter of True Love that’s in a Faberge egg inside…yes a dragon which is underground beneath a shop that Regina owns in the middle of downtown which has an elevator behind a false wall that leads to the underground lair of the dragon which Emma goes down alone somehow believing that Regina is really going to cut the elevator back on to bring her up so she arrives at the lair with Prince Charming’s (her father’s) sword and when the dragon awakes realizes that a sword doesn’t make much sense against a 40 foot high multi-ton fire breathing dragon so she pulls out her pistol and empties a clip into the dragon which actually makes less sense than the sword, forcing Emma to run around the lair dodging fireballs until she finally decides to pick up the sword again and throw it at the dragon which is naturally lesson number one in dragon fighting school because the dragon goes up in flames leaving the egg behind which Emma grabs and heads up the elevator which stops half way up (as if you couldn’t see that coming) with Mr. Gold’s head poking down the hatch with an honest sounding “just toss it up to me dearie,” which Emma believes because, heh, she didn’t really have any choice but meanwhile back at the hospital Jefferson the Mad Hatter releases Beauty of Beauty and the Beast fame from her cell that Regina had been keeping her in and tells her to go find Mr. Gold, who was the Beast in that particular side story so while Gold is back at his store unpacking the egg he just tricked out of Emma, Beauty walks in all confused since she doesn’t have any memory of Gold, but he sure has a memory of her and takes her out the woods to an old well but meanwhile Emma has untied the tied up and gagged Regina and they both rush back to the hospital only to find out Henry has just died, which causes Emma to go say her goodbyes to Henry by telling him she loves him and kisses him on the forehead which anyone who has been watching this show knows will fix anything and sure enough, with a big swoosh, Henry comes back to life and all over town, part of the curse is lifted as the townsfolk get their old, original memories back, which probably isn’t good news for Regina since now everyone remembers what she did to them so back in the woods Beauty remembers Gold is really Rumplestiltskin, her beast, as Rumpie/Gold tosses the bottle of True Love into the well which unleashes a CGI fog much like the original one that established the curse back in the fairy tale world and when Beauty asks Gold “Hey, whats up,” he replies that magic is power or some such which seems to be a pretty bad omen since Regina, back in her house after apparently losing interest in Henry after he came back to life, which is typical of adoptive parents, stares out the window at the purple CGI fog overtaking the town…

…and smiles.

Whew, out of breath!

So, this episode was not only great, it was a real game changer in at least three different ways.  First, Emma now believes in the fairyland characters, the curse, magic; the whole shebang.  And probably more important, everyone in town does too.  They all now know who they are, and bad for Regina, who she is.  Probably the biggest game changer though is the fog.  It’s not unraveling the curse enough to send everyone back home, but it’s suggestive that Gold referred to magic as power, and Regina smiling when she saw it.  That tells me that the fog is probably restoring magic, at least to a limited degree, to the town, and Regina knows that’s what it’s doing.  That also makes me think the whole dragon egg thing was a set up between Regina and Gold, working together to restore magic.  As the town’s two primary former magic users, they stand to benefit the most from getting magic back.  Why trying to establish magic in our world rather than just going back to their own universe I’m still unclear on.  Maybe they weren’t planning on a second season and that was a last minute re-write?

That being said, I did have some quibbles with the episode. I didn’t think Emma’s sudden belief was well earned at this point.  I’m assuming that touching the book brought some magic epiphany to her, but why now?  She has handled the book before with no effects.  There was nothing in the moment that should cause her to believe since she wasn’t witnessing any magic.  The act that brought her to the hospital could well have been quite a mundane one.  She knew at that point that Regina is not just a bitch, but a killer bitch since she now knows that Regina did poison that apple turnover and meant it for her.  But that’s just normal crazy in Snapped, the Oxygen TV show that has women going nuts and going kill crazy. That doesn’t lead one to think that magic exists.  I guess I’ll just assume it was a magical realization and leave it at that for now.

Secondly, why would Emma think that throwing a sword at a massive dragon would have any effect on the dragon at all?  Presumably Gold told her how to kill the dragon after the scene change, but then, why would she throw down her sword and pull out her pistol?  That pistol was only slightly more effective than throwing a bowl of oatmeal.  I suppose she could have just panicked and dropped the sword but she didn’t make a move again for the sword until she was out of ammo.

As season finales go, this was an extremely satisfying one.  Definitely looking forward to season two next Fall with totally re-ordered power struggle.

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Heinlein Shrugged

There has been an internet meme going about the right blogosphere for the past few months that’s a quote of the late science fiction author Robert Heinlein.  This quote seems to capture both the state of our economy and the state of our society today.

Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded — here and there, now and then — are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty.

This is known as “bad luck.”‘

So, on what does the St Louis Fed President James Bullard blame the lackluster state of the economy’s performance for 2011?  You guessed it, bad luck.

JAMES BULLARD: The economy, I think 2011, you know, I think the chairman said maybe obliquely, but it’s a bit of bad luck in 2011, I have to say. I was expecting better things in 2011. I thought that that would be the year…

HOST: Bad luck for the economy?

BULLARD: Bad luck for the economy.

That doesn’t give me much confidence that the people in charge of keeping the economy humming actually know what they’re doing.  But at least I’m sure now that Heinlein was a prophet.

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